IT TOOK 18 months to plan but the result was a hugely successful debut earlier this year for the first ever Shepley Spring Festival.
Little wonder that dates have already been announced for next year’s follow-up event. Shepley Spring Festival, it seems is here to stay.
Designed originally as a community festival planned with the help of the people of Shepley for them and for those beyond, it has taken off in a way that organisers could scarcely have dreamed of.
The promise is that the 2008 festival, running May 16-18, will continue to offer the best of traditional folk and roots music and dance, but with still more family orientated entertainment.
“After the festival nobody came down for about a month. Everybody was on such a high and the adrenalin was flowing,” said James McKinlay, festival director whose wife Nikki Hampson, works alongside him as part of the team behind the massive task of organising the festival.
“It took about 18 months to build up the organisation from us suggesting the idea to local councillor John Taylor. We took a presentation to the village association and people thought that it would put a sense of community back into Shepley.”
And they soon found that many in the village shared that view and were keen to get involved. “The village kept coming to us. The cricket club said did we want to use the club, a local farmer offered space as did the church.”
That kind of encouragement helped launch a spectacular festival based at Shepley Cricket Club off Marsh Lane and packed with concerts, dances and workshops featuring major names from the world of folk music.
One of those names was folk legend Roy Bailey who not only agreed to be the festival’s patron but played the opening night concert to a full house.
“It took us by surprise and we were overwhelmed. The buzz is still there,” said James.
Certainly, for that weekend in May there was a carnival atmosphere in the village with pubs hosting musicians and singers’ sessions and St Paul’s Church hall having an acoustic cafe with meet the artist sessions and a chance to have a coffee and listen quietly to acoustic music.
The village came alive with a Saturday parade, musicians and dancers boarded trains on the nearby Penistone line to get them into the party mood and local schools got involved showcasing their traditional music and dance talents.
That spirit is something that festival organisers are keen to harness. They want more people involved at every level whether that’s organising, accommodating artists, volunteering during the festival or simply turning up to listen or take part.
“We went back to the village association after the festival and asked if they wanted us back,” said Nikki. The resounding yes encouraged the team to build on what they had already established in year one.
“There’s a massive opportunity for people to get involved in our traditions,” said Nikki.
Both teachers, she and James live in Lepton and have their musical roots deep in the folk culture. James dances with White Rose Morris and Nikki is an accomplished caller with a local ceilidh band. Nikki’s son Will Hampson plays melodeon with five piece band the Demon Barbers.
Nikki books the artists while Sally Atkinson is the festival’s dance director and Andy Smith looks after the festival site.
“There’s a good strong team there with a lot of experience in what we do. None of us work on the festival full-time,” said James.
“We want this to be a community festival and we want more people to be involved with it from the community,” said Nikki. “We want to build up the family side of it and there will be a lot more entertainment for kids next year.”
Local schools were involved in the first event and will be again. It is hoped that there will be art as well as music projects with the schools and there’s even the prospect of mummers’ plays involving young performers.
All of that echoes the idea of using the festival as a showcase not just for the big names but for those starting out in the world of music.
“We are trying to give young performers a showcase,” said James. “We will give young performers locally a platform as well as those who are known nationally.”
That said, there are already names in the frame for 2008 with more to come in what organisers say will be a cracking line-up.
So far, they have confirmed Peggy Seeger, the American folk singer who is in the UK next spring for a short tour and has agreed to appear at Shepley.
Eleven piece folk band Bellowhead, one of the most talked about young bands in folk today, will play traditional English tunes and songs in a funky, contemporary and unique style aided by a four-piece brass section. Uiscedwr is a British trio with a Celtic feel while sisters Emily and Hazel Askew are a young fiddle and melodeon duo from London.
Ceildidh band Whapweasel, voted BBC 2 Folk awards best dance band two years ago, will be around to keep those feet moving and look out too for The Park Bench Social Club, part of a new generation of string bands.
Multi-award-winning duo John Tams and Barry Coope clearly enjoyed themselves so much at this year’s festival that they’ve already agreed to make a return visit in 1008.
Early bird tickets are already available on the festival website: www.shepleyspringfestival.com