Black Deer Festival - Day 3

Sunday 19th June 2022

Eridge Park, Kent

Rolling up to the festival following a night of crashing thunder and lightning, and after driving home from the event on the previous day through semi-flooded roads as torrential rain crashed down, it was a pleasant surprise to find the festival site dry underfoot as if the previous night’s events hadn’t happened and it was all a bad dream brought on by too much scrumpy. I only caught a couple of tunes by the Blue Rose Code before shooting off to Haley’s Bar to catch another act. As the name suggests they are a typical modern Folk band with a generic crossover sound, featuring a bit more electric guitar than usual. The True Strays’ 2020 studio album ‘Heart of The Matter’ is very listenable, full of well arranged, mid-tempo rocking numbers, with a hint of the Blues. Live, the three-piece is more crunchy in its delivery. I left them to scuttle back to the main stage where Noble Jacks performed their fiddle led, up tempo Folk. Like most acts I didn’t get a chance to listen to them at length so to call them pleasant without really setting the world alight is probably a bit unfair. They were probably perfect for their mid-afternoon slot.

I left them jigging away to watch William Price on the Ridge stage. A lot of one-man singer songwriters leave me cold, but this Canadian has a voice with such a rich timbre that it commands attention. Like most artists playing the festival, his material was totally new to me but the quality of the song writing was immediately apparent. This was a performance that, once the photography was out of the way, you could just let wash over you like a soothing aural balm. After his set it was a quick nip over to the Supajam tent to catch a couple of tunes by the energetic Franky Perez (making his third appearance of the weekend) before returning to the Ridge for Police Dog Hogan, who turned out to be one of the festival highlights for me. The seven-piece Country/Folk ensemble is high on musicality and have some banging songs with clever lyrics that bring a smile to the face. Numbers like ‘West Country Boy’ and ‘Westward Ho’ (introduced as a tribute to the A303) are instantly likeable and memorable. James Studholme is an engaging front man and unlike many of the acts at the festival, where the backing musicians were very much in the background with acres of space between them and the “talent”, the whole band individually had a stage presence. Their’s was one of the very few complete sets I wanted to listen to.

Ward Thomas were yet another act I hadn’t even heard of, despite their No 1 Country album chart success for their last three studio albums. The twin sisters have vocal qualities that perfectly complement each other and they create that unique sibling blend that is thrilling to hear. None of the songs they played on the main stage made much of an instant impression, which is often the case with unfamiliar material, although they have some very tuneful numbers like the classic Country fluting on ‘One More Goodbye’ and ‘Stop This Train’. It was a feature of the festival that the focal point for the majority of performers was the vocalist rather than say the guitarist. Guitar solos were definitely at a premium.

The Paul Dunton Orchestra were well worth catching in the Supajam tent. The nine-piece ensemble played some very attractive original Pop music, featuring two female singers and a flute and cello player as well as violinist to provide an expansive sound. This was the sort of unexpected pleasure that festivals often throw up. Their 2020 album ‘Clearly Invisible’ is one that deserves wider attention.

Over in Hayley’s Bar, the Lost Brothers provided another highlight. It’s not the sort of music I normally listen to, but this Irish Folk duo could sing any song and transform base metal into gold; the blend of their voices creates a magical sound that vibrates through the air to envelope the listener completely. Their songs are beautiful with a really haunting quality that is captivating. Mark McCausland’s acoustic picking is gorgeous, playing melodic runs that provide a subtle counterpoint to the vocal lines. They were joined by a double bass player after a few numbers, who played with a clarity and sensitivity that often eludes similar players. I’m sure they played songs mostly from their last studio album ‘After The Fire After The Rain’, including, unsurprisingly, ‘After The Fire’ and ‘After the Rain’.

They were playing Bob Dylan’s ‘Corrina, Corrina’ as I had to drag myself away to catch the opening of Van Morrison’s set on the main stage, which turned out to be a surprisingly joyous performance. The veteran singer led his superb band through a no filler set that stayed away from the mystic and concentrated on dance inducing Rhythm and Blues and bangers from the back catalogue: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘Symphony Sid’, ‘It Stoned Me’, ‘Think Twice Before You Go’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Jackie Wilson Said’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and so on, one after the other. It was superb. A shout out should go to the terribly named ‘Hiss Golden Messenger’. I only got the chance to catch their last number in passing and really liked the rocking sounds I heard (some proper soloing going on), and wish I could have heard more.

The Dead South on the main stage and The Drive By Truckers on the Ridge stage provided festival-goers with more typical Americana fare and closed the proceedings on the two largest stages in an upbeat fashion.

There was a plethora of entertaining acts to choose from and while a few more Blues artists would not have gone amiss, this is an excellent festival that, despite the Covid interruption, looks to have established itself as a must attend annual event.

Simon Green