In 2015, my partner and I joined our friend Clare in the pretty village of Glemham, Suffolk, for a festival held at Glemham Hall. The festival was the Folk East festival. This festival had only been running for several years but, already, it was becoming a renowned event for traditional folk music, crafts and folk dancing.
Clare is someone who has travelled far and wide, attending festivals, pretty much year on year, and she was keen to see what Folk East would be like. Clare arrived at our cottage in her little camper van. She always manages to find the cutest little camper vans, that suit just one or two people if they were sleeping in it overnight and they are all very handy for days such as this.
Folk East is held at Glemham Hall:
It was a beautifully sunny day and we enjoyed the warmth of the sun from the minute that we arrived. The memory of the cold winter months takes some time to fade but that only adds to the sense of joyful indulgence at enjoying a day out in the heat and sunshine. Upon arrival, we had been ushered to a nearby parking space, on Glemham Hall’s vast estate. The majesty of Glemham Hall, loomed in the background. It’s not a pretty building but it does seem somehow beautiful. There was ample parking provision and also a well defined area of disabled access parking.
As we walked away from the car and toward the main festival area, the music grew louder and there were cheers and other fun sounds. We anticipated a good day ahead. From the itinerary, we knew that the festival was packed with traditional events and activities. These included; folk singing, folk dancing, crafting, brewing, archery, stone masonry, wood carving, poetry and other literary presentations, country singing, clog making, clog dancing….I could go on. As we moved toward the main central area, we could smell the aroma of the many foods on offer in the brightly coloured food stalls and there were little tented shop-stalls in which crafts-people were selling their creations.
Enriched by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and then the feel of the heat, our heightened senses enthused us to soak up the atmosphere of fun and frivolity. There was a large area of several small stages and we headed over there to watch the folk dancing. I love nothing more than just sitting in the grass, with something lovely to drink, something nice to eat and the people I love, while watching something entertaining. This took me back to my childhood in London, where we would converge for cricket games and sit around the pitch with friends, family, food and drink and enjoy a lazy, hazy sunny afternoon.
The folk dancing at the event showcased a number of England’s traditional folk dances. There were numerous acts and performances and each were enthralling, vibrant and endearing. There was also a lot of humour involved; all of the dancers joking with each other and playing around as their friendships became evident to the audience. This just added to the sense of community and of comfortable safety.
Folk dancers who mixed dance with the literary; in particular there was one play which included a touch of swash-buckling drama and poetry. The act kept the audience highly engaged and roused as they moved between the poetry and into sword fighting! The bright costumes shimmered as sheets upon sheets of what appeared to be paper, flickered and swished with the movement of the performers.
My favourite traditional dance performers were the ‘Witchmen’, a troop of Morris Dancers with a dark twist; a powerful mix of drums to a tribal sound. They had an ethereal quality about them and their performance was utterly captivating.
The audience clearly loved them, too and there was an awed hush while the Witchmen approached the stage with a heart pounding boom of deep drumming, getting louder with each encroaching footstep towards the stage. The disappointment, that their performance had to come to an end, was palpable as the audience groaned and achieved, at least, one encore from this talented group.
There was a main stage upon which some well known folk acts performed, along with some exciting newcomers who set the crowd singing and dancing. The audience wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. I put that down to the festival still being somewhat a newcomer to the festival calendar, when compared to the very big festivals that would come to mind. The blend of folk, country, blues and even a little jazz just made for the perfect way to while away more time in very relaxed style.
All around the venue, which was bedecked with bright bunting, flags, balloons and crafted decor, there were activities to participate in. Great for children, were the donkey rides. Reminiscent of childhood days by the seaside; many of us will recall our parents and grandparents taking us for the thrilling ride on a donkey. From music jamming sessions through to lessons in incredible crafts such as stone masonry and wood carving, to a vast craft dome in which you could learn the softer, traditional handcrafts; knitting, needlework and crochet among them.
In fact, there was a whole area which had been designed as a garden but which was entirely knitted There was even a knitted vegetable patch and a shed with a knitted covering. Our friend Clare enjoyed a lesson and she learnt to crochet bunting! Later in the year, we received a lovely parcel from Clare, who had made us some crocheted bunting for our Christmas Decorations. We still enjoy pulling that out, to be part of our Christmas décor each year.
As described, there were some great food stalls, wonderful beer tents that showcased some of Suffolk’s finest ales, plus archery and other interesting things to see. The variety of ales was wonderful. I do like a good ale and I had no idea that there were so many varieties brewed across Suffolk. What was particularly nice was that each bar-person was able to tell us about the provenance of each ale we tried and so the beer tent was an experience in its own right; a place that one would happily remain in for quite some time, despite the intense heat beneath the canopy.
We were very lucky with the weather. In late spring, in England, you just do not know from one day to the next whether you will get snow, rain or heat and sunshine! Remember, if you do go to a festival, or a day out anywhere, do take plenty of sun tan lotion that protects you from the UV rays. Make sure you use one with a high SPF factor and with a high number of stars in the star rating.
One of my favourite events in the festival, was the literary section; in which beautiful poetry was recited, stories were told and song lyrics were presented. To reach this tented venue, you had to follow a small woodland trail; a mix of rough worn pathway through the grass, amid the trees, through to stepping stones made of wood that had been carved with animal designs.
There were lights alight; colourful and dotted around with a variety of sculptures that would suddenly appear around the bend of a pathway. Then, you would have to weave your way through a most beautiful archway made of hazel, before finally gaining entry.
Overall, I enjoyed a day at Folk East a great deal. I did feel that this is a festival still in it’s infancy. I would like to go back in a few years to see how the festival grows and develops but, have no doubt that this festival makes a great day out. I believe that, in time, it will be an event that will command the need for a tent or campervan for a long weekend of fun, music and festivity.
Word of warning, if you need to pop back to your car or leave the premises but wish to come back to the festival area, you had to get a stamp on your pass card, otherwise re-entry would be denied. The crew that Glemham Hall had employed to run the event were all amazing; friendly, informative, fun and helpful at all times.
Do you have experience of a festival in England or the wider UK? Leave a comment to share your experience.
(C) Dean Parsons. 2016.