Albion Fairs

Following the excitement of the Coypu Show for most of us things went quiet. A few determined bods carried on making contacts across the country and applying for Arts Council funding. The latter plan fizzled out...

So there we were, early 1978, no magic Arts Council Grant, no professional core, just a few bits of equipment, a hodload of experience and a plan to create a number of new fairs...

1978 Albion Fairs leaflet

The next three of months was spent sorting out sites for fairs and running a few gigs, mostly at Geldeston Village Hall. Sam the caretaker was a keen supporter of the fairs. As spring came on some small outdoor events were held, inflateables and puppets for the kids, music, mayhem and ritual for the big uns. Then came Whit Bank Holiday and the first Albion Fair. This was a one day event at Oaksmere Hall, near Diss. An avenue of mature lime trees, a level field to the left and on the right level only beside the trees, the field dipped to the right in a natural amphitheatre, with a stand of trees on a mound at bottom centre. A high stage was built backed on to the mound, the usual suspects and their neighbours turned out and a grand day was had by most.

The next three events were more one day affairs, the first and the third being mistakes of a similar kind, though having different outcomes. They were both one day tack-ons rather than self organised. This had worked well enough at the Eye Show the previous year, and would do so again, to greater effect, later that year. At these two the outcome wasn't so positive.

Downham Market was the only fair not held in a field. It was in a car park. A car park complete with cars. Not a lot, but scattered about just so. Finally fed up with waiting for them to go there was an attempt to shift one. The cost of moving it was a slipped disc for Keith, site manager since the Barsham years. It was a dampener on the day and pretty much marked his retirement from that level of activity. A new generation took over and ran with what they'd been learning as Keen Site Crew. (That was one of the T shirts from the later Barshams: Splendid Committee Person was the other.) It was the first time the new dome was used, one positive of a lacklustre day. The tarmac and concrete, the lack of trees, drained the joy out of what might elsewhere have been a friendly little event. Eventually the stalls went home, the mingling entertainers returned to civvies and what was left was first gig in the new dome. It was a good party and a poor day ended on a cheery note.

A week later we put the dome up at Strawberry Fair in Cambridge. This had been started in 1974 by University students and ex students and is a one day gathering on Midsummer Common near the centre of the city. For those of us who were new to it, there were some surprises. We'd arrived on the Friday afternoon, put up the dome and eventually crawled into the tents, at which point we were the only thing on the common. We were used to spending from a few days to a fortnight on site preparing for the weekend. There was going to be a fair here tomorrow? It didn't seem possible. Up at 7 for a pee, one or two vehicles being unloaded. An hour or two later, emerging for real into a bustling and fast growing event, open field transformed into a warren of streets of stalls, pitches and venues. Where'd they all come from?? Strawberry Fair has kept going, altering with the times, run every year for 40 years by a changing group of volunteers. Check out their website.