Let the wagons roll!

SUFFOLK is to play host to its very first Gypsy Arts Festival, complete with guitar music, peg making, and wagon painting. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING previews what the Roma/gypsy and traveller communities have in store.

By Tracey Sparling

SUFFOLK is to play host to its very first Gypsy Arts Festival, complete with guitar music, peg making, and wagon painting. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING previews what the Roma/Gypsy and Traveller communities have in store.

LET the wagons roll!

Next week cars full of spectators, along with a few Gypsy caravans, will be rolling towards the Museum of East Anglian Life for Suffolk's first ever Gypsy Arts Festival.

The site near Stowmarket houses one of the region's best Gypsy heritage collections, and travelling communities from the traditional to the modern day, will show a rich variety of their work there on July 15.

Arts organisation Hungry Arts, in partnership with the Museum of East Anglian Life, has organised the festival, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Suffolk County Counci and Mid Suffolk District Council.

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It's the brainchild of organiser Doug Hunter, a New Zealander by birth who has come across Gypsy music on his world travels and now wants to make it accessible to people who might not otherwise have heard it.

Doug said: “It's only when you see the amazing connection that bands like Terrafolk have with their audience, that you realise what this is all about. I almost can't describe the energy, and the uplifting way this music cuts across everybody's preconceptions and unites people, young and old. People just can't resist getting up and joining in.

“I've been working in festivals for 25 years, so I've worked with a lot of people and I find these bands incredible.”

Doug is picking up on what seems to be a growing interest in Gypsy culture, which has sparked several new films this year. The momentum is gathering and he said: “There are Gypsy music festivals in other parts of the country, but this is certainly starting something new for the region. The idea started with the concert, but now the festival is going to be the first event to be 'a celebration' of all Gypsy/Traveller arts, including heritage and culture.”

His partner Ros Green shares his passion for the energetic and narrative music. She said: “Many people don't know much about the travelling community. This event will be a celebration of that culture, but it's not about getting on a soapbox to plead their cause - it's a really fun day out for all the family.

“You will be able to learn how to do a Gypsy jig, play a fiddle, join a singing workshop. Then everyone will get together in the evening for an exciting ensemble performance before the main concert.”

“It's also easy to get to, set in a beautiful spot behind the Abbot's Hall, where there will be a beer tent with real ales, delicious food, and a covered stage and it will go on rain or shine.”

The Second Site touring exhibition will show work by artists Daniel Baker, Ferdinand Koci, Damien LeBas and Delaine LeBas who show the Roma, Gypsy and traveller traditions.

The museum has about five traditional gypsy caravans on site, and more will arrive for the day. It also has displays about the different stages of traveller history through to the current day. You can hear stories from Gypsies like Emma and Hughie Draper, including how to cure a sore throat with herbal medicine, and how to cook for a family of six children with no electricity or gas!

The culture relies on a very oral tradition, so two Traveller children will be doing five-minute interviews with exhibitors throughout the day, to air on the radio. You will be able to talk to people about their life on the road, and ask questions.

Ros said: “The Gypsy community often has a negative reputation, but we want to focus on the positive, enjoy it, and help people get something out of it.

“One of the things which surprised me was how close everybody was. It was their one chance a year to see relatives and friends from all over the country and it was very exciting to see. If we can capture that spirit of closeness at the festival, it will make for a great atmosphere.”

Weblink: www.gypsyartsfestival.co.uk

10am-5.30pm

Bring your accordion, violin or guitar along because the daytime programme will include drama and music workshops. You are invited to bring your instrument to join in a variety of music workshops, which will run throughout the day, culminating in an ensemble performance at the end of the day.

The daytime programme will also include Second Site, a national Traveller art exhibition featuring the work of four young artists from Roma/gypsy/traveller communities.

There will also be master storytelling by Duncan Williamson, a Scottish traveller who has gathered an immense national repertoire over several decades.

See the Gypsy dance and music performances, step dancing demonstrations, traditional gypsy craft demonstrations like paper flower making and peg making etc, gypsy heritage exhibitions, wagon painting demonstrations, talks, oral history recordings, Roma/Gypsy film screenings, plus refreshments.

Tickets: Normal admission prices to Museum of East Anglian Life apply - adult £6.50, Concs. £5.50, children £3.50. All workshops and activities are free.

6pm-10.30pm

The festival will culminate in a Celebratory World Music Concert, in the gardens behind Abbots Hall, headlining with Kal, a contemporary Roma band from the suburbs of Belgrade, which has just hit the top of the European World Music Charts with its new album 'Asphalt Tango'.

BBC Radio 3 World Music Award winner Terrafolk, another Balkan band that plays a formidable repertoire of Gypsy music, will be supporting Kal on stage.

Tickets: £10 adults, children under 12 free. For more information contact Hungry Arts on 07758 279341.

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