I conduct interviews in the strangest of places. Last night’s chat with John Marshall-Potter of FolkEast took place in a field, in the dark and in the rain. John had parked his truck and trailer beside a tree. Not any old tree, but THE tree. The old dead oak that is dressed every year in July ahead of FolkEast in August which gives drivers en-route to Latitude pause for thought on their journey up the A12.
Tony: Remind me John, why are we here?
John: Well, sadly we never got to dress the tree in July this year. That has become a big part of FolkEast for Becky and I. We bring the camper van in and set up for a few days, people drop by to help or to just watch as we wrap 120 metres of colourful fabric around the tree.
Tony: But its September and its dark!
John: Yes. I am a freelancer. All I know is running events, its what I have spent my life doing, our children are even doing it now. As part of the global #WeMakeEvents day of action we are lighting the tree in red to raise awareness of freelancers and everyone who is involved in the events industry as a whole , everyone behind the scenes, that make it happen. Those who,through no fault of their own, are out of work and who have little to no support available. We work with a range of talented and skilled crew and they are all in the same boat.
Tony: Do we know how many people operated as freelance technicians?
John: No, and that is part of the problem. Traditionally we get together and do things and they work but when we are not working together, we seldom interact and that has got to change. We need to do more conscious collaborative working. A case in point, that generator on the back of my trailer is supplied by Midas, the one up at the hall today is supplied by Gofer. Two local companies working together for the same cause. I know Tim Speight at Synergy Audio is trying to get a handle on how many freelancers work in Suffolk – he has a form online you can fill in.
Tony: A little over a month ago you ran a successful Virtually FolkEast in your paddock. How easy was that to pull together?
John: The minute the government announced we could run live, outdoor events we felt we had to do something. If only to prove to the authorities that it was possible. The biggest obstacle we faced was initially obtaining a licence and we are grateful to East Suffolk Council that they listened to us, trusted us and gave us permission. We had little doubt that people would come, what we were less prepared for was how much the musicians wanted to be there playing, and indeed the crew to be working again. I know Becky found it a tremendously emotional weekend seeing everyone back together doing what they do best.
The feedback we got was fantastic, all positive. There was one lady whose husband was at risk and couldn’t come, she didn’t want to risk being with others, so she booked a square all to herself, sat in the middle and had a wonderful time.
Of course, you can never predict the weather and on the Sunday we suffered a downpour. It was a real live festival experience. We had to stop the music for a while, the rain was blowing directly onto the stage, but it didn’t seem to stop people enjoying themselves.
Tony: No it didn’t, I was there and can honestly say it was the highlight of our summer, but what about next year? Will there be a FolkEast in 2021?
John: Yes, it may be different, it may be smaller – the problem is that nobody knows what rules will apply tomorrow, let alone next year. We are planning a festival; we are encouraged that 92% of this year’s ticket holders chose to carry their tickets forward rather than take a refund. It may not look like the festival we know but I think it will still have the same atmosphere, the sort you only get when a bunch of Eastfolkers get together.
Tony: And what of the Blaxhall Ship gigs, these are key feeders to FolkEast are they not?
John: They are, we are looking at doing something like a series of virtual Blaxhall Sessions, we have a few names in mind to get us going so we are busy planning the way forward. Keep an eye on the FolkEast website, and I’m sure Grapevine will be sharing news too.
Tony: Indeed we will John, thank you for your time tonight, is it time to switch on these red lights yet? John….? Are you there John…?