WHAT a difference a day makes – extremely challenging conditions on Friday which led to many outdoor activities and one stage being abandoned gave way to the return of summer on Saturday and Sunday.

And Purbeck Valley Folk Festival, now well ensconced on the farm of the same name with views of Corfe Castle, proves every year that variety is the spice of life with the term ‘folk’ often being stretched in multiple directions.

With more than 60 acts appearing over four main stages there was no shortage of excellent entertainment, allied to a host of extra activities, ranging from singing workshops, poetry and ceilidhs to children’s projects, crafts and healing.

The friendliest of friendly festivals continues apace - and festival organiser Catherine Burke managed it all, along with dad Paul, while attending to toddler Basil and newborn son Ernie.


The rain was ceaseless all day, the wind blew a hooley and all activity on the exposed, open air Fire Stage was abandoned. Thankfully three big barns housing the two main stages and the bar continued unaffected. Indeed, it was quite cosy weather-watching from inside.

It was very much a family affair for the majestic Thea Gilmore with her ever-present veteran producer and husband Nigel Stonier on guitar and keyboards along with their 12-year-old son Egan, who fiddled on a couple of songs – and then even did a solo spot before a thousand people.

Just to confuse matters, the unrelated Katriona Gilmore (of Gilmore and Roberts) was on fiddle, while erstwhile Noah & The Whale bassist Matt Owens, who had his own solo spot at Purbeck Valley, played funky bass and guided the band’s new drummer who was playing his first gig.

Gilmore, who strides the stage like an Amazon, has a beautiful voice, a sharp edge, intelligent lyrics and gorgeous songs, but star patronage from the likes of Springsteen and many Lakemans (Lakemen?) still leave her on the edge of much-deserved mainstream fame after so many years.

Here we had a festival parade of well-known material such as London, Grandam Gold, Cutteslowe Walls and Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone, along with a version of Sweet Child O’ Mine, as Gilmore, whether she was rocking it out or singing introspectively, showed why she is at the peak of her powers.

The last time I saw Leicester-based protest singer and activist Grace Petrie she was playing solo and hammering her guitar through a series of fantastic, thought-provoking tunes. At Purbeck, she had a band and hammered her guitar through a series of fantastic, thought-provoking tunes.

Arriving seconds before stage time after a nightmare journey, LGBT wunderkind Petrie managed quickly to compose herself and plunge into an excellent, if all too brief, set of favourites, such as Make America Hate Again, Northbound, Farewell To Welfare and the sublime message to her younger self, Black Tie, which contains a rhyme so good it should be framed but is so bad it can’t be printed here.

Petrie, once described as the female Frank Turner, is chatty, witty, abrasive – she described the audience as being like a church fete at one point – and even showed she had a softer side with her beautiful song Ivy, dedicated to her then newborn niece, whose name was not revealed…

Petrie, who achieved the rare Purbeck feat of winning an encore through audience reaction, could easily headline this festival – and probably will one day, and more.

If you Google ‘John Smith’ you get 1,360,000,000 results so to stand out with that name you have to be different. Being a six-foot ginger vampire who loves cold weather (his description) helps greatly, but so does being one of our foremost singer-songwriters.

John Smith, Essex-born but Devon bred singer-songwriter and guitarist and carrying the heavy mantle of being ‘the future of folk music’, as described by John Renbourn, put in a brilliant hour of miserable tunes, murder ballads (the brilliant Axe Mountain) and the odd lighter note.

Steeped in folk and multi-albums into his career, his gravelly voice is a perfect fit for his material and his innovative, energetic fingerstyle guitar technique allows his to extract maximum sound effects from a single instrument.

Last time I saw him was in a field guesting with Gomez where his talent was somewhat overshadowed. Here, close up, we could again (he was here in 2017) witness the full power of his playing. He seemed genuinely chuffed at the ecstatic reaction he received.

Old Man Luedecke, better known as Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Luedecke, serves up a lovely line in quirky, jaunty songs and storytelling and is a perfect example of the sheer variety at Purbeck.

Other Friday stand-outs were the excellent Roswell, 3 Daft Monkeys and Goat Roper Rodeo.


Afro Celt Sound System have been fusing electronica, Irish tunes and African rhythms for 22 years. Nominally a West Dorset collective, mostly because founder Simon Emmerson lives near Bridport, the Celts encompass a wide range of nationalities and styles.

Headlining Saturday night, they served up an evening of joyous uplifting tunes, fusing African rhythms with sounds from across many continents, along with plenty of drum and bass.

And with Emmerson mostly lurking in the background, it was left to the indefatigable Dhol Foundation drummer Johnny Kalsi and energetic and multi-talented frontman N’Faly Kouyate, to run the show

To me, they get a bit repetitive occasionally, but often got a great groove running and certainly went down a storm.

The husband and wife duo of Stu and Debs Hanna, better known as Megson, sing original songs about the north and life’s foilbles. He’s a former punk turned top producer and she’s a classically trained soprano and somehow it all works. We’re still waiting for fame to beckon them to greater things.

Mancunian singer-songwriter John Bramwell’s unusual voice seems a perfect fit for his idiosyncratic songs as the erstwhile I Am Kloot frontman continues his solo career. Although admitting he was in a ‘funny mood’, his material sounded good. He was joined by regular sidekick Dave Fidler, among others, who put in his own bluesy performance earlier.

Overlapping with Bramwell was the wonderful singer-songwriter Martha Tilston, who drew a big crowd with selections from a near 20-year career.

The always entertaining Bob Burke performed with full band and included part of his interesting Thomas Hardy project in a set of self-penned numbers, while multi award-winning Scottish chanteuse Karine Polwart beguiled with her haunting melodies and lyrics.

Honourable mentions to folk revival resurrectionists Bird in the Belly, the footstomping trans-European madness of Ushti Baba and the seven-piece Tashkezar, whose tunes from the likes of the Middle East, Turkey, the Balkans and more featured just one song sung in English.

The biggest sound of the day came in the packed barn where Dorset’s heralded Bierfass Band’s brassy versions of popular tunes prompted a mass singalong from punters who may or may not have been in the bar for a while.


Northern Irish chanteuse Cara Dillon’s exquisite voice is a sound to behold and worship and here she was, unusually with a big band, touring the 10th anniversary of her acclaimed Hill Of Thieves album at just three festivals this summer, Purbeck being the final stop.

If Dillon was an Oasis song it would be ‘She’s Eclectic’ – such is the range of material the Derry native proffers, including traditional Irish songs, heartbreakers, protest songs and original compositions. Her voice rises above everything, even as the all-star band gets into the groove.

And what a band it was, featuring, of course, husband and band leader Sam Lakeman, go-to double bassist Ben Nicholls, Aussie guitarist James Fagan, guitarist Ed Boyd, of Flook, Conor McDonagh on pipes and whistles and Toby Shaer on fiddles and flutes – who reappeared not half-an-hour later as part of Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys.

This time last year I said that Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, then second on the Friday bill behind King Creosote, would soon be headlining – who knew it would be just 12 months later in the same venue.

Young Sam, the Norfolk-bred, Bristol-based band leader and his team of five, go about reinventing folk music for new audiences, adding their own twist and a dollop of fun, making their interactive gigs a joy to witness.

Hugely entertaining, the set included the now familiar cover of Sultans of Swing, featuring Jamie Francis’s magic banjo, and a mighty version of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Other highlights were Greenland Whale, Spokes and The Keeper as this band really rocked. You know it has been good when the time flashes past.

But there was still time to catch the irrepressible Quinns Quinney, dressed as characters from a nativity play and bashing out the unlikeliest of cover versions as only a Dorset skiffle band can as they closed this year’s proceedings.

Earlier there was a second beguiling set of the weekend from Cornwall-based Martha Tilston before the much lauded and highly amusing singer-songwriter Gaz Brookfield tragically spent his Fire Stage set losing his voice to a lurgy. He gamely soldiered on with low register versions of the likes of The Diabetes Blues and It’s All So Rock’n’ Roll but had to cancel his subsequent set.

The same fate happened to the dynastic Marry Waterson, whose collaboration with Aussie roots singer Emily Barker ended with the latter taking all the singing duties.

Perfectly well and popping up unexpectedly in the bar were Wiff-Waff, purveyors of the finest old jazz and gypsy jazz classics, and on loan from Quinns Quinney.