I returned to Warwick in the West Midlands during a recent trip to the UK, drawn by one of the best of the English summer folk festivals; OK -maybe Cambridge Folk Festival is better, I don’t know for sure, as the tickets sell out as quickly as those for Glastonbury and I have always been too slow and disorganised to get one.
Warwick town luckily escaped the wholesale damage that Coventry suffered in W.W.2 and has not been changed by the motor car in quite the same drastic way as its near neighbour.
Present day Warwick has some wonderful buildings and a sylvan setting by the River Avon, on the banks of which stands a magnificent castle. There are stunning views from the ramparts over the town and river but the interiors now house noisy waxworks that appeal to visiting school parties and detract from the medieval ambience somewhat.
A true gem of a building inside and out, is Lord Leycester Hospital standing adjacent to the old West gate of the town. I wrote about this timber framed wonder in a page of this blog called A Sudden Melancholy with pictures taken on a Panasonic GF1, a four-thirds camera that I was in love with at the time, For that set of images, I was playing with the grain/noise created by up-rating the ISO on a small sensor. Here is a link to that page.
I have to work hard to create that sort of grain on the X-Pro2, the quality of who’s files continue to delight me whatever the ISO rating.
I do not feel like taking performance shots at folk festivals nowadays, unless specifically asked to do so. There are more than enough people waving cameras and mobile phones, to distract the performer; I just listen to the music and enjoy the atmosphere – with fantastic evening concerts every night in the main marquee on four consecutive nights plus daytime concerts in some other great venues (built for the vastly privileged children who attend the fee paying, Warwick School where the festival is based).
I did take some shots of the town whilst the festival was on. There were many dance troops attending, from standard Cotswold Morris to Belly Dancers, for me, the talented and entertaining Gog Magog Molly Dancers from Cambridgeshire were fantastic and a cut above the rest.
The town really comes alive whilst the festival is on, traders and cafe owners must look forward in their tills to July when the festival makes the Market Square throng with residents and visitors alike enjoy the free Morris, Mummers and Music, the costumes and general buzz.
As for Molly Dancing, I asked the squire of Gog Magog something of the history and learned that in the off-season between harvest and ploughing the agricultural workers supplemented their income by dressing up, sometimes in women’s clothing and anything else they could find, and with painted faces for disguise, “extorted money with menaces” in a rather amusing piratical manner. Gog Magog are a mixed troop and dress in what was described as “an explosion in a tie-dye factory” with great face paint and outrageously colourful Dr. Martins. They have a dance step all their own, very slick and practised, reminding me of a cross between robots and toy soldiers. Hugely entertaining (and difficult to photograph). I understand from their banter that some of the troop are mathematics students or for all I know professors from Cambridge University! They go in for right angles in arm posture. They are not the only Molly Troop; I will look out for others!
I am old enough to remember going to folk festivals where small tents were the norm. I was amazed to see lines of posh caravans and fancy motor homes as far as the eye could see. My small tent was dwarfed by 4x4s and the living conditions of those attendees make my Normandy Eco-hovel look very primitive indeed. Consumerism has run riot, even folkies seem rich, though I do not know how. I talked to a nice couple who live on the banks to the Thames and have a second home on an island off the Brittany coast. I wonder if the leftish lyrics of many folk songs escape the well off folkies entirely or do they consider them just quaint and a throwback, now we are all “in it together” and everything in the garden is just rosy.
As to the music at the 2016 Warwick Folk Festival, my memories are of some outstanding performances during the four days.
The Unthanks – Barluath – Allison Lupton Band – Show of Hands
Jamie Smiths Mabon – Steam Chicken (concert) – Le Vent du Nord
Korrontzi – Fay Hield & the Hurricane Party – Flossie Malavialle
Michael McGoldrick & Friends – Isembards Wheel – Unsung Roots
Thank you all, I had a great time.