The sounds of Winchester’s amazing summer: with flip-flops and wellies
In the heat and the rain, blogger David Tozer reports on how the Arlesford Music Festival, Grattonbury and the Graze Festival provided a live soundtrack to Winchester’s unforgettable summer of 2018
Wow, what a summer it’s been! Putting extreme weather and climate change aside for one moment, it was also a summer for getting out and enjoying the music.
The Winchester area is fortunate to have top community-orientated day festivals taking place across the summer that differ from the corporate and multi-day Boomtown Festival. From having previously been involved in establishing the Carshalton Environmental Fair in South London, I am aware of what goes into establishing, organising, promoting and running festivals such as these. They are a fine demonstration of networking and bringing a local community and local small businesses together to put on an event for the collective enjoyment of the community and support particular causes and charities at the same time. When so much of society and its institutions feel under stress these days, it’s great that many folk are prepared to come together to organise events like these and put on a good show.
To my eye, each of those I attended seemed to be superbly well organised and ran smoothly in sometimes trying conditions. A special tribute is given to the organizers of the Graze Festival for ensuring the day went ahead. The music programme kept to time without any serious disruption despite it being one of the few days of incessant rain in recent months. The old spirit of making the most of it and rising above the rain won out, and when the rain did eventually relent, people were determined to come out from under the awnings and umbrellas to move to the music.
The Arlesford Music Festival (AMF) (9th June) and the Graze Festival at Twyford (26th August) promote themselves as family-orientated days out, whilst the lower key, evening-only self-styled ‘Grattonbury’ at Sutton Scotney (30th June) gears itself more towards the immediate local community. Each of them is now firmly established in the annual calendar. Grattonbury began in its current guise in 2013 and has really been flying under the radar. The Graze Festival held its 4th annual festival this year, whilst next year the AMF will be celebrating its 10th Year.
Supporting the community
One of the strong features of these day festivals is their success at attracting a range of sponsorships from a variety of local business and bodies. More importantly perhaps has been their commitment as community enterprises to raising money for charitable and local causes. The AMF is a non-profit event raising funds for regional, national and international musical charities and other local causes. This year the AMF Foundation is supporting three musical causes: Winnall Rock School which provides free music tuition; Key Changes, which supports mental health patients and Harmony of Hope, which supports refugees.
The Graze Festival is similarly a not-for-profit organisation seeking to raise money for local charities and community groups. Surpluses from the event are set aside and distributed to successful applicants, decided by Trustees and in accordance with set criteria. This is not undertaken until later in the year, once a surplus has been determined. Given the weather, one imagines there may not be so much to distribute this year but following the 2017 Festival they supported 15 local charities and community groups. They have also developed the concept of a Focus Charity for each year. For 2018 this is the Joe Glover Trust, a small local charity that helps families in distress following a child being diagnosed with cancer.
Grattonbury too has its community focus. The event is held to support the charitable Gratton Trust to manage the Gratton Recreation Ground in Sutton Scotney so that its range of facilities can be maintained for the community at large.
Being family-orientated events, there were a number of similarities. There were various activities for children. At the larger events, circus skills, games, art and creative workshops were available to try. At Arlesford, the climbing wall and bungee trampolining were especially popular with patiently queuing children. Of course face painting, hair braiding and glitter decorating attracted the young ….. and a few adults too! Once the rain ceased at the Graze, its Theatre Stage hosted some Bollywood dancing, Juggling Jake and a DJ set that all attracted a more youthful audience.
A variety of food outlets catered for all tastes. Each event had a beer, wine and cocktails tent. The most eye-popping perhaps was that run by Twyford’s Bugle Inn at the Graze Festival with almost 30 local beers and a vast and enticing array of craft ciders. At the all day events, a range of craft and trade stalls added further diverse interest. Traders will no doubt have done well at Arlesford in the sunshine, but unsurprisingly the traders I spoke to at the Graze all said it was slow and takings would be down on what they would have anticipated. One guy, who had not been before, said it felt like a really good event and he would still come back next year. It was evident though that some stall holders and traders decided not to turn up leaving some rather isolated within the site, whilst food and drink tastings and cooking demonstrations were very much diminished.
Each festival provided a highly eclectic mix of genres with everything from swing, folk, blues, latin, reggae, hip-hop, rock and much more. The Graze Festival probably had the better known headlining acts. Jesse Dayton was the first American artist ever to play at the Festival, and besides fronting his own band, has previously contributed guitar to albums by such country luminaries as Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. It was a homecoming gig for local girl, Kate Stables and her folk rock band, the critically acclaimed This is the Kit. They were followed by the two-tone ska of The Neville Staple Band (ex Specials and Fun Boy Three) before finishing with From the Jam (featuring The Jam’s original bassist, Bruce Foxton).
Perhaps not all the acts at the festivals were stellar performers, but that really misses the point. Some were clearly early in their musical careers and still cutting their path and deserving of encouragement. For other local musicians it was simply a great opportunity to just enjoy playing.
Of course festivals are not really the place to come with a highly critical ear, but more about how the artists capture or generate a mood. Both Arlesford and Graze Festivals had two main music stages which allowed a virtually continuous flow of music so that while an artist was performing on one stage, the other stage could be set up for the next act. The provision of a big screen between the two stages meant that the performances could also be seen clearly from further away. There were other secondary stages that put on a full programme of artists although, for me, Arlesford’s beer tent stage did not work so well with the artists sometimes having to battle with the chatter by the bar or play to an inattentive audience. Being just a smaller evening event, Grattonbury just had the one stage giving a clear focus for the evening.
For me, the highlights were the True Strays who put on a rampaging set of swamp blues that conquered Arlesford’s Beer Tent Stage and became one of my favourite performances of the summer. Step on the Gas, who closed the show at Grattonbury, were the best covers band with some unusual choices including excellent versions of Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Message in a Bottle (The Police) besides material from The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who.
At the Graze, Grace Savage, a four-time UK beatboxing champion, provided a great showcase of her talent. Her vocal gymnastics left many in the audience gasping in astonishment. If those of advancing years can dance and move to her performance then she certainly did provide ‘a moment’!
My top discovery was the Curse of Lono who, with their often raunchy infused Americana, played an uplifting set for the brave rain sodden folk at the Graze Festival. They are currently creating a bit of a buzz and will be embarking on an autumn UK tour beginning at Winchester’s Railway Inn on November 22nd.
There have also been other opportunities to catch live outdoor music in and around Winchester. In the City itself there was Winchestival. Other events such as Arlesford’s Watercress Festival in May, Stockbridge’s Trout ‘n About Food and Craft Festival, the Cheese and Chilli Festival and Stanmore’s Party in the Park also had music stages even if music was not the main focus of the event.
What could they add?
Perhaps most noticeably the main form of entertainment missing was some stand up comedy, which is something that Winchestival has made central to its June event. However, one can imagine that any thought of including this in the programme would have to address how easily it sat with a family-orientated event.
The AMF was also helped by the provision of free shuttle busses to pick up and return festival goers to either Winchester or Alton train stations. Perhaps the Graze Festival could think about providing something along these lines such as a mini-bus service that would help reduce car traffic.
As autumn now approaches, this has been a great summer for live music in the area. It has been fun to both relax and dance, besides enjoying a range of other activities and attractions. Let’s hope for more of the same next year, and especially a sunny day for the Graze Festival. I hope its organisers have finally dried out!
[I would like to thank the Graze Festival for providing a free pass to the event.]
David also runs his own travel blog site at www.venturingnearandfar.com
The Winchester festivals
Arlesford Music Festival – attracted more than 4,500 and reportedly raised £10,000 in the process.
Grattonbury – attracted a few hundred.
Graze Festival –organisers believe just over 2,000 brave souls attended, which no doubt would have been more if the weather had been kinder.