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Drumshanty Is this what a UK folk festival is like? (52* d) RE: Is this what a UK folk festival is like? 16 Apr 07


I'll declare my interest first. I've been at every Keith Festival since the late 1980s, and the website that Giok pointed up is mine. My parents were on the committee from the mid 1980s until a couple of years ago, and I have also performed there a couple of times. For me, it was the best weekend of the year until I widened my horizons a bit and started going to other festivals. "Wanting to go" didn't come into it; it was my one and only outlet for my love of traditional music for a long time.

And yes, I recognise Mr McLean's description, up to a point. Especially the plastic glasses, the copulating up a close and the fighting. The locals used to pour into Keith from miles around and spend the weekend drinking. If you walked down from the square to the Royal at 2 in the morning, you'd be ankle deep in shards of plastic (the cooncil somehow made it all disappear by 7am, which never ceased to amaze me). It was, as far as I understand it, a real thorn in the side of the committee and over the years, I have met many people who just would not go to Keith Festival because of its reputation. And sadly, the behaviour described eventually drove the musicians off the streets and into the pubs so that you rarely saw a street ceilidh develop in recent years.

Where I would disagree with Mr McLean's account is his inclusion of the musicians and festival-goers in his description. OK, so we all take a drink, but the majority of the people who came to participate in the festival stayed off the streets, and played at the ceilidhs and dances and sessions. So although the majority of those who Mr McLean saw on Mid Street when he was there could not have cared less about the music, plenty people came who did, and they still do.

Depending on your point of view, the situation was improved greatly a few years ago when a by-law came in to prohibit drinking on the street and Moray Council, in its infinite wisdom, refused to allow the main street to be closed on the Saturday of the festival. The police do a difficult job very well; the pubs are so full that it's not possible to keep people off the street during the festival, so they, up to now, have used a light touch and kept everyone happy. And while the attendances at festival events have remained steady, or risen, there are definitely far fewer people on the streets in the late hours.

Jack Campin's point about Auchtermuchty Festival is a good one. My crowd were driven off our pitches at the campsite two years ago because of the yobs and their behaviour (Muchty has been particularly bad these past few years), and latterly at Kirrie Festival and Girvan, the same things have been happening, although on a smaller scale.

But to answer the original question, no, I don't think that my beloved Keith Festival was typical of UK festivals. In the past few years, as well as Keith, Muchty and Kirrie, I've had brilliant times at Orkney, Innerleithen, Glenfarg, Border Gaitherin, FifeSing, Dunblane, Skye, Stonehaven, Newcastleton (a bit scary, but still), Penicuik, Linlithgow, and Whitby. And, frankly, I'd encourage everyone who has music to share to go to them all. If we stop going, they win, and that is an intolerable thought.


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