FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

Folk in England – not just wooly sweaters and big beards

An Interview with Peter Chegwyn, director of Gosport Folk Festival

The Gosport Easter Festival has been going now for seven years. We talked with festival director Peter Chegwyn about the organisation of his festival as well as on the problems of the English folk scene.

Drawing by German artist Annegret Haensel; for more info on the artist, look at the editorial page The Gosport Easter Festival was set up after the Gosport summer festival started, with all matter of rock acts. "We wanted to do a specifically folk festival. And it worked very well. We chose Easter because there is not too much competetion in England; and it's always been the first reasonable size one in England of the year. It means that new artists who prepared during the winter, that we can see them first. And hopefully they get other festivals through their appearance here. - The emphasis of the festival is on quality; we have a high standard of quality throughout the programme; and also in being very friendly, and warm and enjoyable. Hopefully we achieve those aims."

Gosport Easter Festival has a strong focus on the up and coming Scottish and Irish bands. As Peter says, "partly that's what the people in the area want; and partly it's what the festival organisers want, what they like. Each festival gets an own identity; here it is the Celtic music; to be honest I love the Celtic music personally, but so does the rest of the team." – "There is some superb music coming out of Scotland, and in the South of England, which is quite a distance, people don't get to see the Scottish acts, Irish bands seem to come over, North American bands also, but the Scots don't. They go to Europe, because they can get very well paid in Europe, be treated with respect; in South of England if they are not known, they will not be booked, certainly not paid enough to make it worthwhile. And we have tried to adjust that."
Also Gosport likes to book some of the superb Irish acts around, while they do not have that much English traditional material. Still they try and cater every taste.

Jane Sherburn on stage; photo by The Mollis How does Peter see the English folk scene at the moment – is it going strong, or does it have problems? "I think the English folk clubs are struggling with traditonal music for audiences. It's an old format; people are hitting in an upstairs room in an English public house to hear the music - behind the toilets and up the stairs and everything; and it does not speak to when you get there. It's out of date; people want decent facitilities and good quality music."

At the same time, Peter sees the roots scene in England thriving; with some very good young bands. But it seems that nobody likes to speak of this: "The young scene is mind blowing in England at the moment; you go to English festivals in summer, and there are thousands of people every weekend; but it doesn't get any attention in the English music press; it's hidden away. Every now and then the big English newspapers will do an article on people like Eliza Carthy, and the young fiddle players, and the Poozies, and Kathryn Tickell, emerging musicians; but the rest is a huge scene of young musicians getting into Celtic music, English Roots music, dance music."
Chris Sherburn on stage; photo by The Mollis The young people do not get that much into the traditional singers; "it has an image problem in England. People think folk music being wooly sweaters, sandales, people with big beards, with finger in the ear - it's not like that. It's a huge scene here, lots of good music, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Hopefully festivals like Gosport address that. You get the enthusiasm, you get members of the public to seeing and discovering the music as well and loving it as they see it. That's the hope anyway."

So does he plan to get this festival still bigger? "I think the size of the festival is about right at the moment, it just about works financially, it certainly works as a whole as we wouldn't get many more in. And most of the artists we get – it's just at the right level. Everyone seems to enjoy it."

Deaf Shepherd; photo by The Mollis Peter remembers another great emphasis of the festival, to treat the artist well. Says he: "English, Scottish, Irish artists, when they go to Europe, they get very well treated, well paid, well treated back stage, plenty of food, drink, decent hotels – they don't get that in Britian. They go round, and they sleep in someone's back room, or on a floor, and they are lucky to get a cup of tea. We at the festival always have very good back stage catering, hot meals, whatever they want to eat and drink. We give them good hotels, and treat them with the respect they deserve, and it seems that Gosport gets a good name as well. Certainly people seem to want to play here particularly, so we must be doing something right."

Indeed the musicians seem to enjoy it. Just remember this year the Bumblebees who phoned up Peter at about midnight saying‚ 'We have just finished our gig in London; is there still music going on? - Book us a hotel room for tonight; we will be there at about 3 am.'
And even at midnight, Peter managed to get a hotel room for the girls – no problem is to big for the Gosport festival team to cater the musicians. Although actually the booking of the hotel room was not necessary, as the Bumblebees-party-bears stayed up until about 9 am...

Read also the Live Review of Gosport Easter Festival 1998 in this issue!

Drawing by Annegret Haensel; more infos on the artist in the editorial.
Photo Credit: Musicians at Gosport Easter Festival; by The Mollis:

from top to bottom: Jane Sherburn, Chris Sherburn, Claire & John of Deaf Shepherd

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