Fatea sent partners David Chamberlian & Sian Northey along to Suffolk's Folk East with two different festivals emerging
David's View - Sian's View
I must admit that this review is a first, being a return visit to a festival that, as a family, we thoroughly enjoyed in 2016. Some things never change though, and heavy traffic once again meant we were later arriving than intended although we did manage to catch some of the Friday evening entertainment.
From where we decided to camp our access to the festival site was through the copse that is home to the Soapbox Stage and stepping out from the trees it was evident that some changes had been made to the layout of the site, the major change being the creation of the Moot Hall stage by moving the Broad Roots Club out into a tent of its own, giving no less than 10 performance areas if you include the pubs and the Morris stage.
Our first port of call was the new Moot Hall stage, where we managed to catch the end of Festival patrons The Young 'Uns set. From what we saw, the trio were up to their usual high standards effortlessly combining their wit with the social commentary of songs like When Our Grandfathers Said No and Carriage 12. If you've not encountered The Young 'Uns and the comic genius that is David Eagle the trio have a new album, Strangers, out at the end of September and are touring in October. Check them out, you won't be disappointed.
The focal point of Folkeast is the Sunset Stage, a large outdoor stage set in a natural amphitheatre in the Glemham Hall estate where the A12 makes a loop on its route from Ipswich to Lowestoft. As the name suggests, the sun sets behind the stage, creating an idyllic setting in which to enjoy the music on offer. On the Friday, the headliner was one Jon Boden. The last time I saw him perform was at Chepstow Castle on the Bellowhead farewell tour and, if I am completely honest, it took a bit of getting used to seeing him on stage, on his own, and without the folk behemoth that was Bellowhead behind him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Jon Boden solo set is a very different beast to that of his former band. At times downbeat but thoroughly enjoyable, particularly his version Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill.
Friday evening was brought to a riotous close in the Folkeast Village Hall by the comic genius of The Young 'Uns David Eagle, aided and abetted by Matthew Crampton (The Transports, Human Cargo). Together they entertained the assembled multitude with piece of inspired lunacy entitled Muddling Through, a mixture of Music Hall songs, poetry and assorted other items that defied description. Unpredictable (Rupert Brookes' The Soldier to the tune of The Laughing Policeman anyone?) and hilarious this show was the perfect end to the Friday evening. Hopefully David and Matthew will be able to take Muddling Through out on the road at some point when their respective projects allow so that more people can have the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful entertainment.
One of the benefits of holding a festival in Suffolk is the largely dry weather, with the county having some of the lowest annual rainfall in the UK and the Saturday certainly lived up to expectations, being warm, bright and sunny.
Music-wise, the first destination for Saturday was the newly revamped Moot Hall, its increase in capacity from 2016 proved over the weekend to be a sound decision as it allowed more people to see the acts on offer. Three Cane Whale are an instrumental trio and possessors of an eclectic collection of instruments, both brass and stringed, all of which saw use during their relaxing an intimate set. This Bristol based trio's relaxed and intimate instrumental set was just the thing for a summer Saturday afternoon and provided the perfect counterpoint to more inspired lunacy from David Eagle and friends with the Young 'Uns podcast. Following the well-known trope of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" This year's podcast followed the same format as 2016 with victims guests Dan Walsh, Will Pound and Eddy Jay chatting, playing music and being given silly things to do. Former Bellowhead drummer Pete Flood took over Sam Kelly's role from 2016 in being given the task of coming up with the Herbal Tea Of The Week for the rest of the panel to sample at the end of the show. Something he did with great aplomb by putting his botanical training to good use and foraging the herbs for the brew from the Glemham estate, rather than going to the tea stall and buying something as his predecessor did in 2016. In between we were delighted to an ongoing game of Pop Up Pirates, the tension was palpable as the contestants were whittled down to the final two and the spectacle of Mr Eagle having his first ever pottery lesson, resulting in a rather impressive jug (it was meant to be a mug, but what's a spout between friends?). Once again, The Young 'Uns have hit upon a winning format, producing an hour of top quality entertainment that, so far, you can only experience live by going to Folkeast. Part of me hopes that this remains the case as it gives the experience an air of exclusivity. Look out for the podcast when it is published.
One of the many things we enjoy about Folkeast is way that the site is laid out, giving it the feel of a village with two and a half pubs (The Hop Inn down at the bottom of the site by the Moot Hall, The Cobbold Arms at the top and The Halfway Inn, well, halfway between the two in case you get thirsty) , traders along the village street and, near the roundabout up by the Soapbox Stage and also solar powered, a cinema. Over the course of the weekend, The Eastfolk Kinodrome shows a range of films, and yes, they really are films, not DVDs or videos, with a Suffolk or East Anglian connection. In 2016 I didn't get the chance to get to the cinema and was determined to rectify that this year. As a self-confessed railway nut, the showing of Drawing The Fires, a film produced by the Rank Organisation in the 1950s about the modernisation of British Railways was too good an opportunity to miss. The experience of the Kinodrome was everything that those of a certain age would remember, sitting in a darkened theatre, lit only by the projector lamp & hearing the clicking of the mechanism as the film made its way in behind the lens. Proceedings were given an air of authenticity when the start of the main feature was delayed by the bulb blowing in the projector and the projectionist having to wait for everything to cool sufficiently in order to change it. That main feature was a documentary filmed in the late 1960s and narrated by Robert Dougall called The English Village Is Alive And Well. The subject of the documentary was the Suffolk village of Peasenhall, its inhabitants and how life in the village had changed over the preceding century. All in all a fascinating film although is suspect that when it was first shown on the BBC it did nothing to dispel any of the stereotypes of the residents of rural Suffolk. One segment that has stuck in my mind was an interview with one of the village matriarchs about a murder that occurred in Peasenhall in the early years of the 20th century for her to comment that there hadn't been a murder since but then reeled off a long list of suicides and suspicious deaths that had occurred in the intervening years, most of them seemed to be drownings in the local stream or bodies being found in the local woods. Other cinematic delights on offer of the course of the weekend included a performance of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes filmed at Snape Maltings in the 1970s and a showing of the 1962 British comedy, The Iron Maiden
Whilst we are on the subject of culture, growing up in Ipswich in the 1970s and 80s, something that I and my friends were aware of but never allowed to attend by our parents were the Albion and Tree fairs. For those who are not familiar with them, these were a series of mainly volunteer run festivals that took place across East Anglia from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, bringing together a range of performing arts. To me Folkeast is very much in the spirit of these fairs and it is good to see their memory being kept alive by The Fairs Archive and their travelling exhibition.
Early Saturday evening saw us making our first visit to the Broad Roots stage to catch up with a band we first saw about three years ago as part of the Carmarthen Oxjam takeover, Essex based Two Coats Colder. Once again, this quartet put on an excellent show with a selection of songs both traditional and original, taken from the band's two full length CDs, Unseen Highway and Moments In Time, released earlier this year. This band have a strong commitment to environmental causes, something that comes across in their music and a pleasant, and unexpected touch, at the end when audience members were encouraged to come and take a sapling to plant out, as a result we now have a small Oak Tree in a pot at home, all we need now is to find a suitable site to plant it out.
Like The Young 'Uns, Sam Kelly has become something of a fixture at Folkeast, possibly something to do with that fact that it's a great place to spend his birthday weekend. Sam was back headlining the Sunset Stage on the Saturday night with his band the Lost Boys, which appears to have grown somewhat since last year's performance, with the band releasing a new album, Pretty Peggy, in October it was no surprise that tracks from the forthcoming release were prominent in the band's set and from what they played it promises to be a release of which they can be proud, particularly the crowd pleasing tale of robbery and cross dressing, Barrack Street. Most people in the audience probably didn't realise it, but Sam's set, like Jon Boden's on the previous night was a shining example of how folk songs come into being, in Sam's case he introduced one particular song as being one he picked up from a Geordie singer by the name of Mark Knopfler. That song was Sultans Of Swing & all it takes now is for the original writer/performers name to be forgotten, unlikely I know in this day and age, the words get changed subtly and possibly the title changes as well, it gets attributed to that well known author Trad Arr and, hey presto! Sultans Of Swing is now a folk song.
Saturday evening was rounded off with a new innovation for this year's Folkeast, a late night singaround hosted by Ray and Anna from Two Coats Colder in the Broad Roots tent. This proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable hour giving festival goers a chance to stand up introduce one of their favourite songs to an appreciative audience. The only issue I had was sound leaching from David Eagle's MC2 set in the nearby Moot Hall overpowering some of the quieter performers. As a concept, the late night singaround worked well but I would suggest that the sound leach is an issue that needs to be examined if it is to be run again next year.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, perfect for a relaxed day sampling the treats Folkeast had to offer. The morning was a time for workshops and learning new skills, for me this took the form of a workshop run by the Suffolk Concertina Orchestra which turned out to be an instructive and very enjoyable hour, at the end of which I was able to get a simple tune out of my borrowed Concertina without too many mistakes. In fact it was so enjoyable that I am now actively looking for a second hand instrument in order to continue learning.
Sunday afternoon was an opportunity to take in some of the acts in other venues around the festival site. Although we missed the start of her set, Daria Kulesh was up to her usual high standards on the Soapbox Stage, one of my favourite artists on possibly my favourite stage at the festival, what more do you need?
Away from the music stages, Sunday afternoon also provided an unexpected highlight of the weekend. For those of you who are not familiar with them, The Sheringham Shantymen are a well-established Shanty crew from the North Norfolk Fishing village from which they take their name. The crew performed two sets on the Sunday, one on the sunset stage and the other later in the afternoon in their more natural environment, the pub and it was here that we encountered them. The Cobbold Arms proved to be the perfect setting in which to enjoy this choir's repertoire of traditional shanties and other songs of the sea.
Sunday night was the last night of the festival but in no way did that mean a winding down of the music on offer. The final Sunset stage headliner slot went to a band that I had been wanting to see for some time and The Dhol Foundation certainly did not disappoint, putting on a show that was a joy to behold. Based on this festival appearance, a typical Dhol Foundation show is an exuberant display of supreme musicianship, not just on the traditional Punjabi Dhol drums but also the Tabla, fiddle and electric guitar. Throw in the spectacle of the Punjabi dancers and the traditional Punjabi singing and you have a truly memorable live performance. In my notes I've written Loud, Funky, Energetic, Emotional, Colourful, Skilful, I could also add euphoric to that list but all these word adequately describe a Dhol Foundation performance but mere words can never do it justice, you really have to experience this band in the flesh. I can't recommend them highly enough. The Dhol Foundation are touring with The Afro Celt Sound System this autumn, do everything you can to get to see them
Once the lights had gone down on a triumphant climax to the weekend on the Sunset stage it was off to the Moot Hall to catch three of the finest Folk musicians in Britain today. Andy Cutting, Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr are all respected performers in their own right and have started performing as a trio after working together on various other projects. These three performers have come together purely for the joy of playing and exploring the possibilities of music together. That joy was evident throughout their set, which was a more relaxed counterpoint to the exuberance of The Dhol Foundation.
Although Luke Jackson had the honour of bringing the festival to a close on the Moot Hall stage, our weekend finished with a return to the Broad Roots tent and another singaround, this time very ably hosted by John and Lynne Ward, curators of the Broad Roots stage. Once again we were treated to a selection of songs from festival goers themselves, mind you the new concept, introduced by one performer, of getting up and explaining the plotline of a song rather than singing it is unlikely to catch on. Once again the only downside was sound leaching from the adjacent Moot Hall and overpowering some of the quieter performers, definitely something that needs to be addressed if the singarounds are going to be run again next year.
Folkeast is unlike any other festival we have attended, I have seen it described elsewhere as having more the feel of an English Village fete, something I couldn't agree with more. There are so many things that set it apart, be that tours of Glemham Hall itself given by the owner, Major Phillip Hope-Cobbold, the village hall events such as Folkeast's own version of Gardener's Question Time, Gardeners Cornered, Sunday lunch with all the trimmings or the pub quiz hosted by none other than Jon Spiers, or Pete Flood's Saturday morning nature walk. The fact that the likes of Sam Kelly and The Young 'Uns keep coming back and are so obviously having a great time speaks volumes for the quality of this festival. Folkeast continues to evolve and, like a good single malt, gets better with age. If you've already been you will know what I'm talking about, if you haven't then get your tickets booked and make the journey up the A12, you won't regret it. See you at Glemham Hall in August 2018.
Words & photos: David Chamberlain
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