Reg Meuross on Folk Festivals 2018

Reg Meuross on Playing Folk Festivals (written for Folk London Magazine April/May 2018)

Reg Meuross with Daoiri Farrell at Beverley Festival 2017 – photo Northern Sky Mag

I love the cross pollination of ages and musical styles at festivals, the buzz and the camaraderie. They are such great places for any artist to expand their audience and their own musical boundaries.

You could poll a cross section of musicians on their five favourite festivals and I’m sure all the answers would be different. Of course there would be some overlaps. How many would say they didn’t enjoy playing to 23,000 people from the only stage at Fairport’s Cropredy, for example? When you know there can’t be any clash with other stages since there aren’t any.  Clashes at most festivals are unavoidable. I remember at Sidmouth several people apologising to me before my concert in the Parish Church began because they would need to leave near the end of my set so as not to miss the start of Jon Boden’s solo set elsewhere in the town. We had tried our very best not to clash. My solution was to suggest to those who had to leave that they wait until the end of a song and then leave with a smile and a wave so I wouldn’t think they were walking out on me because they weren’t enjoying the concert. This was such a success that some people admitted to me later that they had decided to stay because the exits were so entertaining.

I am proud to be the patron of two great festivals, the village festival of

with Chris Deacon at Bridport Folk Festival 2017

Priston, near Bath, and the new Bridport Folk Festival in Dorset. A huge amount of work goes in to making these festivals a success and it’s good to feel part of the team, and help where I can. Priston is the brainchild of Owain and Sue Jones, a couple of regular Glastonbury goers who live in the village and thought it might be a nice idea to run their own festival. The staff as far as I can tell are volunteers from the village, the only professionals being Will and his sound crew. Everything is on a small scale and there is a beauty about that. People stop and chat, all the artists are accessible, and Sue and Owain are ever present, organising and filming and even listening and dancing. The fact is it couldn’t get much bigger without having to move elsewhere, it is bound by the village bounds and is perfect for that. On a similar scale is The New Forest Folk Festival, run by two brothers, Nick & Keith Curtis from Plaitford who, with some guidance from Richard Digance decided to use their land for pursuits other than farming. What has grown up is a gorgeous award winning summer event in idyllic surroundings, where again the brothers are totally hands on and the family do the catering and everyone helps out on what also appears to be a voluntary, or in return for tickets basis.

at Priston Festival 2017 photo credit Barry Savell

Festivals are excellent showcases for artists and shop windows for the audience. Many artists have increased their audience, cd sales or bookings by appearing as opener on a headline bill. One of my most profound experiences in this respect was when I was booked for Cropredy in 2015. I’d asked a friend who knew the festival well how many CDs I should take, and his reply was “Fill up your car!” So I did and I was selling & signing CDs for over two hours. Many of the people who saw me and bought my albums that day have stuck with me loyally ever since. Another good example of this is the Costa Del Folk Festival, which I have played in both Mallorca and Portugal. The audience at that festival is not local but from all over Britain. So already during this year’s touring in places as diverse as Chester and Inverness I’ve had people approaching me who saw me at Portugal or Cropredy or Skegness etc.

For me a festival gig can be wonderful exposure, like being featured on a folk radio show it is an opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. It’s also a chance to check out some of the artists you’ve heard of but never seen, as well as catch up with great old friends on the circuit who you otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to see. One of the highlights in this respect is the chance to call on them to join you on stage. This can be a real treat for both the artist and the audience. Last year at Beverley I got my old friend Daoiri Farrel to join me for a couple of songs, and at the same festival in the themed ‘songs of 1967’ concert I glanced over my shoulder while singing ‘Turn Turn Turn’ to see Daphne’s Flight ready and tuned and humming along so I invited them to join me for Cohen’s Bird on a Wire. This turned out to be a highlight moment of my season.

When I am offered a booking at a festival, my manager/agent Katie will usually suggest I run a songwriting Q&A or workshop as part of the programme. These are a wonderful opportunity for artist and audience to come together and for me it’s an invaluable insight into what draws people to my music. For workshop participants it’s a chance for them to learn about the craft of songwriting and for me to pass on tips and techniques and sometimes there’s time for me to listen to a couple of their songs too. I’ve had many memorable workshop experiences at Festivals but the one that springs to the forefront of my mind was at Trowbridge Village Pump, a festival I have played for many years through its various changes. I was sittin in the workshop marquee waiting for participants but no one came in, so I decided to go out and sit on the grass and play and see what happened. Immediately an old friend and Radio DJ from Ireland came and sat with me and asked me to play ‘Jealous’ as he’d never been quite able to figure out the chords (you can find a link on youtube by googling Reg Meuross Terry Helyar Jealous). I played him the song and an audience gathered round. Spots of rain began to appear so I suggested we retire to the empty marquee, the audience followed and within about ten minutes the rain picked up and the marquee was full to bursting and I continued to play and talk and listen and answer questions and play requests for over an hour, and enjoy one of the most satisfying folk festival performances of my entire career. Very few of the people in the tent that day knew who I was, they had just come to get out of the rain, but you could see and feel them engage with the stories and the whole experience. I can’t think of any other circumstances where such a thing could occur. It felt like a pop up concert or solo flash mob.

If I were asked to give advice to young artists just starting out on how to play festivals I would say:  don’t wing it, but go prepared. Work out what you feel is your strongest set and play as if everyone is hearing you for the first time. Pull out all the stops. Once you’ve made it to headline status you can experiment more and offer new material etc but until then think of a festival spot as a showcase and an opportunity to gain a new audience and show everyone what you can do. And I would also say make sure you look good! One of my personal hates is musicians who go out onto a stage in tee shirts and shorts! The audience can do that but not you. Ok it may be hot and you’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days, but that’s no excuse. The bottom line is this is show business. Even folk is show business, so make a show.

Make those few minutes that you are on stage between or before all those other illustrious artists your own, and be as good as you can be.

Wishing you all some great festivals this year and beyond. See you out there.

Reg

One Response to Reg Meuross on Folk Festivals 2018

  1. Catherine HAITH says:

    Hi Reg. Looking 4ward 2 catching u again at the Black Lion in Epping.

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Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller