A festival not quite on my doorstep (part three)

By - Sunday 9th December, 2012

In this third in a four-part series, the Croydon Citizen’s very own foreign correspondent in Watford gives us an outsider’s perspective on October’s Cherry Orchard’s Arts Festival, and why Croydon is more than a car park

Previously – our correspondent acquaints himself with Croydon’s deathwishes and people in Icelandic sweaters, and has his first encounter with the festival’s live music

The only attraction beyond Cherries Cafe turns out to be number 10, which promises to be an installation of ‘digital art’ by someone called Dan Barlow, taking place in the utilitarianly-named ‘The TV Shop’. The shopkeeper is a lovely man tinkering in an Aladdin’s cave of tv screens, who explains to me that there’s sadly nothing to see in his shop – the ‘digital art’ consists of three tv screens in the window. The leftermost of these shows pictures of local houses, the middle features a quote by a local MP or similar on why the Menta development is a no-brainer for Croydon, and the last has futuristic, translucent images of Menta’s plans. I’m afraid to say this is the first (and fortunately only) underwhelming attraction at the festival, and something tells me that I should now return to Cherries Cafe.

When I arrive back, the place is now pretty packed – I have to stand at the back by the door and peer over the crowd’s heads. It turns out the tweed gentleman I passed on the way out is the missing half/quarter of Homebrood, and is a fiddler. The mysterious black box turns out to have been an accordion, an instrument which I come to appreciate over the course of the day as possibly the most complex instrument ever. The Brasseye chap is seated slightly behind the fiddler, mostly staring dead ahead with a look of intense and totally understandable concentration that makes him slightly resemble Ross Kemp. The fiddler is stood to the right, and stamps out the beat while flashing the audience a wry grin. They are, of course, a folk band, but one of the irresistably danceable variety. My attention is mostly focused on the sheer joy emanating from both players, but I also note a gentleman seated in the middle of the crowd who takes out various items from a backpack during the performance, including what appears to be a tupperware filled with crumpets. He also extracts one of those primary school percussion instruments consisting of a hollow cylinder stuck at a right angle on the end of a stick, and struck with another stick to produce a beat. He strikes along to a few bars of one of the songs, without seeming to be part of the band or to derail their performance in any way. Homebrood’s exuberance and exuded friendliness make this audience participation seem entirely natural.

Sadly the same spirit doesn’t fill the half of the Orchard Pub that has been taken over by Poets Anonymous today. I have to confess that I loathe poetry with a passion, but gamely take a seat behind a games machine with only a Jamesons on the rocks to see me through. The Poets Anonymous group is peopled almost entirely by greying white men, and I get the impression that all of them have previously been teachers. Although most of them are seated here all day, many of them are drinking half pints, and drinking them very slowly indeed – I swear that one man was nursing the same drink at 3pm as he was when I finished my first visit at about 11am. Also, every poet has a handwritten and somewhat oxymoronic Poets Anonymous name badge. There seems to be no structure to the proceedings – the stage is a first-come-first-served affair, and the poet who takes the floor keeps it until they tire of the sound of their own voice. I have to admit that one of the few non-males recited a poem that was genuinely understandable and entertaining, about a woman at a restaurant who balks at eating tongue because it comes from an animal’s mouth, but is happy to eat eggs from a hen’s nether orifice. When they near the end of their time at 4pm, each member that wants to rattles through one quick poem. During one lady’s performance, one of the half pint-nursers answers his mobile phone, and although he gets some disapproving ‘shhhh’s from the assembled poets, it just reinforces the idea that poetry reading is a fairly self-promotional activity, devoid of the sense of community that Homebrood brings to the Cherries cafe.

Obviously, like all good festivals, there is simply too much going on for me to see, let alone describe it all. However, I should note the following sights and sounds as worthy of pursuit in an ideal world without time clashes: a set of Morris dancers dressed in bizarre masks like extras from a Jim Henson film; a man playing a drum that looks like a cross between a UFO and a garden barbeque; a woman whose every visible article of clothing features a union jack flag; a man wearing a Monster Raving Loony Party shirt; and a stall in the Ark Oval that sells a cup of tea and two muffins for the ludicrously reasonable price of £1.50.

Next week – the festival draws to a close with the cheapest whiskey, the finest music, and the loveliest barmaid
Rob Mayo

Rob Mayo

The Managing Editor of the Croydon Citizen, and the only co-founder not to have ever lived in Croydon. Rob previously studied at University of Oxford and University of London, and regrets only one of them. Since co-founding the Citizen in 2012 Rob has completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Bristol, for whatever that's worth... Rob's stereotypically left-leaning views are personal, and not representative of editorial policy.

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  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    I was also a little underwhelmed by the “digital art”, though the house photos did remind me of an exhibition I saw at the Leytonstone Arts Trail in 2009: it was basically a set of photos of front doors, strangely mesmerising (the artist has an extended set of these on Flickr). So I can sort of see what that was getting at.