A rainy day in South Yorkshire…
The last time I stopped by Askern Festival it was an eye opening experience. The people of Askern came out in their droves, squeezed into ill-fitting tank tops and vests, pints in hand and small children running around with ice cream on their faces. And I loved it. Upon arriving at Askern Miners Club this time it is clear that the whole thing has a much more middle class vibe to it. It no longer feels like we have crashed the Royston Vasey town fair. The idea that every local either wanted to stab me or stick a finger up my bum is what made the whole thing so damn endearing. This is the price you pay for success I guess.
And what a success. For a festival of this size, in this village, to draw Toploader, Starsailor, Chris Helme and Cast is genuinely astonishing. Even the Donny bands that are on first can all actually play their instruments with the always reliable 48ks delivering a polished and well received set before Chris Helme brings a hushed silence to the brand spanking new Acoustic Tent. Helme is such a pro as a performer that he makes every gig feel like you are chatting in his living room and he is on sparkling form here. Old Seahorses classics such as Hello and a soaring Love is the Law rub shoulders with a couple of crowd pleasing covers – The Faces’ Ohh La La and Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger being the highlights – but it is Blinded By The Light that truly shines. The latter song is actually improved by Helme’s raw vocals in a live setting and in a tiny tent in a field in Askern, the crowd are bewitched by a performer who deserves to be much bigger than he actually is. It’s nice to keep him as an undiscovered secret mind. A bit like fishcake sandwiches. My own contribution to this crazy world.
After seeing two women piss in the men’s urinal coupled with the six pints of Budweiser I had reluctantly drank I was pretty ready for Starsailor, and the Wigan heroes did not disappoint. Opening with Alcoholic is a brave move but in reality they have much better songs than that one, and it is Tie Up My Hands and Poor Misguided Fool that steal the show. In The Crossfire now feels as much of a Starsailor classic as Four to the Floor and both sound triumphant here, in fact the sound itself is excellent throughout. Crisp, banging and a credit to the festival.
Starsailor conclude with the now customary rendition of Good Souls and the crowd respond in kind. Anyone who may have doubted James Walsh’s power as a live performer must now be feeling very silly indeed.
They will also be feeling very wet because about halfway through Starsailor’s storming set the heavens opened and then it didn’t stop raining until the headliners Cast had finished playing. It’s grim up north.
Despite the pouring rain, or perhaps because of it, Cast seem determined to put on a good show and John Power is commanding and confident throughout. When you can call on tracks like Sandstorm and Live the Dream, the crowd will always end up in the palm of your hand and I have to say I was surprised with just how good some of the more recent tracks were. Paper Chains and Baby Blue Eyes are just as catchy and insistent as some of the more classic songs like Fine Time and Guiding Star.
Walkaway was always one of the most iconic songs of the ’90s and it takes on added poignancy in the driving rain and with the stars twinkling down on the plastic cups of cider and trays of chips and cheese. Cue singalongs, rain sodden umbrellas being held aloft and lots of dancing in the mud.
People in Yorkshire have a tendency to be cynical first and ask questions later and while I have mined Askern Festival for as many comedic one liners as I can, there is no doubting that the organisers and the bands have done a great job with this burgeoning festival. I can’t wait for next year.