So here we go again (on the road…).
After almost 11 years of touring, The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican have launched into yet another summer season packed with festival appearances across the length and breadth of the country, and the Festival Flyer has 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.
I should probably start by telling you a little bit about us first, for those of you unfamiliar with our work…
History of BSSOVD
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 new 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 often easily spotted in a festival crowd due to our immaculate hair and our stylish choice of sexy knitwear. We have, at the time of writing, played 802 shows to date, bringing smiles and laughter to audiences across the UK; from Barnsley to Barnstaple, from Glasgow to Glastonbury, and our second blog entry covers shows #800, #801 and #802.
Event: Bearded Theory Festival
Date(s): 25th May – 28th May
Location: Catton Hall, Derbyshire
Doonicans Show #: 800
Skunk Anansie / Slaves / Seasick Steve / Madness / The Alarm / Ferocious Dog / New Model Army / Jaya The Cat / Flight Brigade / Vintage Trouble / Beth McCarthy / Alabama 3 / African Head Charge / Anti-Pasti / Skippinish / Josh Doyle / The Mocking Jays / Glasvegas / Sugar Hill Gang & Furious Five / The Selecter / Nucleus Roots / Goldblade / Smiling Ivy / Cast / The Carnabys
Tess Of The Circle / Smiley & The Underclass / Roving Crows / Skaciety / Rags Rudi / Son Primo / Foy Vance / The Fall
Defekters / Wille & the Bandits / Maia / Blackballed / Hot Sprockets / Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores / Rev Hammer / Funke and the two tone Baby / Reverend & The Makers / Kissmet / Pronghorn / Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman / Gary J Armstrong / Please Y’Self Skiffle Band / Billy in the Lowground / Tarantism Acoustic / Ukulele Keef / DH Lawrence & The Vaudeville Skiffle Show / Black Thorn / Bo Weavil / Back to the Planet / Dreadzone / 3 Daft Monkeys / Hobo Jones & the Junk Yard Dogs / GMR / Folk The System / The Star Botherers / Brian Stone / Morris & Watson and loads more
So, this festival show was a bit of an oddity… because we weren’t booked to play it.
Let me explain:
We first played Bearded Theory Festival’s “Lock Inn Stage” in 2013, when the festival was still located at Keddleston Hall near Derby.
The festival was in its sixth year at the time, and we were booked to headline the stage as part of their cabaret that night. As chance would have it, due to a random Biblical downpour of rain, loads of festival goers opted to leave Reverend & The Makers on the main stage to take shelter from the rain in some of the tented spaces…the Lock Inn being one of them.
Had the weather been gorgeous, as it was over this year’s festival (now at Catton Hall, Derby), the story of The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican may be very different indeed.
However, due to having a (literally) captive audience, we were able to do what we do, and thankfully people liked it. In fact they liked it enough to come back and bring their friends with them.
As a result had the pleasure of being invited back to play in 2014 and 2015, each time moving to bigger stages as the crowds continued to grow, partly due to word-of-mouth and partly due to our tendency to play impromptu busking sets around the site, as well as the official set we had being booked to do.
Last year we played the gorgeous ‘Woodlands’ stage in the early afternoon, and, according to Rob Gill, the Woodlands Stage’s manager, we attracted one of only two crowds over that weekend that resulted in the security having to ‘close’ the Woodlands entrance as the space was full to capacity (the other being Sunday night headliners Stiff Little Fingers).
To say we were overwhelmed by the audience reaction would be an understatement – we were truly humbled.
We have been extremely fortunate at Bearded Theory, as only a small handful of bands have had the accolade of being booked so many times over consecutive years. We are honoured to have been asked to be part of the weekend four years in a row, putting us in company with our festival heroes, and fellow friends 3 Daft Monkeys & Please Y’Self Skiffle Band, who have been some of the very few to play all 10 years.
Bearded Theory is a festival that constantly likes to evolve and ensure that it doesn’t become stale, but they know what they like.
Rich Bryant and his amazing team of fellow-organisers have done so much for our little comedy band over the last four years, and as a result of their kindness, we always chose to release our new album there every year, as we like to keep our act fresh too.
So this year I wanted to do something a little special to thank them, without them knowing… by doing an intimate secret show for Doonicans fans, without being paid, without any big announcement, and with the added bonus of being inclusive for deaf festival goers.
For this last part I had the co-operation of the delightful Sarah Gatford, a BSL interpreter, whom we had the pleasure to work with in 2015 and 2016.
This came about after our first Bearded Theory in 2013, when I met somebody who was to become a very dear friend and supporter of what we do, the wonderful Gail Something-Else, who has run the ‘Something-Else Tea Tent’ since Bearded kicked off.
Rich mentions Gail’s tent in this year’s programme, saying:
“…make sure you have a wander to check out some of the amazing unsigned bands and the amazing grassroots acts featuring in the Something Else Tea Tent”
The intimate Tea Tent is the home of the festival’s ‘Open Mic’, where solo acts/duos/bands can pre-book a 45-minute slot and play to audiences who will also be enjoying lovely cake and maybe a few ‘wonky coffees’.
When I realised that we were approaching the 800th show towards the end of May, I decided that I’d come to the festival as a paying guest for the day (the bonus being that the money this year goes to the chosen charity of MacMillan Cancer Support, which is something very close to both mine and Amanda’s hearts).
This iconic 800th ‘secret-gig’ as part of the Tea Tent’s open mic was to be just me as a solo performer, under the pseudonym “That Bast**rd Van Morrison”.
This was to be before hooking up with Björn to travel to our next gig in Audlem, Cheshire, while Alan, who has attended Bearded Theory for many years along with his family, was having a well-earned weekend off from shows.
But, as it happened, this didn’t turn out quite as I had planned.
I arrived on site at around 9am, plain-clothed (a rarity, as I/we usually spend the weekend ‘in character’ at most festivals) and had a look around the site.
I had the pleasure of bumping into Sally Booth, organiser of the Bearded Theory School.
Because this family festival runs during term-time, Sally had the brainwave to create a unique OfSTED-approved school on-site.
Myself and my partner Amanda, were delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Sally at the school during 2015 and 2016, as we are trained primary school teachers
Over the day a whopping 250 school-aged children are taught throughout six hours on the Friday at the festival by volunteer teaching staff, including provision for children with Special Educational Needs. This allows children to attend the festival without being given “unauthorised absence” marks in their school register.
“Education without walls” is exactly what they are providing, and is something Sally and the rest of the BT team should be immensely proud of.
I turned up to the Tea Tent around 1.30pm, to find that the 2pm slot wasn’t billed as planned, but as the mysterious sounding ‘Clem Fandango & The Sex Symbols’.
There was already a good little crowd, due, perhaps, to an ‘on-site rumour’ that I was doing a secret show (God knows how these things start!), so I set to work getting my equipment ready.
The set started great, with me playing two new songs from our soon-to-be-released new album, and ‘The Zipper’, which was a real a crowd-pleaser with the addition of Sarah “terping” the set (she signed for Skunk Anansie later in the evening too).
All was going well, and then there was the first invasion…
Alan appeared via a gap in the back wall of the Tea Tent, adorned in a white boiler suit, pipe in his mouth, with an accordion borrowed from Josie Burdett of Black Thorn (who played to a packed Maui Waui stage on the Saturday, which, I was told, was full of happy people who loved their wonderfull blend of new-folk-rave).
Understandably, with the #EyeCandy of the band now in the room, the audience were noticeably fully charged and ready for a great set, as the intended solo set became a duo.
However, it was as I was telling Alan what the next song in the set was, that Björn wandered into the tent with his fiddle, rendering me speechless (I later found out, unknown to me, Björn’s girlfriend was playing at the festival and he had turned up as her plus-one, so decided it was only right to chip in…).
The audience (which by now was spilling out about 10 meters outside the Tea Tent) were delighted that we had all still come to play for them, and the set ,which featured a lot of new songs, went down a storm (no spoilers, though, I’m afraid).
It felt great to give something back to our fans and to a festival that had done so much for us.
Even better, before leaving the site that evening, we got the chance to catch main stage sets from some of the other acts.
Our friends Ferocious Dog (their energetic army of Hell Hounds being stifled only a tad by the insanely hot afternoon sun) performed their usual blend of blistering punk-folk. New additions to the band, multi-instrumentalist John and drummer Alex, proved to be just as capable as their predecessors Ellis and Scott. It was certainly one of the day’s highlights.
At 6pm The Alarm took to the stage, with Mike Peters, wielding a white customised acoustic guitar, complete with humbucker pickup. They belted out some of their most memorable songs, to an audience that was loving what they were doing.
Having (admittedly) never seen them before I will definitely now be checking out their back catalogue.
We then caught a bit of punk-duo Slaves and the first 30 great minutes from Brit-rockers Skunk Anansie, before we had to get back into the car to travel home to Barnsley.
Thank you Bearded for a lovely day in Derbyshire…
AUDLEM MUSIC FESTIVAL
Event: Audlem Music Festival
Date(s): 25th May – 29th May
Location: Audlem, Cheshire
Doonicans Show #: 801
Up and at ‘em for the second festival show of the weekend. Amanda had driven myself and Björn back after Bearded, and the combination of too much sun, not enough water, and a little too much to drink had certainly taken its toll on me. I felt pretty shocking for most of the morning, whilst replenishing merch, checking that I had got everything I needed and repacking the car to drive to Cheshire.
This, my friends, is the way of the touring musican…
Luckily, by the afternoon, I was feeling a lot better (although I couldn’t have touched another alcoholic beverage for the rest of the day if you paid me… I only had myself to blame).
This date took me back a few years as the last times I’d played Audlem Music Festival were in 2011 & 2012, both being solo shows.
The reason we hadn’t returned in five years was purely due to clashes with Bearded Theory, so to return was quite nice, especially as we had such a huge host of songs that hadn’t even been written the last time I was there.
These included tracks from the ‘Sat’day Neet Fever’, ‘Talk Of The Tarn’, ‘The Tarn Machine’, ‘T’South 0 – Tarn 4’ and ‘Ave It : Bold As Brass’ albums.
In fact, from our 16-song set, only ‘Arse On Fire’ and ‘Jump Ararnd’ existed during my last visit.
The festival takes place over four days in several pubs in the village and we were booked to play on the outdoor stage at The Lord Combermere.
The Cheshire audience looked extremely apprehensive about the two odd-looking blokes in tank-tops stood before them, but they soon got what we were all about as we hit the chorus of set opener ‘Massage In A Brothel’.
This was very much a ‘greatest hits’ set and each song went down better than the last. It was a genuine delight to play the show, because, unlike many of the regular festivals that we’ve played for a few years (where many people come back to see us again), in this particular gathering there was about 1% of the audience who had seen us before.
The set culminated with ‘The Devil Went Darn To Barnsley’ and ‘Jump Ararnd’ (including a crowd-surf to the indoor bar for, admittedly, a diet coke…I was still feeling fragile!)
As we were having to return home to play Wentworth the next day we sadly didn’t have chance to see the other acts, so we can’t really report on anything else that night…
WENTWORTH MUSIC FESTIVAL
Event: Wentworth Music Festival
Date(s): 28th May
Location: Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire
Doonicans Show #: 802
Main Stage Line-up:
Tony Christie, Heaven 17, Lemar, Dodgy, T’Pau, The Southmartins, Big Shaun’s Favourite Things, Sundance… oh yes, and us…
Wentworth Music Festival is new. Really new.
In fact, it started as a tipsy conversation between BBC Radio Sheffield DJs Toby Foster and Steve White in a pub in their village just down the road from the site.
And what a site it is…
The largest stately home in Europe… Wentworth Woodhouse.
We knew both Toby and Steve as we’d been to BBC Radio Sheffield to play on both of their shows over the years, as well as regularly attending Toby’s Last Laugh Comedy Club in Sheffield (Toby is a comedian, and was the drummer in Les Alanos on Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights).
They asked us just after Christmas if we would like to play the main stage and we were delighted to oblige.
Tickets had sold very well (around 3,000 people in attendance by the end of the one-day event) and the glorious weather continued as it had for most of the weekend.
The main stage was located right in front of Wentworth Woodhouse, and the festival also featured The Underground Stage featuring the very best of local unsigned talent, a comedy stage for adults and a comedy stage for kids too!
As a band we play a lot of festivals, but I have to say the hospitality at Wentworth was amongst the best we’ve experienced.
Even though we were only the second act of the day we were treated to food and drink and everybody on the stage…sound, security, and crew were just fabulous.
Considering the event was put together in only five months, it boasted top-notch staging, a huge video screen (Björn quipped about it on-stage: “If we’re rubbish you can just change that over to Cash In The Attic”), and an amazing line-up.
This included local Conisborough crooner and Amarillo star Tony Christie, the multi-award winning Lemar, Sheffield legends Heaven 17, T’Pau and Dodgy.
We knew it was going to be a tougher job to get an audience going so early on a baking hot Sunday afternoon especially as, ironically, we aren’t particularly that well-known in our own back-garden…did I mention the venue was an eight-minute drive from my house.
But we did what we do best and took to the stage with the intention of having (and delivering) fun.
The audience were plentiful, but mostly sat on hay-bales, camping chairs, or picnic blankets quite a distance from the stage.
So, for us, seeing whether they were sharing in the joke was a little tough at first.
Nevertheless, some folk started to edge forward, and it wasn’t long before we had a small but appreciative standing audience darn’ at the front.
That said, when we launched into ‘Walking In Manpiss’ we had a visit from a member of the stage crew who mentioned quietly and very politely in my ear to be aware that it was a family festival, and to try and watch the ‘colourful language’.
Having played so many ‘family festivals’, where the audiences have always been very liberal and receptive to our cheeky postcard humour, that was a bit of a shock.
But we never would intentionally set out to upset anybody, so took heed of the message and toned things down.
As the ardent professionals we are, we started thinking on our feet, cutting ‘The Cockwombling Song’ in case the old lady sat in front of Björn had a coronary, and opted for an edited-on-the-fly version of Festival Heroes before going into The Lady In Greggs, The Devil Went Darn To Barnsley and a Jump Ararnd ending, which had plenty of folk clapping and dancing along.
Had I had been warned in advance, I would have chosen a totally different setlist, but these things happen…future bookers take note…if you want the 12 or PG set, ask us early on.
On leaving the stage and wandering down to the merch stall, there was nobody that we spoke to who claimed to have been horrified, so I think we got away with it.
My mum and dad also came to the show, as they live very close to the venue. As a huge fan of Tony Christie, my mum was extremely impressed, even in light of our Mary Whitehouse Experience earlier in the day,
They said though that we hadn’t got anything to worry about, because Carol Decker from T’Pau “was swearing like a docker” when she hit the stage later on that afternoon.
Despite the cracking line-up we left Wentworth early once again as we had decided to return back to Bearded Theory for the Sunday night headliners, Madness.
BEARDED THEORY – THE RETURN
We arrived in good time and managed to see Warsop’s finest, The Star Botherers, who played a blistering Woodlands set, with singer and guitarist Bart Hawkins, uke-bassist Dave Drury and his drummer son Brad being extended by the addition of special guest Black Thorn’s Joel Howe on lead acoustic guitar and mandolin, managing to make their already big sound even bigger.
Bart is one of my favourite and underrated lyricists on the alternative festival scene with cleverly funny songs like I Wanna Be A Bad Guy, Five-Fingered Death Punch and Star Wars Bride being among the many upbeat songs in their set.
The Star Botherers just don’t do melancholy, and that’s one of the things that I love about them: you just cannot watch them without a Cheshire Cat grin.
But Bart’s lyrics aren’t just witty and laced with humour, he also writes with poignancy that comes from the heart, demonstrated by stand-out track ‘If I Was A Tory’ which not only went down a storm with what was clearly a predominantly left-leaning crowd, but underlined with a biting sarcasm the inequalities in the current political climate.
A stand-out performance.
Next up for us was fellow Barnsley-lass Kathryn Roberts, along with Sean Lakeman, bringing her wonderful voice, Sean’s superb playing, and a lovely chilled vibe to the Woodlands stage. Highlights of the set included the sublime 52 Herts and the title track from their latest album Tomorrow Will Follow Today.
It was also great to see the duo had been reunited with their instruments, which had been stolen last month while they were touring.
Rousing sets were also offered up from Pronghorn (who were thoroughly enjoyable mixture of both Ferocious Dog & The Wurzels, if such a thing can be comprehended) and the belting Bangrha-rockers, Kissmet – who had the Woodlands jumping like Zebedee on uppers.
We got round to the main stage having missed what many were describing as the set of the weekend from Vintage Trouble. It would appear that their singer Ty Taylor had just crowd-surfed from the mixing desk to the stage, as several people who spotted me, simply had to let me know. Sounds like it was a load of fun though I wonder if he doesn’t own a dinghy or like a beer?
We watched Madness from next to the mixing desk tower, and they fired out all of the hits (including Our House / One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / House Of Fun / Grey Day / My Girl / It Must Be Love / Wings Of A Dove / The Prince / Night Boat To Cairo / NW5) and a load of songs from their latest album You Can’t Touch Us Now (including Mr Apples, the wonderfully bouncy Mumbo Jumbo and their song for the late-great Amy Winehouse, Blackbird).
What certainly looked like the biggest audience I have ever seen at Bearded, looked to be loving every single minute of their hit-tastic crowd-pleasing set.
Suggs did appear to be a little drunk, and had to restart a song after forgetting his words, but as somebody who has always used a music stand due to having difficulty retaining the lyrics to over 10-hours of material, I’m certainly not one to criticise.
There was plenty of love for the Nutty Boys in the field, and even with an apparently inebriated frontman, they still put on a great show that culminated with amazing fireworks, bouncy balls thrown into the audience, confetti cannons and what looked like (from where we were stood) organiser Rich Bryant joining the band on stage, dancing with his missus and kids as they crashed into the closing bars of Night Boat To Cairo.
It was a lovely thing to watch and a great end to their 10th Year, something that team BT should take a huge bow for.
We headed back to the car (which was a swine of a thing to find in the car-park field in the dark) and trundled back down the A38 for the fourth time that weekend and onto the M1, tired, exhausted, worn-out from another weekend being in Yorkshire’s hardest working comedy band.
Next week’s adventures:
Something To Smile About Festival, Doncaster
The Acoustic Festival Of Britain, Uttoxeter
Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham