Priddy Folk Festival
One of the joys of the English summer is the plethora of fabulous festivals around. One of the woes is the weather – a glorious Spring has made us complacent, and Mother Nature has decided we needed April Showers after all … in July. Yet, despite heavy rain on the Friday, (raining ‘old women and sticks’) it turned out to be a delightfully sunny weekend at Priddy Folk Festival, set up in the early Nineties by the PTA committee. Focusing on the village green with its famous stack of sheep hurdles (the originals dated back centuries to when the Priddy Sheep Fair was moved to the village on the edge of the Mendips in 1348 after the Black Death made it too hazardous to hold in Wells). The folk festival isn’t quite so old, although some of the veterans look like they’ve been coming here since then. The performers more than compensated – with a legion of dazzingly gifted young folkies taking to the stage over the weekend. The children of first generation folkies, they have suckled folk music from wee bairns – had a fiddle or guitar thrust into their hands and cut their teeth at many a session they were dragged to from a young age. To some this would be aversion therapy – but fortunately for British folk, it has spawned a vibrant new generation: young, pretty and sickeningly talented (as opposed to old, withered and envious ;0) Damn their ouds!
On Friday, before things got under way in earnest we went on a soggy walk to the stunning Ebbor Gorge, going back to the ‘early Neolithic’ as we scrambled up the narrowing defile – the result of an underground river gouged out by the erosion of rainwater on limestone that had collapsed in on itself millennia ago.
We returned to find food and to check out some of the bands. First we thawed out in the Queen Victoria, where we enjoyed some hearty fare, and a pint of Butcombe before venturing out into the damp night. We caught a bit of a band called the Blue Mosquitoes – and there followed a beer-bellied beardy behemoth of folkiness over the weekend. Bands that stood out in the programme (for me) included the sublime Emily Portman, Fay Hield Trio, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Moore, Moss, Rutter, De Fuego, Elfynn … in short, every act I happened to catch – climaxing with Jamie Smith’s Mabon, the closing act, who got the whole marquee dancing (having heard how there is a cave system underneath Priddy I was beginning to worry if we’d suddenly find the ground beneath our feet giving way with so much stomping – certainly it woke the worms up!)
I enjoyed the archaeological walk on Saturday afternoon, led by a local expert – a group of about fifty of us were shepherded, like some Biblical exodus, up Nine Barrows Lane, to the ridge where the high status burials lay, distinctive against the skyline (like a vacationing party of flying saucers – or satellite-receiving platforms, as one lady discovered: ‘This is the only place on site I’ve been able to get a signal!’ she said, holding up her phone at arm’s length).
The personal highlight was simply to sit in the beer garden of the Queen Victoria, basking in the sun, imbibing the convivial atmosphere and a pint of something dark with my friend Marko and other characters. Now and then a song would catch on and the whole pub would be singing it. The true spirit of the folk tradition was alive in these informal ‘sessions’.
The only thing that was missing was some storytelling (for adults). There’s such an obvious overlap between folk music and storytelling (both draw upon the oral tradition and similar source material) but they seem to exist in separate worlds. Perhaps they’ll ask me back next year (I performed there a few years’ ago with my fellow Fire Spring member, David Metcalfe, up in the school)!
Everything packed, it was time to go. It was nice to ride back home across the Mendips in the gorgeous afternoon sun. I was looking forward to hot bath and a soft bed. Unfortunately the folk tradition hadn’t stretched to our campsite where we were kept awake half the night by our noisy neighbours, who felt the need to inflict their questionable music tastes on everyone via a noise-distorted radio station. Peace descended when a friend finally went and turned off the Abba blasting out from an empty caravan at 4am. Then, at first light, a dawn chorus of kids began. The joys of festival-life!
Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable weekend and a lovely way to celebrate the birthday of someone special!