at Tarns,
Cumbria, England
(26-28 August 2005)

This was just the second year of Solfest, which is already gaining a well-deserved reputation for its beautiful setting, eclectic music, easygoing ambience and ability to attract top-name musicians. At 35 for a three-day ticket (including camping) it is surely one of the best festival bargains around these days.

I could only attend Saturday and Sunday this year and was disappointed about who I had missed on Friday, including Karine Polwart and Peatbog Faeries. However, it was the sort of high-quality lineup replicated through the whole festival that saw the Undertones and Saw Doctors headlining. Glen Tilbrook's enduring popularity ensured he drew a big crowd, as did Oojami, an Anglo-Turkish band that made a dramatic start to its act complete with a whirling dervish! One disappointment though was Waking the Witch, whose five female voices did not always seem to gel during their performance. Three acts I saw that really excited me however were Nerina Pallot, Astrid Williamson and Baka Beyond.

Nerina Pallot has been gaining quite a following among fans of female singer-songwriters for some considerable time now. On the evidence of this inspired performance this is no surprise, as she combines a superlative voice with distinctive songs. Despite the cold wind blowing across the festival stage, Nerina grabbed the attention of an ever-growing audience with a solo set that impressed through the beauty of her songs complemented by a naturally engaging personality. Equally accomplished on guitar and keyboard, she performed most of her songs from her recent Fires album. Watch out for this singer -- she will be big!

Astrid Williamson, whom I had not come across previously, was another singer-songwriter to make her mark on the festival. Hailing from Shetland, she has had a varied musical background from classical to rock. Astrid's voice had an enigmatic quality and wide range that was always appealing. A guitarist and keyboard player herself, she combined well with her two band members who played electric guitar and electric bass as she worked through her memorable repertoire of love songs. Like Nerina, Astrid is another singer-songwriter who deserves wider recognition.

Baka Beyond performed a stunning set as the penultimate act on the Sunday evening. I was somewhat surprised not to have heard their music before and now rate as them as one of the best fusion acts I have experienced. Think of a cross between Afro Celt Sound System and Capercaillie, and you will have some idea of their upbeat, exciting sound. From the two cool female singers to the passionate percussionists, the band put on a vibrant performance that had the audience dancing and cheering throughout. The combination of African and Celtic influences was an attractive one and the highlight song for me was "A Thousand Curses on Love," a traditional Gaelic waulking (work) song, another version of which is the opening track of Capercaillie's last album Choice Language. As the evening darkened, the stage was swathed in magical lighting as soap bubbles floated through and above the audience enhancing the atmosphere even further.

I have every confidence Solfest will be able to retain its special charm and musical quality as it undoubtedly grows and develops in the future.

by Andy Jurgis
29 October 2005

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