Tuesday, 1 September 2015

FolkEast: Suffolk Sells Itself

FolkCaster Mim MacMahon visited FolkEast and discovered a festival with a difference…
Day 2 at FolkEast

To FolkEast, held in the grounds of historic red-brick pile Glemham Hall in Suffolk over the just-past-middle weekend of August. This year, two-and-a-half days of blistering heat are followed by a Sunday afternoon deluge. Sandals and umbrellas are the order of the day throughout the weekend, for one reason or another.

We arrive in the aforesaid blistering heat on Saturday morning – which is a pity, because one whole day of the festival is already gone by then. The site has an established, at-home feel, something like a tribal encampment. As one punter remarks, it feels like something that has been here since the Middle Ages.

Horses? Of courses!
Which is odd, because its history goes all the way back to the period of antiquity known as 2012, when the original annual “moot” (known, imaginatively, as EastFolk) had its reworking into the present format.

There is plenty of muscal talent. This year FolkEast has attracted such luminaries as The Unthanks, Peter Knight, Martin Carthy and John Spiers, to name only a few. 

There are no fewer than seven stages in all, and one particular feature of FolkEast is the Get On The Soapbox Stage – which, bizarrely, is in the middle of a wood – showcasing spoken-word and up-and-coming local acts. You cannot turn your head for music from all over the field, midday to past midnight, over all three days. To say nothing of the dance sides of varying traditions performing throughout. There is, if anything, almost too much. The riches are embarrassing!

Menu: read all about it!
And it isn't just about the music. FolkEast is Suffolk's chance to sell itself. There is The Imagined Suffolk Food Village, under the auspices of the prestigious Froize restaurant, providing everything from fish and chips to a sit-down, all-the-trimmings Sunday lunch. Oh, and burgers, if you want. There are two under-canvas pubs, The Cobbold Arms (the Cobbold family own Glemham Hall) and the Just Hop Inn, both of which host ongoing sessions – two of several, including workshops for young performers. There are Suffolk horses, foraging, knitting, craft workshops. There is a pigeon-plucking contest. It is almost easier to say what is not featured.

Star: Martin Carthy
My musical high point is Martin Carthy, but an unexpected delight, on the Garden Stage (which has chandeliers … what?) is poet Martin Newell and the Hosepipe Band whose words-and-music epic The Song of the 'Water Lily' is, for me, worth the Sunday entrance fee on its own. The CD featuring it is expected to be out very shortly.

One criticism, and something that perhaps could be addressed in future years, is that the festival is not particularly well signposted along the main road. More signposting on the field would have helped, too.

Chandeliers add a touch of class
My main regret is that I don't get to see half of what I intended. There is just too much for one person to see and hear. There is certainly something for all ages to enjoy and it is possible to spend the entire festival looking at everything but the music.

On a practical note, there seems to be plenty of space for camping, but the space is not at all crowded, suggesting that the festival-goers are (so far) mostly local. There do seem to be plenty of them, though. Loos are well-sited and plentiful.

There is a generally calm, relaxed air about the whole event, which doesn't mean that things don't get done; Suffolk is not a county which likes fuss. There didn't appear to be any major upheavals; the only notable stay-away, Vin Garbutt, was unfortunately prevented by illness.

But it is well worth a visit – in fact, it's worth more than one visit. One wonders if people who are not from Suffolk would quite “get” the unique ambience, rather like a cross between the Cambridge Folk Festival and a very large village fete. But it's worth giving it a go. I doubt that this visit will be my last.

Find out more about FOLKEAST

Festival-goers enjoy a food pitstop.

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