The audience gathering at The Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.
It seems that I have been hearing about the Tooting Folk and Blues Festival as long as I can remember. Gabriel, a good friend of mine, has been planning this event with Ellen, his daughter, for the last year or two. The festival is the legitimate offspring of their much lauded folk nights at The Breathing Room held at the back of the Antelope Pub just off Tooting Broadway on the last Sunday of every month.
Now Ellen Harrison and Gabriel Mesh have achieved their dream.
The proud organisers Ellen and Gabriel.
The festival took place on Saturday afternoon the 8th August in a setting that belies the fact that this was South London. The event location was in a beautiful corner of Tooting Common just along the road from Tooting Bec station. A setting with large glorious oaks and bordered by poplars and low shrubs. The birth pains are over with a delivery as sunny and joyous as the blue skies and warm sunshine that graced the festival on its first outing.
Marilyn and I arrived early. There were mums and dads with young toddlers settling down on their blankets dispersed around the large grassy area. A relaxed family orientated atmosphere was beginning to be formed. Food stalls surrounded the arena area. There were the smells of delicious kebabs, Korean barbecues, various burger grills heating up and vegetarian stalls. The stage area and Green Room tent were located at one end.
I was sitting on the grass in front of the stage. As the minutes passed by before the first act at 1pm, approached, I looked around. Where there had been a few groups of people, families and friends, there was now a large crowd forming and as the event progressed more and more people joined the crowd from all points of Tooting Common. By the time the music began there were at least two thousand gathered and this number was added to as the afternoon progressed. There was a buzz of voices, people enjoying themselves and relaxing. As the afternoon unfolded toddlers danced, sometimes even moving to the beat and sometimes, in a totally unaffected way, approached the stage. Some mums in floaty dresses did impressions of a hippy past taking great joy in performing loose limbed dances like strands of wheat in a gentle breeze. Their little children laughed.
The beer tent provided by The Antelope Pub did a very good trade. The queue stretched far back along one side of the arena area for most of the afternoon. They had five staff on the bar and I think this is something that could be expanded next year. Two beer tents perhaps? I had three pints of the local Wandle brew which created a very pleasant sensation.
Steve Morrison,opening the first Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.
Some of the musical highlights included the opening set by Steve Morrison. He made the excuse that he was starting the event because he had another gig to go to later. However, I am sure the crowd got the feeling after a while that he so much enjoyed playing to such an appreciative audience in such beautiful surroundings under a blue warm sky that he was regretting having to depart later. I think he realised that he was the first act in an event that was important and going to be important for the future. Steve played his version of delta blues, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf style. There were some Eric Clapton riffs in there too.When, inadvertently, one of his guitar strings broke and he had to leave the stage for a few moments to replace it the excellent professional stage crew slipped in a few blues tracks and just as slickly, faded their sounds out as soon as Steve rejoined us. He created a rich fruit cake of moods that tickled your arm pits and punched you in the guts, occasionally, both at the same time.
The one and only Gabriel Mesh.
The great Gabriel Mesh performed an iconic set in the middle of the afternoon. Gabriel’s exciting and brilliant guitar riffs and techniques pervaded the arena creating a kaleidoscope of fantastic sounds. He performed his wonderful eclectic collection of self-written and well known numbers. His songs are often personal, especially those penned to his, “special lady.” His voice has an elastic quality bending notes from a deep guttural base to a high invigorating flute like pitch.
Other great performances included the Case Hardin band with their electric blues ; a mixture of insistent electric guitar riffs overlying some stomach churning drum beats.
Wizz Jones performing.
The wonderful, hoary headed, hunched form of Wizz Jones, his white shock of unkempt hair like a sparkling explosive November the 5th firework graced the stage towards the end of the afternoon with his famous mix of blues numbers. In one song he reminisced about his father who was awarded the Burma Cross. His wonderful guitar playing was overlayed by his clear lyrical voice pushing through the air like a forceful breeze. He was backed at times by his son, Simeon Jones,a talented musician who added some Gerry Rafferty style saxophone and Jethro Tull type flute chords. An exciting and interesting collection of musical delights.
To complete a fantastic afternoon, other wonderful performances included the brilliant Niall Kelly Band, The Bara Bara Band, both groups stalwarts of the Breathing Room nights, Whom By Fire, who I have also seen at the Breathing Room alongside Chaz Thorogood and Garry Smith. There was not one under par performance. They were all incredible.
The atmosphere at the whole event was relaxed and fun. I can only imagine that all those who attended will tell their friends. The local press was there to report on the festival. I hope Croydon Radio will invite Gabriel and Ellen back to tell the wider world about the events great success too. I spoke to the two members of the parks police who were obliged to attend. I commented on what a wonderful event it was and how friendly and happy everybody seemed to be. They agreed with me. They said that they will report back to the council. Both of the constables could not see why Gabriel and Ellen should not get council funding in the future. They also suggested that lottery funding would be possible. I know Gabriel and Ellen found it tough to get enough funding this time and are so grateful to The Antelope, Daniel James, the Pearl Chemist Group and the Tooting Daily Press for the bulk of their funding this time.
Everybody who I have talked to thinks that this event is the start of something important. I fully agree with that. Events like this one are important for our community. I am looking forward to the Tooting Folk and Blues festival, next year.