Musicport World Music Festival, the Indoor Festival with the Outdoor Spirit

Nitin Sawhney
Nitin Sawhney

The year is flying by furnishing us with a new set of musical memories, thrilling discoveries of unsigned talent on Glastonbury’s fringe stages, grooving to great dance bands from Africa at WOMAD or simply chilling with a beer and the Sunday papers on the Larmer Tee lawns. Just as you heave a sigh and mourn the end of the festival season, vex not…there’s one more festival that will give you the chance for a final fling, to lift your spirits before the nights start to draw in, in earnest. It’s also the perfect excuse to escape the city for the weekend and continue the very English and Victorian passion for a trip to the seaside by rail, for concerts, dancing , a paddle in the waves and of course the enjoyment of fish and chips, whilst strolling along the seafront promenade, weather permitting.

Musicport World Music Festival takes place every fourth weekend in October, in the East Yorkshire coastal town of Bridlington, birth place of aviatrix Amy Johnson, home to artist David and since 2009, Musicport’s new home. Occupying the newly refurbished Bridlington Spa complex, Musicport transforms the space into an indoor program of music, dance, workshops, a children’s festival offshoot and also world cinema courtesy of Scarborough film society.

Months of planning and hard work see creative visions materialize as food stalls and traders arrive early to set up their pitches, sound systems are given the traditional one two one two and Cloudbase, purveyors of fine music and vibes, are entrusted with creating a festival ambience. The Art Deco Ballroom featuring a glass domed ceiling and sprung wooden dancefloor, will become the main stage, the surroundings and balconies draped with fabric and more colors than the brightest sari.

Bunting and huge white fabric covered hoops covered in are hung in readiness for the Cloudbase visual protections. Names on contracts are becoming a reality as the artist reception and green room are set up in readiness for Musicport’s well renowned top notch artist hospitality. This bodes well for music lovers as Jim McLaughlin, the festival’s director believes in a strong correlation between brilliant performances and the provision of good food and hospitality.

Brimming with music from local and international artists let the musical adventure begin. Its all under one roof, “the indoor festival with the outdoor spirit” includes everything we love whilst leaving behind the choice chemical toilets, crowded tents with overpriced beer, long treks between stages, knee deep mud and rain we loathe.

To give you a flavor of the music you can expect, here’s the low down from last year’s festival…. but first take a deep breath. Here we go…… Those arriving early were treated to a special performance in the foyer from Newcastle based Soznak aided by dancing from the Urban Gypsies. Rafiki Jazz from Sheffield opened the main stage to be followed over the weekend by performances from Nitin Sawhney, The mighty Misty in Roots on their only UK date, a rare appearance from the recently reformed Congolese supergroup Les Quatre Etioles, John Peel favorites the Ukranians on their comeback tour, Leeds based Chumbawumba, polyphonic singing from Bulgaria’s Bisserov Sisters, Pacific Curls from the southern hemisphere, jazz inflections with the masterful Adriano Adewale Group, Sudanese Voodoo grooves with Rango, a colorful spiritual Sunday morning awakening with the Tashi Lhunpo monks, Eliza Carthy’s favorite singer in the world Julie Murphy with Fernhill, trancey afro blues from Songlines music award winners Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara.and the Pan African band the African Jazz All stars……. Whew, you can breathe out now..…. but that’s not all.

The South Sea Stage conveniently placed near the upstairs bar and café, is where you’ll make those musical discoveries, never to be repeated, unrehearsed pure impromptu moments that just blow you away. Names chalked up on a blackboard both programmed artists, booked months ahead and last minute hopefuls. Notable performances came from Karen Tweed now one of the most sought after accordionists in Europe, Dicky Deegan man and uillean pipes at one and The Hut People who’s debut the previous year created one of the festival’s surprise sensations.

Are you exhausted yet?….well, there’s more. As the name suggests its polar opposite, the North Sea stage has commanding views across the waves, next stop Norway. The perfect backdrop to wonder what music the Yorkshire coast’s most famous seafarer, Captain James Cook, may have encountered on his voyages.

If ever there was an award for the hardest working stage, this is probably the most deserving, accommodating over twenty acts plus workshops. The sound engineers have an ear for acoustic perfection but often with less than twenty minutes to mike up, sound check and turn the stage around. It was here that Robert Maseko and the Congo Beats gave a memorable late night acoustic performance and where Paula Darwish, introduced the audience to an eclectic fusion of Turkish, Kurdish, English and Arabic music with her Country and Eastern Band. Other treats included Fiona Katy Roberts harp playing and the upcoming Liverpudlian singer songwriter Delta Maid.

English festival audiences are notorious for wanting to sit down at concerts and the venue provides a number of sitting opportunities. Chairs and tables around the outer edges of the ballroom, raked seating in the upper tier but the piece de resistance, the pearl in the shell is the venue’s hidden gem. Not at all obvious from the plain exterior, the Spa has its own self contained, revamped two tier Edwardian theatre with state of the art sound and lighting but importantly, 950 soft red velvet covered seats. Festival weary could rest aching backs and tired legs whilst listening to the “saviour of English roots music” Jim Moray; Mamane Barke the last surviving master of the ancient African instrument the Biram or Carmen Souza who mixes traditional Cape Verdean melodies with twists of contemporary jazz.

And once those weary legs are rested you can dance into the small hours with festival residents Cloudbase or one of the guest dj’s who have in the recent past included: DJ Monkey Pilot of the Whirly Gig, The Outernationalists, Mad Professor and the Ariwa Posse, The Flying Chilli Beats and Banco De Gaia and when the festival straddles two time zones, there’s an extra hour of dancing on a Saturday night as the clocks go back and British summer time ends.

Now in its eleventh year, never in their wildest dreams could the originators of Musicport envisage the festival growing to what it is today. Talk to Robert Maseko and he soon recounts with fond affection that gig back in the late nineties that started it all. Jim and his wife Sue were running the Old Chapel in Robin Hood’s Bay as a café, bookshop and occasional venue where Lunasa and Wood, Wilson Carthy had provided previous concerts. It was the booking of Robert Maseko and his band that provided the turning point. After a sell out, Jim and Sue realized there was an audience for African music.

Revved up after the gig the trio returned to the McLaughlin home in Whitby where fuelled by positivity, they drank tea and talked until the dawn chorus. A decision was made and there would be a world music millennium celebration at Whitby’s Pavillion . With strong support from the community, there would be no going back and the cultural landscape would alter permanently. The Musicport festival was born with a line- up that included Robert Maseko and the Chaka Chaka Zouk, Labi Siffre, Susaar, Viva Flamenco, Charanga Del Norte, Imbizo, Banoffi and Manchester Adventist gospel choir amongst others.

Its slow organic growth and strong community links have ensured that the festival has retained the spirit of its humble beginnings. Festival goers warm to its friendly atmosphere, skilful programming and resistance to corporate interference. The fact that the festival now has considerable pulling power to attract the very best in international artists is just a bonus.

For Jim McLaughlin Musicport’s director, its about providing something for everyone, “it’s the joy of seeing how music connects people and if we provide the right environment we can slot other bits and pieces in and stretch the boundaries”. And like the waves that form its logo the festival has never stood still, creating support for a number of spin off concerts all year round at venues throughout Whitby as well as commissioning special collaborations for the festival.

This year’s festival takes place on 22nd- 24th October with headline acts to include Angelique Kidjo, Invisible System, Jah Wobble, Imagined Village, Alejandro Toledo and the Tombelinos, Richard Hawley and Norma Waterson.

This article formed the background to a piece commissioned by Songlines Magazine in the UK.

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Author: Jill Turner

Jill Turner contributes to Songlines Magazine, World Music Central and is on the fRoots critics albums of the year panel. Her radio show GondwanaSound broadcasts on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM to the fourth largest city in the UK and is carried on both Radio Groovalizacion and African Internet Radio.


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