There was much to enjoy at Roots Fest, from the eclectic well chosen bill, to the almost military precision of performance timings, right through to a sound man who between acts blasted 229 with the likes of Morganway, Lisa Wright, Emila Quinn and many many others, the very cream of UK Americana.
Starting things promptly at 17:30 was Maiead.
her set was to be somewhat defined by her lengthy journey to the venue. It was to be a mix of chaos and magic resulting in some truly sublime moments, however not having a time to prepare a set list would prove to be something that would lead to some moments of madness later on. With her main man Tom joining her on acoustic guitar things kicked off with her single "If You Loved Me Once", with the twin effect of Mairead also on acoustic guitar making a nice blend.
For "Searching For Ghosts", Mairead ditched the guitar, took the mic from the stand and lived the song with a myriad of hand exressions as she delivered a powerful ballad vocal. The "Write Like A Girl" team were to make their presence a couple of times during Mairead's set "Catching a Feeling", an Emily Faye co write, came with Tom providing a solid riff for the verses, while the speeded up choruses were again delivered with some oomph by Mairead who had to contend with an ever lowering mic stand as she sang!
The high point of the set, after something of a discussion was "Another Day" co written with Matt McGinn it contained heartfelt lyrics that Mairead delivered with some style and power. Maireads acoustic's version of her single from earlier in the year "Crying In The Dance Floor" restored a lot more of the bitterness that got sidetracked when making it radio friendly and it sounded much the better for it. Another "Write Like A Girl" co write was to come in the shape of "Looking Glass" which was one of Mairead's first attempts at songwriting and has now been revamped after a session with Beth Keeping. Delivered while doing something of a sashay from side to side, this sounded like another quality song which along with the others previewed tonight should see Mairead fare well in 2022. Sadly the various set discussions ate up the time that would have been filled by "Belong To Me", Mairead's new single which was a shame as it would've been a great way to close but as we said at the start - sets were allocated with something of military precision
Next up was a first sighting for us of Phillipa Hanna, a proper old school entertainer, whose set was thought out from beginning to end and took us on something of a musical and emotional journey with her 30 minutes. This set felt as if it came with a narrative and that we were being gently guided to where Phillipa wanted us to go - and from the off she was determined to get the party started. Having been 2 years since she played a London show, partially due to covid and possibly a side effect of Lockdown the birth of her daughter - who was watching with regular percussionist, Dad from the sidelines! Phillippa looked as if she savoured every second on stage.
Immediately impressing by being able play while doing her introduction and simultaneously preparing us for a singalong, you could not help but like Phillippa from the off. Her opening song "Off The Wagon" had a classic up beat chorus that we were singing along to before we even knew it - this was a take on traditional country music yet sounded completly fresh even complete with "Yeehaw's". It even managed to segue into "Amazing Grace" and not seem awkward - and this was just the first song!!!
Phillppa's lovely racconteur style continued to impress throughout, and her next song "Speed Of Light" was as modern a song as the previous one had been old school. Providing her own percussion by tapping her guitar and then by encouraging the crowd to clapalong, and with a great vocal - this was another classic.
it's hard not like someone who starts the introduction to the next song with the line "Isn't it nice to be out of the house?" It is all part of Phillipa's charm, she shares with you to the point you feel that you know her and are therefore invested in her performance as well. The introduction to "Rag Doll" was heartfelt, so heartfelt it even got it's own round of applause. In another change of style this Jack Johnson like upbeat piece of singer songwriting managed to place a serious message inside a song that would equally not be out of place on a Toy Story soundtrack.
Losing a family member in the run up to a show you'd imagine would be good reason in itself to pull out altogether let alone making it a centre point of your set. Yet having lost Mother In Law, Yvonne just 3 days earlier, Phillippa pulled out all the stops and then some more to deliver what was one of Yvonne's favourite songs "The Goodness Of God". This was jaw droppingly good, full of spirituality and as fitting a tribute as one could ever pay.
Immediately lifting the mood with "Happy In My Skin" a piece of classy soulful pop which was so gloriously upbeat that we could even forgive the faux rap element inserted at times which the song could probably have lived without. Her short 6 song set was to close with "Come Back Fighting", another uptempo, audience participation, singalong piece of pop music. Time with Phillippa passed in no time and she left you with the feeling that we had only scratched the surface of what she had to offer and as the words of her song said "I'm just getting started!".
For the last few months Kate Ellis has peppered us with singles that will form part of her sophmore album , the followup to the excellent "Carve Me Up". With time limited, this was to be very much a showcase set of songs from that forthcoming album "Spirals" and even playing in this reduced format with just partner and impeccably dressed guitarist Andy Hobsbawm in tow, expectations have been set of just how good it might prove to be.