A festival full of fun and music is back. So head off to Shepley cricket field and other places in the village says VAL JAVIN

IT COULD have proved a hard act to follow. A brand-new festival offering some of the best traditional music around.

Here was a festival where you could take the family, dance until your toes ached and wallow in the company and the music of some of the best known folk names around.

Well, here’s the good news. After the huge success of last year’s debut Shepley Spring Festival the event is back and promising another spectacular weekend packed with concerts, dances and workshops.

There are big name performers, plenty of up and coming young talent and even a dance team flying in from Italy to celebrate with a village they clearly regard almost as one of their own.

La Brianzola are from Olgiate Molgora, a town in Lombardy which has an informal twinning arrangement with Stocksmoor and surrounding villages.

But Shepley is happy to stretch its borders to host dancers who waltz, do the polka and the mazurka and who wear costumes modelled on those worn by farmers in the 17th century.

It says much about the spirit of camaraderie and of community between villages in the Shepley area which seem to have thrived on the carnival atmosphere produced by last year’s event.

Organisers aim to re-create that feel this year with musicians and singers’ sessions in various venues outside the main festival site, which remains at Shepley Cricket Club off Marsh Lane.

The musical highlights of this year’s three day event, which runs from May 16-18, include the return to England of the legendary American singer and musician Peggy Seeger, plus the much talked about 11 piece folk band, Bellowhead and the ever-popular pairing of John Tams and Barry Coope, as well as bands such as Uiscedwr, one of the country’s most exciting young folk groups.

But look closely at the programming and you will see that here is a festival which is on a mission to promote and nurture young talent.

Keen to book one of the bands which went down well last year organisers realised that the reason the young musicians were unavailable this spring was that they were taking their GCSEs. Doubtless they, and many others, will be back.

Once again, local schools will be showing off the work that they’ve been doing with festival artists in the run-up to the big event. Expect singing, dancing and bags of music.

And those workshops continue throughout the weekend at Cliffe House in Shepley, which has been used to provide a base for many of the events for children.

But the music doesn’t just start at Shepley. Getting to the festival can be a musical journey too. That’s if you travel to the village by train.

This year the festival weekend coincides with the Community Rail Weekend so that a train ticket on the Penistone route also buys you entertainment on line thanks to musicians and singers who will be boarding the train alongside the passengers.

Dancers will be stepping out at various pubs along the route to help make the trip one that you won’t forget.

Throughout the weekend though, there’s promise of some memorable performances. That’s just what you would expect from some of the top line performers being fielded in Shepley this spring.

Earlier this year, the 11 piece folk-big band Bellowhead, who headline the festival’s Saturday night concert on May 17, won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Live Act and there was recognition at the same awards for the combined talents of John Tams and Barry Coope.. This multi-award winning duo clearly had such a good time at last year’s opening festival that they will be back to headline the Friday night concert on May 17.

Sharing the Friday night spotlight will be young singer Bella Hardy from Edale in Derbyshire, nominated in two categories in those folk awards and a previous finalist in the BBC Young Folk Awards.

Bellowhead’s concert will also feature Meltham-based Uiscedwr. This much praised trio features Welsh fiddle player and singer Anna Esslemont who has made a welcome return to the music scene after time out to battle aplastic anaemia.

After months of painful treatment and a successful bone marrow transplant, Anna is back with Uiscedwr and on great form.

With her at Shepley will be Irish bodhran virtuoso Cormac Byrne, with whom Anna first formed the band and new addition to the line-up, guitarist James Hickman.

Mawkin: Causley from Essex and Devon, Laura Hockenhull from Oakworth and Ella Edmondson, daughter of Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders – who played music in an episode of the first series of BBC TV’s Jam and Jerusalem are also on the Saturday night line-up on May 17.

Highlights on the festival’s closing day include a performance by Peggy Seeger, regarded as one of North America’s finest female folk singers and a performer who took a leading role in the British folk music revival.

In 2005 Peggy's family, friends and fans flocked to London's Queen Elizabeth Hall to celebrate her 70th birthday.

She returns to England in May and the Shepley festival organisers are delighted that she is making time to perform a special concert on Sunday afternoon.

Other top names already signed up are Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy who have been at the forefront of the folk scene for over 30 years

Martin Carthy is a much-loved and enormously influential figure in English folk music and has appeared and recorded solo and as part of bands The Watersons, Steeleye Span, Brass Monkey and Blue Murder.

Norma Waterson is a founder member of ground-breaking harmony group The Watersons, and a fellow member of Blue Murder.

Norma has also been awarded the MBE, and was the first folk artist to be nominated for a Mercury Music Prize. The trio that will be performing at Shepley is completed by the distinctive voice of Norma’s brother, Mike Waterson.

For music that will be impossible to sit still through, why not look up the Demon Barbers who will bring their roadshow to the festival.

Expect high-energy music and some spectacular dance as the musicians team up with some of England's most exciting young rapper, clog and morris dancers - Dogrose Morris, Fiona and Tiny Taylor plus Black Swan Rapper.

The Demon Barbers are Damien Barber (guitars, concertina, melodeon and vocals), Lee Sykes (bass guitar), Bryony Griffith (fiddle and vocals), Will Hampson (melodeon and harmonica) and Ben Griffith (drums). Will, Bryony and Ben are all from Huddersfield.

Will and Bryony met at Kirklees Music School and both attended King James’s High School. After graduating from their different degree courses they moved back into the area. Bryony is a professional musician, singing and playing as well as teaching piano, singing and violin. She and Will live in Skelmanthorpe.

Bryony and Ben are originally from Flockton. Their mother Angela Griffith is a local music teacher. Ben went to Shelley high School and then in Barnsley before joining the Demon Barbers. Members of the group will be working in schools in the run-up to the festival and will head the Saturday Schools Showcase featuring children from the local schools performing this and other work that has been rehearsed especially for the festival.

For full festival details, including the children’s events and the dance festival where you can tap your feet at four ceilidhs in three days, head for the website at www.shepleyspringfestival.com or call the box office on 014894 604704.