Review: Northern Kin Festival 2023

By Ali Munday

A YouTube playlist / selection of music from the artists we saw over 3 days (28-30 April).


LongTallSilly very kindly treated us both to camping tickets for the Northern Kin festival near Ushaw House, Durham. He’s converted a bright yellow Renault Trafic van into a camper van, and we’ve had a few adventures in her before, but she doesn’t like travelling north. We were apprehensive, particularly as she was at the garage with an intermittent fault that made the engine cut out at random. Anyway, the garage couldn’t find the fault so they suggested we use her at our own risk. What could possibly go wrong?

To be fair to Custard Pie (the van) she got us to within two miles of the site in a couple of hours, good going until we reached Bearpark, the nearest village. (Toffeeboy tells me that Prefab Sprout wrote a song about Bearpark.) It took us another two hours to travel two miles to get on to the site. It was a beautiful day, but there was rain the previous week and the organisers had to re-site the camping areas. Like most people, when we finally got to the bottom of the field we hit a rut and had to push the van into our space. The ground was soft but not too bad, though it seemed unusual to be towed ON to a site…

LTS wanted to see The Sweet. I can’t say that they were on my to-see list but we were in it together so we moved to a different marquee to watch them. There were three stages, all in splendidly big marquees and because it was a family-friendly festival we could take chairs, children and dogs (we didn’t have children or dogs) and sit at the back. This was a good idea except that negotiating your way through a forest of sinking chairs in relative darkness with a drink or food was…interesting…especially as the mud got softer and softer. Anyway, no drinks were spilled. And the Sweet were pretty good; like many bands of my era there is only one original member left. LTS was amused to see persons of a certain age doing disco moves to Wigwambam! For the playlist, I have chosen Everything, a more recent number and perhaps more representative of how they sound now.

The main event that evening as far as we were concerned was Jethro Tull. All these years, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them and they have a new album out, RökFlöte. They played a few numbers from this as well as some old favourites, we’d moved back to the main stage to see them and the marquee was packed. I thought it odd that as headliners they weren’t on last, but the final act that night was Gerry Jablonski with a powerhouse blues/rock band, based in Aberdeen but well known internationally. They were great but a lot of people had gone to see Tull and were wandering off to see other acts or to go home/back to camp as it was chilly and wet. He deserved better.

Jethro Tull


Bill Bailey

I woke early to find it was raining and grey so I thoughtfully stayed under the duvet and read a book until LTS woke up and ventured outside to make us a coffee on the gas stove. We had a problem with the electrics so couldn’t charge our phones, there was no question of driving off-site without a tractor and the solar lamp (with USB port) had taken one look at the weather and given up. Undaunted we donned our thermals and waterproofs at midday and went to see The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, a very talented and funny band from Barnsley. They hide their musicianship under a bushel but roused the crowd with parodies such as Lady in Greggs, Goat Yoga and Massage in a Brothel. Tanita Tikaram followed; she managed to put the crowd back to sleep but did a very endearing cover of Love is in the Air to finish, which brought us back to life. After that – Tom Robinson! I’d never seen him before either, he was superb, he’s 73 and still looks pretty sprightly to me, very political as you would expect, and spot on with updated words to Power in the Darkness, lamenting the demise of the NHS amongst other things and stirring us to do something about the state of the government. Brilliant set. Bill Bailey followed, similarly political (most artists were) and scathing but in a very funny and musically brilliant way, as is his wont. 

I thought Bill Bailey was hard to follow but next up was Ferocious Dog, a six-piece Celtic rock/punk fusion band, somewhere between Peat and Diesel, the Pogues, Billy Bragg and the Levellers. Really exciting, passionate music, go and see them for yourselves! The bands were interspersed by forays to the bar or outside to get food – small homemade picnics were allowed but you couldn’t take alcohol onto the site, understandably. Hot food was a blessing but you had to wallow through the mud to queue for it, and only one stall sold coffee. I don’t have a problem with drinking alcohol all day and listening to music but…beer made us colder so we ended up buying bottles of wine, which was annoying as we’d brought wine in the van! Next, it was time for Reef, a mellow rock band from Glastonbury. I hadn’t seen them before but another great band, thoroughly enjoyed their set.


Neither of us woke particularly early, in fact we had to get a shift on to catch Clearwater Creedence Revival, a tribute band but a very good one. They were followed by Skippinish, a Scottish band who play a mix of traditional and contemporary music, complete with bagpipers. I keep saying that everyone was really good – but they were, really good. Seth Lakeman was a great follow-up, quite a mellow set for him without too much frantic fiddling, and backed up by other band members on hurdy-gurdy, double bass, and other instruments. Turin Brakes followed Seth. I’d been listening to them on Spotify before we went because I didn’t know much about them but again, mellow, guitar-based rock is the best short description I can come up with. A perfect precursor to Wishbone Ash, who were next. I’ve seen Wishbone Ash quite often over the last fifty years, this year they are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of their Live Dates album, and they are another band with only one original member. I completely underestimated them because they are so familiar, they were absolutely brilliant, the highlight of the festival for me and there were many highlights to be had. They played Phoenix, which I’ve never heard live before, with a sort of jazz-jam in the middle – anyway there’s a version on the playlist for you if you’re up for it.

Terrorvision (from Bradford) followed Wishbone Ash. Tony Wright of Terrorvision also played at the festival, we saw him last year too, but couldn’t manage to see everybody this time. Terrorvision were anarchic and loud, I think a few people wandered off to see Lindisfarne or somebody but we stuck with it, and enjoyed it. Headliners that night were Hawkwind, with a superb laser show. This meant flooding the marquee with dry ice which took the temperature down, but it was still warmer than Saturday night and the rain stopped. Hawkwind also have a new album, The Future Never Waits, which they played a few tracks from. And no Silver Machinein sight. A perfect end to a brilliant weekend of music.


No music today. We anticipated it taking a while to tow everyone off the site so planned a lie-in, but Squid, our camping neighbour had other ideas and was up at silly-o-clock, banging about, so we reluctantly got up and sorted out the van and awning. I should mention that we took a portable flushing loo so were mostly spared the horrors of the site Portaloos. Almost everyone had to be towed off-site, those who made a bid for freedom mostly got stuck in a rut somewhere and it wasn’t very clear what was happening. There were quite a few tractors but it was a long job and Squid didn’t get to leave till about one-o-clock, we were towed out by a four-wheel drive buggy, shortly afterwards. Custard Pie got us home with no trouble, though we did stop at Costa Coffee to remove the tow hook. They had fantastic soap and hot water at the cafe.

There was a lot of criticism of the chief organiser but he took to Facebook afterwards with a heartfelt account of how difficult it had been to prepare and cope with the weather. He acknowledged some of the things that could have been done better, particularly access for disabled people who couldn’t negotiate the mud. I am glad to say that he got over three thousand messages of support, and that he has decided to hold the festival again next year, on a different site, in June. He doesn’t have the resources of Glastonbury and pretty much runs the festival at a loss because he believes in doing it. The music was fabulous, seventeen acts in three days is pretty good going for a 64-year-old who has only done day festivals before. So thank you, LTS, and thank you Northern Kin. Sorry to miss The Hiding Magpies, Jess Silk, Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons and The Anchoress, but you can’t do it all.

Enjoy the playlist!

Ali Munday is a retired English gentlewoman, living in Yorkshire. She likes music, walking, beer, nature and growing things.

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