For a little while, I've been doing daily updates on Facebook about why you should donate to Stainsby...here they are. If you feel the same as I do, please donate now
Lots of people get to pick up an instrument or sing for the first time at Stainsby. Because it feels natural for people to be carrying and playing instruments, they get shared - I've given a couple of first flute/whistle lessons myself to kids who've said "can I have a go?" and all over the place, you see people showing their mates how to hold a guitar, or other people just joining in with the singing because everybody else is. A couple of years later, they're entering the singing competition...
2. The Singers' Competition
Every year, we hold a competition, open to all (except of course all the jaded pro's who try to sneak in...).Even if you've never performed in public before - or even in the shower - you can sing us a song (or a few, by the time you reach the final) - and if you win, you get given a gig next year.
I'll repeat that. The judges are all experienced, (and we usually manage to persuade headline acts to sit on the panels), they give honest assessments at the end, and whoever impresses us all the most gets offered a "proper" paid Main Stage spot for the following year's festival. This gives them one year to get their act out on the road, build up their set etc., and them come back and play to a tent of 500 people with the finest sound system in the country.
Sometimes, it doesn't work - the act decides they're not up for it for one reason or another. On the whole though, they come back next year, and are indistinguishable from every other professional on the stage. At some point (after I've done my research!) I'll hunt out names, but I'll just end with the story of last year's winner, Calum Read. He first entered three years ago (or four? .I'm getting old, and the, ermm, memory thing....) I was on his first-round panel for his first, 15-year-old-or-something attempt. He lost, but I said at the time "keep coming - you'll win this one year". He kept coming...and he did. Congrats to him, and I look forward to introducing him to y'all in July.
You know the "Birthday Problem"? A famous little maths puzzle - how many people do you need to make it more likely than not that two share the same birthday? The answer is surprisingly low - 23. (With 70 people, the chance is 99.9%, believe it or not.) Well, I reckon if you took any 10 random people from our field, you'd find that at least two were related, one lives next door to another's mum, and one was in the next tent when the first one was born.
We're now on at least our third generation of festival-goers, if not our fourth. (I keep planning on one day organising a meet-up of all the "Every-single-year-since-they-were-born" club....I'd be surprised if it wasn't at least 100, with a sprinkling of 30 and 40 year olds in there.) Stainsby has always been a "family festival", but never in the Disney-fied Center-Parks "provide some entertainment for the 'kiddies' so the parents can get a break" way. Toddlers start off absorbing the music outside from the security of their sleeping bag, then get to stay up a little later and learn the tunes, then pick up a guitar when they're 12 and run away off to the next group of tents, 'cos that's where all the cool teenagers are jamming....
It's families that volunteer, organise, set it up and run it. Many of the staff and crew are now the grandchildren of the original lot (I'm trying my best to catch up - two children involved already, and the third will be as soon as she can pronounce "Dick Gaughan"!). This, more than anything, is what I think of when I say "folk music". There's a moment in the summer when a huge family can draw together and play music together - passing it on from generation to generation. Sure - I love a bit of finger-in-yer-ear myself, but I'm just as thrilled to walk by the fire and see a 14-year old being show the chords to a Beatles song, or even that bleedin' Nirvana riff...
Please - help me be able to carry on showing kids how to avoid X-Factor and become real musicians. Donate now.
4. The Opening Ceremony.
From church to football matches, I've always thought that deep down, there's a basic desire in people to come together and sing. Now, I'm no archeao-musicologist, but does anybody picture 5,000 people at Stonehenge standing around in the rain for 2 hours listening to a Druid natter on and slaughter a sheep *without* then getting a good hearty chorus of "Let's Kill The Romans?" in? Didn't think so.
We start Stainsby every year with a small ceremony. (We finish with one as well, and if I start running out of ideas in a few weeks UNLESS YOU LOT HAVE GIVEN US SOME MONEY, I might have to pull that one out of the bag - but anyway...) . It's probably about as organised as your average Celtic bash - at some point on the Friday evening when there seems like enough people around, there's a frantic bit of running around, some shouting of "Anyone seen Ken?", grabbing odd musicians from the bar, a bit more "Where's Ken?", we make loads of noise on drums borrowed from Paul and converge on the only-just-finished-in-time-but-isn't-it-lovely willow circle, where our very own druid puts on his groovy leather hat, welcomes everyone (a few hundred by this time - "what the bloody hell's that banging? - Oh - it's the ceremony thingy"...), and then we all ("Has anyone found Ke..ah - there he is") join in the choruses to Ken's "The Farmer's Song" - proper call-and-response stuff - whilst magically an Angel Card appears in everyone's hands.
If you wanted to start a secular "let's just give thanks to the land and the open air and each other and music and life"-type church, you probably couldn't find a better model than this. It's not over-dressed, over-ritualistic or pretentious in any way - it's just our little "let's have a bit of a sing" beginning to the weekend. At the same time though, for me, it symbolises pretty much everything reason I do this.
5. The Mud.
Some of you softy Southerners may not appreciate this, but this far oop-North, every day in July, it's a toss-up as to whether it'll p*ss it down or not. (And June and August, for that matter). Some years, we've been lucky - 3 dry sunny days. Many years, not - and these are the years that enter into legend.
The trouble is, our field's on a slope. Not just any old slope - it's a complex 3D fractal curve of a slope that requires a couple of geniuses with PhD's in topology to get the stages flat every year. So, when it rains, and there are Land Rovers and marquee-lorries and sound-trucks and 100-odd people walking up and down before the festival even starts, you can imagine the quagmire once we open the gates.
Of course, during "the brown years", our numbers are down - many of our local "day visitors" decide against a trip out - but the hard-core regular campers turn up for the weekend no matter what, and just get down to it. Some, defying all the elements, slosh around in flip-flops and knotted hankies. Kids swim in the huge puddles. Our mud is so legendary, artists have been known to improvise whole songs about it. Sure - after 3 or 4 continuous years, it can get a *little* wearing, but when we do then get a lovely hot year, we tend to think..."hmmm - it's nice, but a little *easy*"...
As shanties and other work-song traditions demonstrate, working together and making music together at the same time is a very different experience to each separately. When you're all working together to ensure that *everybody else* is having a good time as well, it becomes a wonderful thing.
6. 100% Not-for-Profit
Now - I've nothing against festivals that set out to make money. Professional musicians need paying, in order to stay, ermm, professional by definition, and the more places that will pay to have them, the better. The trouble is, in order to make money, there's only one single income stream - and that's ticket sales (unless of course you're sponsored by the Guardian and the BBC and whatever...). That, dear reader, is why it costs you a cage-full of monkeys and quite a few ponies indeed to go to Reading...
Not us though. We're a registered charity. Everybody "behind the scenes" is a volunteer. We deliberately budget so that the ticket prices can be as low as possible - there have been pitched battles in committee meetings when an increase of £5 has been suggested. Our whole "raison d'etre" is based around being as open and affordable as possible..
Please. Let us carry on in the future without having to go near anyone with the title of Investment Analyst, Business Advisor or Financial Consultant.
7. The Sound System
Every July, there's some very strange magic involved whereby a huge sound rig, along with some of the finest engineers in the country, somehow find themselves free for a few days and decide to take a "busman's holiday". For anyone not "in the biz", it's difficult to find a suitable analogy. Imagine having Christopher Wren put up your tent, Heston Blumenthal knock you up a sarnie, and Florence Nightingale get that splinter out all at the same time...
As to how at all this is possible, all I can really say without embarassing John Ramsay is that the lovely ladies (Shona - we miss you! Give KT Tunstall a miss this year - go on...) and gentlemen from EFX Audio appreciate, and indeed are part of, the Stainsby spirit. They, like all of us, love good, live, real, sweaty, in-the-moment, right-in-front-of-yer-face music, and their mission is to make it sound as good as it possibly can.
Please - help us keep this wonderful thing going, for the sake of real-live-sweaty musicians everywhere.