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FolkEast 2023 – So much more than ‘A Very English Fete’

Aug 29, 2023

I have been a loyal attendee of FolkEast since its move to Glemham in 2013 having had its early start in Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk the previous year.  Its an annual  pilgrimage for many like me,  looking forward to the Guardian’s early description that quoted   “FolkEast feels more like a very English village fete than a festival”.

From its early beginnings, this, the UK’s most easterly Folk & Arts festival was now celebrating its 11th Anniversary amongst the ancient oaks at the historic Glemham Hall Estate.  It promised a stellar musical line-up and activities, arts, crafts and local foods to tempt you at every turn.

As soon as I arrived, I could already hear the sound of music, encouraging me to gather my chair and recyclable mug ( a proud achievement in FolkEast’s long term  plan for sustainability) and found a place to park myself in the glorious natural amphitheatre in front of the Sunset Stage.

Checking out my pocket guidebook I soon ticked off how I was going to manoeuvre quickly ( as well as someone my age could)  between the 3 stages,  Sunset, Moot and The Stage at the Far Side of the Woods each offering a wonderful selection of local and international artists young and .. not so young, intermingled with the Art Arcade (a celebration of some of the finest local artists and creators.) The Dance Tent, Sanctuary Space, Workshop TentCobbold Arms, The Hop Inn and the jingle of Morris Sides, taking their turn to perform in the sunshine.

I was thrilled to see Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith on the programme and would be my first venture to The Stage at the Far Side of the Woods.  In fairness, it wasn’t far at all and a large crowd had already formed.  They were clearly aware that due to other commitments they had not been seen together for some time.  The duo are known for their combination of outstanding vocal work, sensitive instrumentation and a powerful social conscience, which has brought them widespread critical acclaim over the last ten years.  The crowd soon joining in to their performance which had a common thread of political struggle, resistance and justice.

Of course a big mention has to be made for the amazing achievement of Matthew Bannister who had walked 180 miles from Wickham Festival to FolkEast,  raising awareness and much needed funds for Help Musicians.  Matthew, who presents the podcast Folk on Foot, kept us all going through the pandemic.  He has smashed his £15,000  target, the total now sitting at £17,259. The Resident Hoppers Boss Morris were waiting to dance him over the finish line. You can find out more and donate here www.folkonfoot/bigwalk

Saturday brought us the festival’s hugely popular ‘life enhancers’, multi-award-winning patrons, The Young ‘uns (Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle). Joined by many esteemed guests, during their annual podcast at the festival, this year rivalling all previous years by the addition of a novelty catching game ‘Poop Head’   where Sean Cooney donned a Velcro hat and guests threw velcro balls,  shaped like mounds of poop in an attempt to catch said ‘poop’ with the cap whilst wearing it. (I’m not sure other poop games are available to be  honest!) This riotous spectacle.  culminated in  a very brave Matthew Crampton being asked to wear a mouthguard  (another game where the players are asked to don mouth retractors and in this case sing) giving a nod to the Ladies Football World Cup Match which was going on at the time!  I think the front row probably got a direct view of the entertainer’s vocal chords and possibly evidence of a previous tonsillectomy!  

When they later appeared on the main stage on Sunday as the penultimate act before Lindisfarne, David Eagle had to ask the audience to make more noise as he wasn’t used to playing on that open stage.  The acoustics in the Moot Tent far more suited to his amazing hearing which is often noted by hecklers joining in their mayhem.

Sam Sweeney provided another wonderful moment of the weekend, when introducing his fiddle,  bequeathed to him by Dave Swarbrick.  Acknowledging  it had been played by him, giving a touching moment to his own indisputable talent saying ‘it has the essence of Swarb’ giving rise to an audible ahh from the audience.

Those who had arrived early and had taken their seats in Moot Hall on Sunday,  (back undercover after the virus that we shall not mention) were treated to Matthew Crampton and Paul Hutchinson’s ‘thirteenth pilot’ for their new podcast The Folk Detectives, a ‘bold and inept examination of our nation’s heritage’ their distinctive humour setting the scene for a day of laughter and daftness.  The evening brought us the last performance by Lady Maisery, before Hannah James takes a maternity break, managing spectacularly well to hold onto a huge drum,  with her ever increasing baby bump.  Hannah along with Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans, continue to be the most accomplished and adventurous artists in modern folk. These frequent festival headliners continued to captivate the main stage audience and we wish Hannah every good wish for her and her new arrival.

The Young ‘uns, having now  escaped  Moot Hall could be found delivering a more heart-on-the-sleeve and thought provoking set on the apply named Sunset Stage.  These three lads who accidently stumbled into their local folk club as drunken teenagers, have been beguiling audiences for nearly 20 years since and are worthy patrons of this most Easterly Folk & Arts Festival.

Anyway, I could wax lyrical for a very long time about the individual acts that were presented to me over the weekend.  Each brilliant in their own way, each adding to the eclectic mix of artists that made up this years Festival.  It has gone from strength to strength in spite of a worldwide pandemic. Credit must also be given to the volunteers, parking attendants and wonderful choice of local food and ales, which all ‘help create a friendly, creative, exciting and yet relaxed atmosphere that has become synonymous with FolkEast’.    I am sure there are artists already joining the queue to perform next year.  I have included a small selection of photos that will hopefully speak louder than any more of my words.     But I will leave you with the last ones that Becky Marshall Potter said to me as I left for the hours drive home – “let me know you are home safe” 

Sums things up beautifully.


RED 29/08/23

NB: Huge thanks to John Heald the official photographer at the festival who came to my rescue after an epic camera fail on the first day.  He is a true gentleman, who kindly sent me a selection of the photos he took on the first day,  after trying to help me fix my now defunct camera.  Some of his amazing pictures appear in this piece.



















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