A few years ago I went to a rugby dinner with the guest speaker being Welsh legend Gareth Edwards. The brilliant scrum half told about how he scored that famous try for the Barbarian’s against the All Blacks at the old Arms Park in Cardiff in 1973. The funny thing was, though, the comment he made about how many people were at the ground; he said that he thought the ground only held 45000 attendees but on that day there must have been a million in there. This is because, wherever Edwards goes in Wales, he always meets someone who claims to have been there on that day!
You may ask what that anecdote has to do with a festival of comedy and music held in a wonderful little music venue in Barnsley? Well, this weekend witnessed an event that will go down in folklore, that deserves to be talked about as legendry and one which, if there is any justice, will become spoken about for years to come in reverential tones reserved for moments of genius witnessed by very few but somehow claimed to be experienced by many more. Like the Sex Pistols at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, the 200 or so Doonifans present will wear as a badge of honour the status of ‘I Was There.’
The plaudits for this event need to go to Scott and Amanda Doonican, the amazing and dynamic pairing behind the Doonican’s and Doonifest. With Amanda acting as the level headed anchor, seemingly unflappable as she photographed, ran merch and supervised the door, the event ran smoothly and in a friendly and lovely spirit. If, though, Amanda was the personification of the graceful swan gliding through the obstacles in front of her, Scott gave every impression of being the manic legs thrashing away to ensure acts made it to the stage on time and that equipment was all sorted (ably helped by soundman Marcus who seemingly was locked to his sound desk, released only in moments of crisis on stage.) Carrying an ever present bottle of dog, Scott was a nervous bundle of Duracell bunny energy; but never too busy to not enjoy the acts, to have words with us mere punters or to introduce like minded people. One thing you know about Scott and Amanda is that they illicit true enjoyment from the enjoyment of others, a talent and quality often only given to very few people but found in abundance in Scott and Amanda.
The efforts of Scott and Amanda was reflected in the quantity and quality of acts that appeared over the 20 hours or so of live entertainment we experienced. Every act that took the stage did so determined to repay the organisers. These were not acts turning up to drink a rider and take some cash; they didn’t come, perform and leave. Most acts were there as fans themselves; popping up a number of times through out the weekend or, otherwise, taking their turn at the bar to help us all drink it dry. Every single performer was happy to spend time talking about their music or even just having a chat with like minded folks; even the gargantuan Oliver Dawson Saxon, greats of the new wave of British Heavy Metal, were pleased to interact with the punters at the show.
The acts we saw covered a broad spectrum of styles and genres. From the batshit craziness of Pocketful of Nowt (the spirit of Alex Harvey, Arthur Brown & Lee Brilleaux as presented by John Shuttleworth), through the superior folk of Morris and Watson, the progressive rock of Treebeard and the anarchic folk punk of Hobo Jones And the Junkyard Dogs the crowd were treated to an amazing kaleidoscope of musical brilliance. There were songs about microwaves and questionable marriages from Canadians in Space or punching bears from Sweetchunks. A full set of Levellers classics from The Black Tar Rivers. And of course two sets of Doonican classics; the first a brilliant opener on Friday with Scott joined by original Doonican, Danny before the triumphant closing set from Scott, Alan and Bjorn.
On the Saturday morning, on awaking in our hotel, we turned on the TV to see Eliud Kipchoge, the great Kenyan long distance runner, became the first man to run the 26.2 miles of the marathon distance in under 2 hours. A feat so amazing but one he put down to having belief in oneself, a determination to achieve and the courage to truly commit to it. In their own way Scott and Amanda Doonican achieved something equally as amazing in creating Doonifest, in having the belief to put this festival together and the courage to do so. The fact they were rewarded by a receptive and wonderful crowd who were blessed to have witnessed brilliant acts determined to ensure Doonifest was a huge success is a testament to their standing in the world of music and the love that many people have for them. And like Kipchoge running that marathon, or Gareth Edwards scoring that try Doonifest will go down as one of those once in a lifetime events of which people will say with pride, I was at that, I went, I am a Doonifan! Brilliant. Just totally and utterly brilliant. Chuffin’ great and shit ‘ot! Doonicans Rule!