Underneath The Stars Festival
Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne 30 July – 1 August 2021
As we move into Sunday, and the final day of Underneath The Stars, it is very apparent how well organised the festival is, with safety at the forefront. Alongside this, a real attention to looking after the environment where the festival is taking place, which is a working farm. The excellent festival comperes also urge support for the artists after each set, something which is so important at this time.
Jaywalkers ease the festival gently into the Sunday, the final day of the festival. This Time/End Of The World Waltz has, despite the subject matter, a jaunty jazz cafe vibe, with the bass, mandolin and fiddle sequencing together perfectly. The hopeful line “There’s still time to save the world”, feels really up-lifting, while the song’s waltz coda, beautifully played, has a tinge of sadness.
The band announce “a nice cheerful one, you can sing along to” and launch into their irresistible version of Tainted Love, best known through the Soft Cell version, and originally recorded by Gloria Jones. It’s a great version, with an impressive mandolin solo in the style of Django Reinhardt, and goes down really well with the audience.
Ferris and Sylvester take the volume up quite a few notches, with a full-on set of blues, rock and Americana. They describe how they would usually do around 100 shows a year, but then everything just stopped with the pandemic. They went on to record and put out Knock You Down, a song about doing yourself proud and not letting the system knock you down. Played live, it has a terrific Rolling Stones-like ringing riff. From the same EP comes I Should Be On A Train, a power pop anthem, with a scorching Jimi Hendrix-styled guitar solo. A really memorable performance of what is a stunning song.
With A Little Help From My Friends evokes Joe Cocker and the Grease Band’s performance of this classic Beatles song, captured on film at the Woodstock festival. Ferris and Sylvester play an incendiary performance of the song that has all the passion and energy of that classic Woodstock performance, and this reviewer can think of no higher praise. The Underneath The Stars audience absolutely love it.
An Audience with Dawn French is completely captivating, with some truly wonderfully funny and warm anecdotes from Dawn’s amazing career in comedy and drama, and as a writer. A particular favourite is Dawn describing how, in their early days at the Comedy Store she and Jennifer Saunders did a completely new sketch every night, not realising that all the other acts were doing the same show each night…. as of course the audience changed every night.
Dawn, of course, is also an author, and describes how she fell in love with writing late in her career, movingly reading an extract from her acclaimed new novel Because Of You.
The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican are firm festival favourites at Underneath The Stars. They open their set with Place Of Spades, which suggests that this Motorhead classic is really about allotments. If that wasn’t enough, their take on Kraftwerk’s The Model, renamed She’s From Dodworth, has an exceptional accordion solo.
The highlight without doubt, is Scott, Bjorn and Alan’s out-of-the-stratosphere version of the House of Pain’s Jump Around. Hip-hop all the way from Barnsley, and there is even a homage to Slipknot, as they get all of the festival to crouch down and jump up together on Scott’s signal. It seems very strange, but completely in keeping, when Scott shouts out, just like at a metal festival, “Scream for me Cawthorne” (the nearest village to the festival).
Bristol’s very own Cut Capers have dashed from a festival appearance the previous day to fill the slot vacated by Lanterns On The Lake, who can’t make it. With a four-piece horn section, and the band all dressed in boiler suits, they are sensational.
The festival is treated to a soul/funk review, where dancing is mandatory. The horn section egg each other on, as Cut Capers rip the roof off the main stage, and in the blazing sunshine too.
Get Movin (Feet Don’t Fail Me Now) is a joyous cacophony of jazz dance, with echoes of Cab Calloway, with a massive funk backbeat. With the addition of a brilliant syncopated vocal, it gets the biggest cheer of the festival. Wait Just A Minute, from last album Metropolis, has a driving Curtis Mayfield R&B funk soundtrack, with a massive guitar section. Feet don’t fail me now indeed, as the dancing in the audience almost impossibly goes up a gear.
Let’s Start Again, also from the Metropolis album, has a really cool jazz vaudeville sound. The energy levels from the band and audience don’t let up for a second during the set. Cut Capers are the band of the moment, and this is surely the most fun and dancing anyone could have at a festival.
Land Yacht Regatta (LYR) are a creative meeting of poet laureate Simon Armitage and musicians Richard Walters and Patrick Pearson. The combination of poetic spoken words, and ascending lush vocals and instrumental melodies, creates an otherworldly musical soundstage that can range from the delicate to the stridency of Mark E. Smith and the Fall.
Great Coat from last year’s Call In The Crash Team album epitomises both aspects, with initially meditative keyboards and a soaring vocal melody, before picking up the pace with an all out post punk instrumental charge, and shouted words.
Winter Solstice, with its Prefab Sprout references, has a dream pop sonic tone. Together with Simon’s evocative words on unrequited love, it is an exquisite song and a set highlight. It will be really interesting, to see where the LYR collaboration goes next
It’s two years, since Kate Rusby and her band left the stage after headlining the Sunday of the 2019 Underneath The Stars festival. Introduced by Dawn French, Kate begins with the traditional ballad, Benjamin Bowmaneer. With its allegorical reflections on injustice, Kate’s marvellous voice takes flight, and the band, led by Damien O’Kane, hits its stride with a powerful melding together of the instruments. We Will Sing, which follows, is both touching and rousing, and the festival audience are in fine song.
From the Hand Me Down album, Kate performs a delightful interpretation of the Lyle Lovett song If I had a Boat, and a version of the Taylor Swift song Shake It Off, that captures the songs engaging pop sensibility whilst imbuing it with Kate’s unique story telling approach.
The set highlight is Kate leading the band through Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. As Kate says, the chorus “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right” is absolutely a song for now. The audience singing the words with Kate is an emotional moment, signifying the joy of connecting and the feeling of solidarity that live music never fails to offer. Live music is back, thank goodness, and we need live music and our artists, more than we ever have.
Thank you so much Underneath The Stars festival, the artists, crews, volunteers, organisers, and of course the stargazers, who took all the music to their hearts.
Written by Gareth Allen, with thanks to Anne Robertson for her musical insights. You can find Gareth’s author profile here.
Photography by Gareth Allen.