This festival which traditionally takes place in the Derby Assembly Rooms very nearly didn't happen in 2014. In March a large fire in the plant room on the roof takes out the services and damages the public areas and there's some doubt about this year's festival. 

Fortunately, thanks to the good people of Derby Live (part of the city council), PR Promotions and a combination of a large marque erected in the market square, The Guildhall Theatre and a couple of other local venues and the 8th Derby Folk Festival is all systems go, hurrah. 

I arrive at 12.00hrs along with the hardened drinkers (those pewter tankards probably don't contain tea) to see the master of the acoustic guitar, Martin Simpson. No matter how many times you see him Martin's playing of bluesy folk using a thumb pick and with his fingers dancing along the fretboard still amazes .

Clearly his many years living in New Orleans influenced his playing and writing; during one introduction he compares the desolation of the Mississippi Delta to South Lincolnshire (whilst I've not visited the Mississippi Delta I can confirm that South Lincolnshire is no tourist attraction).

A particularly moving song from today's set is 'Jackie and Murphy' the tale Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick who started offering donkey rides on South Shields beach and ended his life rescuing the dead and dying with a donkey on the beaches of Gallipoli. The donkey has been acknowledged, but the honour due to Jack Kirkpatrick is yet to materialise despite repeated campaigns. Martin's set finishes with 'Never Any Good' the tribute to his dad and the life-skills he passed onto him.

Next to the Guildhall for Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. Sean is an accomplished acoustic guitar player and his wife Kathryn adds beautiful vocals plus piano (which she has to kick her heels off to play) flue or oboe as required. 

Several songs from their third album 'Hidden People' are played , 'The Lusty Smith' described as a song about sex and death, as Sean says “what's  folk music without sex and death, it's just maypoles”. A solo spot with Kathryn at the piano is particularly affecting, 'The Ballad of Andy Jacobs' is a song about the effect the miner's strike (Kathryn was brought up in South Yorkshire) had upon relationships, it's very similar in mood to Kate Bush's 'This Woman's Work' and you could hear something considerably smaller and softer than a pin drop.  

Ay-up”, we're back in the big marque to see local hero Lucy Ward. Lucy has won awards and much acclaim for her two albums, tonight she is playing with some of the musicians from those albums as the Lucy Ward Band. Backing from duo O'Hooley and Tidow and Joy Gravestock amongst others give the album tracks more heft and a fuller sound to Lucy's already  impressive vocals.       

Early on we get 'Alice in the Bacon Box' the true story of an unfortunate woman who falls on hard times and ends up living in the aforementioned box. There's a cover version of Blondie's 'Hanging On The Telephone ' which starts out at a creeping pace so it's not until the chorus kicks in at full speed we all recognise it. 

One of most striking moments is taken from her second album 'Single Flame', as they finish the main set with a song dedicated to “the people who marched before us , campaigning for justice .” , the very powerful 'For The Dead Men', which brought her to Billy Bragg's attention (they played together at Glastonbury this year). At the end she gets the standing ovation a performance by someone you feel really means every moment deserves. 

For an encore there's another cover (and for the first time I can actually understand all the words) of  'Come On Eileen' at half-speed and as Lucy informs us she's off to shortly “.get wed ”. Congratulations to her.  

Continuing the Derby connection we have Sunjay Brayne, who's a really accomplished and confident young performer in the manner of the early traditional music performers of the early 1960's, then David Gibb and Elly Lucas for their very final performance as a duo.    

Starting with the track they say they often do, and there's no need to change for the final show  'Uncle Joe', a humorous tale featuring some characters and their tall tales. David often writes fun songs, more of which later. 'Dalmatian Cradle Song' is a traditional track Elly remembered singing in primary school, which they revived for their second album 'Up Through the Woods'. 'Jerusalem Cuckoo' is a fun song about a the fastest donkey in England, who depending upon the version sung can end up as a jacket for his owner, and finally an acappella version of the traditional 'John Ball' written in 1981 to commemorate one of the leaders of the peasant's revolt after which they're finished. David is producing albums of songs for children and Elly to further her photography career, if you've read the “Thanks to ” in a folk/traditional music album in the last couple of years you'll already know she's the photographer of choice for many musicians.

A quick dash back to the marque for tonight's headliner Kate Rusby.  Kate arrives on stage carrying her usual mug containing what could well be Yorkshire Tea as they are mentioned in the 'Thank You's' inside her new album 'Ghost'. The new album gets plenty of play tonight 'The Outlandish Knight' and 'We Will Sing' stand out on first listen.

Kate is backed by a five piece band led by husband Damien O'Kane on acoustic guitar and about an hour into the show “Damien and the boys” are left to play a ripping set of Irish tunes; during the intro Damien invites us to spot the TV theme tunes they've inserted (The A-Team and The Muppets in case you're interested).     

Rather like mulled wine, warm mince pies and a blazing fire whilst watching snow fall outside there's something really comforting about Kate and the band when they're this polished. We get the usual updates on the various pets, children's injuries (possible dislocated finger from the description), and the ghost who inhabits the Rusby-O'Kane household and gave the new album it's title. To top it all it's Kate's mum's birthday so a chocolate cake is produced accompanied by a Folk festival sing a-long to 'Happy Birthday' and mum's favourite song 'The Night Visit' is played which Kate assures us is nothing to do with sleep interrupted by a weak bladder. 

'Awkward Annie' finishes the main set and then there's the encore of 'I Courted A Sailor' both of which are met with rapturous applause and you're reminded that when Kate grabs the mic stand, close her eyes and sings there's probably no better voice singing traditional music in Britain today.

So thanks to the organisers and performers the 8th Derby Folk Festival rose like a triumphant phoenix. Hopefully we'll be back in a more permanent, less smoke damaged venue next year.

Alisdair Whyte  

Festival Website