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Stone Valley South brings a touch of Northern soul to East Herts

Dualers (11327670)
Dualers (11327670)

With less than a week to go, East Herts Council issued a licence for the second Stone Valley South Festival and ensured a weekend of great music and good-natured fun for thousands of mod and ska fans.

The event is already well established at its first home, in Stanhope, County Durham, where it has grown into a sell-out annual celebration of Northern soul.

Despite its success, the organisers of Stone Valley North have resisted the temptation to make it bigger, choosing instead to preserve its intimate and inclusive ethos.

That philosophy was in evidence at its southern stop-off at Hillside Farm, Great Amwell, over the bank holiday weekend, where the good-natured Geordie festival team replicated minimal queues for the bar and food, clean toilets and efficient marshalling, all with a generous helping of Northern friendliness.

For this year’s weekender, they adopted the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance as their charity partner.

Although the crowds are smaller down south, their efforts attracted an enthusiastic bunch of like-minded music fans over three days to enjoy an eclectic line-up.

The festival kicked off on Friday with a headline set by bass-playing genius Bruce Foxton and From The Jam. An original member of mod revivalists The Jam, who dominated the post-punk charts of the late 70s and early 80s, at the age of 63 Foxton can still execute a scissor kick without missing a chord.

Frontman Russell Hastings ably fills Paul Weller’s bowling shoes and the crowd were treated to a seamless curation of The Jam’s chart hits.

The scorching sunshine on Saturday was matched by the Jamaican beats of The Neville Staple Band.

The “Original Rude Boy” is a former member of both The Specials and Fun Boy Three and formed Special Beat with The Beat’s Ranking Roger in 1990.

Now performing with wife Christine ‘Sugary’ Staple and his band, this Jamaican-born legend of the ska movement raised the tempo at Stone Valley.

The Specials are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary with a tour. Seeing them at York, I was disappointed that Neville did not join Terry Hall and Lynval Golding for these landmark concerts, but it’s clear he is having too much fun performing his own rocksteady rhythms.

Saturday also featured some vintage blasts from the past. It’s hard to sustain a crowd’s enthusiasm for a whole set when your greatest hits number just one or two, but The Vapors, The Rezillos and Secret Affair all turned back the clock and revelled in delivering their chart successes with a vim and vigour that belied the intervening decades.

It was a similar story when Peter Hook and The Light closed the festival on Saturday night. They had to follow a storming set from The Dualers, who were a real crowd-pleaser. The ska and reggae buskers are set to play Wembley Arena later this year and it’s easy to see why after such an accomplished performance.

Geno Washington belied his 75 years to get the crowd dancing with his Ram Jam Band too, so a set by former Joy Division and New Order bassist Hooky did not seem the obvious choice as a finale, despite his Manchester credentials.

However, Peter Hook, with son Jack Bates following his fretwork playing bass with the band, ended the festival on a real high, rolling out the best of his back catalogue and getting the crowd singing loud to tracks like True Faith and Temptation.

While Blue Monday was always New Order’s closing track of choice, for his first festival of the season, Hook ended with Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Let’s hope the Stone Valley crew fell in love with Hertfordshire and will return next year. For a festival packed with original artists and some cracking covers bands, it’s hard to beat, and at £49 for the package including camping and parking, it’s outstanding value.

For more details see www.stonevalleyfestival.co.uk

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