Saturday at the sixth Ragged Bear Festival, Nuneaton – 29th October 2022
Ragged Bear Festival is a growing and lively showpiece for both emerging and established talent, brought about by the passion and hard work of Greenman Rising’s Steve Bentley. Now in its sixth iteration, the two-day, indoor festival comprises of a free-to-attend Friday evening and a ticketed Saturday main event. The Queens Hall near the centre of Nuneaton provides the home for the festival with a decent-sized standing venue upstairs and a more traditional music bar and stage combo on the ground floor.
What struck me immediately was the amount of relatively younger folk festival goers in attendance and a lineup that included some new bands for myself. Combined with some of the band names, the standing venue and the ‘youth’ element made me realise that this festival was most likely to be on the rockier side of the folk genre.
Saturday gently eased us in with the more relaxed side of the folk scene, with the brother and sister duo Painted Sky. Steve assured the audience that they would normally be much further up the schedule, but for the fact they had to head off to Ireland later in the day. Painted Sky are a class act, who combine beautiful vocals with superb musicianship. Their music is especially visual – Dead Mans Jumper was written about a kayaking holiday on the River Wye, which nearly ended in disaster at a set of rapids. Apparently the duo’s mother decided that it was more important to grab that must-have cashmere jumper in the online sales, rather than paddling through the challenging section of water. You really got the feel of the ebb and flow of the river in this song and the eventful moment when they reached the rapids!
Flo Parker Bombosch, complete with emergency drummer, was next up. A relative newcomer to the scene the band gave a confident performance and even managed to refill their glasses mid-set! I’m sure with their broad appealing style, they’ll be become a regular sight at folk festivals across the UK in 2023.
Following a brief intermission courtesy of the Erstwhile Border Morris dancers, the stage was reset and Steve welcomed the next act – Brian Stone’s Masters Of None, or was that Masters Of Nuns which sounds a plausible alternative? Maybe we’ll never be sure.
It was a thoroughly entertaining and energetic performance from Brian and the band, which felt more than vaguely reminiscent of a nautical Bill Bailey in full sail.
Holly Brandon returned to the stage with The Magpies, just before they jetted off to Ireland – this is the second time I’ve seen The Magpies in 2022 and they were even better on second viewing – a consummate and sublime set.
Ranagri also made a very welcome pit stop at Ragged Bear, before heading off to rehearse with Tony Christie for his forthcoming UK tour. We loved their Tradition II album (review here) complete with a killer press quote about a band “oozing with class and quality” and I don’t think anyone would dare argue with that description. This is the fourth time I’ve seen them in 2022 and can confirm that class does indeed consistently ooze from their every pore.
Morganway’s full-bodied, Americana vibe signaled a musical shift for the festival and set the direction for the evening ahead. Likened by some to Fleetwood Mac the audience were bewitched by their superb harmonies and catchy rhythms.
The pace continued to increase at a rate of knots, enter The Lagan! A no holds barred, Celtic punk rock assault on the eardrums which was absolutely incredible.
Steve Bentley’s band Greenman Rising quite rightly took to the stage for a set and made a touching tribute to Paul Sartin, who should have been performing at this years Ragged Bear with his three-piece Faustus.
Cropredy vets Leatherat occupied the penultimate slot, in the way that only they know how – loud, with lashings of hair and headbanging. So much so that one young man managed to windmill his back out – Sir, I salute you.
The highlight of the festival came unexpectedly during one of Leathrats quieter moments, a catchy little tune called We All Stayed Home Together, written about the Covid lockdowns and how the regular folk managed to follow the simple rules that some of the higher-ups seemed to struggle with. The inspired crowd calmed, formed lines, linked arms and sang the song back to the band in unison and summed up in one powerful, sublime moment, the reason why we all need live music.
Gaz Brookfield drew the 2022 festival to a close, with his inimitable mix of charisma, self-deprecating humour and catchy, singalong-friendly back catalogue.
Ragged Bear 2022 was a cracking little festival for those who like their folk on the rockier side and prefer the vibe and energy that often only a standing venue can provide. At £35 for 12 hours of top-notch, live music you’d be really hard-pressed to knock the value either. Add to that a cheap bar, cracking curry at the Ghurka cafe, the friendly nature of the venue and the effort that Steve Bentley went to check that everyone was having the best possible experience, and you’ve got yourself a great indoor festival, bang in the middle of England.
Maybe see you all windmilling at the barrier of Ragged Bear in 2023?
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Categories: Live Reviews