I have written at length about this wonderful gathering that happens in a beautiful field somewhere within spitting distance of junction 29 of the M1. It is an old festival, older than Glastonbury. Much has happened here over the years. One day soon there will be a book written.
That will be some read.
So to the current incarnation.
The beginning was not as planned for me when toothache and a trip to the dentist prevented me from arriving early enough to help with the set up and so it was Friday afternoon when I rolled the van onto the parking field.
On landing I took in the mostly familiar site, albeit at a different angle to normal, of the main stage, the hat block stage and bar, the craft stalls and a new addition…the third space. I checked in with the site team and after discovering that we (Rhythmbridge) were not on the Artists list, I was given my armband anyway.
It’s good to own a familiar face sometimes.
I took myself off a walking about the site and met and greeted many old friends, dropped into the Hat Block to sample a fine ale and before I knew it, I was seated in the oh so familiar willow circle, drumming in the opening ceremony.
‘Stainsby’ whispered the wind.’Remember? Something deep in my psyche responded and a ‘Stainsby consciousness’ fell upon me.
I was home. Again.
How is it that you can land in a place only once a year and feel so immediately at one with it all. Not just with the land but with the folk who are on it? Even the ones you have not met yet? This is the magic of Stainsby.
The Rhythmbridge crew were due to arrive Sat morning to prepare for the Drum Circle which always takes place at noon in the Willow Circle. Whilst waiting I had a few discussions with Chris Ellis, from the Artist Team, about location. The sky looked water laden and by the time the crew arrived it was raining. We opted for the Third Space, a new venue which was used over the weekend for talks, discussion, film and theatre.
I was concerned that I might not be able to ‘facilitate’ in my usual way due to the layout. Large central post and the presence of a stage meant we had a set up which might hinder sight-lines for participants. I sorted out drum selection and with the help of site crew and two landrover runs we got the gear to the venue with no bother. My crew had taken charge of room set up and had managed to create a central circle with another around the outside. Fabulous. People were already arriving and we also posted someone at the Willow Circle to redirect those who would arrive there instead and made a Tannoy announcement regarding the change of space.
Before long the room was rammed full of people playing drums and percussion. Inside the space had been lined with blackout material, onto the surface of which were attached small white LED lights…like a billion tiny stars. On stage a large screen was pulsing with images that were triggered by the rhythms via an i-pad app.This was a very different kind of drum circle to the outdoor willow circle. The sound was more concentrated and the dark environment along with visuals added a trance like feel to the proceedings. The was also a lighting rig on the centre pole which allowed the ‘venue manager to give me some illumination in the middle of the circle. No worries about folk being able to see me now and by moving constantly in the round and around the pole, I could make sure sight-line was not an issue either.
Suffice to say I was able to facilitate as normal and we drummed and sang away for an hour that passed in the blink of an eye.
It was amazing, if a little warm due to the brewing up of a storm outside in the sultry afternoon air. We will be back there next year again. It was too good not to repeat. A new direction. One inside. One outside.
I love how this place throws up this kind of dance. Oh no! It’s raining. We can’t be in the Willow Circle. What do we do? Throw a Hissy Fit? Insist on better weather? Of course not. It’s Stainsby. We go with the flow of things. Always….and always without fail magic happens.
Serendipity awaits those who let go of the plan.
Drums were unloaded from the venue by a crack team of zen-ninja packers who carried equipment through the rain to backstage storage without getting it wet!!!
This is always a point in time for me. First circle up and done and a great one at that. There’s a buzz about the space and I know that my work is done for today. Off to the Artist backstage area for a bit of grub and then away to the bar for a scoop or two. It’s warm and sunny and the Rhythmbridge team are happy drinking ale in the sun and catching up with friends old and newly made.
It’s all about to change. You can feel it coming. A sudden drop in temperature and a darkening of the sky above. The first drops send us back into the bar with our chairs where we find a nice spot side of the stage. We settle down to drink a pint and listen to a Stainsby debutant, Rebecca Maze. This will be a memorable gig for her. Some way into her set the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightening heralded the oncoming storm. It’s ferocity took out a few catering tents and caused a power down onsite for safety as well as producing a swamp like feel to the floor of the Hat Block temporarily. Rebecca had to curtail her warbling for a moment whilst we waited out the storm before coming back to finish off in style. We stopped in the bar awhile to watch the wonderful Enda Kenny perform before heading out into the warmth of the post storm sunshine.
Food was needed by this point in proceedings and so we ate in the Artist’s diner to the sound of the Didge being played by Sika Rose
Sated and wrapped in evening garb and with pint in hand, myself and the irrepressible Mrs Dear, my lifelong companion, got ourselves back on the field for the end of the Hiroshima Peace Flame Ceremony and then found the best seat in the house for Praying for the Rain This band has an enormous array of talent at it’s disposal and vocal harmonies that move you into higher realms. Their songs build in layers that draw you in and are arranged with a deft touch.The concert was hugely enjoyable but I am always left feeling/wishing they were a little bit more ‘wild and carefree’ from time to time.
Music over it was time for the bar, more drink, merriment and then bed.
Sunday was warm and close as we mosyed downhill for a breakfast bap of bacon and egg, washed down with a mug of tea. The weather looked to be perfect for an outdoor circle and so a lazy morning was spent watching the world go by and then loading drums and percussion into the circle and waiting for the Pirate storytelling session to come to an end. Amazingly some 40-50 people sat patiently for about 40 mins without playing. (Timekeeping not a Pirate strength methinks…Arrrrrrgh) Time came and we drummed, sang and wiggled a bit. It was a wonderfully rhythmical communion. Every year folk return to the same spot on the field to come together in a kind of rhythmical alchemy, making spontaneous and connecting music every time. I have to thank my teacher/mentor Arthur Hull for opening this door for me…and tell a wee story into the bargain.
My Drum Circle journey began right here at Stainsby long before I had completed any training with Arthur. I was asked by a drumming colleague to cover a gig for him as he had a double booking. “It’s for about 7-50-100 people” he had said. I had the equipment but didn’t think either an African style drum class would work and didn’t have enough Samba gear for that many. “It has to be some kind of jam” I told him. I agreed to do the gig and he posted me a copy of Arthur’s first book ‘Drum Circle Spirit: Facilitating Human Potential Through Rhythm’ as he thought it might have a few ideas I could use in it. I had at that point I think ( memory help me here) sat in on a facilitated circle with Arthur in Leeds. I read the book, turned up at Stainsby and the rest as they say is history. The drum circle is now a part of the programming and my colleague lost a fabulous gig. Thanks for that mate.
Once again under the cover of the earth itself the zen ninjas facilitated the removal of the drums from the willow circle and they were promptly hidden within plain sight. Lunch and a wee rest were followed by an audience with a legend.
Step forward Mr Robin Williamson Playing with the freedom and skill that only his experience could allow he enthralled a captive aufience.
Many moons ago myself and Mrs Dear would journey south in the summer to Corwall with our three kids in tow. Mr Williamson would accompany us on the journey with his bardic tales series which we would play on cassette over and over. I was delighted when chatting with Robin after the gig to discover that they will be re-issued on digital format some time soon. I’ll be in that queue.
My thoughts turned now towards Sunday evening. Prior to the festival this year I had been told that a favourite band of mine were to possibly reform for the festival and one other gig. This was confirmed when founder member Brian Boothby contacted me to ask if I would be interested in accompanying them on a couple of tracks on the djembe at the festival.
Is the Pope Catholic? Do Bears…..you get the jist. I was delighted by the possibility and also deeply honored and a little nervous.The previous drummer John Thorne passed away in the summer of 2012 and I recall reading Brian’s words at the time.
Sadly Tomorrows Ancestor’s longstanding drummer, John Thorne, passed away after a six month struggle with cancer. Deeply missed by many for his solid, sympathetic and supportive nature, not to mention his solid and supportive drumming, he leaves a massive gap not just in Tomorrows Ancestor, but in the whole community. He will be a very hard act to follow, should the need arise for yet another TA reunion. ‘Spread the love’, was the motto I heard him use more than any.
I met up with Brian and with Ben Dalglish ( also from Loscoe State and erstwhile flute/whistle/djembe player) and the rest of the band Dave Sturt (Bass player with Gong), Jeff Davenport (Drums) and Ed Sanders (Fiddle) for a sound check. It went very well until the end. Sound engineer John Ramsey informed us with a loud roar and the calculated throwing of a chair that the settings on the digital desk had not been saved. We must sound check again. But not right now . Enda Kenny had a performance to do. Beyond that there was a Ritual burning of the Wicker Man and a closing ceremony to negotiate.
We ended up with a 15 minute pre gig window in which time the amazing Mr Ramsey re checked the whole band. We were ready to play. Well everyone else was. It had been agreed that I would join for the last 4 tracks, more than I had anticipated. It did mean however a test of my ability to stay in the moment. I was out front and dancing with Mrs Dear when the set began but all I could think was “Fuck…i’m going to be up there in a bit”
The band played a wonderful set and connected deeply with the audience and after a quick check with Ken Johnson, stage manager, they announced the arrival of a guest and friend….Time came for me to play. I hopped onto the stage from the wings almost knocking myself out on a lighting rig, instinct dodging my head at the last moment.
I took my seat and we played 3 more songs before coming back onstage to perform the song with the band’s name…Tomorrows Ancestor. It was a deeply profound experience and a privilege for me and I cannot express my gratitude enough for being given this opportunity.
As if that was not enough I then joined Ben on the Hat Block stage for a late night acoustic jam with festival favourites The Lost Padres
What a way to finish the evening. How happy was I? We sat and played outside the bar after the session finished until the wee small hours. Monday and Tuesday were set down days and I stayed on this year to put in a few shifts in the boiling sunshine. Hard but rewarding work.
A crew meal and fire follOwed and the most interesting chicken related evening I can recall. (You really had to be there)
Suffice it to say I will end this part of the blog with this statement.
Chicken’s can Fly 😉
Thank You Stainsby from the bottom of my melting heart. See you on the field next year.
Stainsby Festival has an appeal running right now which could raise the funds to buy the site outright and give us the Festival in perpetuity. If you want to help please visit the appeals section of the website here