Festival World

Underneath the Stars 2018: Barnsley’s Further Foray into Folk

Underneath the Stars is a festival of celebration of Yorkshire’s music scene and the grand tradition of Kate Rusby, but more importantly it is an olive branch, nay, an olive tree that gives a platform to several well-known and upcoming groups wherever they hail from. A generous enterprise indeed.

Our festival visits continue and this time we cast our eye on “Underneath the Stars 2018”, one of the jewels of Barnsley’s music scene calendar. But does it glimmer in the light?

Now in it’s fifth year the festival is a a relaxed bustle of international musicians across genres, extensive and friendly children’s entertainment, excellent craft and food stalls and of course a series of musical workshops. It is true, many festivals have childrens entertainment but there is probably more than it’s fair share here with no end of diablos, stilts, optical illusion constructions and storytelling to keep the little ones entertained.

None of the entertainment seems like an afterthought either. Through the weekend we hear the countdown of entertainers about to release a giant Newton’s Cradle, or see the crypt-keeper doing his rounds ushering families for the night-time spooky tales. There is more all-round entertainment for families then I’ve ever seen at a folk festival anywhere, credit is definitely due for the Rusbys and their commitment to trying to make it a festival for everyone. Beer is free flowing, and there are more than enough places to indulge in food if you don’t bring your own, our favourite being the “Massala Chips” that are on offer from a vendor here. Whilst being fairly large in size, the whole even is quite self-contained with festival venues being near the top, the workshop tent at the bottom and everything else in between.

Colourful and picturesque, we cannot really ask for better surroundings.

That is all well and good, but what of the music? Well there is so much, it is hard to know where to start. Let us tell you about a few of our favourites. Starting with Maya Youseff.

Maya Youseff

Arriving on the third day like a hungry tiger waiting to pounce, Maya Youseff is here, but she is not alone. There is her band, but also an unexpected, ethereal sound drawn straight from her homeland that brings a positive World vibe which widens the scope and sound of the whole festival. Youseff is from Syria and considered the “queen of the quanun”, her 78 string zipher whose playing is usually dictated to be a man’s occupation. Breaking the mould in performance and sound, Youseff performs from an ethical standpoint, the desire for peace in Syria. She achieves this through a kind of waterfall of sonic beauty. Having played Womad the year before she brings her unique talents to South Yorkshire.

There is a lot from her set to enjoy. Of course she plays the number that started her leap into music with her most famous song “Syrian Dreams” a reflective tune that builds to a plead for action and an almost broken dismayed finale. It is something special but there is more. Her song “Hi Jazz” is an audio experiment into different chords and melody that shows the quanun’s versatility in playing and sustaining a tune that takes less influence and pointers from the Middle East with great success. Another favourite if ours is “Breakthrough” with a kind of sound that maps and shows inspiration and the barrage of ideas as they converge and deepen. It is all impressive.

Her songs of peace culminate in the “7 Gates of Damascus” a series of interludes that together formed a soundscape of these Damascus portals. There are shades of personality within each section be it the steadfast Kisan Gate, the much more watery Gate of St Thomas and also the “Gate of Peace” with several short sharp strokes like gleaming jewels in the sand.

A delightful set and a wonderful addition to Underneath the Stars. See her website here

Joanne Harris and the Storytime Band

Showing it’s commitment to star power and interesting celebrity, Underneath the Stars invite the acclaimed author Joanne Harris along to the weekend, and lucky for us she accepts. Widely famous for her work “Chocolat” she has written and conceived of several other multi-genre novels, Twitter-writing projects, and now she has turned her expert hand to music.

Early in the day, Joanne Harris’s band get the senses going for what comes next. Drawing the content of her songs and narrative from her books, we hear about bees, rivers of dreams, a clockmaker who remakes his wife piece by piece, and a shapeshifting woman of nature. Her stories are primal and familiar but much like the vinyl loaded on to a player in a hurry, they are all stories with an interesting spin. As Harris explains, they all wanted to “escape the page”

The set can easily be described as myth with a cloak of “prog rock” which is little surprise given the bands personal friendship and history together. Harris herself calls it “Jackanory with drums.” We can’t refute her logic, there are a great selection of stories she draws on here and it is quite jaunty and forlorn in the way only flute led forest tunes can be. Whilst this is the case the overarching tone and character probably can be more likened in it’s musicality to the War of the Worlds. You aren’t waiting for the interrogative violin slap of that signature tune, but maybe one or two martians made it through the British military’s defensive line this time. This is no bad thing rather it is an interesting choice.

Inventive and powerful, the Storytime Band are one to check out if they are in your area. Check out Joanne Harris’ website for more information

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

All dressed smartly in a row, it is possible that many audience members are uncertain of what is to come (my partner is incredibly sceptical). The Ukes are pretty much exactly what they say they are after all, an orchestra of ukuleles but this factor alone is not what makes them brilliant (as unique as it is). It is rather they they cover songs that are instantly recognisable with the gusto and flamboyance of a Spanish Bullfighter making bread to tune. The comedy starts with them describing the vast array of tuned ukuleles in their repertoire (hint: they are mostly tenor) and it just continues to climb from there.

This knowledge doesn’t really prepare for the onslaught of comedy and musicianship that is to come your way. These small instruments and their performers become epic in size as the evening ticks over and emotions run high. Some of our favourites include their rendition of “Life on Mars”, “Born to be Wild”, and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”. Sprightly in sound like a drove of hares, the Ukes commanded the field, tent and all surrounding area as they remind you of great songwriting in the ukulele style.

We had seen snippets online of their performances, after all, they have played the highest echelons of arenas such as Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, but even the grandiosity of the sound and image on screen does not come close to the atmosphere of the live performance. Consummate and legendary they are an exceptional act for this Barnsley festival. Their website is here

Midnight Skyracer

As fiery as the efflorescent arcs of heated coals into a train engine, Midnight Skyracer are a fine set of plans for a bluegrass night as any you can imagine. At “Underneath the Stars” they were part of the afternoon entertainment.. and entertained we were. Like an unstoppable but non-menacing juggernaut (maybe a mystery red setter running at you rather than an Alsatian), Midnight Skyracer were on point with delightfully sun-bleached lyrics, tremendous  instrument skills and a chamber of sound that confidently shakes the most obscure mountain man’s hut. Their songs ranged from quintessential Blues romps (Working Girl Blues), to Bluegrass-RiotGrrrl song “So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through” with dizzying banjo plucks and a refreshing story of how a song transformed from being a potato to a cow who is rode like a horse (Virginia Rose).

Their set is basically a testament to how much a group can rock. Throughout you see the different shades of Bluegrass, and each artist’s personality clearly shines through. In other words.. we highly recommend. See their website here

Kate Rusby & Sally Smith

Yes the integral Kate Rusby is performing during the festival, and she is fantastic. There is also a surprise appearance by Jason Manford and together they truly bring the house down with “Falling Softly”, a song from Manford’s album and a track from the musical “Once” (a love story set in Dublin). There was also an opportunity to hear fan favourites “Big Brave Bill” (Barnsley’s superhero of choice) and the eponymous beautiful and completative “Underneath the Stars” amongst many others from Kate’s extensive discography. A personal and consummate performer you can’t help but smile at Kate’s energy, and this is why we were especially interested in the “cosy chat” portion of the weekend where Kate Rusby & Sally Smith came back (by popular demand) to talk about their friendship and looking fondly back on early experiences with music.

It is all very real when Kate plays a tape of an especially sad song about kissing the lips of a dead soldier (that’s how we remembered it anyway) as part of a school project. The slot moves on around her (at the time) questionable fashion (a pair of massive trousers they both stand in being something else indeed), it is all very relaxed and cool and welcoming. At a few points Kate is joined by the band and husband Damien O’Kane as they thrash out some songs. At these junctures, friend Sally entertains massively here with her tin whistle interjections and well-meaningness. Light-hearted and cheeky it’s a warming mirror to the spirit of the festival and a good showcase of what it is all about.

And Many Others..

We could go on all day (we won’t we promise), so let us quickly run through some of the others that caught our attention. There is of course the prominent, significant and mind-dwelling set of Lau alongside their Moog instrument “Morag”, a group so inventive and cerebral they seem to pierce the veil of musicality itself. Also the enigmatic yet  grounded Martha Tilston, quiet and contained “Pitou” and Austarians “L-R” who in their grand percussion seemed to attract the biggest and most dedicated following for a newer artist that we saw over the weekend.

There is also Andy Kershaw’s sage and funny advice from the world of showbiz (with some Alan Bennett impressions thrown in), Estebel’s excellent European Folk wanderings, Jack Rutter’s faithful folk leanings, and one of our favourites “Melrose Quartet” shaking up the festival with their exceedingly polished, reaching set around the successful “Dominion” album. Credit should also be given for Jack Harris a long time supporter of the festival, compere and performing with an honest, gritty and talented acoustic set.

All-in-all a success. A very family-friendly event, a safe site, and excellent music taste by the Rusbys here. If festivals were animals, then “Underneath the Stars” would be an emperor penguin standing tall and confident, yet humble in it’s achievements and offer.

Check out the bands, keep peeled for next year’s festival and get yourself tickets. “Underneath the Stars” got the mix of new and established artists just right with so many interesting expressions and beautiful means of weaving a song. Go to the website here to keep an eye open

If this is not enough, check out some of our sample videos from the festival below.

NOTE: I do not copyright or ownership of given performances and music below, they belong with the respective owners. I do not claim income from said material. Any artists wishing for use and copies of the source files for their own promotion and use, please email me at and I can send the original recording for your own publicity and artistic endeavours.

Folk Music Interviews

Underneath the Stars 2018- Interviews #1 Pitou, Howlin’ Rick & The Rocketeers, Melrose Quartet, John Metcalfe and Maya Youssef

Underneath the Stars 20-22 July 2018

Hi all. We hope the sun has brought some joy to your weeks and a smile to your face!

We are back after spending much time at the Beardy Folk Festival (which we will tell you about very shortly), because after all it is still festival season!

Today we would like to introduce a number of artists who sat down and had a bit of a chat with us about the upcoming “Underneath the Stars” Festival. What is “Underneath the Stars”?

Well, “Underneath the Stars” cannot really be considered apart from the efforts of Joe Rusby (and others), and singer Kate Rusby who always forms a part of proceedings. For many, folk music has always taken pride of place in the heart and never ceases to illuminate the top shelf of the CD rack (or now maybe the top disc of your computer hard drive!) But for others later to the game, it can seem a genre with a difficult way in. Kate Rusby is many people’s way in, and it’s hard to see why not. Great vocals, singing voice and arrangements truly warrant her moniker of the “Barnsley Nightingale” and this year along with many, many others they will entertaining at Cinderhill Farm near Barnsley.

Check out their website above and get yourself there, its a lineup of kings and for us a special occasion so quintessentially South Yorkshire.

Anyway before we go, we decided to speak to a few of the artists going and this is who we stumbled upon, have a read and get ready for :


We start by having a brief chat with Pitou, an intelligent music adventurer. Dutch-born with a palpable sense of experimentation in emotion, the Independent described her as “One of the most arresting voices to emerge out of 2017, Amsterdam-born artist Pitou has earned comparisons to singers such as Laura Marling and Julia Holter thanks to her intelligent brand of folk-pop.” There is something intriguing here, like the delight of a sharp, glass figurine that catches the corner of your eye in a room full of porcelain we have high hopes as she crosses the sea to share her vulnerable, exploratory music in South Yorkshire.

Pitou will be performing on the Little Lights Stage on Friday 20 July. 

I: Tell us more about yourself?

Pitou: My name is Pitou, I am from Amsterdam, and I will be playing at Underneath the Stars with my wonderful band. We can’t wait to play. 

I:  Describe your music in five words?

Pitou: My first answer would be: Please Come Look For Yourselves. It’s always kind of dreadful to try and squeeze your music into a couple of words. But let me try again. Folkpop, Harmonies, Emphatic, Human, Delicate. 

I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?

Pitou: We do a couple of acapella songs. That’s always a special moment in the set. I’ve sang in a classical children’s choir when I was young, and these songs are a way of showing how wonderful just voices can be – but to a completely different stage and to a different audience.

I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?

Pitou: We are looking forward to pretty much everything – the road-trip (we are coming from Amsterdam, and playing in London the day before), the sightseeing, but mostly the performing itself, and meeting new people.

I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?  

Pitou: My drummer was beyond excited when he found out that we are playing on the same stage as Steve Earle & The Dukes.

I: What’s next for you after the festival? 

Pitou: We will play some really nice festivals, and I am already working on new music, which I’m really excited about. Right now we are starting to play abroad more and more – and it’s wonderful to see all these different places, whilst discovering that the people that come and listen are not that different from each other. In a very beautiful and positive way.

Howlin’ Rick & The Rocketeers

Rock and Roll never goes out of fashion.. and quite rightly so.

Taking elements of Rockabilly, Country and Blues and mixing it across their original set, Howlin’ Rick reaches back in time and tickles the nostalgia of yesteryear. From what we’ve heard it’s got legs.. and they want to move. Eschewing an homage and instead bringing something that sounds quite fresh and with solid workmanship we spoke to the Leeds multi-instrumentalist ahead of the festival.

Howlin’ Rick & The Rocketeers will be performing on the Little Lights Stage on Friday 20 July. 

I: Tell us more about yourselves?

HR&TR: We are a five piece Rhythm n Blues band from Yorkshire. We play original material and try and keep it rooted in mid-50s Rock n Roll & RnB. Most of our time is spent travelling up and down the UK playing our set at Rock n Roll clubs, bars and Rockin’ Festivals.

I: Describe your music in five words?

HR&TR: Original Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues.

I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?

HR&TR: The song of the moment for us is our new song “Lovin’ Days Are Through”. Got an RnB/Gospel feel. It’s going to be released in November as our first single.

I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?

HR&TR: This festival has a great reputation. Everything from looking after the artists, the quality of the stages, sound team and last but not least how up for it the music loving audience is!

I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?

HR&TR: We are there on the Friday so after we’ve played we are gonna check out Steve Earl & the Dukes

I: What’s next for you after the festival?

HR&TR: Next up we are playing more festivals but one of the most exciting things for us is our first single coming out in November followed by our first album in Spring/Summer 2019.

Melrose Quartet

Folk music through and through, the Melrose Quartet are high profile indeed within these beautiful fields of traditional music that are soon to be filled at “Underneath the Stars.”  We cannot do much but sing their praises, and also point out they were one of the few lucky groups to win one of our “Halo of Folk” Awards this year (listen to our award podcast at We spoke to Jess Arrowsmith (on fiddle) about the upcoming festival.

The Melrose Quartet will be performing on the Little Lights Stage on Saturday 21 July. 

I: Tell us more about yourselves?

Jess Arrowsmith: Melrose Quartet are Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, and Jess & Richard Arrowsmith. We’ve been good friends for a long time, and all are established performers with quite a range of other projects, but the band came together after ending up living on the same street and having babies at the same time as each other, spending a lot of time hanging out together singing and playing socially, and realising that the combination of all four voices plus two fiddles, box and bouzouki was a bit magic. It is one of those bands that feels like considerably more than the sum of its parts, and we genuinely have enormous fun making music together.

I: Describe your music in five words?

Jess Arrowsmith: Lively, rich, uplifting, harmony, magic.

I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?

Jess Arrowsmith: Such a difficult question! That is like asking us to choose a favourite child!!  If we are only allowed to pick one then probably Dominion of the Sword (17th century words with the snap of modern rap, put to a gutsy traditional Breton tune by Martin Carthy in the 1980’s – always gets the adrenaline going.).

I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?

Jess Arrowsmith: Playing and singing for a new audience – none of us have been to the festival before.

I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?

Jess Arrowsmith: Never seen Steve Earle live before but have listened to his music for a long time, so that is pretty exciting.

I: What’s next for you after the festival?

Jess Arrowsmith: Lake District Folk Weekend 3-4 August, Dartmoor Folk Festival 10-11 August, Whitby Folk Week (where we are patrons) 18-24 August.

John Metcalfe


One of our most anticipated acts for “Underneath the Stars” is John Metcalfe.

We can’t put our finger on it, maybe its the trip-hop influence on the song “Wrapped”.. or the slight breakbeat inflections of “Sycamore”.. or maybe it’s just the pure sleeves of talent on these performers but we are loving the soundscapes and departure from the bound and usual. Either way they are on our horizons, and should be on yours. Check out our brief stop and chat.

John Metcalfe will be performing on the Little Lights Stage on Saturday 21 July.

I: Tell us more about yourselves?

John Metcalfe: We like a small tequila after the show.

I: Describe your music in five words?

John Metcalfe: Dolphin, Tree, Copper, Dusk, Dopamine.

 I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?

 John Metcalfe: ‘Sun’. It’s 20 minutes long and is a bit of a journey…

 I: What are you looking forward to most about performing at the festival?

John Metcalfe: The lights going down just before we play.

 I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?

 John Metcalfe: Everyone we can!

 I: What’s next for you after the festival?

 John Metcalfe: New album release and producing a new album for Ben Murray and Rosie Doonan.

Maya Youssef

With her quanun in arms and the drive for bringing peace through music, Maya Youseff is very curious indeed. She has played in Syria, at the proms and now she is playing at “Underneath the Stars.” Playing in opposition to Syria’s troubles, she is a truly great, original and ethical pick for the festival and we look forward to the event that her set absolutely will be.

Maya Youssef will be performing on the Planets Stage on Sunday 22 July. 

I: Tell us more about yourself?

Maya Youssef: I am a dreamer, a bringer of peace, and a rebel. The ‘proper’ way to describe myself is a Syrian qanun player and a composer based in London. The qanun is a 78 stringed- plucked zither often referred to as the piano of Arabic music.

I: Describe your music in five words?

Maya Youssef: Alchemical, heartfelt, intense, joyful, eye-opening.

I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?

Maya Youssef: That changes from time to time. Currently it’s ‘Queen of the night’ because it’s the most uplifting mischievous track on my album Syrian Dreams.

I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?

Maya Youssef: I love myself an intimate festival … the people, Yorkshire…I would say pretty much everything!

I; Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?  

Maya Youssef: Kate Rusby. I am also looking forward to discovering some new music.

I: What’s next for you after the festival?

Maya Youssef: Two gigs in Ireland including one at the National Concert Hall, Dublin and then my UK Autumn tour in some pretty epic venues.

So there you go. Five artists and groups, five different voices and messages.. all in once place.

Underneath the Stars 20-22 July 2018

Get yourself there and get a ticket. Stay tuned for our second round of interviews.. coming soon!