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Spring festival frolics

PUBLISHED: 12:40 31 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:48 31 March 2015

Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015.
Chef, Peter Harrison.

Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015. Chef, Peter Harrison.

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It's not Latitude, but The Alde Valley Spring Festival (April 18 - May 17) still rocks says Lucy Etherington

Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015.
Nienke Jonsgma.Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015. Nienke Jonsgma.

The Alde Valley Spring Festival is uniquely individual – not a music festival, although it does have that mini-Latitude-esque vibe, and people in the past have been confused.

“Last year we had a chap park his camper van in the field two days before it started,” says Jason Gathorne-Hardy, the festival’s creator, curator and host (or officially ‘director’). “I took him a cup of tea and politely asked what his plans were.” Well, the venue is Jason’s home.

“He told me he was staking his pitch before the other festival goers arrived with their tents. I had to explain that it wasn’t that kind of event.”

Another time, he had to explain to a band that they were only playing to 50 people in a barn – they’d somehow got the impression they would be on a main stage in front of 10,000.

Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015.
Festival creator, Jason Gathorne Hardy.Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015. Festival creator, Jason Gathorne Hardy.

When I went last year, I felt like I’d been invited to a really cool family-friendly party hosted by a bunch of artists and foodies in the most bucolic, unspoiled landscape – an early 18th century farmhouse nestling in the Upper Alde Valley, with pigs, sheep and goats dotted around the rolling green fields. There were sofas outside and inside the barn, fires crackling to stave off the spring chill and picnics on the rolling bank leading up to the woods. In the evenings, at themed farmhouse suppers run by Kenton Hall chef Peter Harrison, we shared the company of artists, writers, foodies and fellow adventurous spirits.

There was really good art, either made on the premises before your very eyes by the artists in residence, or created for the event. Maggie Hambling’s Wave paintings hung in the barn alongside lovely handcrafted chairs from The Suffolk Chair Collection, while Laurence Edwards’ impressive statues sprung from the gardens. In the main house was a gallery and shop.

The theme of this year’s festival is From The Land. As well as the above, there will be nature walks, festival walks, Civil Sue’s Pop Up Tea Rooms, talks by artists and foraging workshops.

It’s unashamedly but affordably highbrow, proudly local, but also warmly welcoming – rather like the host himself.

Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015.
One of the artists involved,  Alice-Andrea Ewing.Launch of the Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015. One of the artists involved, Alice-Andrea Ewing.

“It began really as a festival to promote local food,” says Jason, who despite being about to fling open the gates of White House Farm to around 20,000 people in the next few days, has taken the time to arrange a lively soiree in his kitchen for me to meet some of the people taking part.

“The first one was ten years ago at the Farm Café on the A12. I realised from creating a similar event in Malaysia, where I was born, that it’s the combination of food and landscape and cultural heritage that creates the identity of a place.”

Jason is an artist, a student of Maggi Hambling, whose work has always been rooted in the land. His animal and bird drawings are highly collectable. For his latest series he has, he says, been ‘dropping down’ in the landscape – basically sitting in hedges, sketching – a habit apparently practised by poet John Clare. If the sketchbooks are anything to go by, the finished work, on show at the exhibition, will be exquisitely fresh and full of energy.

Jason appears perfectly calm, but there is an awful lot for one man to organise. The opening night last year was rammed, and obviously word got out to all kinds of people, including those on the festival circuit. Is he prepared to be the next Michael Eavis, maybe introducing a couple of headline acts?

Opening of The Alde Valley Spring Festival at Alde Valley Farm, Great GlemhamOpening of The Alde Valley Spring Festival at Alde Valley Farm, Great Glemham

“I can see it growing year on year, which is great, but I’d like to keep it the size it is,” he says. “I like the sense of discovery, that it’s something special, an adventure rooted in the Suffolk landscape. Also it’s important to keep the local villagers happy. It would defeat the purpose if a festival celebrating the local landscape became the blight upon it.”

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