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Canal festivals and folk festivals - similar beasts

(June 14, 2017)

Basking in the (all too rare) English sunshine I was struck by the similarity between canal festivals and folk festivals. The atmosphere. The stalls. The peace. The ambiance. The smells. The sounds. The people - many ex-hippies that left the Marrakesh Express for the Watford Staircase. Even the music ... as singers and bands arrived on the various stages to entertain the masses (well the several hundred that had turned up) ... had a folk festival air. There was a distinct feeling of barely-organised familiarity that clung to the gentle breeze.

Now I'm old enough and astute enough to know that these events do not run themselves and behind the facade of rural bumbling is a well-organised system run by dedicated individuals to make sure everything goes as planned. However, and this is the point ... it was handled delicately enough to make you feel as if it wasn't there. Nothing heavy nor 'in your face'. There are also various 'camps' of humanity that descend on both folk and canal festivals. You can even spot them at the odd craft fair. 

First 'camp' - the ex-hippies with long and/or straggly hair, flat caps, waistcoats and cloth neckerchiefs. They chatted, drank beer and ate pasties while doing that most wonderful of human pastimes 'nothing in particular'. Indeed, everything about them could be aimed at the folk music fraternity. 

Second 'camp' - Joe Ordinary and Mrs 2.4 children. The groups and families that also wander around, not to look at the narrowboats or frequent the stalls selling Bonfire-Roast Winkles. They spend their time ogling the 'weird' people or poorly invest their dwindling cash in the patently fixed 'Chain the Duck' or 'Knock Down the Tins' stalls.

You must have noticed them at folk festivals ... nudging each other to point out yet another 'old weird-beard' or 'middle-aged woman-in-a-tie-dye'. You can almost feel the wonderment as they stare. “Look over there Tarquin, hippies." And the ever present: "How quaint - do you really live on that?"
All the same, there was peaceful and gentle toleration. You never know ... one day a few of them could convert.


The Morris dancers were there, rubbing shoulders with the acoustic acts. The singers and mummers bobbed along together. The storytellers sat with spellbound children glued to every word. The old and gnarled boaters squatted on the ground along with the dreadlocked Patchouli-oiled hippies and tuned in to the folk acts on stage. 

And it was good. Then the light fades. And as it turned towards darkness the crazies gathered. They came in groups. They never hunt alone. Always in packs. 

Spotty youths with shaved heads and what appeares to be curtain rings and industrial grade washers through their noses. Stupid tattoos on their necks that mean nothing at all and have no basis in culture or message. Hoodies that don't make them look menacing - just chilly. And armed with their cans of 'Strong-but-Tasteless' lagers, they become increasingly louder and more obnoxious.

The ageing hippies when stared at, stare back. Sometimes with veiled amusement and usually an indulgent smile. After all it's your problem. These intellectual midgets ask: "You lookin' at me mate?" Actually, no. Nothing would induce me to look at you ... all you did was cross my field of vision. And no, I'm neither impressed nor alarmed. This situation brought to mind the thought that many folk/ craft/ country/ canal-side events, which were once havens of peace, seem to now attract an increasing number of these apparently sense-deprived creatures.

Why? Where do they spring from? Is it the supposedly eclectic mix of music that brings them out? Is it the desire to prove something? Is it boredom? Or is it that there are now so many of them that they are steadily infecting every gathering of humans. I expect no answers. The probably aren't any. It's just an old man asking a question.

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