Build another Barsham 13

Build Another Barsham

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How to encapsulate reactions to such a many-headed experience as Barsham Faire? Generally, it seemed unique because it enabled the conventional and the unconventional to meet together on common ground - providing the togetherness feeling of a pop festival but much broader based than such a gathering. A good opportunity for 'the public' to see that lots of freaks, despite - or perhaps because of? - their freakishness, were producing beautiful things that were also useful and might make good presents (Shoppe early for Ye Christmas).

Stalls were exciting and higgledy-piggledy - real craft and tat rubbing shoulders all the time. This seems a good thing; perhaps it resembled a 'real' medieval fair in this sense rather than any other (too many people were wearing their surcoats and such with a self-consciousness that seemed to make it difficult for them to relax fully). Some of the organisers didn't like what they called the 'commercial' element. One can see their point, but it's a strange reaction; a medieval fair must be commercial if it is to be anything, and today's hucksters are the ice-cream and hot-dog men, rather than the sellers of leather hats and pendants.

(Incidentally, in 1300 or so, the smell would have made what came out of those little green tents seem like Chanel No. 5).

Thus a central paradox: Barsham has inbuilt purist tendencies, perhaps because the 1972 fair had been a more cosy experience for those intimately involved in it. The weather helped: hot and sticky. A raggedy beauty - at night, breath-taking, like Brueghel, with fires all over the place and groups silhouetted against flame; smoke and songs rising together. Wonder what it looked like from the helicopter that passed over incongruously from time to time?

Do we learn much from pretending to be medieval? Does it help us to relax? To come closer to each other in a non-ponderous way? On the evidence of Barsham - yes, as long as 'now' comes through 'then' sufficiently strongly. Our age is closer to the medieval in its loves and fears than to much of the post renaissance world, and a shirt with flowing sleeves above jeans makes the connection apparent more clearly than many words.

We - 'Word and Action' - stuck out like sore thumbs, as much because we stepped out of the crowd straight onto the stage without costume as because our form of theatre was radically different from anything else on show. Having wrestled with - and rejected - the idea of going specifically medieval, we ended up feeling the open, raucous and rough craftsmanship we produced on the stage was a theatre for the people close to what a medieval audience might really have experienced.

An abiding image: Andrew Bell chanting his perfect, heartbreak poems at a chattering, sandwich chewing crowd, who couldn't wait for the next, utterly non-medieval folk-group that was to take over the resolutely non-poetry stage. Thank you Barsham. We'd like to come back.

Chris Fassnidge.
Word and Action,


2 Eastern Daily Press, Monday, October 20, 1975

Community action group
aims ‘to hit road’

THE SEEDS of the flower revolution planted during the 1960s continue to grow in a multitude of surprising and subtle ways. The initial momentum of that particular movement has gone, perhaps, and yet what remains is something far more intangible and at the same time, substantial.

Social conscience, for one thing. Alternative (i.e., different) attitudes and ways of living and working and enjoying life, for another. And a slow but spreading realisation that fundamental social changes are afoot.

Whether we quite approve or not, the green shoots of new thinking are everywhere, and some of them are well worth examining.

A small example. In 1971 a group of Norfolk/Suffolk border folk, including Tim Wyatt, Patrick Redsell. Keith Brander, Andy and Sandra Bell, Jenni Holman and Simon Loftus sat in a pub and planned a medieval craft fair. The idea was to get together a group of like-minded people to form, for want of a better description, a sort of independent arts council.

They decided to call themselves the East Anglian Arts Trust, and in course of time registered themselves as a voluntary, non-profit-making limited company.


An art auction was held to raise initial cash and on bank holiday, 1972, Barsham Faire was born at Roos Hall. To their delight and surprise, 2000 people arrived. E.A.A.T. was on the map.

Four months later, and in a wave of optimism. E.A.A.T. made a grant of £100 to help to launch the community newspaper "Waveney Clarion," of which more in a week or two's time.

In 1973 Barsham Faire moved to Rectory Meadow, and 24,000 people came. In 1974 the total was 30,000 and this year, with Barsharm firmly established on the local bank holiday calendar, the number was closer to an astonishing 70,000 which placed it firmly in the "big league" alongside such an established giant as the Royal Norfolk Show.

Thus, E.A.A.T. gained for itself breathing space, a financial backbone and (thanks to Waveney District Council) an office and a telephone.


The real point about E.A.A.T. is that its growth is organic, inspirational, spur-of-the-moment. Call it what you will. It has an elected committee of 11. In practice it holds "open" committee meetings which anyone can attend, and policy is decided (and debated) on the spot. As far as possible everyone is involved, the more the merrier.

What does E.A.A.T. do, and what does it want to do?

In the beginning the idea was simply to bring together the ideas and the enthusiasm of anyone in the Waveney Valley who might be arts inclined - painter and poet, graphic designer and cartoonist, actor and singer, and so on. They would then go out and make things happen, anywhere, at any time.

Once there was some cash in the kitty it became at once easier and more complex. Help flowed in for the "Clarion" and the E.A.A.T., and assistance, in terms of money and ideas, flowed out.

Grants to the Theatre Centre, Lowestoft; a folk concert on Bungay Castle Mounds; the underwriting of "Celebration of Spring" at Beccles; a grant to East Harling's anniversary fayre; a grant to June Glennie for research into Maypole dance figures; the Waveney Valley project, a study of natural habitats to be presented in a report and exhibition for schools; free transport for children to Wangford festival; a folk band; grants to Richard Morgan and Paul Fitzgerald to publish "Tom the Ferryman"; help for guitarist Steve Holmes to travel to Spain to study flamenco; and so on.

The list is not complete. It does not, for example, take note of the mobile cinema, a van carrying projectors and a screen, which this winter is due to take feature films to outlying locales, or Village Membership, a scheme whereby a village or villages can call on E.A.A.T. to supply "events" - children's theatre, fete or festival entertainments, play-group visits, the "Clarion's" travelling "circus," or simply music for dances.


It is significant that subtle changes have come over E.A.A.T.'s policies in the last year or so. Once they would simply whizz over to some village or other, pile out of their vans and do their thing on the village green or in the local hall.

"But the locals looked at us as though we were men from the moon," one of them told me. Now they make a more gentle approach. They suggest, they motivate and, if asked, they will organise.

Perhaps, accidentally, E.A.A.T. has shifted slightly from being simply an arts-inclined organisation towards being a community action group. In the process it has become a sort of alternative (with the accent firmly on the little a) Arts Council, touching areas of art, ideas and activity the Government-backed established council either will not or cannot support.

Central to all its activities, however, is Barsham, a problem and a joy; for has not the original concept become clouded by popularity? It was started by a small group doing things for and by themselves. Then it grew, and expenses and worries and organisational problems grew, too. Now E.A.A.T. is trying to decide if Barsham is so large it is out of proportion and perhaps out of perspective.

In any event, next year's Barsham may be the last. At least, the last organised by E.A.A.T. Instead, they are starting again by trying to revive the corpse of Bungay fair.

The long-term aim is a sort of travelling Barsham, a team of vans and helpers, artists and craftsmen, entertainers and merry-makers, all volunteers who will go to villages as far away as North Norfolk and say "Would you like help with your event?" or "Can we help you start something?"



When you haven't felt the sun for months, when it's suicidal February, when the great grey murk descends, it's time to put a reel on the record player and haul out the Mind's Own Instant Movie Machine - Barsham Faire side one. Of course the images are confused with those on the official film, which some of us have seen too many times (who can resist it) but no matter the feeling is right.......

There we are standing by the Clarion stall at the larger than life Coypu cut-out. Hello Mr. Coypu cut-out. I am curling my bare toes around delicious wet grass which still holds a little of the night chill, while the sun is already strong and warm on my shoulders. We wriggle and chatter, some of us dance erratic little jigs. We are a trifle impatient, excited children.

The real children, the smaller ones, are shrieking in the straw, exuberantly hurling it into one another's faces, crawling out from beneath huge isabelline piles. Boys, enbravened by the soft landing, leap wildly from swinging ropes.

Over at the gate a lady in her damsel's pointed hat who should be imprisoned in some high turret calling for her knight, is rubber stamping the hands of the slow trickle of early arrivals. The net curtain transformed into a veil is stirred by a soft wind as she lights her second cigarette.

People in crazy clothes are crossing and recrossing the field, fetching and carrying, borrowing hammers, losing borrowed hammers, hailing friends. Pennants high on poles fly out. against the Suffolk sky, so blue you can't open your eyes wide enough to get it all in. Phrases of a dancing tune pass overhead, fade then return louder. The drum and the shouts are closer. The procession is coming. The procession is here. A skipping girl with her tambourine, the Zodiac signs held aloft, Ursula's white arm toing and froing across her fiddle. Keith dresses in white and all the rest, the lovely hotch-potch of dancers come down from the road. They have been working on the site until dusk each evening for two weeks, the night before they scarcely slept, yet they rode the four miles into Beccles that morning to process back to Barsham because it's the vital way to start a faire.

The bar is open, cup after cup of luteous Broadside is thrust into my hands. The feeling of space is retreating, there seems to be an awful lot of people everywhere. Someone babbles about tens of thousands and traffic jams all the way to Lowestoft. Dust is rising and drifting over the field muting the vivid colours of morning. White becomes ecru, green etiolin, blue celeste.

Biceps bursting a figure heaves a sheaf high over the bar, others are wandering lost in the maze, and Archie Mage lies down upon his bed of nails in silence.

There's a call to the dance. We burst from the mouth of the dragon, make a circle, start to spin - "Pay attention to the open sky. You never know what might be coming down" - Virgo first in yellow; Silver Libra; Winter Capricorn; Aquarius blue; on into Spring, golden Taurus; Gemini turns and we're spiralling madly at Cancer. Everyone's dizzy except crimson Leo in the East.

There's something about the first day of Barsham. Some say it's the best.

Sunday brings the biggest crowd, but whatever your preference it will all be going down at Rectory Paddock again this coming Bank Holiday. The craftsmen, the musicians, the dancers, the wonders, the crazies, the horses, the fireworks, the gypsies and a multitude of aerial delights. It's the best few penceworth of sensation around, and like I said - when the grey days arrive you can just switch on and well, you know.......


Sandra Bell

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