Gee Witchalls at HELSTONBURY
Helstonbury is one of those festivals that you might not have heard of, but really should be clamouring to get into. As its founder says, “it’s a stealth festival – it’s not a national event, but a lot of people know about it” and it’s kind of a big deal.
Based at the historic Blue Anchor pub, known for its long history, onsite brewery and Spingo beer, it is the spiritual home of Helstonbury and the venue plays a huge part in the event’s success, as the organisers are quick to point out.
The festival is the brainchild of Paul Turton, a musician himself (Bobby’s Helmet) who came up with the idea whilst searching for a way to help his step-daughter, who suffered a rare genetic disease and was in need of an electric wheelchair as her mobility decreased. It was organised as a one-off gig in the summer of 2001, and yet in its 17th year it’s bigger than ever, with over 50 bands covering 4 stages. I spoke to Paul to find out what went so right.
“It was just the obvious thing to organise a music event, I was in a band and a few friends’ bands played too, we raised all the money for the wheelchair and thought – this is quite a good idea! The next year we raised money for another local girl, Amy Plant who needed a prosthetic limb she’d lost to cancer. It just worked so well and grew from there every year, we added the Friday for the younger people and eventually the Sunday too, and now it’s a full three days!” The Helstonbury website states that ‘Friday night has always been open to young people in full time education, from as young as 5 years of age. Many of our youngsters have gone on to greater things, making careers as professional musicians in their own right… and it all started at Helstonbury!’
All of the performers play the festival for free, with it being a charity event, and there are people from all round the country queuing up for a spot. Paul says “it’s even getting a bit awkward now because so many people are applying to play and we can’t fit everyone in” but the support is more than welcome and very much appreciated. It’s clear talking to him how much the festival means, and how passionate he is about it. There’s nothing in it for him aside from the love of it, and the joy he clearly gains from helping others in the community, which is pretty marvellous to behold these days.
This is the thing that makes Helstonbury really special – and I mean really, very special – and quite different to your common or garden music festival, is the fact that there’s no profit being made by anyone. Nobody’s in it for the money and everybody is having a great time. Anybody in the Helston area can apply for funds from the Helstonbury pot – individuals, groups and organisations, for equipment or any other help – and they are all considered on a case by case basis. In the past the festival has helped to fund the Porthleven Skate Park, boys’ and girls’ youth football teams in Helston, the Swallows Gymnasium and all manner of individuals. This year it made £13,375 on the door, which will mean around £11-12K into the charity pot once the costs of hosting are taken into account. That’s pretty spectacular for a small, local festival in a pub, with no ‘big hitters’ to draw in the crowds. Over the 17 years it’s been running, Paul estimates that the total raised is in the region of £85K and I don’t doubt that there are hundreds of people who have felt the benefits of that first hand.
As for the event itself – it’s fantastic. I could leave it at that, because its brilliance is in its simplicity, its intimacy. One pub with 4 stages, an incredibly broad range of genres, ages, and styles, a laid back vibe and one of the most enthusiastic crowds I have ever seen at a gig! The bands kicked off around midday and there was already a full house, dancing, cheering, and showing heaps of support to every single act. Here’s what a few of them had to say of the experience:
Go Go Skank – “We are big fans of Helstonbury since the Blue Anchor gave us our first gig last year. The atmosphere is always electric, whatever time of day bands play they are guaranteed an audience who are really out to have a good time. Even better is that it raises such a great amount for charity. We can’t wait for next year!” Go Go Skank Facebook Page
KAJ – “2017 was my Helstonbury debut and honestly, I had no idea what to expect from my 5-6pm slot. I thought it would be a reasonably chilled set. But Wow! I was wrong. Everyone was up for a party! When I play music I love to interact with the crowd and the Helstonbury lot were perfect for this. I felt like I was hanging with friends. Paul Turton helped stage an event that the artists could enjoy, the crowd could get behind and ultimately a whopping £13,000 was raised for a brilliant cause. I hope to play a set next year!”
Here’s a link to a little clip from Kaj’s set” https://www.instagram.com/p/BW26hL5FUnj/?taken-by=kajmusic
EVEN NINE – “We have played Helstonbury a few times now and it’s always a special event. For all of the festivals, gigs, tours, etc. we’ve done it’s always one that sticks in our minds. It’s possibly the smallest festival we’ve played, but feels so much bigger purely because of the people. There is so much fun filled positivity that feels special to be part of and makes the somewhat of logistical nightmare it is to load equipment in and out worth it!
There is a fairly unique vibe to Helstonbury, partly down to the nature and layout of the Blue Anchor where it’s held. It feels more like a huge party of close friends.”
Even Nine’s new album ‘Empires’ is out now!
www.evennine.com and www.facebook.com/evennine
TIGER TALES – “We’re so privileged to be part of the Helstonbury Charity Festival, it’s an amazing event for the whole community and the highlight of the year. The Blue Anchor is a perfect venue for such an event and the organisation of the running order and transition of bands is seamless. We’ll be playing at another charity all day event ‘Coverack Aid’ to raise funds for the village flooding which took place recently. It’s on the 28th August at the Lambeage Hall in Coverack. It will feature a garden party in the afternoon with live music, then continue into the evening with more bands/bar until 11pm. Entry is a donation on the door.” www.facebook.com/thetigertalescornwall
BLACK LEAVES OF ENVY – “Helstonbury was the very first gig we played as a band, and doing it every year since makes us think how far we’ve come and how much has changed. We’ve all been coming to shows in the Blue Anchor, and there is something authentic and magic about the place – which seems to come to life at Helstonbury.” www.facebook.com/blackleavesofenvy
Riders to Ruin – “This was the first time for Riders to Ruin playing Helstonbury and what a great festival, we had an absolute blast! This was only the second show for us, we only play our own music which is our take on classic hard rocking r’n’r!” Riders to Ruin’s Debut EP is due out next week.
Take this as your one year warning – get it on your calendar and forget about Glasto – Helstonbury is where it’s at.