As I came out of Liverpool St. Station and walked towards the tourist end of Brick Lane, signage was everywhere. The Upstart Crow Festival was up and running for only its second year in Spitalfields Market in London. The organisers hoped for a rain free day. Their wish was granted, as blue skies and a sunbathed audience made the day feel more like summer than early autumn.

In the fortnight leading up to the Upstart Crow Festival, Stick in the Wheel had had numerous radio slots with 'Folk Show' (Radio 2), 'Woman's Hour'(Radio 4) and 6 Music promoting their debut album, 'From Here'.

I arrived at the festival just in time to catch progressive folk/blues band Whom by Fire, who certainly lit up proceedings with their definitive sound. There was already a lot of chatter about Stick in the Wheel, who had preceded them. One punter told me, "I'd never heard them before but they sounded great, really different," as she proudly displayed her recently purchased album.

Simon Stanley Ward brought humour and audience participation to the stage along with a hat which looked a tad too big for him. One song described the exploits of two flies caught up in the hussle and bussle of Heathrow airport...bizarre.

The rise and rise of Felix Indiana continued with his enthralling twenty-five minute set. He is lyrically perceptive, expressive whilst his simple chords have a rawness, an edgy unconfined vibe. He captures the moment each time I see him perform live.

I think it's fair to say the petite Brooke Sharkey has a style which is better suited to intimate venues and locations. With backing from a wonderful French horn and double bass, her rendition of 'White Chalk' was a real crowd pleaser.

As the audience grew in size throughout the afternoon I stepped backstage. Robert Chaney, who looked somewhat different than when I last saw him( He is now clean shaven and short haired), told me, "Upstart Crow is just getting bigger with more people involved. The audience is far bigger than last year. It is crazy but fun."

Most seats were occupied throughout the afternoon with late showers spilling around the peripheries to get a better view. Coats, tops and cardigans were donned as the setting sun became lost behind the architecture of east London.

First up of the UCF headline acts was Michele Stodart (She of the Magic Numbers), who once again confirmed why she is such a highly rated singer- songwriter as she sung stories of loss, rejection and heartbreak. On one song she sung the line, "Everyone needs saving sometimes," and as a violin was introduced into the evening air we could have been transported to Venice, Rome or Madrid. It was an exceptional set of material from Stodart and her band.

The second headliner John Murry no doubt brought in the biggest crowd of the day. Those familiar with his style accept the man doesn't say much. He, however, does capture an audience, making them listen, which is exactly what they did with on each and every song.

Respected local musicians Robert Chaney and Lorraine Wood captured the essence of UCF. It's a festival of singer-songwriters. Chaney, who recently supported Buffy Saint-Marie, has started casting his talents into the UK's northern hemisphere. Here he played numerous tracks from his excellent debut album, 'Cracked Picture Frames'.

Wood is still promising, or should that be teasing an album sometime next year? We will see. Her slight vocal tremble and the intimacy of those savage, raw, open wound lyrics that she expresses in each of her songs floated on a still night air.

The surprise of the festival was Adam Beattie and The Consultants (The man who had to introduce himself). With a backing of electric organ, double bass and percussion, they conjured up a diverse treat.

The trio played tight fitting bluesy runs. Beattie dipped in and out on electric guitar. He set up a song around a quote by an imprisoned Oscar Wilde with 'You Only Kill the One You Love'.

Beattie told of a meeting he had with an old man he found crying in his garden of weeds. All too aware of his deceased wife's displeasure he was now to old to tend the garden anymore. The trio slid into solo interludes. Beattie's vocals continued the story, with spoken breaks delivered with maturity and composure. Collectively, there was real talent on show here.

Talking of talent, does Laura Tenschert have the best vocal range amongst the festival line up?

I think so. Be it her solo spot, or the various accompaniments she provided, Tenschert was note perfect.

Its fitting last act of the evening was James Burton, who was the originator of UCF. Burton is a passionate, forthright singer-songwriter who offered the listener blistering lyrics on key topics. His song 'Jimmy Choo Revolution' asked the question “Why is everyone having fun but me?”. Like any good showman he had the audience up and dancing to his last number of the evening, finally closing off the second UCF and doing just what the old adage instructs...leave them asking for more...which is just what they did.

I caught up with an exhausted but jubilant Burton once the festival was over. It was the perfect day we planned for," he said. "The weather was great. All the social media updates, blagging, badgering paid of. It brought in the crowds. At one point we had an audience of over 2,000. I found myself backstage listening to the artists thinking, 'Is this really happening?' We are already thinking about next year. Our aim is to make the UCF London's finest and biggest event."

The organisers put together a roaring success of a festival on so many fronts. The line up came with a simple tag, that being quality. There had been music for every taste. I pay particular tribute to those artists who stayed till the end in support of their fellow performers.

Each time I looked over to the merchandise stall someone was always in attendance. Volunteers, organisers and artists all put in a shift.

Promotion of the UCF has somehow reached most media outlets. Whilst being all over social media for months, national and local radio recognised many of their performers on their playlists and interviews. Even the mighty London 'Metro' ran a piece on their music page highlighting the plethora of talent on show.

It was certainly a day of music to remember. See you next year. By the way, a word of caution to the organisers...You may need a larger venue.















Related Links:

http://www.upstartcrowfestival.com/
https://twitter.com/upstartcrowfest
https://www.facebook.com/upstartcrowlondon


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