There’s now a festival of alternative entertainment

During the olden times in which I grew up, festivals were a foreign thing. I know there was the Festival of Britain in 1951 but I had hardly begun to grow up by then and anyway it was a bit of a one-off to cheer people up after the war, wasn't it?

There was the Coronation in 1953 which I suppose you might call a celebration of the actual accession which was more of a sad necessity of succession that took place more than a year earlier following the untimely death of George VI. The one in the King's Speech.

We, along with the rest of the world, also had various kinds of harvest festivals but theirs were about music, eating, drinking, making merry and making love.

I still remember the revelation of my first F�te de l'Hu�tre on France's Atlantic coast, where people sat around all day in the sunshine quaffing oysters selected by sieved size and washed down with vast quantities of Muscadet.

Ours were about taking rusty tins that had lost their labels and a packet of out of date cake mix to school. (I sometimes wonder about how many residents of old people's homes we poisoned).


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Then came the 1970s, when, especially around here, the Albion fairs arrived, most famously at Barsham and Rougham.

They are well remembered, if you can ever get hold of a precious copy, in a book called The Sun in the East dedicated to 'the people who were and will be there, and for others who may not even know where East Anglia is'.

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It chronicles 'the brightness of a string of Fairs rising from the flat East for over a decade of summers, rays of lightness in a troubled time for the old island of Britain, known to some as Albion'.

If you weren't there, you won't remember them. Come to think of it, if you were there you probably won't remember much either.

They died away in the 1980s as summers of free love and selflessness gave way to selfishness.

Lately though, the festival has made a comeback and there are more of them now than old Albion could shake a Morris man's stick at.

Arts events like the Norfolk and Norwich Festival are enjoying a renaissance – in its own case having in recent years broken out of the triennial fustiness that restricted its upper classes-only appeal.

Music fests abound, some of them, like our own Latitude, with poetic, comedic, theatrical and literary knobs on.

Very soon, the festival season will enjoy a one-off boost of patriotism with the Jubilee and Olympics valiantly attempting to paper over the cracks with Union Jacks.

Maybe because we are 1970s throwbacks but more likely because we are political animals of leftish persuasion we tend to favour festivals that, beyond the entertainment they put out there, have something else, usually by way of a different sort of socio-political commentary, to add.

As at Halesworth's High Tide Festival last week for instance. It presents 'new theatre for adventurous audiences' in a self-professed 'challenging blend of high quality new writing, production and performance, all in a place where you'd least expect it'.

Our own taste of it this year was Ella Hickson's new London-bound play Boys, about which the writer says: 'It's a 24-hour party involving enough booze, drugs and drama to kill a small horse.' In truth, it's about the Class of 2011 stepping into a world that doesn't want them; boys who start to wonder whether there's any point in getting any older. The dark themes explore the complex challenges of relationships, hopes, ambitions, authoritarianism and rebellion. You can't get much more topically political than that; Messrs Cameron and Clegg should get themselves down to the Soho Theatre to take a look.

We couldn't even get tickets for Halesworth's premiere of Laura Poliakoff's Clockwork about what the 20-somethings of today will experience as they approach old age in a rundown nursing home that resembles a mortuary.

That brings me neatly on to 70-year-old troubadour Harvey Andrews, a favourite at Cromer's Folk on the Pier festival which enjoyed an unlikely 14th anniversary last weekend. His baby-boomer lament was for an earlier generation's youth, sung to remind successive governments that, 'You knew we were coming for 60 years now'.

I particularly like the verse:

Yes you knew we were coming, Maggie and Ted

Lord Home and Wilson and Callaghan said

There'd be a pension, a nurse and a bed

'Cause you knew we were coming, Maggie and Ted.

I'm no great follower of the finger-in-your-ear kind of folk music but never could resist Bob Dylan's defiance and Billy Bragg being bolshie.

Lately, though, it seems that the protest song is more about resignation than revolution.

Singer-songwriter Steve Knightley's Cutthroats, Crooks and Conmen rang out over the pier courtesy of the ironically named band Little Johnny England with its refrain:

There are cutthroats, crooks and conmen

Running this jail

Is there anything left in England

That's not for sale?

And the award-winning Oysterband's:

In the middle of a good time

Truth gave me her icy kiss

Look around, you must be joking

All that way, all that way for this.

Yup; I admit to preferring my entertainment with some left-wing political sauce on the side.

Its messages are catchier if you add their tunes but are still unlikely to make a difference, not least because those of conservative mind are noticeable by their absence from the auditorium.

Which is another good reason for going.

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