Beverley Folk Festival still going strong

As the Beverley Folk Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend, Chris Bond speaks to its artistic director Chris Wade.
The Proclaimers and Gretchen Peters, below.The Proclaimers and Gretchen Peters, below.
The Proclaimers and Gretchen Peters, below.

When Chris Wade and a group of friends at the White Horse Folk Club set up the original Beverley Folk Festival back in 1983, they thought it would probably just be a one-off.

Many a music festival has come and gone in the intervening years but Beverley’s three-day celebration of music, comedy, poetry and story-telling has not only survived but flourished, establishing itself as one of the most popular dates on the British folk calendar.

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The annual event, which gets underway today, is celebrating its 30th anniversary and this year promises to be the biggest yet with up to 6,000 people expected to attend more than 90 gigs and events over the weekend.

In previous years the town’s leisure centre has been the festival’s heart but this time they’ve moved to Beverley Racecourse. “It’s grown steadily over the years,” says Wade, the festival’s artistic director, “but although we’ve moved to the racecourse we still have some of the smaller venues because we want to retain the intimate atmosphere that makes the festival so special.”

Wade says the festival started out with a handful of events in local pubs. “We wanted to try and bring some bigger names artists to Beverley, but we had no idea it would carry on for as long as it has, we thought it would just be a one off.”

Since then the likes of Billy Bragg, Clare Teal, Paul Carrack and Steeleye Span have performed at the festival, and this year’s line-up is no less impressive, with The Proclaimers, Oysterband and acclaimed crime fiction writer Ian Rankin among the big names taking part.

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In its early days the focus was very much on folk music, but the festival – which 
boasts Mike Harding and 
John Godber as patrons – 
has since evolved to attract 
a broader audience. “Each year we like to have at least one big headline act who appeals to both a folk and a non-folk audience and this year we’ve got The Proclaimers.

“But we’ve also got comedy with John Shuttleworth and Patrick Monahan, we’ve got the crime fiction writer Ian Rankin and we’ve got poetry and storytelling and the festival film club.”

They’re also staging John Godber’s play, Bouncers. “It’s the first time we’ve done theatre and as John is one of our patrons we thought it 
was fitting to do one of his plays.”

Comedy has become an integral part of the festival over the years and Teesider Patrick Monahan, winner 
of the ITV 1 series Show Me the Funny, will kick 
off proceedings tonight, 
before John Shuttleworth brings his wonderfully 
wacky style of comedy to 
the stage tomorrow 

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On Sunday, Ian Rankin, international best selling author of the John Rebus novels, makes a welcome return to the festival when he will be talking about his latest book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Music, though, is at the festival’s core with this year’s line-up featuring a careful blend of well established names alongside impressive newcomers. Headliners include multi-award winning band Oysterband, crowned best group at last year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Having evolved in the 1980s from the folk band Fiddler’s Dram, the group developed into a ceilidh band before finding its feet as one of England’s finest folk rock acts.

Scottish duo The Proclaimers whose hits include I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Letter From America are also among the star attractions as is Nashville singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters who has worked with Bryan Adams and written songs for the likes of Etta James and Neil Diamond.

Other musical highlights include festival favourites and BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards double winners Show of Hands, who have performed at everywhere from Womad to Glastonbury and built a large following with their unique blend of folk, roots, blues, rock and world music.

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Henry Priestman, songwriter with The Christians, is also returning to the festival. Priestman started out his musical life as a support act for the Sex Pistols in 1977 before going on to make a name for himself with The Christians, selling three million albums in the process.

As well as these more established names, the organsiers are keen to promote newcomers on the folk and roots scene – like the winners of the 2012 Live and Unsigned Awards, Co-Co and the Butterfields. Other young stars to watch include Sam Carter, a BBC Radio 2 Award winner who appeared on Later ... With Jools Holland last year, and BBC Radio 2 Horizon Award winner Lucy Ward.

Wade says they want to support as much up and coming musical talent as possible. “We always try to encourage young musicians who go on to make a for themselves and we’re every excited about this year’s line-up,” she says.

After 30 years, she is delighted that Beverley Folk Festival is still alive and kicking. “Our reputation has grown and more people 
know about us and that obviously helps,” she says. “People like coming to Beverley and they seem to like the programme we put on here because it’s a bit different from some of the other festivals out there.

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“It’s a very friendly place and it’s a lovely location and this year we even have cows and sheep wondering around on the edges.”

What more do you want?

Beverley Folk Festival, Beverley Racecourse, June 21-23. For more information & tickets visit or call 01377 217 569.

Folk Festival highlights

The Proclaimers – Brothers Charlie and Craig Reid are masters of the rousing pop anthem whose songs have been belted out on disco dancefloors for the past 25 years.

Gretchen Peters – folk and country singer-songwriter from Nashville who has written hits for the likes of Etta James, Patty Loveless and Neil Diamond.

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Henry Priestman – Yorkshire-born songwriter and musician who made his name with The Christians during the 1980s and 90s.

Patrick Monahan – The Middlesbrough stand-up of Iranian and Irish descent widely tipped as a comedy star in the making.

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