As a contributing scribe for The Rocking Magpie I thought it would be prudent, no, obligatory to take in the 2022 Magpies Festival, located 8 miles North of York at Sutton-on-the-Forest which was indeed a
magnificent location, not too far to travel from Durham either and with the promise of the good things
to come with something of a folky vibe, I guess for the weekend I’d take on the guise of the Folkin’
Got to say, I’m not into those shiny mega-festivals; just way too big, too many people, too much choice, etc, etc.
Hence, one of the reasons why I’m at The Magpies Festival is because it really is a case of small is
beautiful. I even had a pot of tea at the adjacent Sutton Park Tea Room before putting my tent up under
the shade of a tree.
The bearded hipsters among us might well be justified in describing this as a ‘boutique’ festival experience, nonetheless, it feels just right nestled under the aforementioned tree drinking a glass of chilled white wine before heading off to catch John Smith, followed by Rob Heron and his
Tea Pad Orchestra.
Both were magnificent in very different ways. Smith armed with only an acoustic guitar and self-deprecating humour was heroic and Heron turned in a blistering set of old and new songs, rounded off with his protest against HS2 – ‘High-Speed Train‘.
‘If you ask the fat controller,
I’m sure he’d disagree but if it was up to me
I’d let everyone ride for free’.
Well said Rob, we could all do with the occasional free train journey these days.
John Smith and Rob Heron were my two main stage highlights (Seth Lakeman was excellent too) but it
was a band on The Brasscastle Stage – The 309s that left me with the feel-good factor all good festivals
should aspire to.
Funnily enough, the band named themselves after a song about a train – The 3.09
which just happens to be the last song johnny Cash recorded before he passed on. Clearly then they are
making their musical influences overt before they even play a note.
Before their set drummer Tim Spencer explains to me
“There’s been a hell of a lot of music recorded since gramophones were invented and we are into the sound of the southern states of America, from 1925 to 1955.
This gives us quite a range, from Western Swing created in Texas by Bob Wills, through to Memphis and Rock ‘n’ Roll’s early days. We also take in sub-genres such as Country Boogie and Jump
Blues, now popular with jive dancers.
We’ve worked out what makes these songs tick and created the 309s sound.
Some of the live set is fast, a few are slow and romantic, and the rest are played so folks can
Since 2015 we have been adding our own songs to the mix; created to sound like Classics from
the 40s & 50s and you’d be hard pressed to know which of the songs are old and which are new.”
Tim showed me around his drum kit too – it’s all wood (except for the skins and symbols)) and he made it
himself, save for the bass drum which he salvaged from a marching band! It sounds lovely and warm and as you can imagine. A true work of art I must say.
Complete with a bunch of flowers.
Before they get started guitarist, Rod Boyes who also shares lead vocal duties with the [self-described]
‘raunchy’ Nancy Vero lets us know that their regular violin player has Covid but they have managed to
recruit a replacement – Emily Lawler from The Dan Webster Band.
They hadn’t previously met and had just run through a tune or two and the rest we are told, Emily will improvise. Her performance was simply stunning and the audience reaction proves my point with mid-song applause on more than one occasion.
Nancy’s face also told its own story, as throughout she just looked on, totally amazed by Emily’s
As Tim had alluded to I was hard pressed to decipher which songs were covers and which ones were
their own compositions
‘You can have my husband but stay away from my man‘ I believe was recorded
by Irma Thomas in 1958 but the 309’s put there own spin on it; and Nancy’s vocal put me in mind of Amy
Winehouse rather than Irma Thomas.
From start to finish, the vocal interplay between Rod Boyes and Nancy created a party feel that really
lifted the already heady mood.
The afternoon session had featured some rather introspective singer/songwriters, so
this felt like a real game changer. The bar staff got busy and the crowd lapped up the beer and the music
and got their dancing shoes on.
A nice little waltz split the set in two when the band performed the Boyes penned song ‘So Many Tunes‘.
Then it was back into the foot tappin’ stuff, I particularly enjoyed a 309s penned tune ‘Mosquito‘,
‘It’s the hot places that I like
I’m going down to Louisiana where the Mosquito’s rock and roll’.
Apt, as this particular Yorkshire day felt more like a day in the Deep South – it was indeed roasting. Mosquito featured more great violin playing and ever more accomplished vocal interchange, combined with some great guitar work by Rod; on what I later discover is an Ibanez guitar.
It sounded lush, especially during their clever take on The Johnny Cash tune ‘I’ve Been Everywhere Man‘ in which the 309s cleverly namecheck a bunch of GB towns rather than the original versions’ USA counterparts.
I could go on, but suffice to say The 309s were the highlight of my festival and I wouldn’t be surprised to
see them back on the main stage in 2023.
If you take a look at the media page on their website, they’ve uploaded a bunch of tracks and it’s well worth a listen, but better still go out and see them live.
For sure the 309s will provide you with a serotonin boost and will most likely leave you wanting more of the same.
Review by the one and only Folkin’ Magpie Graham!