Ever since it's inception in 2012, Folkeast has been one of those festivals that stood out on the calendar, not least because it would mean a family trip back to the county where I grew up, but also because the line up has always looked interesting.
Anyway, this year we managed to make the trip to Suffolk to sample what this festival has to offer and I have to say we weren't disappointed, with three days of music spread over several stages dotted around the Glemham Hall estate, just off the A12 between Ipswich & Saxmundham.
Unfortunately, owing to work commitments on my part & the nightmare that is the M25 we were late arriving and missed most of Friday's music. However, being serenaded by Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band whist putting up our tent certainly concentrated minds so that we could go & enjoy the weekend.
The Sunset Stage
Nestled in a natural amphitheatre this is Folkeast's main stage & it was here that we had our first taste of what the weekend had to offer, catching the end of Eliza & her band's set.
The only downside with being in the open is that The Sunset Stage is at the mercy of the elements and this was made all too apparent when the high winds that struck the south of England on the Saturday forced the closure of the stage during the afternoon for safety reasons.
If I am completely honest, we didn't see too much of this venue. Not because of any lack of quality in terms of who was on there, but simply because where was so much going on & it was impossible to be everywhere at once. But we did make it for our must sees, the Excellent Sam Kelly & the Lost Boys, Blowzabella and O'Hooley & Tidow. My sunset stage standouts were the excellent RURA, who lived up to their 2015 Scots Trad music awards 2015 live act of the year award, and Ushers Island. Given the talents involved in this supergroup, most notably Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny, it was no surprise that they held the sizeable Sunday night crowd enthralled throughout their entire set despite the pouring rain.
The Broadroots Stage
Unlike, the Sunset stage, The Broadroots stage is under cover & has seating, something that would prove extremely useful come Sunday night. It was also where I saw the artists that impressed me the most over the course of the weekend.
Curated by John & Lynne Ward, this particular stage was set up with the express intention of showcasing the best talent East Anglia has to offer as well as putting on acts from further afield. Falling in to the first category was Cambridge band The Willows, who brought the first evenings proceedings to a close with a very impressive set.
On the Saturday afternoon this particular marquee was the setting for one of the undoubted highlights of the festival. The recording of a live podcast by Folkeast patrons The Young 'Uns. Over the course of an hour we were thoroughly entertained by the comic genius that is David Eagle as well as musical interludes from Jon Spiders, O'Hooley & Tidow and birthday boy Sam Kelly. In fact, why not have a listen here: to your right in the narrow column.
Not content to rest on his laurels after the success of The Young 'Uns podcast, David Eagle was also responsible for another weekend highlight, his DJ set that finished off events on Saturday night. A DJ set is perhaps not what you would expect to hear at a folk festival but Folkeast is not your average folk festival. The Young 'Uns In The Mix was an hour that could be summed up by David Eagle's comment "somewhere in a parallel universe The Watersons are about to take the stage with Van Helen" as Norma Waterson & David Lee Roth formed an unlikely duet on a mash up of Summer Is Icumen In and Jump. Throw the likes of Bellowhead, The Jackson 5, Diana Ross & Mr Blobby and you have a truly inspired hour that defies adequate description. Perhaps you had to be there to truly appreciate this, I'm glad I was & I hope we'll get the chance to enjoy it again in the future.
Sunday on the Broadroots Stage certainly had much to live up to after the quality on show on the preceding two days and once again we were not to be disappointed. Once again one of my weekend highlights was on this stage & once again it didn't involve someone getting up & singing songs. Atilla The Stockbroker is a name that I have been aware of for many years but if I'm completely honest, as a poet, he was someone I had never considered going to see. Well, I've certainly missed out in the past. Funny and thoughtful by turns, Atilla's set consisted of a mix of his poems, stories and extracts from his autobiography. A thoroughly enjoyable experience and he fully deserved the standing ovation at the end. As the man himself said, he wants to play more folk clubs and festivals & on the basis of what I saw he would be well worth booking.
Sunday evening saw the one of the Broadroots stage curators take to the stage with his band. John Ward was someone that I used to see perform regularly when I lived at the far end of the A12 in Great Yarmouth and it was good to renew my acquaintance with his music after a gap of almost a quarter of a century. John has always been an excellent commentator on matters whether they be environmental or political, The Lowestoft Ness Monster is a great piece on the pollution of our seas while The Right Honourable MP For Self Interest & Pull The Ladder Up raises a critical mirror to the times we currently live in.
The honour of hosting the last concert of the weekend also went to The Broadroots stage, which was fortunate because by 11pm on the Sunday night the heavens had opened with a vengeance. The band tasked with rounding things off were Topette, an Anglo French Group Boasting Andy Cutting amongst it's line up. The band's name is a term local to their home which roughly translates as cheers, this coupled to the fact that their debut EP, Chez Michel, is named after the bar in which the band had their genesis, gives you an insight into their appproach to the music they play. On what was rapidly turning into a soggy Sunday night in Suffolk Topette's enthusiastic and infectious brand of traditional dance music was the perfect way to round of the weekend on a high note, even the weather played ball & the rain stopped for just long enough for the revellers to get back to their tents & caravans.
The Soapbox Stage
Hidden away in a sylvan glade at the top of the Folkeast site, I think this was possibly my favourite location in the entire festival. Powered entirely by solar energy, I really should have spent more time here as Amy Wragg brought together an eclectic selection of new and established artists to the stage over the course of the weekend, of the acts I did manage to see, Rhiannon Mair stood out and I was pleased to see the stars of the future being given a chance with an open mic dedicated to the under 18s being hosted by up & coming singer Tilly Dalgliesh on Sunday lunchtime. Well done to all the singers, musicians & dancers who got up to perform, from what I saw the future of Folk & Acoustic music is in good hands. All credit to the organisers too, for making the stage's environmental impact as low as possible with all power coming from a mobile solar power station situated to the rear of the stage.
As is the way with most festivals, you could find performances around almost every corner. With two pubs, The Hop Inn and The Cobbold Arms, on site serving excellent real ales & ciders the atmosphere was always coming to be convivial. Coming out of the Broadroots stage on the first night it was a pleasant surprise to find a session in full flow at the Hop Inn and to find The Young 'Uns and Sam Kelly enjoying themselves at the heart of it.
Another innovation that I was impressed with was Instrumental, not so much a stage as an area where you could find instrument makers from far & wide selling and demonstrating their wares with an informal performance space attached.
There were also musical events happening elsewhere, The Garden Stage in Glemham Hall gardens was a host as was St Andrew's Church, a stones throw from the hall, most notably for a one off concert by Jon Spiers and Peter Knight and hidden away behind the Broadroots Stage was the Broadroots club. A more intimate, folk cub style setting that always seemed to draw a crowd. On the recommendation of Roger Pettit, presenter of Roots And Shoots on Felixstowe Radio I made a point of catching a duo new to me, John Dipper and Dave Malkin. Their collection of traditional and original songs and tunes were well worth checking out & on the basis of this performance I will be investigating them further.
Dancing was not ignored either with a dedicated dance tent and a dedicated Morris Stage to enjoy. Numerous traditional styles of dance were on display, Cotswold & border Morris, North West and Appalachian clog as well as Rapper. For me, the perfect way to enjoy the skills on display was from the comfort of one of the many deckchairs dotted around the outdoor dance stage
Although it is billed as a music festival, Folkeast is so much more than that, having, as has been written elsewhere, more the feel of an English Country féte writ large. As a family, we were glad that we made the trip from west to east to experience the atmosphere of this up and coming festival and are making plans to return next year. Words on a page cannot adequately do justice to this unique event, why not come & try it yourself next year
First impressions of the festival were in the dark after a rather arduous journey across the country. The tent was put up in the darkness listening to the strains of Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band in the distance catching the last couple of songs on the field once we had got our appropriate wristbands just before the office shut up shop for the night one of the stewards had been there since 7.00 am and was just about to leave as it approached eleven pm.we were able to get some of the taste of the site it looked like a fairy grotto in parts being lit by an array of colourful lights. We enjoyed a fish finger sandwich before listening to the Willows in the Broadside stage and some songs at the Hop Inn including one by David Eagle of the Young 'Uns who are patrons of the festival, we also encountered Sam Kelly much to my daughter's delight as he brushed past us on his way to the bar. Lovely to see everyone joining in together.
The following day we had chance to see all the sights and music on offer, there was plenty of activities and workshops on offer but some had already been booked up. The site had a touch of fantasy about mixed with a large dollop of stalls and activities displaying local heritage and culture, my son being very taken with the traction engine from The Long Shop museum and my daughter had a go at bell ringing, there were even donkeys available for a ride for younger visitors alas we could not find the Suffolk Punch horses, there were even mummers and the local custom of dwile flonking on the Sunday. There were several moving sculptures to play with and a large hay Jackalope, symbol of the festival, which had glowing ears in the night. In one part there was a tent advertising what was on offer in the local area complete with sandpit. I tried out a creative writing workshop and people ready to include the notes we made into our stories.whilst everyone else went to listen to more music. A part of it included standing outside barefoot and observing the sights, sounds and people ready to include the notes we made into our stories along with phrases and words formed by thinking of ourselves as refugees far from home and using positive and negative words for what we would see, touch, feel etc. This has proved very useful for my writing. One of the highlights of the Saturday was the Young 'Uns podcast show featuring O'Hooley and Tidow, Jon Spiers and Sam Kelly, the show was a mixture of songs, chat and various games including Jenga and was one of the most entertaining shows at the festival.
There was plenty of music and dance spread liberally throughout the festival, having four stages plus various smaller more informal venues, including local pubs and the nearby church which unfortunately we did not have time to visit. One feature I particularly liked was the various sections including varying places to eat stalls and entertainment including "pubs" such as the aforementioned Hop Inn, The Halfway and The Cobbold Arms. At differing points around the site and offering the opportunity to listen to a number of singers and groups. Each offering something slightly different in terms of fayre, one of the most delightful areas was the social Knitwork tent displaying an array of knitted items including decorations and games and a very nice cup of tea, slice of cake or pie should you prefer a savoury option all at reasonable prices and in close proximity to the various Morris sides dancing on their own stage as well as a few other locations
In the evening there was a chance to have another helping of O'Hooley and Tidow performing a full set on the Sunset stage and the we spent the remainder of the evening in The Broadroots stage whilst Blowzabella were on the Sunset stage, the final act saw David Eagle of the Young Uns do a DJ mix session of folk pop, rock complete with disco lights which got toes tapping and most folk up dancing.
Sunday saw us sampling the young singers and musicians spot in the most adventurous or avant garde Of the stages where there were newcomers and lesser known acts including spoken word, the tent, lighting and bar all being powered by a bus delivering solar energy.This venue had a great vibrancy and buzz about it and stayed open until 2.00am
Despite the many stages the music in each even the largest did not overwhelm each other possibly due to the timings and the nature of the land.
We also managed to get around to parts of the site not visited the day before and my daughter and I contributed to the communal ceramic piece based on the sun being created to commemorate the festival the previous year's ones witch was a green man. These touches helped one feel that one had a stake in the festival rather than just being a bystander, the creative writing session that I had taken part in were compiling words for a commemorative piece also, other activities included making bunting but we did not catch that in time.My daughter and I also took part in a ukulele workshop learning a few basic finger picking skills which I hadn't tried before it was great fun and suitable for a variety of ages the tutor having come from Hertfordshire music service I believe and more accustomed to teaching eight year olds, my daughter was in despair as I kept missing my turn even though she had picked it up well. I even managed to get a two course Sunday lunch much to my amazement which was delicious and ate it in the pop up dining room complete with dessert and rustic table decorations.
The evening brought us to the main stage to see Sam Kelly and the lost boys and Ushers Island, but we bailed before the end of the set due to the weather and wanting to catch Attila The Stockbroker. The final band were from France except one member, Andy Cutting, who is British called Topette the equivalent to cheers which brought out the dancers in force dancing traditional French dances.Unfortunately after two relatively dry days the heavens opened but we were lucky enough to return to our tent relatively dry listening to the sounds of the stage nearest to the campsite and the following day we even packed the tent away in the dry and not the monsoon that was forecast. It was a lovely friendly, intimate festival despite its vast size. Although the music was excellent due to the large variety of things to see and do it seemed to wash over you in waves rather than being the only focus of the festival. It is no wonder therefore that people arrived early to maximise what could be seen and done and the lovely colour souvenir programme was great not only to plan your visit but as a lovely keepsake too. We all thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to return again.
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