Sunday, July 20, 2008

Folkin' About

"I learn to pass at juggling and look at lots of old tractors, amongst other things"

Ah, the day of the annual Red Lion Free Folk Festival finally arrived. And with it - of course - torrential rain. At 8am that morning the skies were slate-grey and emptying the entire contents of lakes onto the earth it seemed. By 10am, however, I could walk down town to the bank in just a shirt as it was so warm and sunny!

The annual festival is a free event run by the regulars at a folk club near Cambridge. They save up all year with raffles and other fund-raising events and put on a completely free festival with singarounds, open mic, sessions, workshops, a concert with a guest band (Isambarde) and a barn dance in the evening. The dance is performed by local band Swindlers and Gentry who do it for free as many of them go to the club.

It started at 12 and though the skies were still cloudy, there was blue in between and no rain. However, the earlier downpour seemed to have an effect on the crowds who were somewhat absent to start.

The open mic in the marquee started with Bryan (my husband) and Penni. Later I played with my music partner, Shani. Though we'd rehearsed two of her songs and one of mine, we ended up doing four of her songs. I had tonsilitis and my singing voice was pretty shot. But we did ok despite the humid atmosphere wreaking its havoc on tuning.

My friend Carol came too, and bought me a plate of chips for my lunch. Earlier I put them on the table with Bryan and some others, and by the time I'd gone all the way back to the pub for ketchup and a fork... well, when I returned the plate was pretty well clean. I managed a few chips, but didn't really mind as singing (even though I was only doing harmonies) on a full stomach is not a good idea.

Baz, the drummer Penni, Bryan and I play with when doing the airshows (see previous posts) joined us too on snare drum. He'd never even heard Shani and I, let alone played with us, but did a grand job. My friend Steve, who I'd sent a CD so he could learn our final number and join in on harmonica, ended up stuck in traffic and arrived just after we'd finished our spot. Next time perhaps.

I'd been doing some publicity for the festival (not as successfully as I'd like given the low numbers) and also invited a few people. My boss and her mother came, along with a trainer called Kate. They seemed to enjoy our performance and after watching the morris dancers, came and joined us with Baz. He had another, vitally important role at the festival. Baz was the circus act. We joined Baz and I learned to pass at juggling, we did something odd with balls in socks - called poi I think (I managed to hit myself on the nose, the legs, the back... not a natural talent I fear) and even tried the hula hoop. I don't think that I'd been any good at that as a kid either.

Bryan meanwhile had been put on the sound desk in the marquee where the open mic was, so he didn't get to see me embarassing myself with the poi or see that I could actually use stilts! Even though they were only very little ones.

Though the festival was due to continue to late in the evening, and Bryan was playing in the dance band (and I do like barn dances), I had to go home. My daughter wasn't well and needed a bit of TLC so I bought her a fast food meal (and some for myself too) and drove home to her, leaving Bryan, Shani, Nickie and the now growing crowds to the rest of the day.

When I got home my daughter was in a sorry state, but pleased to see the food. So was her friend, who was with her still, so they shared what I'd brought. I made myself a cheese sandwich. It seemed the fates were steering me away from chips at every turn!

I couldn't go back to the festival because I had a gig too. I was playing bass with The Brookfield Band at a birthday party in a small village near Ware. The sun was still shining and when I arrived at 6.30pm, there was a huge hog roast being set up, a bar so laden with drink that it looked like it would collapse, a bouncy castle, and the most huge Union Jack I have ever seen. It must have been about 30 feet wide and created the backdrop to our tiny stage. I was first and set up, so whilst waiting for the others I went for a little walk round the farm who's barn we were playing in. Yes, a barn dance in a real (tin) barn for a change.

The farmer was a collector. There were about 25 tractors and lots of other ancient farm machinery of all kinds. The tractors were mostly Fordson and International (not a New Holland or John Deere in sight) and in various states of dilapidation or restoration. There was one weird machine from a company called Brampton of Uttoxeter and for the life of me I couldn't figure what it did. Two huge rollers, a funnel to pour something in and then two routes - one directly down to the rollers, and another to some weird enclosed section. I was curious, I have to say. It was too small to sort vegetables, and surely grain would have just gone all down the one chute? I couldn't work it out. I guess I'll never know, but I'll survive not knowing.

The crowd danced and danced - it was good fun playing with so many people dancing and having such fun themselves. Later we took a break to enjoy the food and I ate so much hog roast that I couldn't manage any desert. Ah well, good thing I'd not filled up on chips earlier.

When I got home at around 12.45am, I was only minutes ahead of Bryan. His gig finished earlier, but they had to clear up their stage (his seven piece band has a lot more equipment than the little four piece I play with) and help clear up from the day's events. We did catch up though, for what seemed like the first time that day. It had been rush for him from the moment he got up to go and get stuff for the festival, till the time he came home after having helped shut down at the festival (as well as having started the session, played with Penni, run the PA for a while and then played in the dance band).

We had a cup of tea and a chat, comparing notes on dance bands and how the day had gone. We aren't sure if they will have a festival next year as the pub are intending to build an 80-bedroom hotel on the land where we put the marquee up. We shall see.

Now it's Sunday morning and Bryan has gone back to the festival to help with the final clear up. I shall finish this blog, wake my children and then go for a swim.
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