I’m standing in a muddy field in Somerset in the pouring rain, listening to bands, dancing like a loon and drinking cider. You might think I was at Glastonbury. I’m not. I’m in Galhampton, a little village that you’ve probably never heard of, which has been running a successful music festival for the past seven years on their village green.
The South West of England is currently in the middle of a severe weather alert. Rain has been lashing down like stairrods for the last twelve hours and roads are flooded all over the place. The festival was supposed to kick off at 12pm, but the first two acts had to cancel due to the fact that the organisers hadn’t been able to get the stage up in time. Parking which would usually be in the field backing onto the village green has been hastily moved two miles down the road to the local milk depot, where there’s hard standing rather than deep clay mud, and shuttle buses organised. This works out well for me: my brother Jim lives – ooh – about two miles south of the village. As he’s my festival partner for the day this means that we’ll be able to hitch a lift mere minutes from his front door, rather than hiking half an hour across the fields, which had been our original plan. Perfect.
When we arrive at the milk depot there’s a minibus ready to leave. We jog through the gate, to the confusion of the parking stewards, two bedraggled but cheerful local women. Lovely day for a stroll, innum! You got tickets? What you doin’ walkin’ from up there, then? Oh, you lives that way? Arrr! G’wan then – bus might be full, but there’ll be another ‘un in ten minutes an’ there’s tea ’n’ cakes while ‘ee waits.
This isn’t like any other festival that you’ve been to before.
For a start, Galhampton village green is a proper, old-fashioned village green. There’s a slide and a climbing frame, but they’re solid rather than fancy, built to withstand rough and tumble treatment. The grass is kept under control, but there’s no pretension that this is anything other than a useful open space for people to use as they will. In short, it’s a mown field. It isn’t big, but then neither is the village, which only has 400 inhabitants. Put a blow up stage, some marquees and 1300 people (the festival’s capacity) on it and it’s buzzing.
Party in the Park has been running in Galhampton since 2005, when a few bright sparks decided that having a concert would be a good way to raise money for the village hall. It was so successful that it’s now a yearly event – and yes, profits continue to go towards the village hall. In many ways, it’s more a village fete than a festival. Food comes in the form of hog-roast, supplied by a local butcher, drink is from a local microbrewery, and there is a dedicated children’s activity tent. Despite the cosy atmosphere, however, the stage is professionally set up, with a full rig of lights and complement of speakers.
The bands still change in the village hall, though.
Walk around the ground and it’ll take you ten minutes and you’ll probably run into ten people you know. Children are left to run freely, controlled by the fact that everyone knows who they are. Today, most of the kids attending are rolling around on the ground, taking advantage of their waterproofs to get as dirty as possible. I spot three small boys covered from head to toe in mud, devouring sausages, and ask their dad if I can take their photo. He looks mildly surprised that I would even ask. “Of course! I’m only sorry I cleaned them up …”
Small boys aren’t the only ones enjoying the mud. Groups of pale-skinned English roses in identikit outfits – denim hotpants over opaque black tights, Dad’s woolly socks and green wellies coupled with SuperDry jackets, unbrushed hair and too much eyeliner – flirt with rosy-cheeked boys in baggy jeans and sensible coats by doing their best to get muddy handprints on their bottoms. The more daring do high kicks and aim for bootprints. There’s a lot of shrieking and giggling going on while Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs, on stage, banter with the crowd. “You can buy our CDs after the show. Buy 100 and use ‘em to keep the birds off yer turnips! Mind you, lads: better to have the birds *on* yer turnips, eh?” The boys go red to the ends of their hair and the girls begin feigning cool disinterest. Hobo Jones and his Dogs guffaw and continue the set.
Afternoon turns to evening. The rain lets up for an hour or so and then starts again. Worms, disturbed by the wet ground and people stomping around above them, come to the surface in droves. We return to the cider tent.
Oh lawdy: the cider tent.
I may be more of a lightweight than I was when I moved to Italy three years ago, but I can still hold my drink. (You can take the girl out of Somerset, but you can never take the Somerset out of the girl.) Two pints of Black Rat, though, and my brother and I are ready to fall over. ‘Ee’s good stuff, see. We’re just considering bailing out early when we realise that next to the stage there’s a tea tent.
Cider, home-made cakes and cups of restorative tea? This isn’t just a festival, it’s a proper Westcountry festival. As we say round these parts: it’s gert lush, my babber. Now get stuck in.