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Time to Party July 30, 2012

Posted by markswill in About me, That's Entertainment.

So much has happened since I last scribbled, most of it pretty dismal, that when finally motivated to resume hostilities last week, I was full of despair and bile. In fact I actually wrote 90% of a rancorous epistle but abandoned it during the final sprint towards Sheep Music, the aftermath of which rather changed my mind, and certainly my mood. From which there are perhaps lessons to be learnt.

So Sheep Music: discuss. Some may know of my involvement in this Welsh Marches festival tradition, indeed I was its first ever (and embarrassingly bad) compere in 1992, when it was basically just a couple of hundred friends having a party a field overlooking Presteigne. I’d obviously persuaded the local newspaper I then edited to become its first sponsor and the bands, playing on a flat-bed trailer, included a rather great all-girl soul outfit and a band called Bob, named after the Border Terrier who sat stage front looking singularly unimpressed throughout. But the sun shone, the booze flowed as easily as the music, and we had fun.

In later years it all got more serious, or at least bigger, and by the mid-noughties Sheep Music was a three day affair attracting up to 4000 people with two tented stages, an all-night disco and copious face-painting. But in 2007 the heavens opened, the river below the town meadow site flooded the camping field and the result was a quagmire.

Sunday morning 2007

Sunday morning, 2007

We stewards then spent several grueling hours removing tents and their contents to higher ground, in the dark, whilst their blissfully unaware owners boogied on down 400 yards away.  As a consequence subsequent attendance was minimal and we lost lots of money. “Never again” was the communal cry from the shattered, dispirited organisers who, incidentally, are unpaid volunteers: Sheep Music Ltd is a charity which recycles any profits into local music education.

But in 2009 we just couldn’t help ourselves, having raised enough seed capital from small events and grants to justify, as we must do by law, having another go. And that’s because it’s a kind of tribal celebration fondly entrenched in the community, bringing those who’ve moved away for whatever reason back to have a good time with those who haven’t. Never aspiring to become a Glasto or even a Secret Garden Party, and run by amateurs aided by deeply discounted services from local suppliers, ticket prices are affordable and, notwithstanding the internet’s ubiquity, its marketing extends little further than a 40 miles radius.

And in 2009 I took on that marketing, and also ticket sales and managing some 30 gate stewards. And it rained, not as unremittingly as in ’07, but enough to deter sufficient ‘walk-ups’ on Saturday and Sunday to make a profit. Plus, after weeks of 16-18 hour days, my immune systems were trashed and I succumbed to pneumonia immediately it ended.

But to try and refill the coffers, in 2010 we sort of did it again with evening events over two consecutive weekends in the geodesic dome we’d bought to house community events. The ‘Dome Alone’ gigs were a success musically and fund-raising-wise, but still no-one really had the appetite for another full-on three-dayer. Except, that is, for a bunch of 18-22 year-olds, weaned on endless summery Sheep Musics, who were very much up for it, delighting those of us keen to pass down the proverbial baton. All the original trustees resigned, to be replaced by myself and a trio of oldsters who kept a fatherly but hopefully not condescending eye on the young bloods.

But as is the nature of these things, what they had in enthusiasm and new ideas, they sometimes lacked in perspective and experience. And of course when you’re running such an event in the 21st Century, debilitating irritations like Health & Bloody Safety, child protection, multi-lateral licensing and security can’t be ignored. So as July 20th loomed and the heavy lifting got heavier, some of the new management team inevitably fell by the wayside. And considering the crap summer we’d had so far, the forecast was for a wet weekend which threatened to turn the site into a paddy field again, so we trustees had to impose expensive and complicated contingency measures. And when it became clear that cancelation would prove more expensive than going ahead and having to restore a muddied site, we had to step up to the plate and help the young ‘uns meet the burgeoning deadlines.

Sunday morning, 2012

Sunday morning, 2012

So just as I’d begun working a hugely welcome publishing contract, like the rest of the trustees I had to get my hands dirty and resembling a hippy nightclub bouncer, run around a lot with a walkie-talkie from 8.30am ‘til 3 or 4am during the final day of build week and the festival itself. But in the event it didn’t rain, the hitherto soggy turf quickly dried out, across five diverse venues the music was a blast and the reward of all those glowing (and thankfully sunburnt) punters’ faces compounded the camaraderie that quickly builds during the endless fire-fighting that is running a festival.  Yes, there were some hideous moments, e.g. the main generator failing at 11pm on Friday plunging everything into silent darkness before the back-up kicked in five minutes later, a couple of violent exchanges on the campsite (girls in both cases, oddly), a desperate last minute race to Hereford to get illuminated Fire Exit signs, the usual lost children and drunks, cleaning overwhelmed porta-loos at night (such joy)… plus clearing up umpteen skiploads of rubbish, tons of coconut matting and 600 yards of fencing etc., afterwards. But even the beyond-exhausted organisers, incongruous in our day-glo bibs and dangling walkies, still found the energy to dance like grinning loons to Sunday night’s headliners, Keymono.

A week later I’ve finally caught up on my sleep, the last of the marquees and the stonking great 75KvA generators have gone (charmingly named ‘Spitfire’ and ‘Hurricane’), but the glow of satisfaction remains,

Fellow trustee Richard G. and self with ‘Spitfire’, the power behind the thrown.

even if, as a fellow trustee wryly noted it was, “Just a few thousand people. Having a party. In a field.”

For some proper pics of this year’s event, check out ‘official’ photographer Alex Ramsay’s FarceBerk page: http://tinyurl.com/d3cl3ef

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