Live Reviews

Ragged Bear Festival 2023: Live Review

The little festival with a big heart returns for its ninth anniversary at the Queens Hall, Nuneaton.

Ragged Bear; a two day self-proclaimed ‘bijou’ festival, in the heart of Nuneaton is always a highlight of my musical year. The festival is hosted at a single indoors site across two stages – Friday night and the more local acts on Saturday are hosted within the ground floor Crew Pub and the headline Saturday performances are hosted in the larger, dedicated performance space in the Queens Hall on the first floor. Don’t be fooled by the festival’s ‘bijou’ tag, Ragged Bear draws big acts and thanks to the venue’s great sound, compact nature and friendly staff, it makes for a festival that you should really consider adding to your diary if you haven’t had the pleasure previously.

As I was unable to attend the Friday night performances, I was keen to get there bright and early for the main event on Saturday – the M6 however had other ideas, but the music was kindly delayed until my arrival – or it could have been because some of the musicians were similarly hindered. The sublime Anna Renae got the main event underway, she apologised repeatedly for losing her voice – well if my perfectly healthy voice sounded half as good as Anna’s troublesome larynx I would be a very happy person indeed!

Next up were Fly Yeti Fly who had ventured to Nuneaton from their narrowboat via a variety of motorways; some not always in the appropriate direction, to give a delightful performance with some of their tunes inspired by their idyllic sounding lives as waterway wanderers.

Ragged Bear isn’t just about musical performances, I was delighted to see the return of Erstwhile Border Morris – who most definitely form a significant part of the more fashionable elements of Morris Dancing. There’s no hanky waving or tinnitus-inducing bell-pads here (as a former hanky-waving-bell-rattler myself I feel qualified to say this), but a plethora of big sticks, rag jackets, Doc Martens and high-energy movements which quite frankly looked more exhausting than a HIIT session at your local gym, but was definitely more entertaining. Erstwhile Border Morris will be returning to Ragged Bear 2024.

Back to the music and Tavistock based The Suthering; formed by Julu Irvine & Heg Brignall, was a belated discovery for me. I am really surprised that I’ve not heard them before, but that is one of the primary joys of festivals like Ragged Bear – the knowledge that you’re going to come across some great new music. Their beautiful harmonies delicately intertwined whilst tackling some hard issues, giving their music a fresh and innovative feel.

Following another high-octane, cardio-inducing display from Erstwhile Border Morris, The Lost Trades played a very pleasing, instrument-swapping, chilled-out set that marked the conclusion of the ‘quieter’ first half of the festival.

Ragged Bear Festival is the brainchild and product of the extreme hard labour of Steve Bentley, so it’s only fitting that his band Greenman Rising marked the festival’s drift into party mode as the day turned into the evening. This is a band that appear to be getting tighter as a unit and this was definitely the best performance that I have witnessed from them, the future looks bright and I definitely look forward to seeing them again in 2024.

At this point, it had become apparent that Ragged debutants Merry Hell would not be able to join us due to a family emergency, but they have promised to perform next year and I am delighted that they are all safe and well now. This unfortunate absence did mean that each of the remaining bands were able to perform an extended set.

Nick Parker and Ben Wain upped the ante with a highly entertaining, polished and comedic set that at times felt reminiscent of the great Gaz Brookfield, they certainly had plenty of fans in the audience who joined in singing the lyrics with great gusto and it’s fair to say that anyone who had not seen them before soon became converts.

Headsticks followed and continued the party atmosphere but managed to do so whilst tackling some serious but uplifting topics, in their trademark and highly infectious punk-folk way. Man the Lifeboats somehow managed to increase the energy levels even higher and gave a confident performance complete with some impressive jumps off the drum riser.

The evening drew to a close with a headline set from the indominatable Mad Dog Mcrea and their unique mixture of folk rock, pop, gypsy jazz, bluegrass and ‘shake your ass’ music, quite simply the perfect way to finish the party and conclude Ragged Bear 2023.

Ragged Bear, despite being in its ninth year, is still somewhat of an undiscovered gem and nicely bookends what is largely the end of the festival season, a wide variety of great acts, friendly venue, nice beers, easily accessible in the heart of England and it also managed to add some superb catering this year. Hope to see you all next year!

Ragged Bear online: Website / facebook

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