Galtres Parklands festival fought the weather and the festival won. On a tempestuous Bank Holiday weekend when the heavens truly opened over Yorkshire on both Friday and Saturday night and the neighbouring Leeds Festival had buckled under the strain of the extreme elements in both its campsites and upon the music stages, Galtres stood resolutely firm. Much of this was down to its excellent new location in Duncombe Park near Helmsley; the slightly elevated grounds of this beautiful estate seemed to easily absorb most of the torrential downpour and with the majority of the event’s music and performance stages being held under canvas the thousands of visitors who attended over the course of the weekend did not seem to be unduly troubled by a storm of almost biblical proportions.
In the gathering gloom of early Friday evening first Sarah Horn and James Cudworth and then The Blueprints (pictured) lit up the Oxman stage. Both acts are perfect examples of Galtres music and dance policy and its strong commitment towards promoting a wholly diverse range of predominantly local talent. The former, on fiddle and guitar respectively, vigorously stretched the boundaries of traditional folk music, whilst the latter cut their sound from a far more modern cloth. Yet despite the years that may separate their different musical styles, both acts were firmly connected by a fundamental desire to entertain and to do so with a huge smile on their face.
With an acoustic guitar strapped around his neck and a clutch of tunes at his disposal, Bob Dylan once described himself as a song-and-dance man. Two young men continuing in that great tradition are Benjamin Francis Leftwich and JP Cooper. York-based singer-songwriter Leftwich is at the more lugubrious end of that spectrum and his bleeding-heart balladry is the ideal accompaniment for the worsening meteorological conditions. Cooper, a relative interloper from the other side of the Pennines, brought a lovely serene glow to the Black Howl stage with his warmth, humility and compassion. Reef (pictured) is a completely different beast altogether; a four-headed behemoth from another time and place when rock music ruled the world, they rumbled onto the main stage and brightened the dark skies with a good old honest-to-goodness, no-frills blast of blues inspired rock.
When Saturday came so too did the rains, but Galtres’ spirits were not to be dampened. An inspired programme of entertainment which extended far beyond music saw to that. There was food and there was drink and there was plenty of it. Now in its ninth year, Galtres did start life as a beer festival, and its genesis was reflected in the compelling range of beers, lagers and ciders that were on offer. Then there was the creativity of The Arts Barge Stage; cinema, theatre, drama and workshops abound in The Pash Tent; Bollywood dancing, cabaret and comedy in The Little Top; and a fantastic variety of fun and games, all built around this year’s central theme of Pirates.
Sounding as if they had assumed the identity of some long forgotten Arctic explorer, Captain Wilberforce commenced Saturday’s musical expedition with a heart-warming exercise in how to marry rousing choruses and glistening melodies. York’s We Could Be Astronauts (pictured) navigated a path across a quite different universe. Looking and sounding like some close relative of Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty, in Robert Hughes they have the perfect frontman as he led the band through a blistering set which culminated in a most fabulous cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. Many of the artists on Saturday’s Black Howl stage also paid tribute to the Floyd; Nick Harper chose ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, his truly inspired reading of this paean to Syd Barrett made all the more remarkable by his changing a broken guitar string mid-song without even breaking stride or tempo.
Later Lloyd Cole eschewed any attempt to reinterpret the Pink Floyd back catalogue. Had he done so he may well have opted for ‘Remember A Day’, as he wistfully looked back on a career that produced four early hit records and then fourteen more that nearly were. When placed in the wider context of the trajectory of his life’s work, ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ now seemed uncomfortably prescient. But even when he has gone from heartthrob to Helmsley, Cole can still carry a tune and the rich texture of his voice was occasionally nothing less than magnificent.
On the main stage another local band Littlemores revealed much promise and an unerring ability to capture the essence of the popular song, a feat later matched by those local festival stalwarts Frankie & The Heartstrings. Five years ago Johnny Borrell was headlining the main stage at Leeds Festival with Razorlight. A limp, uninspired stroll through the rather dusty corridors of blues, tango and French chanson strongly suggested that changes of career direction are not always for the best. Maximo Park, on the other hand, stayed loyal and true to their original blueprint. They burst out of the top-of-the-bill traps as if their very lives depended upon it and with a boundless energy that seemed to be channelled almost entirely through Paul Smith’s hat as he careened wildly around the Duke Stage, they produced a stirring set .
By Sunday morning the inclement weather has been beaten into submission; the rain finally succumbing to the warm, relaxed and sunny disposition that is Galtres. Festival perennial Holly Taymar holds that spirit dear and her lunchtime slot in Black Howl was an absolute joy. CryBabyCry took up exactly from where they had left off at Beacons the previous weekend. Their thunderous meld of rhythm, blues and rock is a quite wonderful gut-wrenching kick to the solar plexus of the soul and in Rosie Doonan and Jonny The Firth they surely possess Wakefield’s very own Ike and Tina Turner. The Talks from Hull (pictured) smashed a great big hole right through any possible mid-afternoon languor with a hugely enjoyable and respectful embrace of all that is good about ska, reggae and punk. And then another York band, …And The Hangnails proved beyond any reasonable doubt that there really is no substitute for battering the sheer hell out of your guitar and drums and kicking over the traces of complacency.
Without as much as a Feargal Sharkey or a fishtail parka in sight, there was something vaguely ridiculous about the middle-aged men who have now become The Undertones still singing songs about the emotional turmoil of adolescence. But when those songs are as perfect as ‘Wednesday Week’ and still as undeniably thrilling as ‘Teenage Kicks’ you can just about forgive them such end-of-the-pier absurdity. By way of contrast, The Stranglers (pictured) seem to have survived a similar journey from the past to the present relatively intact. They too lost a lead singer somewhere along the way and also rest heavily on past laurels, but when they really started to hit their collective stride with a fabulously filthy ‘Peaches’, cruised across a beautifully stretched-out ‘Walk On By’ and then motored into the home straight with ‘No More Heroes’ and ‘Something Better Change’ they brought what was surely the best Galtres festival yet to the most fitting of grand finales.
In moving to Duncombe Park, something did change for Galtres this year. They also altered their name to the Galtres Parklands festival. But in doing so the organisers did not forfeit any of the festival’s quintessential spirit or genial atmosphere and still presented the most imaginative schedule of entertainment that managed to cross artistic and cultural boundaries with a consummate ease.