Northern Roots Festival 2011

7 Jun 2011 in Highland, Music, Showcase

Bogbain Farm, Inverness, 4-5 June, 2011

NOW in its third year, 2011’s Northern Roots Festival took place at one of Inverness’s most unique live spaces, The Barn at Bogbain Farm.

After a relatively quiet but thoroughly entertaining afternoon of comedy songs, Mainline North opened Saturday night’s programme at blistering pace and pretty much remained there. The young trio delivered a deeply encouraging performance which sparkled with an inventive vigour and boasted some outstanding technique, with guitarist Alasdair Taylor proving a particularly driving presence throughout.

East Yorkshire’s Edwina Hayes is perhaps best known for her version of Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home being used in Hollywood smash, My Sister’s Keeper, but impressive synch deals aside, if anything, her performance illustrated the strength of her original compositions.

Edwina Hayes

Hayes’s material moves with a familiarity and remains firmly formulaic in both structure and theme, but there is an engaging conviction in her delivery and a real sense of vulnerability and intimacy which rendered her performance enormously captivating in places.

Having dropped her debut on a major in 2005 to a decidedly tepid response, Hayes’s subsequent two self-releases have proved somewhat more fruitful, with country superstar Nanci Griffith even covering the title track from 2008’s Pour Me A Drink. Hayes’s success highlights the manner in which a number of artists have managed to forge a career and generate revenue and exposure in the current climate; but at the bottom line, she is an assured, classy performer, acutely aware of her strengths and capable of simple, genuinely touching artistic statements.

Closing Saturday evenings schedule were The New Rope String Band with their highly individualistic blend of comedy, cabaret and accomplished musicianship. The trio really connected with those gathered and proved a thoroughly entertaining end to an excellent night.

Following a relaxed afternoon tribute to Bob Dylan, Mainline North returned to open Sunday Night’s programme with a more serene set, illustrating they are as equally accomplished with contemplative, tender musical offerings as they are with barnstorming sets of reels and jigs.

Veteran performer Archie Fisher unquestionably provided the standout performance of this year’s festival, delivering a master class in live performance.  Fisher’s set proved a grand sweep across a career now in its fifth decade as he offered a beautifully delivered demonstration of effortless technical competency, impeccable maturity of craft, and a depth of theme which was graceful, sophisticated, affecting, comical and utterly wonderful at times.

Archie Fisher (Image D Johnston)

Northern Irish singer-songwriter Kieran Goss delivered the penultimate performance of the evening, which, personal taste aside, proved a real triumph. Undeniably a successful artists and accomplished performer, for me, Goss’s material lacked any explicit identity, imaginative flair or convincing emotional weight. His attempt at wistful observations lacked any real substance or emotional penetration and his prosaic musical accompaniments unfortunately failed to breathe life into the material.

Paul McKenna Band

Paul McKenna Band (photo Heidi Kuisma)

Closing Northern Roots 2011, the Paul McKenna Band proved a promising prospect, delivering a wide-ranging, spirited and highly creative performance boasting some excellent musicianship all round. The young five-piece’s latest release Stem The Tide received a strong response and tonight’s performance went some way to justifying the current buzz.

Above the general calibre of the programme and the considerate pricing structure, the immediate live spaces and the wider surroundings deliver a unique, relaxed, genuinely family-friendly experience close enough to the city centre to remain accessible. Furthermore, the friendly, inclusive atmosphere generated by the owners and their continual commitment to offering a high quality live programme, makes Bogbain Farm a great environment for live music.

© Alexander Smith, 2011