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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

As I write, it’s August bank holiday Monday and reports are flowing in of ideal sunny weather conditions at the likes of Shrewsbury, Towersey and Purbeck – a much better ending to the big summer festival month that had kicked off with the proverbial wet weekends for Womad and Cambridge. So much for August bank holiday traditions: you just can’t get climate these days.

Perversely, I spent the Saturday of this warm weekend indoors at our writer Tim Chipping’s inaugural Walthamstow Folk Festival, held in a reclaimed cinema which sported a small black concert hall, a flexible space for a pop-up folk club and ceilidh, and the requisite bars and eating place.

It may have had the disadvantage of being in London (it's in the name) and therefore some way from here, but Tim had put together a really excellent line-up of artists he’s written about in these pages. Once he was over his initial nervous breakdown, it all went extremely well. It felt like a whole week of Sidmouth Cellarfuls Of Folkadelia crammed into one day, minus the seagulls and icecream. None of that fresh air and sun stuff – so over-rated I find, and a cause of suspicion to those of us who habitually wear black and are averse to manshorts and sandals. Anyway, it was a very good show and I hope his medical team allow him to do another one.

It being a one-day indoor event, it inspired nostalgic conversations about our Farnham Folk Days which ran throughout the 1980s – including one with somebody for whom it had been their first, life-changing folk exposure, and another who remembered it among their first ever live music music experiences of any kind as a small child. They didn’t appear to harbour any grudges.

When it started, there weren’t the wall-to-wall folk festivals piled up every weekend from April to October like there are now. It ran on the first Sunday after Easter so was pretty much the starting pistol for the season, eagerly awaited by all those festival-starved throughout the winter months and keen to reunite with folkist friends. And indeed, in those pre-interweb, pre-Amazon and Bandcamp days, by the many who made a bee-line for the merchandising stall to grab all those LPs they’d added to their ‘want’ list. It sold out every year.

Being a one-day event and indoors it was weather-proofed and didn’t require camping: you could cram in eleven hours of solid music and then go home to your own bed. It had a big hall (for daytime concerts and evening ceilidhs), a smaller hall for more intimate concerts, a big bar for sessions, small studio spaces for workshops, a café and an enclosed courtyard for the morris. I was always proud of my programming, not just for variety of music from the traditional to the out-there but because, if you worked out the secret, you could manage to see every single artist during the day if you so wanted. And go home tired and happy.

Three- or four-day greenfield festivals are wonderful things, but I reckon there’s space for more indoor one-dayers, especially ‘out of season’. And if they give a chance to see new, rising artists as did Tim’s, better still. Find a venue!

Ian Anderson

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