So here goes… after almost 11 years of being on the road, The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican have got a summer season packed with festival appearances across the length and breadth of the country, and the Festival Flyer have kindly asked us to share our exploits via our own little festival blog. From now until September we’ll be appearing at loads of different festivals and we’re going to report it from a Bar-Steward Son’s point-of-view.
We’ll use this opportunity to namecheck some of the best bands currently playing the alternative circuit…so don’t expect commentary on Coldplay and Ed Sheeran. This will be a diary that documents the grass roots heroes who bring the festival fields of Avalon to life each year with passion and verve.
I should probably start by telling you a little bit about us first, for those of you lucky enough to still be unfamiliar with our work…where have you been??
The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican are a three-piece comedy-band hailing from Barnsley Rock City in t’North, on a mission to follow in our father’s immortal footsteps and keep his legacy alive.
We have a talent for Bar-Stewardizing other famous people’s songs with frisky comedy lyrics, on acoustic geetar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, accordion, keyboard, and ukulele.
To complete our squeaky-clean image, myself and my brothers from other mothers, Alan and Björn, are easily spotted in a festival crowd due to our immaculate hair and our stylish choice of sexy, lurid and home-grown knitwear.
We have, at the time of writing (including this one), played 784 shows – bringing smiles and laughter to audiences across the UK. We’ve appeared in venues and at festival from Barnsley to Barnstaple, and from Glasgow to Glastonbury, and our first blog entry for 2017 recounts our first festival show of 2017.
Event: Mac-Stock Festival
Date(s): 24 March – 25 March
Location: The Black Market Venue, Warsop, Mansfield
Doonicans Show #: 784
Line-up: The Stiff Joints / The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican / Funke and the Two Tone Baby / Folk the System / Muddy Summers & The Dirty Field Whores / Doozer McDooze / Star Botherers / Shank’s Pony / Morris & Watson / Dirty Vertebrae / Kate Auburn / Jonny Wallis / Charlie Leavy / Sunflower Thieves / Joe Knight / Blind Fever / Bethany Jowett / Tori Sheard / Davey Malone / Natalie Smallwood / Salmagundi / The Pink Diamond Revue / Brian Stone / Bethany Jowett / The Brewer’s Daughter / Jess Kenton / Chuck SJ Hay / Bella Kardasis / Skeg / Tich Vango / Emma & The Professor / Avital Ras / The Brilliant Band / The Fox & The Pirate
Mac-Stock is now into its second year, and is the brain-child of Graham Parker, a friend of ours, whom we accidentally met when we were joyfully booked to play Beautiful Days Festival for the first time, way back in 2012.
Graham first came crashing into our lives dressed as a Silver Surfer – a character who we had quickly spotted standing out from the crowd.
As somebody who we later found is often prone to doing silly things, he decided to creep up under the Band Stand stage to pounce out on The Bar-Steward Sons as we played our set that day. Over the years, we continued to bump into Graham in the fields and at gigs and we became good mates.
Graham wanted to raise money for a very worthy cause.
Macmillan’s palliative care nurses provide advice and support with pain and symptom management for cancer sufferers right the way through to end of life care.
As my partner Amanda had been diagnosed with breast cancer just after Beautiful Days 2014 (she’s survived it thanks to the beauty of the NHS), it was a cause close to our hearts, and The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican were proud to be asked to headline the ‘Bob Marley Uprising Stage’.
I should add that the event raised a pleasing £3,000 for the charity, so well done to Graham, his team and all of the acts involved.
Our day of Mac-Stock coincided (coincidentally) with both mine and organiser Graham Parker’s Birthdays (day one, dubbed ‘Funke Friday’ was headlined by none other than the fabulous one-man blues machine that is Funke and the Two-Tone Baby, aka Dan Turnbull and his array of loop-linked pedals).
As a result of it being a day for festivities, I had been treated to a birthday meal with the missus, so apologies to the early acts, but we arrived a little later than we would normally do.
As a band, we always try and be a part of as much of a festival’s atmosphere as much as we can, but, despite the slightly late arrival, we were still well-ahead of our 9.30pm stage time so still had a chance to explore.
As we parked up in the last remaining car-parking space (that was a stroke of luck! And could’ve been a problem if we’d been five minutes later), we were met at the doors to The Black Market Venue by our old friend Jonny Wallis, former lead vocalist with Three-Eyed Fox, who, after leaving his old band, started both a successful solo career, and, more recently, has formed a duo with another popular festival regular ‘face’, the rather lovely Brian Stone, called ‘The Fox & The Pirate’.
Jonny told us that we had just missed ‘The Brilliant Band’ – which was a scratch act that had been put together especially for the occasion featuring members of the other bands on the bill. We’ll never know what they were like!
The atmosphere, on entering the venue, was pretty relaxed – just what the doctor ordered.
For those not in the know, The Black Market Venue is something of a cultural hub in the ex-mining community of Warsop near Mansfield, and is owned by one half of The Star Botherers, Dave Drury. Having played the venue many times in the past, the door-staff knew us and so wrist-band exchange was a quick and painless experience (always a plus point for any festival).
As it had been a gloriously hot day, numbers in the rather cavernous venue seemed on the relatively low side. Many people it seemed had opted to skip the early bands and instead sample the venue’s great ales, many of which are now brewed on the premises, from the comfort of the great outdoors.
However, as the evening drew in and temperatures started to drop outside, the gathering grew stronger in numbers, bringing the festival atmosphere with it.
Over a few drinks, myself, Amanda and Björn (my Swedish banjo/mandolin/fiddle playing brother from another mother) enjoyed a quick-fire succession of sets that alternated between the bigger stage at the far end of the long main hall, to the smaller side stage nearer to the bar. A third acoustic stage was located in the other bar, featuring a lot of the weekend’s solo artists and duos.
Our friends, Banbury-based folk-punksters, Folk The System, took to the ‘Bob Marley Uprising’ stage with their usual blistering attitude. And despite a few sound issues that marred several acts throughout the evening (though it is noteworthy to give a shout-out to hard work of the venue’s veteran soundman, Bob, who ran the sound for both stages single-handedly throughout the festival), they put on a great show.
Vocalist Simon Hill snarled his way through their set with his 12-string geetar in hand, backed by long-standing tub-thumper Maty Tustian on bodhrán, Tony Partner on six string acoustic and Johnny Tims on fiddle.
A highlight of their set was a frenetic rendition of ‘Tale of Tyrants’. We’ll be seeing a lot of Folk The System over the summer, and they are also notably playing at Beautiful Days in Devon for the first time this summer. Maty was telling me after their set that they and are seriously looking forward to their appearance at The Bandstand (and just hoping they don’t clash with The Waterboys!) – [I’ll see what I can do, Ed]
Next up on the ‘David Bowie Scary Monsters Stage’ were Muddy Summers & The Dirty Field Whores. I have known their lead vocalist and double bassist, Gail Something-Else since our first meeting at the Something-Else Tea-Tent at Bearded Theory Festival in 2013. But – incredibly – despite our four-year friendship, I had never seen her perform with her own band. As luck has had it we’ve always ended up playing at the same time, or have just been elsewhere at the crucial moment. Such is life in the festival fields.
Gail, with a headset microphone and electric double bass, was accompanied by Tez Roberts on acoustic guitar, and Aimee Bee on cajón and vocals, and a good friend of ours, Lizzie Morris on fiddle, who had rehearsed the set a few hours before due to the absence of regular Dirty Field Whore, Mimi O’Malley.
You would have been none-the-wiser that Lizzie wasn’t a regular part of the outfit, with her fiddle parts complementing the Muddy Summers’ sound.
Lizzie, by the way, is one half of the mighty talented young Barnsley-based folk duo Morris & Watson who had played earlier in the day.
Gail has the accolade of my favourite on-stage quote of the day: “Are there any kids around? Oh that’s good because this next song features the c**t-word”.
I’d imagine the swear jar at her house is packed in like a Harrods sale, if indeed she feels the need for one. Even with little quips like this, their set is in no way offensive, in fact it is very much engaging. Secretly, I would love to think that Gail’s local vicar is a fan of MS&TDFWs, but I’m not holding out any hope.
I have to say, having never seen the band before, but knowing that Gail is never one to shy away from speaking her mind, particularly on topics such as politics, feminism and the monarchy, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Was it going to be like a particularly angry episode of Loose Women set to a riot grrrl-esque soundtrack? No, it was actually a jaunty brand of country-infused Balkan-gypsy swing, with clever lyrics.
Thoroughly entertaining, at times funny, but ultimately thought-provoking and something to be considered. I have to say I loved it; a glorious set and one of my favourite of the evening.
Following the Dirty Field Whores, was festival field stalwart Doozer McDooze, a one-man foot-stomping acoustic punk frenzy of facial hair and broken guitar strings. Doozer’s set saw the Mac-Stock crowd joining in with some of his most memorable songs, including ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Home’, ‘Not Going Back To That’ and a suitably shouty cover-version of Gaz Brookfield’s ‘Solo Acoustic Guy’.
Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a stomp-box, three chords and the truth, Doozer was one of the day’s real crowd-pleasers.
Mac-Stock proudly boasted a great range of genres, and next up on the ‘Scary Monsters’ stage were World-Music Nottingham-based septet Salmagundi, sporting saxophone, violin, trombone, clarinet, accordion, bass & drums among their instruments. We watched their ‘big sound’ for a while, and very good they were too. However, as the crowd had seemed to have thinned-out a little we opted to take the opportunity to load our merch in.
Remember kids – bands need to eat – we can’t live on thin air, so every t-shirt or CD you buy helps put the next meal on the table!
After that bit of graft we popped in to see some of Skeg’s acoustic set on the third stage, which was well received by the crowd that had now assembled in the other bar to cheer him on.
During his short set, a song dedicated to his wife’s mum, who had sadly lost the fight against cancer, was both a fitting tribute and one of the festival’s many poignant moments.
Skeg was followed by the rather talented acoustic Shropshire duo, Emma & The Professor, who I had the pleasure of catching up with earlier in the evening.
This was the point when the other-worldly Alan Doonican arrived in the building and it was time to go to work.
We saw some (and heard all) of the mighty Dirty Vertebrae’s set on the ‘Scary Monsters Stage’ as we started to load in our instruments into the venue.
The Cheshire-based five-piece may have started with a small crowd, but as people realised they had started, it didn’t take long until the dance floor was jumping and dancing to their infectious hook-laden crossover of rap, ska, funk and rock. The chemistry between singers Ash & Nicole is always a sight to behold. We have been on the same bill as them a few times now, and they are always great to watch, and a tough act to follow.
And so now it was our turn to headline the second stage. Our first festival set of 2017 featured a bunch of old-favourites, because we knew that with a mere 40 minutes we would have to concentrate on giving the crowd just what they wanted.
We currently have a whole new album of songs being recorded for our forthcoming eighth studio collection ‘AVE IT: BOLD AS BRASS, but only one of these songs was included in the set (seeing as we have been playing it live since we recorded album number seven, so it’s familiar territory for many already).
The new songs have been saved especially for later in the season, and some will begin featuring in our festival sets from May onwards (the album is released on the band’s 11th birthday on 17 June. We are crowd-funding it independently and if folk want to get involved they just need to go over to www.thebarstewardsons.com).
All of the MacStock acts had been asked if they could include a song by a famous musician that had sadly been lost to cancer. So we opted to open the set with an accordion and fiddle fuelled version of Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’, before launching into well-established ‘Dooni-hit’ ‘If I Could Punch A Face… It’d Be Justin Bieber’s’.
We followed this up with a breakneck version of ‘Bag For Life’ (from our last album), and the Kraftwerk-esque ‘She’s From Dodworth’, which saw me forgetting all of our perfectly rehearsed choreography (the birthday drinks may have contributed to this)…
After a short interlude, where somebody brought a birthday cake onto stage for Graham and myself to blow out the pair of candles adorning it, we continued keep the set upbeat with ‘Massage In A Brothel’ before giving the audience our most requested sing-along ballad ‘The Lady In Greggs’.
With less than twenty minutes left we gave our first festival crowd of the year a rarity, as we delved into the Doonican archives for ‘B.I.S.T.O.’ where Alan took over on lead vocal duties – after all, he is the band’s finest eye-candy.
With the call-and-response choruses of ‘The Cockwombling Song’ still ringing-out we kicked straight in to ‘The Devil Went Darn To Barnsley’, where all three Doonicans ended up in the crowd (the joys of going wireless!), before climaxing (not Biblically I must add) with a fine rendition of crowd-fave ‘Jump Ararnd’.
That one saw the whole audience trying to wake up a lad who had managed to fall asleep during our set (how entertained he must have been…) by shouting at him.
All in all, it turned out well in the end, and the audience seemed suitably warmed up for the final act of the day.
Hot and sweaty, we started to pack up our gear as the ska-tastic tones of The Stiff Joints were heard kicking-off big-time on the ‘Scary Monsters’ stage and the crowd of Mac-Stock 2017 danced, drank and skanked themselves into the night, while we put our things in the car and headed home for Barnsley.
That’s the first one of the year out of the way, it’s going to be a fun summer.