Check out this great review of Costa Del Folk Mallorca 2016 by Fiona Heywood, The Living Tradition
I didn’t think I would ever be in Magaluf – party central for giggling pink tee-shirt clad hens and beer swilling staggering stags – yet I found myself Mallorca bound to go to the latest Costa Del Folk festival at the end of April. Apparently the town of Magaluf is trying to dispense with its image as a location for drunken debauchery, so an influx of 700 or so well-mannered folkies, who brought the average age of the town’s inhabitants that week up by a considerable margin, must have been welcome. As Eddi Reader joked from the stage, when she was asked where she was from by one of the lads in a Scottish bar in the town, she replied: “Another century, son!”
The festival took place in the town’s BH Hotel, which was more an apartment complex than a hotel, built around some fairly major water slides and several pools and outdoor bars – a slightly incongruous venue for a folk festival at first glance, but one which grew on me as the week progressed. All the events took place on two outdoor stages, with some seating in a marquee for those who felt the need of some extra shelter at night. I’m not sure the venue staff had ever seen anything quite like this, but after a few initial teething problems (which Enjoy Travel endeavoured to sort out quickly) they seemed to get on board.
As usual, the festival package included flights, transfers, dinner,bed and breakfast, and a full festival pass, and those clever
enough to book early also got €150 per room to spend at the bar as well – a great deal, and well worth the money when compared to the prices of a festival ticket alone at some other festivals. Although meals were included (buffet style), there were also some lovely local tapas bars nearby where you could venture to experience some more typical Mallorcan food and some local hospitality, though you had to look hard to find them among the ‘livelier’ English, Irish and Scottish themed pubs.
But we were there for the music, not the wildlife, and on that front we were certainly not disappointed.
The first afternoon concert was opened by Boc Mallorca, a local celtic/folk band that was not afraid to rock it up a bit. It was a nice touch to include a local act, and they went down well. They were followed by Curtis Eller’s American Circus, who didn’t make such a good impression – particularly as he spent the majority of his set slagging off his audience, usually with reference to their age and to the fact that they did not look like they were enjoying him enough. But Eddi Reader came on and saved the day. Her sets throughout the weekend were excellent – her voice is incredible, she judged the audience just right and her stagecraft was “Perfect”!
The other acts were too numerous to namecheck here, but there was good variation and excellent quality. A few stood out from the crowd for me though.
Jez Lowe And The Bad Pennies just oozed quality, craftsmanship and warmth, and Jez’s song, The Bergen, was a definite highlight of the week for me. The band weren’t even fazed when the sound on the main stage went off at the end of their set; rather, they just stepped out from behind the mics and carried on – utter professionals. Jez also played a set with Steve Tilston; a masterclass in songwriting from two of the folk world’s finest.
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar are just getting better and better, and they really added something special to the week. There are not many young singers of Greg’s quality, and Ciaran is a formidable fiddler who also has the enviable skill of knowing how to accompany a song without overpowering it. Their sets were full of light and shade, and their stage presence very genuine and endearing. The crowd loved them.
The Irish were well represented with Cara Dillon gracing the stage with her effortless, beautiful voice. She sang Dougie MacLean’s Garden Valley, and spoke of howit has new meaning in the face of the many displaced people in our world today. It was a powerful and emotional moment. Sam and Elaine Bracken also brought their distinctive singing and playing to the party. And De Danann were there with their classic traditional sound, joined by Eleanor Shanley on vocals.
The find of the week for me was undoubtedly Reg Meuross – a songwriter whose perceptive, accessible lyrics and beautiful, memorable melodies seemed to capture the hearts of the crowd.There was one song left ringing in my ears as we left to come home and it was his anthemic England Green And England Grey (a week later and I am still singing it – look it up!). His songwriting workshop was particularly good and the audience gave him their full attention (despite the fact that half of them were still eating their breakfast!).
As has become something of a tradition at Costa Del Folk, The Mighty Doonans closed the final concert, and this time they were joined by The Wilson Family. The Doonans’ act is slick and entertaining; a real stage show with lots of variety and lots of fun. The Wilsons are in a league of their own when it comes to unaccompanied harmony singing and were, as usual, spot on.
Together, the two bands produced a magnificent wall of sound and a very fitting end to the festival (though I am still not sure about their, now traditional, choice of Forever Young as the big finale).
The programme for the week had several different elements – main concerts, ‘chance to meets’, workshops, singarounds – but due to the lack of different spaces available, they were all held on either the main stage or a smaller outdoor stage. This led to a slight lack of variation of feel, although the artists doing the workshops and ‘chance to meets’ did endeavour to engage the audience differently and make the performances a bit more informal. It didn’t help, though, that the Festival Village Stage had a swimming pool between the stage and most of the audience, affecting the sound. Also, this was the area where people were eating meals, so the people gathered were often not the usual ‘listening audience’ that you would get if the stage was in a more suitable place.
The daily workshops varied from a ‘questions from the audience’ style to a more hands on approach where people got the chance to dance or play. The Emma Sweeney Trio’s Irish tunes workshop was very well received. Emma and her band broke the participants up into small groups and got people learning new things – something that could perhaps be offered more at future events.
Karin Grandal-Park and Rosie Clegg also hosted what was billed as a singaround on the Festival Village Stage each evening. In essence, these ended up being more like concerts, with Karin,Rosie and the other booked guests doing most of the singing, but the occasional floor singer was squeezed in where possible, and on the last night several got the chance to get up and do a bit. Again, I don’t think the venue for this was right – for me, singarounds and stages don’t go, and a room somewhere away from the diners would have worked better. Karin and Rosie did a great job though, and it was good to have a chance to hear them every night – they sing and play well together and are now an integral part of the Costa Del Folk team.
Another important member of the team, who worked tirelessly all week to make sure everything went smoothly, is Mike Harding. As the main compere for the week,he is something of a linchpin for the festival, but even when not on stage, he always seemed to be in the thick of the fun somewhere. A memorable moment for me during the week was his attempt at a ‘whispered sea shanty’ in a late night singing session where we were trying to keep the noise to a minimum due to people sleeping nearby; a surreal and very funny moment that only Mike could come up with.
The late night sessions were very popular, and festival goers were keen to get the chance to sing and play themselves. At the beginning of the week, there was only the marquee area available, but there were too many people for just one venue and there ended up being two competing sessions in the one space and it didn’t work. To their credit, the festival organisers were quick to arrange another room, and this helped, but there was a resulting noise issue for those sleeping nearby. The lack of an appropriate indoor bar area, particularly at night, might need to be addressed if the festival is to return here in future.
Though there were these few issues to iron out, the festival as a whole was another great success. Part of the beauty of these festivals is that you are sharing your lives with the other people attending for a week in a way that doesn’t happen elsewhere – eating together, lying in the sun together,singing and playing together and, of course, listening to some great music together – and this makes for a really friendly and inclusive atmosphere. Friendships are made and renewed each year here, and these make you want to come back as much as the music.