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Now this was a proper birthday surprise. My son Adam and his girlfriend Ruth bought me a ticket to Moseley Folk Festival. That was always going to be good news for an old folkie like me, but they heroically accompanied me on the day out. I'd met Ruth only once, and that briefly, so I was particularly unsure how she'd take to old bearded men with their fingers in their ears. I needn't have worried...
In fairness, the line-up was a tad patchy, and the billing demonstrated the organisers' failure to understand their market. Second on the bill was every folkie's deity: the incomparable Richard Thompson. Who could possibly push the ultimate troubadour off pole position?
That's right, Don McLean.
Yeah, okay, American Pie is an icon, and Vincent a masterpeice, but I bet you'd be struggling after that. I know I was. I know he has - and deserves - a devoted following, but so do One Direction, who would have been equally out of place.
On the plus side, we had a nostalgic performance by Peggy Seeger and her son. It was humbling to be in the presence of someone who could connect us back to Pete Seeger and even Woody Guthrie. But, for me and most of the audience, the moment to anticipate was when, with his customary slightly embarrassed humility, Richard Thompson took the stage. After a couple of gloriously blistering acoustic headbangers, he delicately picked out the opening of Persuasion. It never ceases to amaze me that someone who can strip paint off the back walls with a red Stratocaster can wring such emotion from his signature Breedlove acoustic. Adam nudged me and I looked around. Ruth was in a different world, leaning into the music, tears streaming down her cheeks. Persuasion was followed by Beeswing, another of his works of poignant genius, and we considered borrowing a bucket. You got a keeper here, my boy.
Virtuoso performance over, people began to drift away. By the time the bill-topper took the stage, the field was half empty.
Mr McLean's set began with a song I didn't know, and continued with some more I didn't know either and am unlikely to remember. This, of course, could be down to my musical taste - a matter of my opinion/bias. What wasn't down to opinion was that his guitar was out of tune. Badly out of tune.
The sound quality had been poor for all acts except Richard Thompson's, and the reason was obvious. We were next to the control desk and had noticed that the sound man spent the day playing with his phone, frequently not even noticing that a performer's microphone wasn't even live until he'd completed another Minecraft castle. He was unceremoniously displaced by Thompson's own sound guy, and it all came together. Sadly, when the folk hero left, so did the audio hero. This turned out to be important, as McLean began complaining, not that his guitar needed tuning, but that it wasn't loud enough. The idiot at the desk looked up from Angry Birds and tweaked a slider. He was instructed to repeat this distraction several times. The result was an increasingly atonal guitar, played too hard, that drowned out an entirely competent backing band.
Realising that we were hanging on to hear the murder of the only two songs we wanted to hear - and which would obviously not appear until the encore* - we joined the rest of the crowd and went home.
* I doubt if there was one.
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