Pitching up at Warwick isn’t quite the same as your usual festival arrival. You could have argued, and before Warwick I might have agreed, that there’s not much to say about festival campsites. There’s tents, there’s toilets, and there are hopefully some showers. Sometimes they are nice and sometimes they are less so, but generally, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. At Warwick though, things are a little bit different, and as I am to discover over the next few days, and the campsite is only the start...
It’s park where you pitch so you can bring all of the little luxuries you might otherwise not want to carry from your car. They also do a good job of keeping the campsite free of gazebos and other camping paraphernalia, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s such a well-organized campsite there are even street names. I’m in “Mummers Mews” and it’s very near to “Rapper Row”. It’s a very short walk from your tent to the festival site; so however much time and money you spend in the well-stocked beer tent or in the wine bar next to it, as long as you can still see and stay upright for a short distance, you’ll always find your way home. Everyone’s a winner.
Warwick Folk Festival takes place in the grounds of a school, which imbues it with much of its uniqueness. Additionally, it provides a little more luxury for the price of your ticket than you might usually experience at a festival. There is an outdoor stage on the main site, which is normally a cricket pitch, and a covered area for dance sides. There’s coffee and crepes out of a type H van, pizza, donuts, noodles, veggie, vegan and the most sacred and rare of festival treats, momos. There’s also your usual range of craft stalls, instrument stalls and a Morris shop.
In the day of course, many of the festival crowd are dancing. There’s a decent and diverse range of dance sides here and as the festival site is on the edge of Warwick town, it’s only a short walk to centre. But if you don’t fancy that, there is regular bus service to and from the festival site.
Aside from cricket pitch, the concerts take place indoors. This turns out to be fortuitous as the festival weekend coincides with a two day break in the summer weather. Breezy with occasional showers is the order of the day, but it’s not something you need to worry about at Warwick.
The school that is hosting the festival is quite a posh one. So much so that the main venue is a 1000 seat theatre which rivals any you might find. It’s here that Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings headline on the first evening. Wearing band uniforms in honour of their brass section and accompanied by the ‘Remnant Strings’ it’s a memorable night. People are still talking about it on the last day of the festival, and interestingly, it’s the intimate audience participation bits that they seem to have enjoyed the most.
They talk of other things too. There is much mention of Luke Daniels and particular talk of his amazing machine. I catch up with him in the folk club venue, normally a cricket pavilion, on Sunday. One floor up, with acres of glass offering a panoramic view of the festival site, it’s an impressive venue for a concert, and the concert is likewise impressive. Luke is doing his unique thing with his unique machine. It turns out to be a polyphon, a chiming mesmerising music box that looks as ancient as some of the songs you hear. There’s also classical music on a diatonic accordion, and some sweet guitar picking. All in all, it’s well worth checking out.
Another name I repeatedly hear is Kitty Macfarlane, and when I finally catch up with her it’s fairly late in the festival, at one of those early morning ‘meet the artist’ gigs, in the lecture theatre. Kitty is an artist who’s had airplay success on radio four, which must take some doing and it turns out that she channels her muse more diversely than many a songwriter. By way of example, there’s a song called Namer of Clouds, about Luke Howard, the man who described and classified clouds, and an album of that title out on September 21st. Kitty’s singing and guitar picking does a great job of unscrambling our hungover brains on the last morning of the festival. Beforehand there was much discussion on the hit and miss nature of meet the artist gigs, but we’re all pleased we showed up for this one.
Back in the concert hall, the ever consummate Show of Hands give Jon and his Remnants a run for their money when they headline on Saturday night. It’s fair to say that most people here have seen them many times before, but that’s OK at Warwick because there’s a good range of new stuff before the old, emotional singalong faves, Cousin Jack, Santiago and Country Life.
The festival crowd here is about 3000, and when Show of Hands play, the venue is at capacity, with people outside waiting on the one-in-one-out thing. This could have been a problem but by and large, the festival does a neat job of ensuring there’s enough for everyone to do, and avoids creating pinch points at popular events. Of course, many here have come to do other things. The session players have Tuneworks, who have taken over the school dining room for the weekend. There is also a full ceilidh programme, in a sports hall, running day and night with everyone’s favourite bands and callers.
When Show of Hands are on in the concert hall we have trio Moore Moss Rutter in the school’s music room. It’s an unamplified gig and, with the horseshoe seating, quite folk clubby in atmosphere. It’s a setup that suits the band and the crowd, and no-one thinks of leaving for Show of Hands. At the end of the gig, I hear someone say, “They’re like an easy-going, English version of Lau”, and I can see why they might think that.
The venues being indoors and seated, there is more of a formal concert atmosphere at Warwick compared to many other festivals. It’s more a take your seat at the start and stay for the duration arrangement, rather than a drift in, drift out affair. The organisers though, have paid serious attention to curating this line-up. Welsh supergroup Alaw are a big hit when they play in the main concert hall, performing the neat trick of getting folks to join in with Welsh language songs. The final headliners, Gordie Mackeeman and his Rhythm Boys round the festival off in fine, old timey style. There’s good stuff everywhere, and no one really wants to leave before the end.
There are other advantages to the setup here too. One is that many of the toilets and showers are proper indoor ones. You meet people here who seem to be performing a toilet treasure hunt. They’ll tell you a mythical tale about a unique, pristine, unused toilet that they’ve found in a far flung corner of the festival site where no-one else ever goes. I think it’s more an issue of an on-the-ball bog squad but it’s nice to have these little luxuries at a festival. There’s even a swimming pool if you fancy that.
Warwick is a take-over-the-town sort of festival, with its procession, dance spots and events in the town centre. One of the in-town concert venues is the conservative club. That might be a folk festival first and quite possibly an only, but it does highlight the uniqueness of Warwick, which makes it well worth a visit.
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