Tuesday, August 02, 2016

O. Reader's Further Adventures



Cambridge 2016

            We have just spent four days at the Cambridge Folk Festival - an annual event that has launched the careers of many. Decades ago Paul Simon appeared in the club tent and was paid 15 GBP for the privilege. Today many wannabe hopefuls have the same sort of ambition.
            So this is a roundup of impressions, written in a trailer in the New Forest, now that I have a keyboard and intermittent internet back.
            One of the biggest problems in camping at festivals like Cambridge is getting all your gear to the campsite. At other festivals like Shrewsbury you can park your wheels next to the tent, but this festival is too big with several thousand tents on site. We were assured that this year the entrance would only be 400 yards from our car park. Great! And this was true - just 400 yards. It was the extra three miles to the end of the queue that was the killer.
            So we staked our place for two hours in the queue before the gates opened, and were just glad that we were no further back as the queue disappeared into the distance both ways. Fortunately we had our folding chairs with us.
            I have to say that Mrs O likes to “be prepared”. The four of us came with four trolleys, purchased from a German discount shop and very good value. Daughter and son-in-law had one trolley, and Mrs O and I had three.
            I tried to explain to Mrs O how I’d once pedal cycled from end to end of Britain, from John O’Groats to Lands End in a week, and how I carried my tent and all essential supplies on my bicycle. I was reminded that when I arrived at one or two contacts’ doorsteps along the route (the other times I generally slept rough) I was greeted with a certain recoil and the suggestion that I might like to take a shower... But I was young and foolish then. And single. I actually cycled back from Lands End to Cardiff at the end of the trip to film a wedding, and two years later I was married to the bridesmaid. All together now - aaah.
            But I digress...
            At least with all our luggage we could rest at the side of the road and watch various souls of various sizes and shapes glumly tramp past in search of the end of the queue. Quite a few had obviously been to the same German discounter for trolleys. Several used wheelbarrows and at least one used a Wheelie Bin. (But I see I’ve done my comic song post on Wheelie Bin Fire some years ago, so you are spared that now.)
            After two hours we finally moved, and after the British experience of dutifully forming a queue, there was a mad scramble to find our pitch once inside. Our daughter wanted us to be under her “special tree”. I’ve come to appreciate that the gentle pitter-patter of bird droppings can be quite soporific.
            Folk festivals in Britain are very respectable. Some of my straight-laced contacts sort of raise an eyebrow when I openly tell them where I am going. “A festival” they repeat? Imagine an impersonation of Lady Bracknell’s line “A handbag?” from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. But these festivals really are not Woodstock. They are very family friendly, hardly ever a policeman in sight for a crowd of well over ten thousand. There are sing-arounds, and kids doing face painting and juggling and careering around on unicycles. And of course there are the clothes. One exhibitionist came as a Native American, and another gentleman came as a tree. I wish I’d taken a photograph. And the older folkies came in traditional dress - earth mothers in Kaftans like tents, and gentlemen of a certain age with bald heads and pony tails for compensation, and this year - hats. Bowler hats (think Laurel and Hardy’s derby hats) and top hats - generally in bright red with feathers attached. I was tempted by a red top hat and Mrs O threatened to put me wearing it on Instagram. Good sense prevailed and I blew all my money on CDs instead.
            The other notable feature of folk festivals in Britain is how very clean they are. Washroom facilities are exceptional under the circumstances, and virtually no litter or trash is dropped. If it is, it gets picked up and put in the right bag - disposable, recycling, etc. - immediately. It goes with the ethos - friends of the earth, save the whale, save the planet, etc. For Britain, which has been dubbed the effluent society, this is good.
            And certain traditions remain. On Sunday morning before the music started and we were all staking our claim to a piece of grass and struggling with the Sunday papers’ crosswords, they played The Archers over the sound system. This is a British radio soap opera that started in 1950 and is still going strong. Billed originally as “an everyday story of country folk” it started life covering animal management, post-war government agricultural quotas, and harvest tips. Now, in good soap opera tradition, it tends to concentrate on incest, domestic violence, and rather frequent murders.
            And what about the music? Oh yes, that’s why we came. Last year’s line-up was as good as it will ever get. This year the one international singer was American Mary Chapin Carpenter, but there were a lot of British “folk royalty” whose names would probably not mean much to readers here. I also caught up with Amy Goddard on a couple of occasions. She got an interview and sang live on a local radio show. And I spent a lot of time in workshops on how to sing (somewhat necessary) and song writing - although my song writing tends to gravitate towards unkind parodies of existing work. There’s probably a word to describe that - an uncomplimentary one no doubt - but hey, I’m of an age where I really don’t care.
            The musical highlight was an American four piece called Darlingside. It was their first visit to Britain to start a minor-league mini-tour and they were on Stage 2. But a headliner was taken ill, and immediately after their one planned performance (which I didn’t see, being wedged in the audience for Stage 1) they were catapulted onto the main stage to do it all again, and extend it to an hour. They were a four part harmony group - imagine barber shop meets the Beach Boys meets Crosby, Stills and Nash - multi-instrumented, who only used one huge old-fashioned mike. Fitting around that and making the sounds harmonize by voice and mike control is an art, and they had it perfect. I know they had only brought 400 copies of their debut CD over for the whole tour, and they all went at Cambridge instantly. And yes dear reader, I queued and got it signed.
            I’ve not heard it yet - my daughter commandeered it and an email tells me it is very good but a tad “over produced”. That’s a common failing of much modern folk/acoustic music in my book.
            I’m being called - I promised Mrs O we would venture out in the rain for a meal in a 2fer - that’s two steak meals for the price of one - so I gotta go. As that famous classicist Bugs Bunny always signed off - that’s all for now, folks...

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