A new festival took us down to the river last weekend. ‘Folk Festival On The Dock’ offered an eclectic line-up and a mix of free and ticketed events – featuring national and local headliners. There were shanties, folk songs and more rolled-up jeans and second-hand brogues than anywhere outside a Mumford & Sons Glastonbury headline set. But the organisers got it just right… for a first attempt. By Lis Garrett.

Folk music can be a tough one to sell and can all too often conjure up images of beards, Aran sweaters, sandals and stories about maypoles. So to have a four day festival at the Albert Dock might have been a risk – but, this inaugural festival, promised to also deliver acoustic, roots and sea shanties… and it did all that and more.

It was a good mix of free and ticketed events, too, with the main stage hosted by BBC Radio 2 and local music champion Janice Long, and boats, shanties and modern folk galore, mixed with more traditional acts. The crowds started off quite small on Saturday morning, but soon grew and stayed pretty steady over the weekend. We spent nearly all of Saturday at the main stage, however, with a couple of detours to the ‘Shanty Festival’ – on the France Hayhurst tug – where we caught Ashore For A Loaf leading the crowd in a rousing version of ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’. We then headed over to the Stanley Ambrose stage (nice touch from the out-of-town organisers) for the first time, to catch the end of Jimmy Rae and The Moonshine Girls.

We were treated to a wide variety of acts on the main stage – from the blues-tinged duo Winter Wilson, to the stunning Hendrix-inspired set from Benji Kirkpatrick. Indeed, the former Bellowhead musician displayed versatility and immense talent with reinterpretations of Hendrix classics on the bouzouki. Merry Hell followed, with an energy-packed set ranging from folky stories to an alternate national anthem, and had the crowd singing along and getting carried away with the joy oozing off the stage.

Local singer songwriter Eleanor Nelly is growing more confident and more accomplished every time she steps out on stage and Saturday’s performance was no different – with a strong set of her own songs showing just how she deserved her new place at LIPA and what an amazing future she has. The main stage finished Saturday’s festivities up with The Lost Brothers and their Simon & Garfunkel/Everly Brothers-influence was evident throughout – all tight harmonies soaring over the appreciative crowd.

The evening took us to a paid event at Ziferblat and local promoter’s Liverpool Acoustic’s headline act: the supremely talented Rob Vincent. Rob’s star has been rising rapidly in the last year, with endorsements from Bob Harris and further touring with Paul Carrack, and his second album is on the way. We were treated to a couple of tracks from that, as well as old favourites from the first album, and Rob’s performance was as wonderful as ever, with the intimate setting of the cafe really suiting the mood. Support came from Liz Owen, with a bluesy acoustic set.

Fast forward to Sunday night’s (paid) gig in the same venue and Chester’s Me and Deboe blew us away with their driving guitars and wonderful vocals. You don’t very often get covers of Led Zeppelin and Kate Bush in the same set, but they pulled it off and we can’t wait to see them again. The Southbound Attic Band headlined and entertained us with an eclectic mix of storytelling and humour – who else gives you a history lesson from the American Civil War alongside a story of modern day espionage in the Ukraine (with a detour around ‘The Wind In The Willows’)?

Monday started bright and sunny and the music matched the day – Elfin Bow (aka Elizabeth Jones) started us off with her ethereal set including songs from her forthcoming album. She was joined on stage by Skeet Williams, who had apparently only learned the songs the night before, and they all did an amazing job. Elizabeth is another performer we have watched getting stronger and this was one of her best sets yet – her blend of story telling and emotion driven lyrics is a joy to hear and the backing vocals from Muzz just top off the performance.

Heading back to the Stanley Ambrose stage and John Jenkins delighted a packed Anchor Courtyard with his gentle tales and minor key melodies: great acoustic music, sunshine and an enthusiastic audience… it doesn’t get much better than that. Alan Burke was another delight, back over on the main stage, with the Irish Sea Session veteran filling the bright blue skies over the Mersey with broadsides and ballads, all delivered in the brilliant Dublin broʊɡ.

We didn’t cover even a quarter of the acts on over the weekend, but what we saw was fantastic and there wasn’t a disappointing set in sight. We found some new bands who we are already investigating and that’s what a festival should do: widen your horizons and tempt you to a new musical experience.

The first ever ‘Folk Festival On The Dock’ gets top marks from us…

Pic, Eleanor Nelly, by Lis Garrett



1 comment

Graham Smillie
August 31, 2016 Reply
Sorry to say, I'd a load of other things I needed to do this weekend, but I managed to catch a couple of acts. I agree totally re; Eleanor Nelly. I'll try and free myself up for next year and catch a whole lot more!