Birmingham isn’t quite right. There’s something about its buildings and its landscape and its atmosphere and its people that’s somehow different. This otherness is what makes the city such a delicious and (mostly) undiscovered pleasure. It’s also what makes many of its artists and musicians take a different line. From Edward Burne Jones to Ozzy Osbourne, Brummies have created that which no-one else would have dared to. Birmingham’s not flash. If it were a girl the city would be the cute, quirky indie chick who oozes subtle sex appeal; and readers – wouldn’t you always go for her over the preened and polished airhead?
Local heroes Pram follow directly in this lineage of oddity and experimentation. The wonderfully inventive foursome proffer spacey sounds which at once look to the future; and yet hark back to the stripped-down sonic mischief-making of Delia Derbyshire et al. Pram’s music sounds like is the product of too many kisses underneath flyovers; of dereliction and regeneration and change and ambition. They are highlights of this, the sixth Moseley Folk Festival. As the sun goes down over the lake and the gently sloping grass, the Domino Records mainstays who never made it big but should have done, and will surely do so posthumously sprinkle stardust on a festival which, like its home city, is a surprising joy to sniff out.
With just a few thousand people, stages decked out in flowers and plenty of families, it feels like all of the broadsheet readers in the city have descended on Moseley the most exciting and latterly slightly glam of Brum’s suburbs. Unlike the rest of this spit ‘n’ sawdust kind town, Moseley – and its private park – feels swanky. The park itself used to form the grounds of Moseley Hall. People say there’s a lot of psychosis round this parts too; and sure enough the hall itself is now a psychiatric hospital. Yet another little totem of Brum: perhaps the patients at the top of the hill were all sent mad by the city’s hair-brained inner ring road?
Willy Mason is another fan of Moseley. I went to the best party of my life around here he drawls between songs, the audience immediately warming to his charms. It would be interesting to see if Oxygen would still pack such a suckerpunch if it were sang in a Brummie accent. The young troubador gets one of the warmest receptions of the weekend for his set then, presumably, drives himself away again in his bus.
New trio The Staves impress with a very traditional take on Celtic vocal folk. The three sisters from London all have beguiling voices and strip down their sound to an acoustic guitar only to let their tonsils do the real work. They’re also a nice change from the parade of men with beards that grace the stage for most of the day.
One man with a beard we’re always pleased to see is Jose Gonzalez. Perversely his band Junip with which he plays today are far less folky than if he were to play his solo material. Tragically that wonderful cover of Kylie Minogue‘s Hand On Your Heart doesn’t get an airing, but Junip’s driving indie-rock sound is most welcome all the same.
Which leaves The Bees, who finish things off on something of a high note by (finally) getting the largely static audience off their picnic rugs and on to their feet for a shimmy to celebrate the official end of summer.
And with Brum’s music scene so small and tight-knit, it makes perfect sense is a fitting tribute to read in the programme that this year’s event is rightly dedicated to the memory of Trish Keenan, who died earlier this year. Keenan’s band Broadcast were soulmates of Pram and shared members. She also lived in Moseley, and as the darkness falls and the wind whips up, perhaps her spirit is traceable in the melee of oddness and nostalgia and history and progress that permanently shrouds Brum and gives it this unique character.