Celebrating diverse, creative festivals in the UK
Festivals have come full circle, from the free anarchic gatherings of the 1960s, through the wilderness years of commercialism, back to the underlying Resurgence ethos of ‘Small is Beautiful’. Here, in celebration of summer, we champion some of the more diverse and creative events out there, and welcome the return of the small festival.
Tribe of Doris
The Tribe of Doris festival aims to “unite cultures through music and dance”. In August each year, this melting pot of song and ceremony takes place in Devon and features inspirational teachers and musicians from around the world. Doris aims to be a participatory festival where learning from these global artists is the core activity. Highlights this year include workshops and performances from the polyphonic singer Anita Deaulne and a chance to meet Sufi whirling pioneer Sheikh Ahmad Dede.
“In this festival atmosphere, the excitement of learning explodes across the site,” says Deasy Bamford, one of Doris’s founders. “The buzz of happiness and involvement is a far cry from the hedonistic pleasures of a typical more commercial festival – there’s more connection to other people and it gives you something to go away and engage with for the rest of the year. Because it’s not a performance-based event, the boundaries between the artists and the public are broken down and everyone joins in together.”
The Port Eliot Festival takes the participatory theme in other directions. Set on the banks of the river Tiddy in Cornwall, Port Eliot was originally billed as a literature festival, but thanks to an evolving remit, it now embraces many facets of cultural creativity. Last year’s event, for example, offered a wide variety of experiences, from a literary ‘salon’ with Diana Athill to a cookery demonstration with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who, it transpired, would often prefer to bite his shallots to size rather than chop them!
For the more ornithologically oriented, there was a series of talks at Caught By The River, a venue so magical it was hard to tear yourself away to sample the delights of the rest of the festival, and it was here that the sexual habits of robins and the decorative predilections of bowerbirds were debated at leisure. Then, as an extra special treat, ‘twitcher’ and actor Phil Daniels performed an acoustic, slightly tweaked rendition of The Clash classic, Gulls of Brixton!
Thrown into the festive mix were sculpture demonstrations, joinery workshops, a flower show, the peripatetic tea ladies, and the obligatory late-night DJ extravaganzas. At Tom Hodgkinson’s Idler’s Academy, the surprise hit was the ukulele workshops, with I Am An Anarchist being one of the more incongruous treats of the weekend.
Port Eliot certainly turned out to be a creative feast and this year looks set to surpass even these sublime pleasures – not least because the legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke will be giving a limerick masterclass.
Roots Architecture at WOMAD
Although we are celebrating the rise of the small and perfectly formed summer festival, it must be said that even in the bigger festivals, where the headline acts command crowds of thousands, there can still be found unique and transformational experiences.
This year, for instance, WOMAD hosts the second Roots Architecture event, a participatory ‘happening’ that encourages people to have a go at creating structures from found and recycled materials. Facilitated by teams from Architects Sans Frontières, Community Architects for Shelter and Environment and others, the emerging structures are fascinating, peculiar and resourceful, and on the final night they become the stages for impromptu performances.
Roots Architecture founder Oliver Lowenstein has invited Patama Roonrakwit – an architect from Thailand who designs low-tech, low-cost housing for some of the poorest people in Bangkok’s slums – to attend this summer’s event. He is hoping she will contribute unique insights from building shelters in humanitarian, emergency and disaster relief scenarios to convey not only the structural necessities, but the potential to be creative and imaginative with even the most basic materials.
And, of course, for those whose personal ethics eschew the summertime short-flight package deal to sunnier climes, England’s summer festivals are a great way to get outdoors, relax, rejuvenate and be creative: in short, an experience not to be missed.
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