The Sunningwell Festival
Our last festival took place on the pond during the extremely wet and windy 2012, it nearly finished us off! See how we got on…
The 2012 Sunningwell Festival review
We always intended the 2012 festival to be the biggest and best ever, the most demanding but the most rewarding for everyone concerned. What we didn’t reckon on was the months of appalling weather preceding the festival and during it!
I guess all of us involved in the organisation will look at the festival as being a major success, in that we didn’t have to cancel anything, with a bit of re-jigging here and there, everything went ahead.
We had some extraordinary performances in the rain and the wind and our amazing audiences persevered and cheerfully continued to support the many and varied events, the most extraordinary being the dog show which had no less than 69 entrants in the pouring, relentless, heavy rain! Simon Blower did a fantastic job promoting and managing this truly remarkable event, thanks to you and Joanne and Charlotte.
We introduced several new initiatives this time including a big screen film showing of ‘Mamma Mia’, the wind played havoc with the big screen and gazebos but again the audience persevered, to cap it all that was the night that the generator malfunctioned and we had to call on Shirley Robinson at Pond Cottage to supply our electricity. Fortunately the heavy duty supply we would normally need for the live performance sound and lighting wasn’t required that night so a 13amp supply sufficed!
The festival kicked off with a brilliant launch party with a wonderful performance by Oxford Harmony, a male voice close-harmony choir, introduced to us by Ted Wilcox. Bill Heine, our wonderfully supportive patron, gave a lovely opening speech and there was definitely a feeling of excitement in the air.
The Sunningwell CE Primary School provided us with a great afternoon’s entertainment and enthusiastically performed a version of ‘The Selfish Giant’, the sun shone on a packed audience, thank goodness for the road closure this time!
We had a wonderfully atmospheric performance in the woods by Annie Thomas’s ‘Colla Voce’ vocal ensemble (many thanks to Dave and Joy Shorten, who welcomed us with open arms into their private woods). So far, so good, no rain yet! The rain came in for the Saturday evening’s performances by John Twinn and his band ‘The Limitations’ followed by a regular Sunningwell Festival favourite, 3rd Degree Le-Burn – it was a truly memorable night with the audience dancing on the wet road, the rain lashing down on the canopy and creating amazing effects with the lighting.
The rain continued for the worship service on the pond so nearly 80 of us huddled together on to the stage as if on a dry little island, we were very privileged to have the Christian writer, Nick Page and his wife Claire, lead our thoughts – another very special festival experience.
The weather got worse so we postponed the main act for Sunday evening, the David Rees-Williams trio, but continued with Bob Nichol’s ‘Rare Indigo’ jazz trio in the warmth and comfort of the very atmospherically lit village hall. ‘Rare Indigo’ were a delight and transformed the village hall into an intimate jazz club and the catering team pulled out all the stops in the kitchen, another fantastic festival night.
The following day included another new initiative, the ‘S’ factor, we had some brilliant entertainment provided to us by some very enthusiastic musicians, Bayworth’s very own ‘A J’ did some amazing Freddy Mercury songs that really got the crowd going. Bill Heine returned as a judge, along with Vanessa Woodward and Jon Twinn who provided great feedback for the contestants but the star of the show was the compere, Ashley Tomlin (formerly very popular manager of The Flowing Well - now lead vocalist with ‘Silver’). The sun came out for a while, albeit chilly, and we enjoyed an evening of pop music with a rejuvenated youthful performance from ‘Silver’, Tony Thomas and Phil Burton seemed to revel in the presence of Ashley Tomlin! Parallel Blondie featuring a brilliant Debbie Harry look-alike / sound-alike followed Silver on stage and again a great reaction from the audience - dancing in the road, although a high decibel gig the ducks fell asleep on the side of the pond!
Jubilee day was a wash out but the sterling catering team headed by Shelia Greenman kept things going nicely in the village hall with an arts and crafts café whilst the dog show went ahead outside, we tried our best to keep the smiles on faces with some indoor entertainment such as ‘Messy Church’ and for boys and their dads the giant scalextric track. Geoff Cross’s historical artefacts were as popular as ever throughout the festival as people dodged the weather to make it up the road. Charles Frost had decorated our traditional telephone box ( a rare sight these days) which also attracted much attention.
Sadly the family jubilee picnic never happened despite one or two very hardy families who turned up with all the right gear to picnic on the Glebe. The rain continued and after taking refreshment at The Flowing Well ‘Abingdon Morris Dancers’ entertained us with their energetic moves amongst the puddles. A great audience turned out for virtuosic guitar playing from Chris Woods who supported our headline folk act, the famous ‘Spiers & Boden’. We did have a bit of an incident with their sound engineer who objected to the use of the high tech equipment used by our sound and lighting production company, we thought at one point that he was going to walk out but things were resolved at The Flowing Well, just in time for them to meet a large audience that were waiting in anticipation for the former winners of the BBC Radio 2 folk award. It was another great night for the festival as Spiers and Boden delivered a great set musically but with much humour too. There was more dancing in the rain, audience members joining hands with Morris Men splashing in the puddles, meanwhile ‘Tiger’, the Art School cat looked on bemused!
The sun shone on us all during the midweek festival day-off whilst Opera Anywhere rehearsed on the stage in preparation for their performances of The Mikado and the Giffords Circus arrived in style with their train of distinctive retro caravans and trailers, a sight to behold! It was great to meet all our favourite characters from the circus in The Flowing Well that night, ‘Tweedy’, our clown hero seemed to be the same in real life as on stage! He revealed one of his major influences was Norman Wisdom. The popularity of the circus caused absolute mayhem in the village, the extreme weather meant that car parking was impossible on the field where Miss Bowditch had allowed the circus to be situated and this proved a difficult challenge for our fantastic festival stewards throughout the rest of the week. We had planned all kinds of alternative strategies should such an occasion arise but the sheer determination of the visitors to the circus meant that managing their parking was much more difficult than we could possibly foresee. The ultimate nightmare did occur on the last night when one of the extra fields we had secured for additional parking suddenly had cows arriving in it, due to a breakdown of communication with the farmer, prior to the last performance of The Mikado or should it be ‘Micowdo’? - there was a stampede of cattle on the road going towards the festival site! Fortunately damage or accidents were averted thanks to a brave dog who alerted the quick acting stewards, the cows (all 40 of them) were directed back safely to the field and the gate finally secured.
The 2 nights of our Mikado were affected by the weather, so much so that the Friday performance was so wet and windy we had to squeeze into St Leonard’s (thanks so much Pam!). We had been offered the circus big top but they had to pull the plug at the last minute due to the high winds! We did manage a dry Mikado on the pond, the sun did shine but the cool temperature meant that the last night communal singing aspect was slightly curtailed. All in all we were very happy with the fact that the festival carried on regardless, when so many other outdoor events were cancelled this year. Financially, although we achieved the best numbers of audiences we have ever enjoyed, we did make some severe losses and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all the performers who very generously waived their fees. We would also like to thank all the stewards, catering staff and everyone involved in the festival, especially our amazing management team who had given up lots of time and energy to make the festival happen. Our sponsors were amazing, especially Hall Construction and Stuart Mabbutt Wildlife Gardening, Stuart and his team were present at the festival throughout, getting stuck in whenever we needed additional support, thank you to all our sponsors and to those organisations that had provided grants.
Our sizeable financial shortfall and the unpredictable weather does mean that it’s hard to envisage a festival on this scale in the near future, we do need to raise some funds to help pay for some outstanding debts and we would like to see what the next couple of summers are like. However, the Sunningwell Festival ‘banner’ may appear from time to time to promote something on a smaller scale.
Very finally we would like to thank all the residents who live in close proximity to the pond but also all the villagers for amazing support and patience, for putting up with the inconvenience of the road closures and disruption.
*Since the festival, management of the pond has been passed back to the Parish Council, very sadly both Shirley Robinson and Mike Woodward have had to resign from a voluntary arrangement to look after the pond as the Parish Council have opted for a closer form of supervision, the last we heard was that they are looking to set up a more formal pond committee.
** A good selection of the photos of the festival are published on the Sunningwell Scene Facebook page, do feel free to post in your festival photos and any comments.