Live Review: Folk In The Park, Sutton, London – 19th August 2023

Hannah White and Keiron Marshall

Folk In The Park is a relatively new and small festival held in Manor Park in Sutton, South London, with 13 artists playing across two stages. It’s organised by Hannah White and Keiron Marshall, together with their friends at the Sutton Sound Lounge, a grassroots music venue which is just round the corner in Sutton High Street. Following the previous day’s rain, the sun had decided to come out and after battling the road works on the A3 we arrived just in time for the 11.00 am start. The two performing areas are setup perpendicular to each other, which means if you get arrive early and secure a good spot, you merely have to swivel your folding chair through 90 degrees as the music switches between the stages.

First up was Holly Henderson, a 24 year old singer songwriter from Maidstone. Henderson plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by a bassist and keyboard player. She says that she was discovered whilst gigging at the Sound Lounge. She plays ‘Back After Sunrise‘ from her new album ‘The Walls‘ as well as a brand new song called ‘Just Life‘ written during one of her “existential crises.” She finishes with a ballad called ‘Wendy‘ telling the story of a person leaving their dog at home and promising them that they haven’t been abandoned.

David Hope hails from County Clare. He almost didn’t make it to the festival owing to the inclement weather in Ireland. His slightly tongue in cheek philosophy of “Fake enthusiasm goes a long way” certainly seems to work. On an acoustic guitar borrowed from Matt Owens, he opens with ‘Cloak And Daggers’. Hope has produced five records and jokingly tells us that “I’ve a bad addiction to making albums, at least if I was doing heroin I’d be losing weight!” He turned 40 during lockdown and he plays his ode to hangovers called ‘Whiskey Mornings’. Hope’s father died in 2018, ‘…And The Sea‘ is performed as a tribute to him. Hope then gives a rendition of his “one happy song,” ‘Spring In His Step’, which has the audience clapping along and Hope doing a good job of mimicking a trombone solo. He soon gets back to the miserable stuff, completing a fine set with a song entitled ‘Death And Taxes‘.

Hannah Scott arrives with an acoustic guitar and an emotional song about the untangling of two people’s relationship after they’ve been living together and they’re ‘unwinding and realigning.‘ After appearing on Dermot O’Leary’s Radio 2 show’s “Some Mother’s Do Indie” slot, Scott got a live session on Radio 2 and lost her job as a result. ‘Hurricanes’ is a beautiful song, which she played on that session, “I need hurricanes, I need hunger pains, Only fire can console, I need bruises, That last like tattoo.” She finishes with a poignant song called, ‘Sitting In The Dark’, about the perils of long term renting which is a harsh reality for many people in the UK today.

Matt Owens And The Delusion Vanity Project are the first full band of the day with Neil Young like guitar licks and swirling Hammond organ. Owens points out that David Hope is now well ensconced in the beer tent with the sun just past the yard arm. The band finished their residence at the Grapes in Bath at midnight on Friday to get to Sutton in time for their slot. Towards the end of their high energy performance they play ‘Glasgow City Lights’ from their forthcoming new album ‘Way Out West’ which will be out in 2024. Chris And Tom From The Jasmine Minks, who were one of Alan McGee’s first signing to Creation in the early 1980s, have a tough job following Owens and his band. A couple of Jasmine Minks’ songs are played before we get a version of Springsteen’s ‘If I Should Fall Behind’. Their set ends with Tom Petty’s ‘Walls (Circus)’ and the good advice to “Smile, be nice and be kind“.

Roseanne Reid hails from Edinburgh, she’s had a 4 am start and she takes to the stage sitting down, not due to tiredness but because she’s recently broken her toe. She plays lovely finger picking guitar, and her songs are beautiful and delicate. She’s attended Steve Earle’s Camp Copperhead song writing workshop in the Catskill Mountains, and her songs and delivery have something of Earle about them. She finishes a great set with a wonderful cover of ‘Ain’t Waitin’’ by her favourite songwriter Justin Townes Earle.

Lauren Hously & The Northern Cowboys

Lauren Hously & The Northern Cowboys perform excellent soul-drenched songs with the guitar, bass and drums complemented by saxophone and trumpet. They play ‘Stay Awake To Dream’ which they performed as part of Bob Harris’s “Under The Apple Tree” sessions a few years ago. A wonderful, brass infused version of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ is also included, before their excellent set comes to a close with ‘Ghost Town Blues’, a song about finding yourself in a position you don’t want to be in. Geraint Watkins And The Mosquitoes are next up. Watkins has played keyboards with Van Morrison, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings to name just a few. They start off with a jazzy version of ‘Johnny B Good’ with the rest of their set comprising a great mix of jazz and blues tunes; it’s pleasant listening in the afternoon sun.

It’s then on to the great Iain Matthews who’s had a career spanning over 50 years. He starts by saying he’ll play a song that he wrote during lockdown. Before he commences it, an ice cream van goes past advertising its wares, “That’s not it”, Matthews says smiling. ‘14 months‘ is about the “hell on earth” he experienced during the pandemic when he couldn’t play gigs and he had to pawn his guitars and phone. After playing Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’, he completes a fine performance with ‘Woodstock’, the Joni Mitchell penned song which he took to number one in 1970 in the UK, as part of Matthews Southern Comfort.

The brilliant Hannah White fronts an all star band including two Norwegians who’ve flown over especially along  with her husband Keiron Marshall and Matt Owens. She jokingly tells the audience to preorder her new album so that they can escape Sutton. The catchy ‘Right On Time‘ is followed by the “unfestivally”, as White describes it, ‘Car Crash’, which explains the time when she was arrested for shop lifting and social services threatened to take her child away. ‘One Night Stand’ was partly inspired by the cultural desert that is Sidcup in South-East London where White grew up. Her excellent new single ‘Chains Of Ours’ gets an airing before she thanks us all for coming. And then the ever enthusiastic and energetic Danny And The Champions Of The World soon have a large crowd gathered in front of the stage. They play songs picked from across their 15 year back catalogue. Time is short so there’s no let up in the set. The only minor niggle is that the slide guitar seems to be too far down the mix. Favourites played include ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ and 2008’s ‘These Days’.

Danny And The Champions Of The World

Dana Gillespie & The London Blues Band bring some swing and blues to the proceedings. Gillespie’s worked with David Bowie, Ronnie Wood and Mick Ronson to name just a few. Impressively, she’s just finished recording her 74th album, so she’s got every right to sing a song called ‘Experienced’. She’s a fantastic performer full of vim and vigour. We’re treated to ‘King Size Papa’ from the 1940s, originally by Julia & Her Boyfriends; back in the day Gillespie tells us that everyone wanted to be big rather than small. It’s followed by ‘Andy Warhol’ which was written for her by Bowie. Anybody who is of the notion that sexually explicit lyrics in music are a relatively recent phenomenon is in for a shock, as Gilliespie closes her set with a song from 1931 entitled ‘My Girl’s Pussy’, which includes lyrics such as ‘I take care to remove my gloves when stroking my girl’s pussy’.

The label of national treasure and living legend are often over- and mis- used terms, but this surely can’t be the case for Nick Lowe. Now 74, his voice seems to have got better with age and his geniality, as well as genuine enthusiasm for performing shine through. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, he remains unruffled despite battling with feedback from his monitor for the first third of his performance. He commences with ‘The Man That I’ve Become’ and the 14 song set comprises songs from throughout his career. After ‘Lately I’ve Let Things Slide’, we’re told that time is tight and there’s little time to discuss “the price of fish” as Lowe puts it, so the chat between songs is kept to a minimum. Lowe tells us he’s going to play a Bee Gees cover which includes lots of chords, something he’s unaccustomed to. He assures us that we’ll probably recognise the song but stops just before the refrain to ask us if we do, before the audience joins in with the chorus of ‘Heartbreaker’.

Nick Lowe

Lowe relates the story of how he met Mavis Staples via Wilco and of his pride in writing a gospel song for her called ‘Far Celestial Shore’, which he proceeds to play. He self-deprecatingly tells us that if we want to hear what a great producer can do with relatively limited material we should listen to Staples’ version. After a singalong to ‘Cruel To Be Kind’, Lowe plays ‘Trombone’ and the Rockpile song ‘Heart’ before giving us a choice between ‘I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ and ‘(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace Love And Understanding’ for the final song. Lowe’s keen to play a cheery number to finish. The crowd duly oblige cheering loudest for ‘I Knew The Bride’ when given the option, and after that upbeat ending, the Bard of Brentford heads off home to West London, having provided the highlight of the day.

A double denim clad Justin Currie leads Del Amitri on stage for the final set of the evening. Kicking off with ‘Musicians And Beer’ the band seem to be thrown from their stride slightly when they have to abandon their second song after experiencing technical difficulties with an acoustic guitar. This is very much a greatest hits set and ‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’ is swiftly followed by the crowd joining in with 1990 hit ‘Nothing Ever Happens’. During the up tempo songs guitarist Iain Harvie, who’s been Currie’s wingman in the band for over 40 years, strikes some good rock poses and uses the monitors to provide feedback. Towards the end of the set, Currie joshes that it’s nice to play a town named after a Celtic goal scoring hero, (i.e. Chris Sutton); maybe it’s the age of the audience or their lack of football knowledge but it’s not clear that the joke hits the back of the net. Del Amitri’s set appears to have gone down well, as they draw things to a close with ‘Spit In The Rain’ and ‘Stone Cold Sober’. They finish with a resplendent acoustic guitar and accordion driven ‘Be My Downfall’ and that’s it.

Audiences do not always appreciate the level of effort it takes to put on local events like this, given the number of moving parts involved. Many congratulations need to go to Hannah White and Keiron Marshall, together with the team at the Sutton Sound Lounge for organising this. Folk In The Park not only provided a fantastic day’s entertainment but at £38, including the booking fee, also great value for money with almost 10 hours of constant, top class music and 2,000 people going home happy; so if you’re in Sutton next year make sure you go along.

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Paul Higham

Thanks for the review, it was a terrific day. We’d originally booked tickets when Nick Lowe’s being on the bill was announced, and were delighted as other favourites were added. Seeing Geraint Watkins again was a treat, not least as a show of his was for us the first musical casualty of the early weeks of March 2020.

In theory it’s very accessible for anyone living north of London on a Thameslink rail line (Peterborough / Cambridge / Bedford/ St Albans), just one change needed (we chose Blackfriars for its views), and can be done in a day as the show closes at 9pm.

Darren Lumbroso

Agreed it was a fantastic day.

Thanks for pointing out the ease of getting there by train from locations of north of London. I live in Reading so it was much faster to drive. There’s a carpark just round the corner from Manor Park which the organisers had ensured was open until 10.30 pm. It only cost £6 for the day so if you do have to drive it’s easy to park.