Whittlesea Straw Bear 2021 - Online

Submitted by Sarah Sennett

WBThe Bear makes its way down Gracious Street photo by Christine KellThe Bear makes its way down Gracious Street (photo by Christine Kell)How to run a festival that is based around a central figure dressed in five stone of straw that usually depends upon crowding several thousand people into a small Fenland town? That was the dilemma facing the Straw Bear organisers as it became clear that live events were not going to be possible in January. Over the summer, we began an 8-month planning process that became Straw Bear Online.

Two things we agreed very early on were that we would try to run our virtual festival in a way that followed the format of the live event as closely as we could, and that we would put a Bear on the streets of Whittlesey in some form.

 

 

 

 

WBThe two Bears grandfather and grandson Paul Cornell and Noah Randall photo by Megan RandallThe two Bears grandfather & grandson Paul Cornell & Noah Randall (photo by Megan Randall)The making of the Bear was one of the first things to be finished, mainly by Brian and Christine Kell and Ady Bull, using Brian’s garage as a workshop. Paul Cornell had already offered to be the “isolation Bear”, and a lot of planning was put into a route, risk assessment and whether a small number of the Straw Bearers would be able serve as a distanced audience along the way. However, as December came around and with Tier 4 and lockdown looming, three generations of the Cornell/Randall family pulled out all the stops to take the Bear out on Christmas Eve and film some poignant footage that had several of our YouTube viewers in tears as it formed the finale of the “Processions through the ages” video

We were also keen to include some exclusive content that people coming to visit for the weekend might not ordinarily see. “How to build a Bear” and interviews with some of the many people who have driven the Bear over the years were well received, without taking away the mystery of the festival’s central figure. As Brian said: “The driver is not the beast. All the driver does is give the Bear mobility. It’s an entity all of its own.”

We were also able to bring people together in real time with a selection of Zoom events to choose from. Over 400 people enjoyed two live music sessions led by members of White Rose Morris and the Straw Bearers, who are often found in the Letter B until the small hours of Sunday morning, an at-home ceilidh with top musicians Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews, with caller Martyn Harvey, and a talk on “40 years of straw and string”.

 

 Putting on Straw Bear Online was a huge amount of hard work, alongside our everyday responsibilities of work and home schooling. I should particularly mention Rebecca Kell at this point, who built an entirely new website from scratch and did almost all of the video editing.

WBPaul Cornell was the Isolation Bear photo by Ady BullPaul Cornell was the Isolation Bear: (photo by Ady Bull)

It was a trip down memory lane for many, and there were lots of fond reminiscences in the YouTube chat as they recalled past visits and spotted friends now departed in the archive footage. We were delighted to have it re-affirmed that Straw Bear means so much to so many people. It wasn’t quite like being there in person, but it was the most festival-like experience we could put on while staying at home – and it was definitely the warmest Straw Bear ever! And we are all very much looking forward to the time – whenever that may be – that the Straw Bear can once again dance through the streets of Whittlesea.

Call out box:

Straw Bear Online took place on 15-17 January 2021. Most of the videos are still online, and can be accessed via www.strawbear.org.uk

Andy Cutting at Wingfield Barns

Wingfield Barns 29th October 2020

On the evening of the 29th October 2020, the Great Barn at Wingfield Barns was filled with eager anticipation and excitement for the first live music gig there in 7 months. In some ways it was a strange and extraordinary evening.. arriving in masks, having our temperatures taken, sitting together and yet apart, and our drinks magically arriving from the bar. Still what a joy to be out and to see familiar faces …a live music event at last!

The wonderfully talented Andy Cutting did not disappoint, he too was excited to be there, his first live gig in 261 days. We were treated to an hour and a half of beautifully crafted music, some tunes familiar, others new to my ear. The music was a mixture of Andy’s own compositions and tunes picked up along the way, all played with style and sensitivity.  What a special treat!

Particular favourites for me were ‘The History Man’ which opened the concert and ‘The Abbess’ which ended it, both written by Andy. It was indeed a concert that will be remembered for a long time and I feel very lucky to have been there.

Huge thanks are due to Anna and her team at The Barns for taking the effort to make the whole evening work, I know what careful planning and preparations were needed to make it happen. Well done for putting on such a fabulous (and safe) musical evening for us all. We are very lucky to have such a caring and thoughtful venue on our doorsteps. I am certainly looking forward to their next event, please checkout their website for events listing and how to book. www.wingfieldbarns.com

Judy Andrews

A Winter Union Review

 A WINTER UNION  – Canopy Theatre, Beccles 10th December 2019

 A cold, wet and very windy night did not deter the audience from venturing out to see this wonderful seasonal show at the Canopy Theatre in Hungate Church, Beccles and they were certainly glad they made the effort.

A Winter Union 2

 

The church setting (complete on this occasion with Christmas Trees - left in place after the Tree Festival the previous weekend – and a life-size stable set complete with all the relevant figures) was a brilliant backdrop for the exceptional performance given by Ben Savage (guitar, dobro & vocals), Hannah Sanders (guitar, dulcimer & vocals), Jade Rhiannon (vocals & shruti box), Katriona Gilmore (fiddle, mandolin & vocals) and Jamie Roberts (guitar & vocals).

Read more: A Winter Union Review

Riccardo Tesi and Anne Niepold at Diss Corn Hall

RiccardoTBlowzabella's Paul James has been a promoter of European performers since the days of the now defunct Forest Gate pub  Eagle and Child in the 1980s, where we saw concerts by Tre Martelli, La Ciapa Rusa and Emmanuel Pariselle and Katherine Bersoux. A couple of years ago Paul brought Belgian/French duo Anne Niepold (melodeon) and Gregory Jolivet (hurdy gurdy) to, among other places, Wetherden Village Hall. This month he has organised a short tour for Anne with Italian melodeonist Riccardo Tesi. I  use the word melodeon here as this is the recognisable name for their instrument in our area, however, the French term for the instrument is accordion diatonic and in Italian organetto. We caught them at Diss Corn Hall on 10th October.

Read more: Riccardo Tesi and Anne Niepold at Diss Corn Hall

Reflections on FolkEast; from Shrewsbury Festival 2019

Gill and I have been going to FolkEast from the start which is now 7 years ago.  We’ve watched it recover and slowly grow from those very small beginnings at Somerleyton Hall near Lowestoft.  That first year had the smallest audience but the biggest and best line-up.  It was probably inevitable that for the first year there would be a modest audience despite an amazing collection of all the brightest stars of the folk world at the time, including Bellowhead, Lau, Liza Carthy, Peatbog Fairies and many more.  Sadly the line-up was not enough for FolkEast to compete with 2 other festivals that bank-holiday weekend.  Towersey and Shrewsbury Festivals had been well established at that time of year.  We went to Towersey a few times before FolkEast started and this year we thought we'd have a change and round off a brief holiday (wet) in Wales with a trip to discover the delights of the Shrewsbury Festival.

The site

As FolkEast regulars we were shocked by the scale of Shrewsbury Festival based at the very flat and featureless agricultural showground on the edge of the town.  Perfect for camping you might think but the campsite is incredibly crowded compared to FolkEast. Over 6000 fans were anticipated; do FolkEast get half that number?  I doubt it.  A large number of fans and no outside performance areas mean you need some enormous marquees as well as several large ones.  Large marquees mean that the music needs to be VERY LOUD to fill the space.  This can be so loud that ear-defenders are needed (some might say even if you are outside the tent). 

Read more: Reflections on FolkEast; from Shrewsbury Festival 2019

Suffolk Folk

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