“A relentless task” is the phrase The Director of Eden Arts, Adrian Lockhead, uses to express his attempts to create artistic events that also display Public accountability. In the light of questions, criticisms and suggestions made here about this year’s Summer Pudding Festival at Appleby Castle, on the 20th of August last, and his hand in the pudding mix. The remark came in the wake of the ‘disaster’ the event proved financially, according to Mr Lockhead, the event’s head chef, if you like, indeed bringing a threat to jobs, he says. After a near glorious week of midsummer sunshine saw such a torrential and relentless downpour, it touched the hearts and flagging spirits of many.
If not quite a total washout then, with folk and families still braving the day, it proved a very soggy summer pudding indeed, certainly worthy of input from the great British Bake-Off team. Perhaps next time they should invite Mary Berry. The After Party in front of the splendid Concert stage, erected in the Castle Keep, like a Great White Shark’s mouth, and hosting excellent bands, was still over populated by folk from the acts themselves, despite the efforts of a giant and charming stilt-walking White Rabbit to welcome all.
I was among those initially praising Adrian Lockhead’s efforts, and the whole style and ambition of the thing too. Especially now the owner of Appleby Castle Sally Nightingale has so stated her intention of throwing open wide the Castle gates once again, making valiant efforts to do so too. With colourful banners blazoned across the A66 though, and imaginative flyers dropping into your puddings from The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, a great deal of work was done by Eden Arts and high expectations certainly raised. It had all received Arts Council backing and impressive Corporate Sponsorship too, and I for one was much looking forward to it. Locals were impressed both with the £2 entry for same Postcode friends, but with deals done with local shops, for discounts if you had an arm band.
Ironically the Pudding could not have had worse weather though, even for Cumbria, and in the middle of August too, so perhaps it is dangerous to invoke such Gods of Flood and Storm. It was hugely unlucky, beyond even the powers of Adrian Lockhead to cater for, perhaps. Yet Cumbrians are well used to waiting and not going out because of the weather. While does that justify his saying to me, perhaps a little glibly as soon as I met him, “Well, we’ve done all we can”?
That is certainly to blame the weather, when other things might be in play too. But why then was there little or no response to my asking how such an event might be made weather-proof and advertised as such? Time involved was mentioned, yet it was not only the problem of great gloopy pools of muddy water appearing at the gates, unswept away, or the WW1-like duck boards outside the Vintage Tent turning into Paschendale. Not the kind of Vintage your really need. But the fact I know of at least one marquee offered free of charge and refused. Which also points to questions raised about where the acts came from and why there was not more local input and involvement?
Of course folk soldiered on valiantly, jokes were cracked, fun was had, trails and walks enjoyed, some of the many Porta-loos used, and this is Cumbria, as one young singer bravely intoned. The frustration here though is not the problem of doing anything by committee, even of relentless accountability, nor the desire for anything but quality and joy to draw visitors and generate excitement. But Mr Lockhead’s obvious disinterest in engaging in new or outside ideas, or accepting some creative criticism for his dish. So ignoring the offer of an Independent report on the Festival, along with wider suggestions for other ways in which Appleby might me made a long-term focus for Art and Commerce in the region, which it well might.
The Castle is not only of huge historical significance and a wonderful setting, as a late-clearing evening began to reveal, and a previously seen performance of As You Like It too, but is part of the long-looked-for spiritual centre of the town, though perhaps a spirit that needs truly recovering still, and one not only about Lady Anne Clifford. Other odd things happened then that might bring into question a certain professionalism, and basic courtesy too, from several quarters.
So though to a suggestion that things be explored more deeply and Appleby actually be put firmly on the map again, with an Annual ‘Art Flood’ instead. Which would commemorate this year’s flood disaster certainly, and the probability of future problems too, now the Climate changes, as it always will. But not just to raise money or spirits, and focus on one thing alone, but with a brilliant County and National flood of Art, Music, Literature and Theatre, and over a longer period. Who knows, you could even invite that fellow who wrote his book about Sheep. That is with no disrespect at all to the people of Appleby, nor to the excellent acts and bands that did appear, but a belief that Cumbrians deserve the very best and if you really build (or cook it), they will come. This Summer Pudding then, foul weather or not, was not yet it and since all have different tastes, I would like a starter, fish course and main too, to go alongside any just desserts.
Whether the idea of a one day pud is delicious or not then, obviously making it so vulnerable to the elements, it should always have been treated as a wider test case and a way to stimulate both new ideas, but also much deeper reciprocity. Adrian Lockhead claims that the vast majority of comments he has received were very supportive, yet I wonder if that is true of the people not really invited to the party, or those not interested in just muddling through, or if he should not engage with all, and as relentlessly as the Cumbrian weather.
The photo shows the ‘Shark stage’ at the Summer Pudding in front of Appleby’s ancient and remarkable Keep, with folk waiting for a party.