Event review: Airballoon Garden Party Festival, 29th-30th August 2015

By - Tuesday 22nd September, 2015

Katie Rose spends the day with Airballoon traffic control

Photo by Fluid4sight, used with permission.

On a cloudy Croydon Sunday afternoon I set out towards the outer realms of Coulsdon in search of music and adventure at the Airballoon Garden Party. A bus, a train and a wander later, I find myself on top of Rickman Hill in a huge field edged with trees, ready for lift off.

The programme is already in full swing with alternating performances on two stages at either end of the field – a form of musical ping pong which makes for lots of good-humoured banter. “You people over there, get over here” hollers lead singer of Junkyard Choir. “This festival keeps you fit”, quips Croydon Radio broadcaster and compère for the event, James Tighe, as we change ends again.

The Garden Party is a family-friendly event; three generations can be seen enjoying the music together. A grandma boogies to the blues with her granddaughter and a front row of three young siblings in camping chairs happily heckle the artists. Aside from the music, there is other fun to be had: bouncy castles, buckaroo and the hive of creative activity that is the Girl Guides’ stall, approached by ducking airborne beanbags. A wonderful array of photos of folks from all ages is taken in Croydon Radio’s mock up studio and there’s a wide range of stalls selling everything from fudge, jam and jewellery to guitars, electric bikes and cars.

I’m cold and dampish but my heart’s been warmed by my flight in the Airballoon

A central topic of discussion, consternation and speculation at outdoor festivals is the weather. Chatting with Tim Longhurst and Tracey Rabbetts, founders of Croydon Radio, I discover that a promising start on Saturday was washed out by a downpour in the afternoon and Sunday’s clouds have discouraged folks from attending. The setting is splendid but hidden away and overheard park café chat suggests that locals did not want to pay to come into their park. A recommended donation on the door (as at Purley Festival) might have solved this. However, Tracey says: “The right people are here, they’re happy Croydon diehards”. It’s a sentiment echoed by others: “The sky is cloudy but we’re happy”, says manager of Guitar Nuts, Phillippe Retourne.

The music is definitely keeping everyone happy. “I’ve not heard a bad note all weekend – I’m under cover and I get to listen to all this music for free”, enthuses stall holder Rachel Phillips of Fun Designs. The Airballoon started in 2012 when Dave Sears and Pete Hamilton started putting together Buskers’ BBQ events at Scream Studios. The festival line up features both established and emerging talent hand-picked from their musical flights through the folk ‘n’ roots scene. In addition to the main stage, alternative London folk promoters Before the Gold Rush curated a programme of local to international talent for their Saturday Stage and the Croydon Radio Sunday stage profiles London and Brighton based acts.

Photo by Fluid4sight, used with permission.

I spend the afternoon crossing back and forth across the field to hear a diverse range of music from solo acoustic Celtic guitarist Tom Janssen to full scale seven piece electro-folk band Flight Brigade whose members are all jumping up and down by the end of their atmospheric, multi-textured set. There is a strong transatlantic and Americana influence to acts including Harry Pane and Dave Sears & The Folk Thing. Local Coulsdon band The Brothers of Mothershovel, a folky version of Madness in bowler hats with comic lyrics (“I can’t get a woman so I’m going to get a dog”), is pursued onstage by the Coulsdon wasps. Blues musician Missippi MacDonald wows us with effortless vocal and guitar riffs and the festival plays out with multi-instrumentalists Keston Cubblers Club who get us all singing, chanting and inventing new dance moves. “Amazing talent and lovely crowd – I’m going to hurt tomorrow from doing this…” says smiley steward Sarah, as she bobs around.

So how do the Airballoon pilots feel after this first foray into festival organising? “The Airballoon Garden Party was a crazy idea that snowballed into one of the proudest moments of my life. It started as ‘we should do a show outside, maybe in a beer garden’, and ended up with ‘we’re doing a two day festival with two stages in a park for 2000 people’! It was crazy! We learnt a lot doing it too. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again some time. But for now we’re concentrating on our venue Hoodoo’s in Matthews Yard”, says Pete Hamilton.

I feel lucky to be amongst those who took up the invitation so beautifully sung by Keston Cobblers’ Club: “Won’t you come dance my friends/Your hands are cold, your feet will warm/We will heel your soles“. I may be cold and dampish but my heart has definitely been warmed by my Sunday afternoon flight in the Airballoon.

You can find the the full programme of Airballoon events at Hoodoo’s here.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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  • Sue Young

    I live just five minutes down the hill and simply couldn’t believe that there was a festival up there on our field – even better that it was on one of the weekends that we weren’t away at a festival, as we were so often through the season. Even better it was our kind of music, and of a very good standard. It was a crying shame the weather decided to provide the true festival experience as you have to be ‘die-hards’ having the right clothing to be able to stand in pouring rain and still enjoy it. However I was impressed that this had been anticipated and there was plenty of shelter.
    For a first festival I thought it was excellent, – let down perhaps by the advertising of the advent. I personally thought the entrance fee very reasonable, but maybe those less used to festival may have felt it too high. I wonder if personal invitations could have been delivered to those in neighbouring roads with a half price offer – being so close they may have been more inclined to give the festival a go if they had to pay less – and half of an entrance fee is better than nothing.
    I would love to see it become an annual event – and am very glad I had the opportunity to attend this event. Well done to all concerned.