Music Critic Frankie Rhodes reviews Moseley Folk & Arts Festival, describing it as one of the most relaxed and friendly festivals out there
Anyone who has visited Moseley, Birmingham, will know that it features leisurely streets, quaint cafes, and a beautiful park, open exclusively to subscribers. Once a year, this mysterious park and pool opens its gates to the public for the Moseley Folk & Arts Festival, a whole weekend of magical music in keeping with the ethereal setting. This year promised to be a real treat: with Frank Turner headlining Saturday, Passenger taking on Sunday night, and various artists from local to international scattered across the weekend.
I was just as excited to see the park as I was to hear the music, and upon entering I was met with a lush green space stretching down to a lake, with the Main Stage positioned directly in front of it for maximum aesthetic potential. This meant that you could see the main stage from virtually anywhere on the festival grounds, which was perfect for those who wanted to set up garden chairs and picnics. There were two other stages: the Lunar Stage, located just to the left of the Main Stage (with alternating acts between the stages so that there was constantly music playing), and the Kitchen Garden Stage, a smaller area tucked away further towards the Lake. With plenty of food trucks, a Speaker’s Corner, and a whole area dedicated to cocktail stalls, I could not fault the layout.
This was by far the friendliest festival I have ever been to. While the pandemic has made me dread sweaty crowds and lengthy toilet queues, Moseley was blissfully spaced out, welcoming and inclusive. Between acts, festival-goers were entertained with everything from acrobatic dancers to the hilarious Commentators (a comic duo who delivered cheeky observations of the crowd). Throughout Saturday and Sunday, I committed myself to seeing as much music and arts as possible (far too many acts to list here) but I have gathered some of my highlights.
Early during the Saturday, I took in the set of Irish songwriter Darragh O’Dea, who opened with a heartfelt number that he described as ‘the Irish way of saying: you are very welcome.’ And the crowd indeed felt welcome, as he moved into lyrical numbers that reminded me of the folk music I had heard when visiting pubs in Dublin. His prominent single ‘The Whole of Dublin & the Irish Sea’ combined a quirky tale with lively guitar backing to get the crowd warmed up, as did his recruitment of special guest Katherine Priddy (an artist lined up for Sunday,) to provide harmonies.
Later on, I decided to pay a visit to the Speakers Corner which hosts poets, politicians, and artists for talks throughout the weekend. Listening to ‘Jess Philips in Conversation’ gave me a chance to hear more about her work in the communities of Yardley, and to be part of some hard-hitting debates about the opportunities available to Birmingham people. It was inspiring to see such a bustling, engaged crowd attending a political event at a music festival, and I hope that Moseley Folk & Arts Festival will continue this practice in the future.
On the chilled-out Kitchen Garden Stage (named after the prominent music venue in Kings Heath), I watched Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker. She was joined by Drinkwater on double bass – half of the duo Jacob & Drinkwater billed for Sunday – and these pizzicato notes perfectly complimented her impressive vocals. Barker has toured internationally with Frank Turner, incidentally the headliner that fans rushed to see following Barker’s set.
Frank Turner was highly entertaining as he closed the Saturday night. Despite the heavy nature of his songs, (edging closer to rock than folk,) his expert storytelling ability made him well-suited for the Moseley Folk & Arts Festival. I noticed that he was able to engage a predominantly male audience with issues related to anxiety through tracks like ‘Recovery’ and ‘Be More Kind,’ which continued an important conversation about men’s mental health. He also had a fantastic rapport with his partner mandolin player, which was a source of much humour and impressive riffs.
I kicked off Sunday by heading back to the Kitchen Garden Stage, to see folk duo Chris Elliott and Caitlin Jones. As a proudly Staffordshire-based band, their first track was fittingly dedicated to ‘Staffordshire Men’ (and women.) With Jones offering delightful motifs on flute, Elliott playing mandolin, and the pair effortlessly harmonising, this was one of my favourite sets of the weekend. They had perhaps the most distinctive folk style, with moving stories told through tracks like ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Maggie Manson.’
Switching to the Lunar Stage, I witnessed the up-and-coming Christie Reeves, supported by ex-UoB student and soloist Alexandra Rose on guitar. The two expertly shared rhythms between them, and Reeves’ hauntingly beautiful vocals proved why her music has made her Tik-Tok famous. I particularly enjoyed her cover of ‘You’re Still the One’ by Shania Twain, a track chosen for its feel-good content (which the audience clearly agreed with).
As the Sunday afternoon progressed, I was overwhelmed by act after act of fantastic music. The Birmingham-born Katherine Priddy attracted crowds with her mesmerising tracks inspired by Greek mythology. The tragically romantic ‘Icarus’ and atmospheric ‘Eurydice’ kept the audience under her spell, as did upbeat tracks like ‘Letters from a Travelling Man’, indicating that Priddy is a notably versatile artist. It was also sweet to hear that the singer has been attending Moseley Folk Festival since she was 15, and has now risen to the heights of the Main Stage.
Soon after, the astoundingly energetic Jade Bird took to the stage, opening with her raucous track ‘Head-start’. Bird was quite possibly the most entertaining performer of them all, with head-banging and raspy tones establishing her as a true rock star. She noted that she normally has to sing loudly, otherwise ‘nobody will listen,’ so she appreciated the relaxed crowd as a chance to play some of her slower hits. I enjoyed these stripped-back tunes, but my favourite moment was the gloriously lively performance of ‘Lottery.’
As if we hadn’t been treated enough, Passenger also graced the stage on Sunday to perform (in his own words) his ‘one and only hit single.’ While his rendition of the enduringly popular track ‘Let Her Go’ was certainly memorable, I preferred his other tracks as a chance to expose his raw talent and song-writing skills. He had the entire audience on their feet for numbers like ‘I Hate’ and ‘The Things That Stop You Dreaming,’ with the crowd singing along loyally and even demanding an encore. This was graciously delivered, and Passenger closed his set with the sensational track ‘Holes.’
I left the weekend thoroughly well-listened and well-fed (I had battered halloumi with masala chips for dinner on Saturday – genius) and cannot wait for the Moseley Folk & Arts Festival next year. If you are a true fan of folk and want to see a rich and exciting variety of acts; or even if you are simply just looking for a good time in a relaxed atmosphere, then this is the event for you.
You Might Also Like: