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Wye Fayre review

by: Marcus J Freed - Last updated: 2007-07-09

Wye Fayre

Wye Fayre

Marcus J Freed went to the annual Wye Fayre. Along with a surprising performance by a Jewish comic, he discovered that there were plenty of things to enjoy and why this festival makes a welcome alternative in the summer fest stakes.

“I’m Jewish”, said comedienne Caroline Clifford. “I was brought up as a reform Jew on the fringes of the community. Reform is basically Judaism-lite.” Clifford continued explaining her diluted brand of Judaism to the 95% non-Jewish audience. She indulged in a brief routine about a Palestinian Holocaust-denying boyfriend that led to a hilarious but risqué punchline. Despite her wit, the Watford-educated comic was struggling against two insuperable forces of nature; a mighty hangover and a heckling crowd who seemed to be at the festival more for the music than the comedy.
The Wye Fayre contained a very diverse mix of bands and other music acts which added up to a smashing weekend. The event grew out of the Wye Blues Festival and now comprises folk, blues, roots, Americana, indie and electronica. The festival is set in the pretty grounds of Withersdane Hall near Ashford, and for the Jewish festival-goer it makes a great Shabbat trip as all of the four music stages are within a short walk of one another.

It is very impressive that Wye Fayre is organised by just five people and there was a very good mix of bands including the headlining Nizlopi. This British-born duo quickly made it into the public consciousness with the charismatic JCB Song and their intimate set was a real treat. Their combination of vocals, beatbox, double-bass and acoustic guitar all come provide a colourful backdrop for heartfelt lyrics that provoke the audience to think whilst they are dancing to Nizlopi’s fabulous rhythms.

The Coal Porters were an unexpected surprise at Wye, with their tightly-performed acoustic Bluegrass, fronted by Sid Griffin. His voice is becoming more familiar to the nation after a recent stint as  on Mark Radcliffe's BBC Radio 2 show, and the five-piece band successfully bring this very American folk music to a British audience. If you’re unsure what Bluegrass is, watch a DVD of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and then buy the Porters’ album. They put on a fabulous show and ended with an acoustic encore standing in the middle of a field surrounded by their thrilled audience.

John Smith is an unassuming singer-songwriter who has terrific guitar skills and a warm, husky voice, and incredible guitar skills. Smith is a very watchable performer, with strong melodies and the ability to have an audience begging for more even though there are 100 other music acts on offer. James Yuill was even more unassuming and had the crowd going wild within minutes. I wasn’t even sure if the geeky Yuill had started his act as his guitar was hanging behind him and he had his head buried deep into a laptop as the first track began. Nevertheless, this fusion of break beats, funk, folk, acoustic trance and DJ-ing makes for a great experience. Yuill skilfully manipulated the tools of his trade and is definitely a name to watch out for.

Keri Noble put on a good concert along with a two-piece ensemble and the U.S. has a strong, soulful voice. The only disappointing aspect of her otherwise very enjoyable gig was when she began telling the story of a song that she’d written. It was a response to the chauvinist behaviour of hip-hop aspects towards their wives, which had been recently highlighted by a documentary on the cable channel VH1. “I was lazing away in the afternoon watching TV on my sofa”, said Noble, “and after I saw these mistreated hip-hop wives, it inspired me to go into the room where my piano is and write this song”. It would be more sage to cut this intro and stick to her soulful music. Even so, her other songs were mesmerising and her cover of Bill Wither’s Use Me brought a remarkable dimension to the song that has never been achieved with a male voice. This week she is performing around London and is well worth hearing live.

Wye Fayre harks back to the days before music weekends became huge commercial ventures and although there is room for a couple of vegetarian food stalls, it is refreshing to go to an event which isn’t overcrowded and where there aren’t vendors trying to fleece you at every opportunity. The camping conditions are good, the toilets are clean and there is a good variety of music even if there was a notable absence of non-caucasian performers. The organisers have done a great job and it is well worth a visit. Would I attend next year? Without a doubt.

Related links:

Wye Fayre

Coal Porters

John Smith

Keri Noble

Caroline Clifford


James Yuill