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  • Beautiful Days

    The days have been so busy that I've fallen behind on this blog - but it is briefly time to think back a fortnight to 3 very damp, muddy, beautiful days in Devon.

    I think the first thing that struck us was that this was a younger festival that the previous ones - here we were older and had distinctly less tattoos and piercings than the majority! Beautiful Days is the Levellers festival, they are a band popular with "New Age Travellers", and in the campervan field were lots of older, well used campervans - the £40,000 motor homes that had surrounded us at previous festivals were no longer in evidence - here were vans we could afford, but might struggle to maintain.

    The nature of this festivals was also different. Five different venues mixing music and comedy meant that this was a mobile festival. People had chairs with them, but only to be placed down where they were before moving on to the next venue. You could see people popping in for a while and then moving on - festival surfing, channel hopping with feet. And then the mud came - on Saturday we woke to persistent rain, nobody seemed to move for the whole morning, we just snuggled down listening to the Olympics. When we did venture out the rain was still falling and the site had turned to mud - made worse by all the movement, whereas at Cropredy, people had stayed in the seats as it rained - here they kept moving and the site got muddier and muddier but still we headed for the venues we wanted - and found surprises in store. I was keen to see the poet John Cooper Clarke - but where he should have been was a Skunk (Skiffle-Punk) band called Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs - they were brilliant (and John Cooper Clarke was poorly - or kidnapped by Hobo Jones to ensure they got the gig!)

    By Sunday the rain had stopped, but the site was now a mudbath with the obligatory slides down the hill, mud rivers through the campsites and visits to the furthest away venues were a major expedition if you hoped to stay upright. All good fun - and then we had to leave. We were up early Monday morning, waited for some gaps to emerge which meant that we could get to the gate without going up the central mudpath - and with the help of a little push to get going we were free and on the road to the north. I believe we were lucky, some were stuck there until late into that Monday evening.

    Beautiful Days was good fun, we found some good music - usually away from the main stage, we enjoyed the art work and the performance artists that were all around the site. There was a vibrant atmosphere that welcomed these two strangers into their community.

    And it is the nature of community, and belonging to a community that I found myself reflecting upon - more of that another time.

    It was time for home, quick visit to Leicester; return the campervan to Derby and back to see Hannah and get ready for Greenbelt.

  • Bideford Folk Festival

    Bideford Folk Festival is a small event hosted and organised by the local folk club. This is their fifth event and it sounds like it is growing every year. It mixes concerts with sessions and with workshops, using churches, a classroom in an Art Centre and local pubs.

    We went to the first concert on the Monday night, it was in the Methodist Church, a traditional galleried and pewed building with a lovely acoustic. The problem was that they were using a PA and getting the levels very wrong - so much so that at one point the audience protested and suggested they just unplug and sing - they didn't, but they could have trusted a building designed to be a soundbox and done so. We were worried about what we had come to - not just the acoustics but the performers were the organisers and their friends and the standard was enthusiastic amateur. By the end of our time there we were really impressed - yes it was a combination of amateur and semi-professional, but the standard was on the whole very good and most of all it was inclusive. We went to music and song sessions in the local pubs where whoever turns up with an instrument or a song can join in, many of the songs encourage everybody to sing along, finding the harmonies that suit - and it works. 

    The space was used in a variety of ways. In concert format in the church and in the upper room of one of the pubs, it was straight lines with a stage at the front. In the Art Centre it was a semi-circle with performers in the centre - but able to interact and involve the audience - with a bias towards people joining in. The music and song sessions are done in a circle - where you can see and hear one another - and seemed to be the way that people were most comfortable. There was an atmosphere of encouragement, an interest in the stories and songs that other people brought, a willingness to share information about instruments and sources, a real friendliness not just for those who are regulars - old friends meeting up, but for the likes of us, strangers who just turned up and joined in. By Friday morning, when we had planned to leave, we were sorry to go - but move on we did.

    The spirit of encouragement was also evident in the people invited as performers. Some had been noticed playing in the sessions in previous years - and invited back as performers. Others had been spotted at Youth Festivals and invited to participate - it was good to see these young musicians playing at every opportunity, they had, and to hear the encouragement they were given by older participants.

    We are also learning a variety of camping patterns. Bideford were using a site just outside the town and had provided a mini bus running between the venues and the campsite, which meant that any movement of vehicles which might churn up the campsite was discouraged. However, on Thursday morning a campervan trying to leave got well and truly stuck - and we were leaving Friday morning. We nearly made it - but got stuck just short of the gate, but there was a little tractor there to pull us out. I think we need a 4x4 campervan!

    So Bideford was good - might look to go back.

  • Cropredy

    It's Sunday - we are in a another campsite with Wi-fi - It's now become one of the main things to check when looking at potential campsites. The last one outside Rugby you had to sit out on the bench near reception - this one (nr Bridgewater) allows me to sit in the comfort of my own van, surfing the world.

    We left Cropredy today heading for Bideford. I was going to say that Fairport's Cropredy Convention was the best organised I've ever seen, from the way they guide you into the camping sites, to the best festival toilets ever (the days of a piece of wood over a big pit are long gone), to the stewarding, to the time between acts - and then this morning they left us to our own devices getting off a very muddy field after 24 hours constant rain - if it hadn't been for a couple of festival goers with a Range Rover and a tow rope we (and a lot of others) would still be there now.

    As to the music - a mixed bag. The festival started as a Fairport Convention reunion concert and they headline the Saturday night - so there are a lot of Fairport fans their lapping up every bit of Folk Rock. For my own part, they are a band I'm aware of, have liked bits and pieces, but it was only as they played their set and included a section in tribute to Sandy Denny who died 30 years ago, that I realised that it is largely the Sandy Denny material that I have noticed and enjoyed over the years - the rest, I can take it of leave it.

    The other acts felt a bit incestuous, people that the Fairports have played with over the years who are still churning out the same old stuff - hearing a Prog Rock band playing the stuff they played with Frank Zappa you remember why Punk was such a breath of fresh air in my teenage days. Having said that, amongst the highlights were Joe Brown and Dave Edmunds - crashing through some great standards - good music crosses generations; Legend - a Bob Marley tribute band brought some Jamaican sunshine to a very grey wet Saturday afternoon; John Tams & Barry Coope were brilliant (shame that Supergrass headlined that night - the streams of people leaving early said it all); Siobhan Miller & Jeana Leslie were the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award Winners - beautiful music, as was Julie Fowlis' set, didn't understand a word she sang (It's all Gaelic), but it goes straight to the soul. And the Levellers might be growing on Chris - this was quieter than last week she says!

    Church this morning was St Mary the Virgin, Cropredy, for what was advertised as a non-denominational Fairport Sunday service. The usual congregation was boosted by a reasonable number of people who had been to the festival and the guest preacher was a regular Fairporter. But that was about all the acknowledgement that their village had been taken over and there were more people than normal in the church. It was a fairly straight forward MOR Anglican Eucharist, with three bland modern hymns and one standard sung in unison - an opportunity to be creative in the way music and word was presented was lost. Although a preacher using a Blackberry for sermon notes was a new one on me - I'll stick to a scrap of paper I think.

    Chris's highlights were 96 toilets all in a row (she tried every one) and Bodger and Badger playing to a tent of students and parents.

    So on we go to Bideford and what should be a very different type of festival.