Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wychwood Festival & the Strawberry Fair

Although I did some storytelling on the Kidz field at Glastonbury last year, this is my first full season of telling at music festivals and this year I've already told at the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham and at the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge.

Kim came with me to both festivals and having made good time, we stopped just outside Cheltenham to have a look at Notgrove longbarrow. It was one of those unplanned stops, where we just came across a sign to the longbarrow and being the history nerd I am and starved of prehistoric sites here in Norfolk, I just had to stop. Although as you can see from the photos there was not much to see - Just a weed strewn, eroded mound now filled in because of vandalism. That said, I had a cup of tea and sat there smugly drinking it and being smug, because I could make a cup of tea in our camper van. Little things please little minds I suppose, but I like celebrating the little things!

Entrance to Notgrove Longbarrow

The now very indistinct Notgrove longbarrow

We arrived early on site and straightway noticed that there were many families and older people collecting their tickets. Wychwood prides itself on being a family festival and I'm sure there are some who remember the older festivals and would criticise it for that. But it became apparent that even though there many children on sight it didn't detract from the adult entertainment with late night storytelling and some very funny and very earthy comedy courtesy of Mundo Jazz and others. In a brilliant start to the comedy on Saturday night a child called Ollie was called up and asked the worst swear word he knew in order to set a benchmark for the evening and perhaps to deter the more feint hearted parents. Suffice to say that Ollie knew a pretty rude swear word!

I really enjoyed the comedy and to be honest I'm happier in the the smaller alternative tents than listening to the headline bands. And there was plenty of alternative stuff going on at Wychwood. Tom Robinson (He of War Baby and Glad to be Gay fame) was running his Fresh on the Net sessions in the Old Hooky Bar, so you could enjoy a drink and some great and very diverse music played by independent artists who are as yet unsigned to the big record companies and happy to be so.

Circus skills on the 'Meadow' area of the Green

I was based in the the 'Green' area which had a number of spaces and tents dedicated to different types of performance and workshops. The Willow tent focused on dance and movement, the Sycamore on music and jamming, the the Oak on Cinema, the Hawthorn on the arts including storytelling, the Ash on making/crafts and the Meadow area on all sorts of activities - from Circus skills to yoga and sports. Its all of the workshops held in the Green area that I enjoyed the most. From having a go at Milonga dancing, which is a folk dance that the Argentine Tango developed from, to drama workshops and my personal favourite, the drum circle. It was run by Inta Africa over both days and they supplied plenty of extra djembes for anyone and every one to have a go. Starting with a simple beat they got faster and faster, the beats getting ever more complex. Well, more complex for me and a few others. Although I use a drum to draw a crowd, I couldn't keep up, but had a lot of fun trying!

Drum Circle workshop led by Inta Africa in the 'Willow' tent on the Green

Kim enjoyed it and unlike me could keep up with the drumming. She was so involved that there was no interesting facts found out, although the site itself was interesting, because it was set on Cheltenham racecourse and so an insight into another world for people like me who have absolutely no interest in watching horses run round and round in big circles! Also the site is surround by some beautiful craggy hills, one of which is called Cleeve hill. They were reminiscent of something you'd find up in Cumbria although on a much smaller scale! All in all a great event. many thanks to Jem and all the staff and volunteers in the Hawthorn tent for making me feel so welcome and and for helping me in setting up my sessions.

The Strawberry Fair...
It was my first time at the Strawberry Fair, set on Midsummer Common in Cambridge and I was telling with the renowned storyteller, John Row. I was particularly pleased to be there because the in recent years the Fair has had its share of problems, with some residents complaining about anti social behaviour. That and also higher levels of charging to police the event threatened to put a stop to the Fair. But the organisers have introduced the Your Fair, Play Fair scheme in an attempt to curb the excesses of a minority of festival goers. At the end of the day its a free event taking place in a public park so the organisers are at the mercy of everyone and anyone who chooses to come along intent on selfish behaviour, but it seems that most were willing to play fare and have a good time. I did....

The crowds gathering along the river for the fair

We arrived the evening before to set up and went for a walk around Cambridge. I'm not sure whether its the classical and often ornate architecture or something deeper, but there is still a perceptible elitism about the place which doesn't sit well with some of my own feelings and ideals. But as you walk about the place its is quite clear from the posters fixed here there and everywhere that there is a lot going on in Cambridge beyond the colleges themselves. And whilst some of it is certainly influenced by Cambridge students it doesn't appear to be aimed solely at other students and I got the feeling that anyone with the aspirations towards self improvement could learn lots in and around Cambridge as well as having a great time at all the other events happening around the town.

Telling tales with Master Storyteller, John Row outside my tent in the Kidz area

What I especially liked about the Strawberry Fayre itself was the incredible optimism and positive messages that can be found on places like the Green where all sorts of groups made you stop and consider your environment and your health, well being and the well being of others. There's still a feeling of political awareness; although the Fair itself has no political affiliations, there is I think a concern for the good of all, which seems lost in mainstream politics and in the ever increasing complacent world we live in. Many people seem to be getting very uptight about how much MPs are fiddling on their expenses, but many of the same people have very little concern for the plight of the world we live in or the other people who live in it. You see what I mean, a good festival or Fair can reawaken something in all of us!

at also stood out was the commitment of the volunteers on site who worked hard all day to make sure everyone had a good time. What has also become apparent to me is that this is a year long commitment with benefits going on over many months.

The crowds gathering

As I said earlier I'm not so interested in the big names playing at festivals, but what was also good about the Strawberry Fair was the line up of local talent, especially in the acoustic tent where you could get up close and personal to the bands. If you want to get an idea of who was playing a pdf version of the line up is I think now available on the SF website and all the bands seem to have their own myspace sites.

The main stage

Unfortunately I was very busy on the day, as it wasn't the kind of event that lent itself to timed sessions from my tent. And so like John Row I ended up stalking my prey; telling to unsuspecting families and small groups of chilled out festival goers. For that reason I missed quite a lot and my biggest regret is missing the Interknit- where as part of the Arts Area two women, Cathy Dunbar and Helen Judge were sitting on the sofa, drinking tea and teaching others to knit. I for one am looking for a new skill to see me through the long winter evenings and had I had the time I might have started something and maybe just maybe I might have been able to knit myself a new storytelling costume for next years Strawberry Fair!

The 'Green' area

A trader in the 'crafts'' area selling beautiful prints outside their lorry home

Kim doing her bit-doing some face painting in the Kidz area

Thanks to both Kate and Kath who did a most excellent job in running the kids area and all those volunteers who made the free lunch for everyone else working on site. It was delicious!

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