Bromyard was back, and what a joyous occasion it was with friends old and new catching up with the festival experience that they had missed. A real sense of camaraderie and spirit was evident among all the various groups of people needed to run a festival of this size. The weather was kind, although I got the sense that whatever had happened, the various organising strands and teams would have coped. COVID precautions were in place throughout the site. It felt safe. The Food Court saw the return of most of the Bromyard regulars. They had survived the break and were pleased to be back.
I was there without any official brief to report on the festival; I had looked out my tent and was there to relax and enjoy the festival as part of a much-needed personal break. Photography is something I enjoy, so I couldn’t resist taking photographs. Those here give a flavour of the multifaceted event which Bromyard is. My selection of photographs makes no claim to be comprehensive; some of my personal magical moments were not recorded, but a slightly more complete view was made possible in this feature by including images by Ben Potton.
Another reason for my being at Bromyard was because of a twinning relationship which Bromyard Folk Festival, Girvan Folk Festival (Ayrshire) and The Johnny Doherty Music and Dancing Festival (Donegal) have been developing since 2019 and over lockdown. What this relationship has given me, has been a deeper understanding of the strains that COVID has put on organisers. Big decisions have had to be taken at various points and at times it was difficult to remain optimistic. Although rarely spoken out loud, there was an underlying fear that events postponed might eventually turn into events lost.
Bromyard has a strong relationship with Warwick Folk Festival – which was to have moved to a new site close to Warwick Castle a few weeks earlier in the season. Warwick had to cancel owing to COVID-related restrictions. Sidmouth, another major summer festival had managed to put on a restricted range of activities in the town, but effectively had to bear a further year of semi-cancellation. To see other festivals falling during the summer season must have made the Bromyard organisers nervous.
But despite any nerves, the festival weekend was a great one. There were many familiar faces around, including Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman, and John Heydon, long time director of The National Festival, Haddenham Ceilidhs and Sidmouth. Steve Heap paid a visit, although I missed him. And it was great to see Dave Hunt out and about, sporting his Gold Badge and playing with Earlsdon Morris.
The programme referred to the festival as being scaled back. It wasn’t obvious. There was always plenty of choice and opportunities to see people in a variety of venues. Of the booked guests, I was particularly glad to have the chance to hear Nick Hart, whose set of traditional English songs made me go straight off to buy his latest CD. Conventional wisdom says that you need groups to perform on the bigger concert stages, but often the direct communication of a solo artist can trump that. I saw Nick Hart in an afternoon concert in the main stage marquee; he had the audience captivated, singing along as if it were an intimate folk club venue – no mean achievement. The Breath, a duo comprising Ríoghnach Connolly and Stuart McCallum were also new to me. Ríoghnach has a stunning voice and a great rapport with the audience. I felt a bit underwhelmed with their choice of material; they chose to focus more on their own songs rather than traditional songs from their repertoire. There have been some legendary women singers from Ireland, all with big personalities, unique voices and great songs. Ríoghnach Connolly could join those ranks.
Crows always impress and did so once again. And more great music was provided by She Shanties, Calan and Breabach, amongst others. There was plenty of music evident on the campsite and lively sessions in the beer and food tents. Will Allen and Martin Clarke, the musicians from Brown Boots, made a great contribution to the festival through their formal concert sets, their ceilidh music with Urban Folk Theory, playing for dance teams and through their participation in the various sessions. The sessions had a youthful element to them; a good sign and a tribute to hard work by Bromyard Folk Festival over many years.
There were Friends of Flos sessions in the Falcon Bar over the weekend - Flos Headford, fiddle player with Old Swan Band having been a huge influence on the resurgence of the English music which was in evidence at Bromyard in ceilidhs and sessions. Apparently Flos hasn’t been in the best of health recently, so ‘friends’ stepped in to keep his seat warm.
Over 10 dance sides added colour to the town and the festival site. Bromyard Festival Director, Lynne Barker, dances with Soft Option, an Appalachian precision stepping style dance side. Pre-lockdown, she couldn’t contemplate life without her weekly dance sessions. During lockdown that weekly habit was broken, and she resigned herself to the fact that her dancing days might be over. One of the most uplifting moments for me about Bromyard 2021 was seeing Soft Option dancing again. They had made it! That alone made the journey to Bromyard worthwhile.