Rock’n’Reel review 2023

Ely Folk Festival has made a few minor tweaks to how it all works, including renaming all the stages (Peregrine, Kingfisher, Nightingale, in size order, with signs featuring delightful artwork of the relevant birds) but otherwise things are much the same, except for making Peregrine a completely outdoor venue and while there was no rain there was a lot of sun so the jury’s out on whether this is a good idea or not.

Musically the bill was eclectic and interesting. Inevitably not everything hit the mark but misses were in the minority. Local muso Rich Young delivered two fine sets of Americana-inspired originals and covers, the impossibly young and equally impossibly talented Isla Mae wowed with both her sets while local folk club veteran Bernie Kedge sang classic songs in the Nightingale stage to much applause and joining in. A bit further up the bill Paper Sparrows celebrated the release of their debut album with a real ‘wow!’ set and Katie Spencer’s marvellous guitar playing and atmospheric songs confirmed her as a rising star. For the energetic a double bill of Blackbeard’s Tea Party followed by Ferocious Dog on Saturday night really hit the mark with both bands at the top of their game while on Sunday Simon Care’s latest outfit Banter were the perfect act for a warm afternoon and Saul Rose and David Delarre more than ably filled in for the missing third of their trio, one Eliza Carthy, unavoidably absent through illness. Perhaps the warmest welcome though went to Cambridge outfit The Willows, playing their first gigs for four years. Cheered to the rafters on both stages they have been sorely missed.

As for amenities, the bar (with added gin bar) was outstanding, the facilities were all you’d hope they’d be and the food decent, although a bit light on snack and healthy options. Many of the people there were serial attendees and it’s easy to see why as Ely is as good a small festival as you can find anywhere in the country.