...feet are stomping and the cider’s flowing
Holifair by Simon Evans

It’s 10.30pm and, I’m grabbing my partner and bolting under an archway of human arms.

Fiddles are blazing, feet are stomping and the cider’s flowing. It’s Cornwall’s Holifair festival’s barndance.

Tucked away in the tiny, quaint village of Gweek, Holifair Fetival is a bizarre hybrid of village carnival and hippie festival. Locals greet each other in the makeshift ‘barn,’ a huge marquee decked in colourful material and decorated poles, which, given tonight’s community spirit, may well be a farmer’s barn. But come Saturday the barn is transformed into a stage hosting several Cornish cult bands. Among them are Zapoppin!, the Wives of Farmers and Julian Gaskell.

With just banjo and miniature organ Zapoppin! plays a set of well-crafted ditties with black humour and obtuse lyrical themes, which range from the death of Abraham Lincoln (Peristalsis) to taxidermy: “I awoke in the middle of the night and at the foot of my bed/ there she stood with a bottle of formaldehyde and some kind of severed head” (You, Me and Taxidermy). Gruesome imagery is made comical with touches of miniature organ and frantic, rough banjo. The band’s musical imperfections – whether contrived or genuine, adds to the silly tone of its music.

Next up it’s Wives of Farmers, local favourites and purveyors of surreal, cryptic lyricism and spikey, distorted guitar. Clad in white plastic suits, the band looks like forensic scientists on a crime scene. Frontman Scott Noskin kicks off the set banging a disposable barbeque (instrumentation he discovered just minutes before coming on stage during the band’s practice in a van). As the playing gets more frantic, Noskin’s drumming becomes more extreme. His hand drips with blood as charcoal flies all over the stage. But the show must go on, and in sync with the music Noskin wipes his bloody hand on the white suit, covering himself in bloodstain stripes.

The set – with or without its blood and guts, is deeply entertaining. Band members swap instruments, change strings and keep the audience amused in the meantime with songs about ‘floaters,’ an apt topic at a sodden hippie festival.

Later on during the festival lively folkster Julian Gaskell and his band hits the stage with an epic set of jig-led gypsy music to which the entire crowd dances. With banjo, fiddle, ukulele, accordion, double bass (played by the frontman of Zapoppin!) the band is fuelled with acoustic energy. Set in a marquee covered in hay to soak up the rain, there’s no better setting for a ferocious folk session.

But the weekend’s bands aren’t all blazing fiddles and banjos. Hedlove plays small kid-friendly keyboards and a drum machine, over the top of which the pair rap about a plethora of topics from smoking to Super Mario Land. But the clincher of the set is Smoking Ban - a ditty about the smoking ban’s uniting qualities for droves of smokers outside pubs across the UK. The song is witty, sharp and entertaining – qualities firmly adhered to by many of the weekend’s acts.

Photo by Simon Evans

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