FolkEast 2018

Just in case you forget where you are for the weekend. (Flags made by my talented wife.)

I feel that I should start this blog post with an apology and an explanation. The apology is to any regular beery readers of my blog, as this post is largely about folk music and morris dancing; although beer does get a mention. The explanation is that I have performed as a morris dancer at each of the seven FolkEast festivals that have taken place so far. Therefore I am rather part of the FolkEast community, for this is a festival with a strong sense of community - it has been described as being like a village fete on a grand scale! So perhaps I am rather biased in my testimony. With that in mind, I will provide links to other reviews at the end of this one*.

Pre-Festival Party

FolkEast runs from Friday morning through to Sunday night. However, the campsite is open to weekend ticket holders from Thursday afternoon and, over the last few years there has been a growing programme of events in the festival arena during the Thursday evening. This year there was live music in the Moot Hall, hosted by local legend Mat Bayfield and featuring three other duos as well as Bayfield and Booth. Unfortunately I missed Mat's set, as I spent most of the evening in the ceilidh tent dancing to Stumpy Oak with my family and friends. This was my third ceilidh with Stumpy Oak and they were on their usual excellent form. In fact, my daughter said that they were the best ceilidh band of the festival, and she danced with most of them. Stumpy Oak are a great dance band with lots of fun and energy, and their caller teaches the dances with a friendly and engaging manner.

Festival Bars and 'Meet the Brewer' Talks

I had better deal with the beery elements of FolkEast before I lose the interest of my regular reader completely. FolkEast has two main bars, and two rather smaller ones. The largest being the Cobbold Arms, named after the family which owns the Glemham estate where the festival is held, and which was once involved with the now defunct Tolly Cobbold brewery in Ipswich. This bar sells the full beer list available at the festival. The second bar is the Hop Inn, conveniently located for the Moot Hall and Broad Roots stages, which is rather smaller and serves just 6 cask ales and 2 ciders. Then there is the Halfway House serving just one cask ale, and the Soapbox Stage bar serving spirits only.

Golden Star morris dancers, and assorted punters, relaxing at the Cobbold Arms.

The full beer list comprises 16 cask ales from Adnams, Calvors, Cliff Quay, Earl Soham, Grain, Green Jack, Greene King, and St Peters. There was also a lager, three ciders, gin, whisky and white wine - all produced in Suffolk. Only the Grain beer and the red wine came from outside of the county. All the cask ales were just £3 a pint, as they have been for the lifetime of the festival I believe. Sadly there was nothing to scratch my beer ticking itch, so one of my few suggestions to improve the festival would be to try to get in one of the newer local breweries whose beers are less commonly seen.

Leanne looks on, while Grahame tries to remember the mash bill of Grain 316.

Each morning at 11 o'clock there was a meet the brewer talk in the Hop Inn. This year I made a point of going to these and enjoyed them all. On Friday we met Ken Wolley from Harleston Cider, Saturday was the turn of Tim Dunford from Green Jack, and on Sunday it was Leanne and Grahame from Grain Brewery. All three were interesting discussions in their own way but Grain brewery certainly was the best of the three, if only for their generous tasting samples. I particularly enjoyed the Slate, a complex smoked porter at 6%, which I haven't had for some time and forgotten how good it is. Grahame was very excited to share a new beer which hadn't, at that point, been officially released. Unfortunately, I had to leave before that beer, which turned out to be Continental Drift, was poured. However, someone sitting at my table asked Grahame to save some for me and so I got to taste it later in the afternoon. It had a delicious citrus aroma which drew me in, but I won't say any more about it for now - I got to taste it again at its official launch a week later, which will be my next post.

Musical Attractions

FolkEast has five varied stages and also a dance tent so there is always plenty to see. Rather than giving you a minute by minute recount of a three day weekend, here are a few of the musical highlights of my FolkEast experience this year.

Early on Friday evening I happened to wander back onto the festival arena just as Attila the Stockbroker and Barnstormer 1649 were beginning their set on the Sunset stage. Previously I have only encountered Attila as a political punk poet, so it was a revelation to see him playing the crumhorn and rauchpfeife. In fact it was also a revelation to see these renaissance instruments being played alongside drums and electric guitars - bizarrely it works remarkably well! The songs were of the Diggers, the Levellers and the Ranters, the protest movements of the Civil War period, which Attila links with modern political issues.

Later on Friday evening I made my way to the Moot Hall for FolkEast patrons The Young'Uns. It was no surprise to see that the marquee was packed out, but I sat outside where I could hear the proceedings. As expected, these wonderful fellas inspired goosebumps, with their moving songs and the stories behind them, followed by fits of giggles and laughter with David's madcap antics. An undoubted highlight was the impromptu ad for Sheringham Flooring, which arose from some live tweeting by a member of the audience during their sound check. Maybe you had to be there to really appreciate it, but here it is anyway.
Another highlight was the appearance onstage of Irish Mythen for a rendition of the Auld Triangle alongside The Young'Uns.

Which takes us neatly to Saturday afternoon when Irish was on the Sunset stage for her own set. With her powerful voice she wowed us with the heart rending '55 Years', got political with 'We Built the Wall', and had us singing along with 'Tullamore Blues'. One of my regrets of the weekend is that I mistook the time of her Soapbox stage set on Sunday and missed it. I am sure that she would have been even more amazing in that small venue, although she certainly had no problem commanding the main stage.

An act that I did get to see twice over the weekend was The King Driscolls. I first saw them two years ago at FolkEast on the Soapbox stage, and have been a fan ever since. The small Soapbox marquee was, unsurprisingly, rammed on Saturday night as they have quite a devoted following in East Anglia. I was also pleased to see that they filled the larger Moot Hall on Sunday. Perhaps more seats should have been removed but a large crowd did manage to find room to dance to their foot-stomping tunes. George rounded off the festival by leading a mass rendition of 'The Larks They Sang Melodious'.

Earlier on Sunday evening, I had caught the John Langan Band who were closing the festival on the Sunset stage. This was a new discovery for me, and I'm glad I saw them. They played lively tunes with Celtic, Gypsy, and Eastern European influneces, which had many in the audience dancing energetically. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for future appearances in East Anglia.

Morris Dancing and Other Attractions

As I said earlier, I am a morris dancer, so I really must say something about the part of the festival that I contributed to. There were fourteen morris sides in total over the weekend, so I can't really mention them all. For me the stand out sides this year were Oakenyouth and Harlequin; although it was also very good to catch up with friends in other local morris sides too. Of course I was very pleased that my side, Treacle Miner Morris, was well received by the general audience and by the other morris dancers.

Apart from music and morris dancing, there are all manner of things to see and do at FolkEast. There are workshops for singing, playing music, and dancing. There is the art arcade featuring local artists and craftspeople, selling their wares and, in some cases, teaching their skills. There is an array of fantastic food stalls. There are clothes stalls, instrument makers, living history groups, and even an onsite cinema. For the younger members of the audience there are donkey rides, a climbing wall, a mud kitchen, and all sorts of things to make and do. There is even dwile flonking, which I am determined to take part in one year!

The jackalope is the totem animal of FolkEast. This year's sculpture highlights the issue of recycling. 

If you've never been to FolkEast I can't recommend it enough. It is a fantastically chilled out weekend. Do yourself a favour, and buy an Early Bird Ticket as soon as they are available.

A wonderful mural by an unnamed artist, commemorating last year's festival.

* Northen Sky Magazine FolkEast 2018 review

   Outline Magazine Folk East 2018 Day One review
   Outline Magazine Folk East 2018 Days Two and Three review


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