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Pensford Festival 2002

A review of the Pensford Festival, featuring Acker Bilk & his Paramount Jazz Band, Fred Wedlock, The Wurzels, The Blue Note Jazz Band with Hannah Wedlock, Lisa Morgan, and Matt Baker & Ben Lowery, at Pensford Memorial Playing Field, Publow Lane, Pensford in Somerset (29th June 2002) by Paul Gunningham

Party In The Playing Field

Paul Gunningham  thought he must be dreaming - all that lot on the same bill?!

Imagine: not one - not two - but three of the greatest legends of West Country music on the same bill. Not only that, but one of Bristol's - indeed Britain's - best jazz bands, a rock band and a future pop star added for good measure. And on top of all that - a beer tent selling Thatchers scrumpy straight from the cask! Either I've died and gone to heaven, or I'm dreaming again.

Better pinch myself... ouch! No, that was no dream - it was real, all right. This was the Penford Festival 2002, which not only featured jazz legend Acker Bilk, but 'Oldest Swinger' Fred Wedlock and - for the first time ever - Scrumpy & Western heroes The Wurzels. Fred's daughter Hannah showed up with Roger Bennett's Blue Note Jazz Band, and we were treated to sets from Lisa Morgan and local budding rock stars Matt Baker and Ben Lowery. Now where else could you see a varied bill like that?

Ably and amusingly compered (how else?) by the inimitable Mr Wedlock, the evening of varied musical delights was attended by most of the villagers and others who'd made the trip for this momentous occasion. The audience ranged from young 'uns scarcely out of nappies to pensioners - and in spite of the variety of music, everyone there seemed to enjoy it all! As usual, the crowds started to arrive when the gates opened early in the evening - some by car, some on foot from the village. We arrived in the afternoon and had a pint of cider at the Rising Sun down by the river while we waited for the gates to open.

Evening West

Arriving early at the field in front of the massive stage, we could see the Wurzels' roadie setting up their gear on an adjacent truck. We pitched our chairs between the two stages so we could get a good view of both. Settling down for a picnic, washed down with a pint of scrumpy from the bar, we didn't have to wait long before Fred announced the first act - Lisa Morgan, who had appeared on TV's Stars In Their Eyes. She did a set of mainly covers with her accomplished band and went down well with the crowds, finishing with one of her own songs. I reckon we might be hearing more of her in the future. Move over, Posh Spice!

As you might expect, Fred kept everyone entertained with his easy-going humour during the gaps while equipment was set up between acts, and also found time to talk to me more than once during the (for him) busy evening. The atmosphere was friendly as all the crowds were in a good mood in spite of the rain in the early part of the evening, which caused a forest of brollies to pop up like mushrooms around us. The event was well organised in every respect and a credit to all concerned, with food and drink readily available for those who hadn't brought their own - or in my case, for greedy b*gg*rs who had! There was some concern among the organisers that the men's open air urinals would fill up with rain before the end of the evening, but these proved ill-founded.

Fred's next job was to introduce his daughter Hannah Wedlock, fronting the famous Bristol Blue Note Jazz Band, led by Roger Bennett of BBC Radio Bristol's Morning West fame. As you would expect from this experienced band, their set was superb and Ms Wedlock was a revelation for those who hadn't heard her before, with her strong and expressive vocals. There were some superb solos from Mr Bennett (on soprano sax and clarinet) and Chris Pearce and Ron Brown, with the capable accompaniment of the two Geoffs on piano and bass, with drummer John Watson holding it all together. It would have been well worth going just to see the Blue Notes on their own!

Wurzellin' Time In Zummerzet

But there was more to come! By now the rain had mercifully eased off and it was now Fred Wedlock's turn to do a turn. For around half an hour he entertained everyone with his jokes and hilarious songs - including old favourites like Side By Side, and a variation on the Hippies & the Hairies, aptly reworded as the Jazzers & the Boozers for the occasion! As always, Fred went down well - particularly funny was his song about Spanish holidays of the Club 18-30 type (IQ, that is, explained Fred!) which raised a lot of laughs - as did his Swing Low, Sweet Charlie Dimmock - but as this is a family website I'd better not go into that...

Straight after Fred's own spot he introduced The Wurzels who were on their own stage, to protect the other posh one from any fallout from their dung-encrusted boots! They did their usual storming set with the Wurzels' fan club dancing in front of them throughout. It was good to see the boys doing a few different numbers - including Dorset Is Beautiful and Wurzel Rock, both of which went down a storm. Let's hope we can see the lads gradually adding some more new material to the live shows from now on. By the end of their set, which as usual was about an hour long, the crowds had all moved forward and the atmosphere in front of their stage was frantic as the frenzied young 'uns (and some not so young!) danced, clapped along and joined in with all the words - I plead guilty, yer honour! As usual they left the stage with the audience yelling for more and then spent the next hour or so signing CDs, hats, scarves and T-shirts for their army of fans - most of whom seemed to have turned up tonight!

It Ain't Over Till Old Acker Plays

But the evening still wasn't over! Now it was the turn of the grand old man of Pensford jazz to take the stage. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band kept everyone in a good mood with their professional and entertaining performance, with Acker's usual West Country patter and jokes between numbers keeping everybody laughing. What can be said about Acker that hasn't been said before? Suffice it to say that the performance was just what you'd expect, only better!

It's not easy following a bill such as this, but local rock band fronted by vocalist Matt Baker and guitarist Ben Lowery came on, to the accompaniment of a laser light show. Matt can belt out a song like a good 'un and Ben's fretboard wizardry got plenty of applause from the crowd.

All that remained was the impressive firework display and the dream evening had come to an end. For us, it was back to Pensford Hill to sleep off the scrumpy and dream some more. Waking next morning and looking across to the festival site, you could see the carpet of empty glasses and bottles glinting in the sun and the cars abandoned in the field where some drivers who might have accidentally overdosed on the cider had sensibly decided to leave them.

An unforgettable evening and congatulations to all concerned in organising it, and of course to the acts for giving us all so much pleasure over the years gone by and hopefully for many more years to come. And special thanks to Fred for being such a real nice friendly bloke! Never mind the Party in the Park or the Palace - give I the Party in Pensford Playing Field any time! I'm already looking forward to next year...

© Paul Gunningham 2002

For some pictures of the event see the Official Pensford website

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