Everything you need to know about FolkEast festival
- Credit: Archant
Looking forward to FolkEast 2017, August 18-20, a unique, gotta-be-there festival for all folk at Glemham Hall, Lindsay Want discovers its local inspiration, the very special spirit of East Anglia’s 1970s Barsham and Albion ‘Fairs’. Remember them?
Sometimes Suffolk can be the stuff of legends. Where else but a Suffolk field might you tip-toe past a mighty mythical beast, dodge the warm breath of flame-throwers, weave your way between jugglers and songsters, clusters of companions and impromptu minstrels, to step finally among the trees dripping with dangles of folk art? FolkEast at Great Glemham might be Suffolk’s 21st century shooting star of a fun festival for all, but if you happen to be from these parts, and have a memory which stretches back a good four decades, or have listened to parents harping on about halcyon hippy days at Albion Fairs, you might find yourself momentarily transported back to barmy Barsham fields full of frolics and freedom up near the Norfolk border.
Amid the wisps of artistic inspiration in FolkEast’s wild wood, the tiniest of sparkles twinkle a way that leads to a clearing, a little hamlet of sorts, with one big colour-filled tent, simply bursting at the seams with every kind of creative spirit imaginable. Outside, dream-catchers dance in the breeze by willow screens, bright with recycled fabric streamers of all colours under Suffolk’s sinking sun. Little ones with painted faces laugh, sharing a vegetarian supper off a mega cotton-reel coffee table, and nearby, a seemingly abandoned box humbly offers ‘Free Poems’ to passers-by. Inside, rugs and straw-bales replace chairs, a decorated parachute canopy softens marquee sides and ceiling, and a sign propped up against a low platform celebrates the free power supplied by the solar double-decker bus parked up alongside. It’s a wonderfully relaxed, intimate and alternative space to be. But all this is only part of the reason why the festival’s Get on the Soapbox stage, out of the great host of magical meeting points scattered round the Glemham acres, is perhaps the most memorable.
Beneath the large brim of a Stetson, Amy Wragg breaks into one of her infectious signature smiles, her eyes as sparkling as those woodland fairylights as she shares her passion for the originality that’s all around her.
“We’ve been meeting up monthly at my house in Ipswich to create new artwork for the stage,” she explains “and come together on site during the two weeks before the festival to build the willow tunnels, the pop-up bar – well, everything you can see, in fact. We hand-make almost all of it from recycled and donated materials to keep as much waste from landfill as possible. Everything here is unique, created and conceived with love and consideration.” The ‘we’ turns out to be friends, artists and their offspring – all hands, however great or small, gifted or just keen to make a difference, are welcome here.
“They’re like my family really,” admits Amy, “I think we’d genuinely do anything for each other.”
On the soapbox
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When it comes to performers, FolkEast’s Soapbox stage is not one for big-name bands. This superbly created, 100% improvised, 95% solar-powered space spills over with hand-picked local talent of all sorts of genres. It is set up to share and showcase carefully chosen words – spoken, unspoken or otherwise – and personally crafted music, duly decorated with home-spun tales and inspiring, alternative tapestries. Tears and laughter, listening and joining in are all part of the package. The low stage rubs out the line traditionally drawn between spectator and performer to create all-inclusive and genuinely enriching experiences.
“Festivals are quite magical, quite transformative even,” muses creative producer Amy, who manages every aspect of the stage, from sourcing new acts to ensuring that, amid all this freedom of expression, everything runs smoothly and to some sort of plan. In her decade of encouraging artists and promoting only original local musicians and poets through her East Anglian enterprise, Soapbox, she has played her part in sending Framlingham singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran on his rocket journey to international success, and is “truly proud” of friends who have found inspiration with her at FolkEast, changed direction to graduate locally in fine art, and now return to be entrusted with creating installations in the festival’s 2017 wild wood. Could all this somehow be the same ‘blend of ability and exuberant fancy’ praised by writer, countryman and ‘faire friend’ Adrian Bell in his 1976 newspaper column about Barsham Faire?
What shall we do today, kids?
With kids under 11 going free and so much inspiring stuff to do on-site, FolkEast is truly a family-friendly festival. Let the kids take the lead if you like, but you’ll soon find the ideas tripping off the tongue in addition to all that ad hoc fun courtesy of street entertainers.
Do-si-do at the family ceilidh. Track down the jackalope. Find out about foraging. Paint a pebble. Whittle away some time in the woodcraft tent. Go donkey-riding. See a steam engine. Go on a bug hunt. Race about and join in the tug of war. Make a mud-pie or two. Listen up to terrific tales in the story shack. Learn the ukulele. Cook on a campfire. Create a necklace and craft a wand. Get a jig-doll dancing to the tunes of a hurdy-gurdy. Tuck into some tasty local treats. Crochet a stitch or two. Print a festival t-shirt. Go potty with clay.
Without doubt, it’s only a certain sort of person who can take a humble field and make a whole vibrant community out of it, but FolkEast founders John and Becky Marshall-Potter clearly have the drive, dedication, necessary exuberance, understanding and belief-cum-sheer-madcap-mentality to make it all happen. Now in its sixth year, the event that once caused the couple to re-mortgage their home is recognised as one of the most friendly and singular happenings in the UK festival calendar, attracting national and international world class performers such as Jon Boden, Martin Simpson, the India Electric Co, Solana, Samia and The Dhol Foundation.
From all sorts of dancing, singing and music-making to printing and pottery, knitting and woodturning, tugs of war and circus tricks, outdoor cookery and hearty picnicking full of purpose and local produce, FolkEast is one great big, unpressured invitation to have a go and get a taste of everything. Of course, just sitting back in a deckchair and letting the friendly village fête atmosphere and warm Suffolk breeze waft over you is just as acceptable too. But even when it’s full of people, wherever you choose to explore on this huge site, there’s always room to really relax and just be. Folk are simply free to enjoy stuff, even on their own, while comfortably in the company of others. It’s a winning formula and one which John openly admits runs off a personal legacy.
“I went to my first Barsham Faire in 1974, aged 19, up on the ancient Rectory Paddock and became an avid fair fanatic almost immediately. I returned the following year with my school mates to sell printed Barsham Faire mirrors and do woodturning on a pole lathe.“ He pauses as the nostalgia resonates a moment.
“The original Barsham idea was to recreate a medieval craft market with all the trappings like music, theatre and circus acts. People came in costume and everything was extremely local, the food, the crafts, everything handmade. There were no site rules, just positivity and optimism really. The collaboration came naturally. The whole thing about Barsham was it had to be built. It was the creation of a bunch of friends in a field who had real talent and vision.”
What was it Amy said about festivals being quite transformative? After donating a green man head made at art school and running a ‘toasty’ stall at Barsham ’76, John went on to support those famous Bungay Horse Fairs, and declared himself happy to have a go at building Albion Green Fairs around East Anglia as the era edged into the ‘80s. With events at Geldeston, plus Rumburgh and Bramfield ‘huts’ under his belt, and a 12-year run of Halesworth’s ‘Gig in the Park’ to his name, FolkEast was surely a natural progression. So six years on, with last year’s festival seeing 16% growth on 2015, what’s the next step?
“The grand plan has to be to get the thing financially stable, then delegate more.” There’s a meaningful pause. “We’d like to enjoy more of the event,” he smiles. Knowing the inspirational couple though, ‘enjoy’ translates to seeing skills passed on, our heritage honoured, a sense of community cherished, and talents, young and old, flourishing through new collaborations.
It’s no coincidence that the launch event for FolkEast 2017 saw a 10-ton vintage steamroller trying a spot of mega-printmaking at Leiston’s Long Shop Museum. Or that thriving festival patrons, the multiple BBC Folk Award-winning Teeside lads known as The Young ’Uns, somehow felt at home sharing their a cappella tales of industry and people past in the great Garrett engineering shed. It seems naturally organic that the next generation of Marshall-Potters have ever-increasing roles in the FolkEast ‘build’, and that the son of a Barsham Faire canopy-creator is setting up the Sunset Stage half-dome again, while his family runs their world class business (even supplying the Eden Project) out of Halesworth station yard.
Meanwhile, favourite only-at-FolkEast concepts like the Imagined Local Food Village, in which local producers share really first class fayre at reasonable prices, go from strength to collaborative strength. And when it comes to banishing isolation and creating a vibrant, productive community among individual instrument-makers, social media plays a definite second fiddle to the festival’s showcase, Instrumental. To cap it all, 2017 sees FolkEast revealing its very own dance side, Treacle Miners Morris, and is to even find its name on a record label for the debut album of a unique, FolkEast-fostered, folk legend partnership, former Steeleye Span fiddler, Peter Knight, and ex-Bellowhead box-player, ‘squeezy’ John Spiers.
Back in the wild wood, who knows what mighty oaks will grow out of the little local acorns nurtured by the fertile, organic environment, created by the lady in the big hat and her friends. There’s no doubt that ‘Soapbox Amy’ is fast becoming a festival legend. But at just 30-something, surely there’s no way that the Barsham legacy can take the credit for the twinkle in her eye and her amazing vision?
“I went to Madeline Lees’ local DanceCamp in 2009, a wonderful, workshop-filled and ethically aware event, then to Sam Morgan’s Harlequin Fayre the following year. The sense of creative community was amazing,” she enthuses. “Both teams were heavily inspired by, or involved in, East Anglia’s original Albion Fairs, just like Tarby Davenport. Her events, like the local craftsmen showcase Weird & Wonderful Wood, are mind-blowing and have inspired me greatly too. At FolkEast, it’s all down to John and Becky though, who give me such freedom and trust.”
And in doffing her Stetson to the festival organisers, Amy hits the recycled nail on the head. FolkEast facilitates. It generously gives people the platform to do their thing, their way, making their own discoveries, and by sharing this freedom, it keeps traditions alive and nurtures the new. It’s unique, gaining national acclaim, but Suffolk through and through, passing on that timeless Barsham spirit, belief in the creative energy of every individual and how that alone is a good enough reason hold a celebration.
Did you know…?
The FolkEast vision is firmly rooted in Suffolk’s fields in more ways than one. From dome-stages to dance floors and seafood to cider, 85% of the festival’s infrastructure, plus 90% of all food sold on site and 95% of its ales/ciders are sourced or produced in the county.
Albion Fairs – a Suffolk History
After the original run of Barsham ‘medieval’ Faires by the East Anglian Arts Trust in the early 1970s, hardly a corner of south or east Suffolk, from Blundeston and East Bergholt to Herringfleet Heights and Heveningham, was left untouched by their travelling fair legacy, the Albion Fairs franchise. From 1976 into the 1980s, the fairs came in many guises, Faerie, Green, Moon, Sun or Fire, Mistletoe or Tree, often associating themselves with significant ancient sites such as Oaksmere, Bramfield’s oak and Mettingham Castle near Bungay.
The last Barsham Faire was held in 1976 when it was decided that it had outgrown its site. To savour the true flavour of the fair (or reminisce if you will) you can watch footage by Minstrel Films at the East Anglian Film Archive website (www.eafa.org.uk) or read pages of the Waveney Clarion, the fairs scene’s original monthly mag, which perhaps inspired FolkEast’s Eastfolk Chronicle (www.waveneyclarion.co.uk).
Oh, and don’t miss the Fairs Archive (www.fairsarchive.org), the website to visit for all the history, thrills, spills, photographic memories and merchandise surrounding the East Anglian Fairs of 1972-1986.
New for 2017
From vintage afternoon teas and heritage vehicles to exhibited art in the Old Racquet Court and installations spread around the site, there’ll be all the old favourites and so many new attractions to try, but don’t miss…
• The ImaGINe Bar – a new offering, likely to be a clear winner with lots of flavour
• Family Ceilidh Dance – get the little ones gently in step to the tunes of DanceFolkus
• Treacle Miners Morris – a sweet, new, FolkEast-fostered addition to the fab collection of top dance sides from all around the region.
• The Young ‘Uns podcast – last year Davey boy was such a disco hoot, but now he’s back for more !
• The Broad Roots Stage & Broadbean Club – new look, with up and coming talent sprouting in all directions
• Grapevine Words & Pictures workshops –your chance to get publishing
Food for thought (& frolicking)
From full-blown meals to must-try nibbles and flavoursome liquid refreshments, FolkEast is full of local suggestions to tickle the tastebuds. Sheer deliciousness with sound provenance! Here are just a few ideas to enjoy.
• From Lowestoft - Tim Dunford’s Jackalope ale from Green Jack Brewery – just £3 a pint!
• From Woodbridge - Vernon Blackmore’s divine duck wraps and The Cake Shop’s delightful artisan offerings.
• From Peasenhall – Chris Rayner-Green’s discerningly roasted coffees, courtesy of The Suffolk Coffee Company.
• From Halesworth – Species-specific venison, game and ‘Jackalope’ pies made by Steve and Lynn Tricker at Truly Traceable.
• From Theberton – Festival baker, Martin Clarke creates magical flatbreads and so much more on site in his wood-fired bread oven.
• From Southwold – Adnam’s flavoured gins – which one will you choose?
The A-B-C Guide to FolkEast
With FolkEast so brimful of arts, crafts, music, mayhem and more, it’s all a bit of a song and dance to explain. Here’s a guide to fill the gaps.
Art Arcade - All sorts of artisan-types inside and out from weavers and spinners, paper-cutters, stone-carvers, wood turners, felt-makers, leather workers to celtic pyrographers, peg spinners and potters. Home to have-a-go workshops of all shapes and styles.
Beanfeast – Great veggie / vegan offerings not just at the Soapbox café.
Ceilidhs - No need to bring a partner, this sort of social dancing is ‘called’ by a friend who wants you to have a great time, dancing to brilliant bands whatever your age or experience.
Dwile-flonking – Competitive sport encouraging participants to catch a beer-sodden dishcloth in a chamber pot. Yes, it’s a real East Anglian pastime and you’re very welcome to have a go.
Entertainment - From street entertainers to comic chat and concerts, spoken words and colour spectacles, it’s everywhere, but above all you’re encouraged to make your own.
Family-friendly – Kids under 11 go free when you come and join FolkEast’s great big happy family. Young people get a discount too.
Gardening – Set to look bloomin’ beautiful, check out the village green, main roundabout and all sorts of floral tubs and displays boxes around the site.
Halfway House - Watering hole that’s ‘sloightly on the huh’ and possibly England’s smallest pub with the biggest beer garden. The Hop Inn is another refreshingly worthy place to wet the whistle.
Instrumental – Market place for instrument-makers where there’s always sure to be an original tune.
Jackalope – Big mythical beastie often seen on site, sometimes as a result of too much refreshing ale.
Knitting – It’s easy, accessible, sociable and here. Bet you didn’t know that some people in the Social Knitworks community knit bicycles?
Larking about – Usually done melodiously at the end of the day (or even all afternoon) in the Cobbold Arms beer tent. Just ask for the Southwold Harbour Inn Crowd or Quay Street Whalers.
Morris – Now including miners. Nimble dancers who occasionally split sides and come complete with big sticks, hankies, garlands or even hard hats plus their own motley crew of musicians. FolkEast has oodles of ‘em and they’re great fun.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained – Surely an alternative FolkEast motto?
Oh – Often followed by ‘wow’.
Printing - Screen-print your very own festival t-shirt; learn how to do lino-cuts or edit a piece for Grapevine magazine.
Quadrupeds – From hobby horses and jackalopes to donkeys to ride on, or facts about dormice and hedgehogs down at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust tent, there are all sorts of animal antics at FolkEast, but unfortunately pet pooches may not be brought on site (sorry).
Radio Suffolk - Wake up to FolkEast’s media partner.
Stepdancing – Locally, it’s a sound tradition and excellent sole music. Have a go at toe-tapping East Anglian style in a workshop, then join stepping legends in the Cobbold Arms sessions.
Tradition – Steeped in it, creating a fresh approach to it, FolkEast is fast becoming a Suffolk one in its own right.
U - Simply the most important performer at FolkEast. No pressure though. Just relax and do things your way.
Van (camper) – Or tents are your festival place to stay. From 2017, there is a charge for camping on site to help provide improved facilities.
Workshop - Art, music, song, dance – you choose. Workshops are all part of the deal and if there’s a tiny extra charge, it’s only usually to cover the cost of materials.
Xim - French-style bal-folk band from Norfolk – just one of FolkEast’s individual East Anglian musical offerings.
Yoga – Free classes first thing in the morning to get limbered up for the day.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz – Doing what comes naturally at the end of a full-on FolkEast day (or maybe just in Suffolk’s summer sunshine!).
“When it comes to music, FolkEast has no intention of being an English folk music event, ”says founder John Marshall-Potter. “Folk is such a wide and misunderstood genre. It encompasses everything from Baroque traditional music to sea shanties and Ed Sheeran.“ FolkEast 2017 might not have him performing, but it has scooped Ed’s collaborators on his latest album, the fab Irish traditional folk band, Beoga.
From the great drumming Dhol Foundation to Basque boys Korrontzi, from Three Cane Whale, to Norfolk Broads and Southwold Harbour Inn Crowd, FolkEast 2017 is one big melting pot of all sorts of musical inspirations from across the continent or just up the road. Come with open ears, an open mind and enjoy. Here’s just a taster of big name must-sees, but don’t forget all the local talent lurking in the beer and ceilidh tents, on the great Broad Roots stage, and on the inimitable Not on the Soapbox stage.
• Peter Knight & John Spiers – A unique partnership, first seen at FolkEast 2016.
• Jon Boden – Just to prove that there is life after collaboration with John Spiers.
• Fay Heald – Top traditional English folk singer, who happens to be Jon’s partner - well, we said it was a family festival!
• The Young’Uns – Irrepressible festival patrons and BBC Folk Awards winners.
• The Dhol Foundation – Travelling the globe on a mission to spread the indigenous sounds of the Dhol Drum.
• Terrafolk – Once experienced, never forgotten folk band from Slovenia.
• Lau – They’ve one Best Group at BBC Folk Awards 3 times for a reason…
• Sam Kelly & the Lost Boys – BBC Folk Awards winner 2016 – Best Emerging Act.
• India Electric Co – More usually found around the world opening for Midge Ure!
• Martin Simpson – Guitarist, songwriter melding British and American roots, also appearing with Nancy Kerr and Andy Cutting.
• Martin McCarthy & John Kirkpatrick – Esteemed veteran folk duo.
• Will Pound & Eddy Jay – Harmonica and accordion played like you’ve never heard before.
• Swing Museum – Gypsy jazz, doing the honours for a tea dance.
• Korrontzi – Bold, brilliant and from the Basque country
• Beoga – Gaelic for ‘lively’, just listen to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’.
The 7 stages of FolkEast
1) Sunset Stage – mega half-dome looking up the hillside
2) Broad Roots Stage – home and away, supported by local folk clubs
3) Moot Hall – meeting with stars has never been more fun
4) Soapbox in the wood – a magical place to see music and spoken word in a new light
5) St Andrew’s Church – a short, on-site walk to a different acoustic setting
6) EastFolk Village Hall – a friendly place for all sorts of fun times
7) The Dance Tent – foot-tappin’ ceilidh sets and so much more
Plus the outdoor dance stage, the Cobbold Arms, and informally every square inch of the Great Glemham site imaginable!
FolkEast Festival Facts 2017
When? August 18, 19, 20
Where? Glemham Hall Grounds, Great Glemham
Why? Every reason under the Suffolk sun.
How much? Day tickets and weekend tickets from £42 per adult, but children 11 and under go free. Optional camping August 17 – 21 from £12 per tent, £24 per campervan or caravan. Family, youth and concessions rates available, but regrettably even the most well-behaved dogs may not join in the fun.
How to get there:
By car or campervan - A12 north of Wickham Market
By bike – National Cycle Route 1, safe bike lock-up facilities available
By train – To Wickham Market, free bus transfers from the station to the festival site
Find out more: www.folkeast.co.uk / email@example.com