Partying with kindred spirits

Latest letters from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

Latest letters from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

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This week, I am between festivals. Now let’s be clear, I am not talking about sitting in a field with 100,000-plus revellers, half of whom are queuing for the loo at any one time while their spouses are jostling for hours in the line for the overpriced bacteria-carrying rice and curry sauce with one gram of chicken. The latter will send them all to the loo queue later.

And there is strictly no camping or even glamping involved. No, my kind of festival is attended by a few hundred kindred spirits and there are now hundreds of such events across the UK.

It seems every small town has embraced the notion of inviting musical, literary, culinary and/or artistic heroes to a party in large tents or halls. Politicians and news people sometimes get in the debates, too.

Decades ago, I had no qualms about joining a crowd of hedonists numbering the population of Stevenage at Knebworth Festival.

It was my first time hearing live music in a field. Van Morrison sang Brown Eyed Girl.

Cut to two weeks ago, and Van the Man was back on stage singing the same song at Cambridge Folk Festival. This was a large event by my modern standards and loo rule, with around 14,000 people competing for the facilities.

As Van started up, I made my excuses to my friends for a few moments and made the most of my guest area pass. There, if you have the right wristband, you can use the artists’ portable conveniences.

They have a constant supply of paper and soap and no one waiting, except for the cleaner.

I sauntered in, confident that everyone would be watching the Man. But a padlocked gate stood in the way. The performer had decreed the loos would be locked for two hours so he could use them before and after his appearance.

Van the Pan, we dubbed him, among some less polite suggestions about his selfishness, which he deserved. On a more charitable note, he did dash off sharpish from the stage at the end of his gig, so perhaps he really couldn’t wait.

It was worth any minor inconveniences to see Sinead O’Connor sing with such joy and passion and to laugh at Loudan Wainwright the III’s jokes.

This weekend, I am ready to party at a much smaller affair in the garden of an arts and crafts house.

Three years ago, I was at the first Voewood Festival, near Holt in Norfolk. Yes, “I was there.”

I was among a very few hundred paying guests and had a cup of tea with actor John Hurt, a pint with musicians Glen Matlock and Dave Gilmour and a slice of cake with a table full of literary giants and a Turner Prize winner. It was name-dropping heaven.

The combination of discussion, book readings and art demos in the day, followed by music at night with a small crowd, is now a growing pastime.

Documentary photographer Martin Parr declared we were all middle-class and boring subject matter as he snapped.

I trust his book of us due – to be launched at the weekend – will prove otherwise.

Festivals these days cater for everyone and I know which sort I like.