An Interview with Walton Folk Festival

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L-R: Nigel Greenaway, Ed Butcher, Peter Shaw, Caroline Smith


The Walton Folk Festival is charging into its second year… The Mumble met the organisers down the pub…


Hello Ed – how did you develop an appreciation of Folk Music?
ED: In the same way that I developed an appreciation for blues, metal, rock, classical and baroque… I just like it. I started listening to Steeleye Span, and developed a taste for folk rock, and then bought a lot of compilation CDs (all before the interwebs) – that’s when I realised how varied the genre is – it’s a verrrry broad church, and that’s exciting. When I got involved with Riverhouse Barn, I discovered that the artists are the most approachable bunch you could hope to meet. It’s basically a big musical family that relies on grass-roots live music venues and events, and when I get the chance to be a part of that, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Hello Caroline, so what is it about Folk Music that makes you tick?
CAROLINE: It make me smile and sing a long and tap my feet. I also like the community and the friendliness of folk music. If you got to a folk festival the acts will be wandering round; chatting to the crowd and listening to the other people on stage. The musicianship impresses me too – so many multi-instrumentalists which as a non-musician is even more impressive. 

So where, when & how did the idea for Walton Folk Festival originate?

ED: It happened fairly organically, building on conversations between us all after our regular monthly Sunday lunchtime gigs. Riverhouse Barn has been booking great acts for a long time, and audience numbers had been growing, so that definitely gave us some confidence that we could pull it off. Having a venue available also helped fan the flames, but I can’t remember who said “let’s run a festival” first of all. I’ll take credit if no one else does 😉

How did you get involved with WFF?
ED: I was in the right place at the right time: I’ve been volunteering at the Barn for a few years, usually behind the bar on comedy nights, and coiling cables for Nigel before and after folk gigs. Nigel, Caroline and I had had the “wouldn’t it be great to put on a festival” chat a few times and that progressed to a “what would a festival look like” drink in our local (you know things are serious when Nigel convenes a meeting in the pub), and then when were confident, we had a formal chat with Emily Boulting who is Director of Riverhouse Barn about dates and budget.

Hello Peter – last year was the debut for Walton Folk Festival, how did it all go?
PETER: It was a fabulous day. Great weather helped but the real stars were the musicians both on the main stage and in the courtyard. As most of my role in the team is publicity – and eating crisps, frankly – I basically came as a punter with a few friends. So I got to experience the day as the festivalgoers would and it was brilliant. There were so many highlights but I felt particularly proud of Jack Cookson. He’s a friend of my brother, a BBC 2 Young Folk Awards nominee and a stunning guitarist, singer and songwriter. I championed him to the team so it was a real thrill that his set was so mesmerising, and he has a compelling stage presence. In the evening the atmosphere changed a little, the blazing sun died down and after a few beers were flowing, people began to dance and really show their appreciation. Kim Lowings and the Greenwood warmed the crowd up marvellously and The Urban Folk Quartet rounded off a brilliant day in true style. I remember walking home just buzzing at how great the day was and not quite believing the quality of acts that had played in my home town.

At which point was it decided to go again for 2019?
ED: At about 10:00pm on the day of 2018 festival. We’d had a blast, the audience loved it, the acts loved it, and we didn’t lose money! For a first attempt, that ticked all the boxes and then some. We really want this to grow into a “proper” multiday event, and be rooted in the heart of our community, so we have to keep going to make that happen.

Can you describe one of your team meetings?
CAROLINE: There’s usually a pint or two. We all live locally and can walk or cycle to the Riverhouse or one of the local pubs which means we can meet up regularly for a chat. There’s a lot of laughing, and we get on really well but manage to get through what we need to as well. Nigel knows the ins and out of the venue and all the tech possibilities , Peter knows the up and coming acts and has some good connections, Ed will go out scouting for local acts and talk to anyone who we need to chat to on the marketing front and I remind them all what we need to get done and speak to the promoters so we have a good mix.

What allowance do you make for local acts gracing the stage?
PETER: We’d love to have more, and we are actively reaching out to local performing arts schools, open mic nights and so on. The courtyard, where performers can play a few songs between the main stage acts is an open opportunity to showcase local acts. We will prioritise people from Walton and the surrounding area in the courtyard. Last year we had some fab performers but Zach Johnson – a Surrey-based performer – really stood out for me. He’s been back at the Riverhouse and we want to see more of him before he gets too big.

How are the acts selected for the WFF?
CAROLINE: We recover from the previous festival and then use a couple of ways. We ask our usual promoters who is touring in May to see what we can fit into and then we all throw in suggestions of who we would like to see. We end up with a big playlist that we listen to and then get together to shortlist based on what we like, and who we think would work in our venue. We also chat to the other local folk festival in Guildford which is a few weeks after ours to make sure we don’t book the same acts.

Who are you most excited for this year?
PETER: I can’t believe the lineup we’ve attracted to the main stage and I am looking forward to each and every artist. Megson will start the day off with their infectious and heartfelt songs. I’ve seen them a few times and they really win crowds over. I was introduced to Hannah Ashcroft by Alex Gallagher from Folk Radio (who is really supportive of the festival and our folk gigs). I reviewed Hannah’s EP last year for Folk Radio’s website and I’m keen to see her live – her performances on youtube are stunning. Lukas Drinkwater is another friend of the Riverhouse, he’s played plenty of times with different acts. But I remember the first time I saw him with Jim Causley and Lukas did a solo song. No disrespect to the brilliant Mr Causley, but Lukas’ solo spot was amazing, just him and a guitar. So I want to see a full set, and that’s what we’ll get.

Last year the rest of the WFF team went on a field day to the London Folk Festival. Which, strangely, all three of them forgot to tell me about. Anyway, they came back raving (in a good way) about The Trials of Cato. And so is everyone else apparently. Mark Radcliffe described them as, ‘One of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times.’ Daria Kulesh is the act I know least about, but Ed really rates her and I’m looking forward to something a little more exotic in the lineup. Although based in the UK, Daria has Russian and Ingush roots. What I’ve seen and heard of her music really makes me want to see her live. And in (deliberate) contrast to Daria, we close with False Lights. I’m still kind of in shock that they will be at the festival. Jim Moray is probably the most important innovator to emerge on the UK folk scene in the last few decades. I’ve seen him live but teamed up with Sam Carter and the rest of the Lights is a real thrill live. They are such a powerful and impressive band. They are following the folk-rock electric band setup of the likes of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Oysterband and The Levellers but taking it in exciting new directions. But I kind of won’t believe they’re coming until I see them on stage. And Nigel’s face when they unload all their gear.

How has the Walton community taken to the festival, & do you have a wider catchment?
CAROLINE: We have a group of regulars who come to the Sunday shows and the festival and then the acts bring in some of their own following. In 2018 we held the festival on the Sunday of the May Bank Holiday with the Riverhouse May Fair on the Monday so we had two days of sunshine and smiling faces around the venue. We wanted to bottle the atmosphere.

Will there be a Walton Folk Festival, 2020?
PETER: We don’t have a big budget or sponsorship (yet). So we have to have a good attendance to pay for the festival. So, if it’s a sell-out like last year we will definitely be back for 2020. And we hope to expand to an extra day and maybe other venues. Ideally, it would be Walton Folk Week, but that may have to wait until 2021.


WALTON FOLK FESTIVAL

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Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre

Saturday May 4th 2019

Mainstage Times
12.15-13.15: Megson
14.00-15.00: Lukas Drinkwater
15.45-16.45: Hannah Ashcroft
17.30-18.30: Trials of Cato
19.30-20.30: Daria Kulesh
21.00-22.30: False Lights

www.riverhousebarn.co.uk

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