The alternative face of Cambridge: 30,000 flock to Cambridge for Strawberry Fair
6 Jun 2017
It looked like totally spontaneous fun; characters dressed as fairies, top-hatted children’s storybook heroes and long curly-locked shepherdesses converged on Cambridge on Saturday in a charming cavalcade of cartoonish capers. Themed on Fairy Stories, the traditional mad march through the city centre to Midsummer Common was as wonderfully disordered as any party, mostly young people with not just flowers but whole woodlands of greenery in their hair and musicians raring to toot their flutes at the first opportunity -- all to herald the Strawberry Fair.
But despite the happy air of abandon, Strawberry Fair is planned down to the last detail. A dedicated committee make sure all openings are covered, all emergencies foreseen,30.000 attendees have lavatories and food and a programme of events, booked in since February, runs smoothly.
It worked. This year Cambridge’s early summer free festival commanded lovely weather a huge level of dressed up participation and a calm smiley atmosphere without a hint of menace. Organisers should take a bow. Mark McGivern and his team of volunteers set on to paint bins, unload vans and unpack equipment were hard pressed but quietly efficient.
The stalls were inventive – there must be a dozen ways to have your hair braided at Strawberry Fair – and the city’s pressure groups from Wintercomfort and National Trust with their quiet plant stall to the dozens of hot food outlets and vintage clothes collections lining the paths through the event.
It all started in 1974. Far from ‘humble beginnings’ as today’s website describe its origins, Strawberry Fair reflected an ambitious desire to provide for townspeople, particularly the young ones, an alternative to the kind of grand balls usually staged for the University students in mid June. At this point in the ‘70s these extravagant affairs each costing many thousands of pounds to stage were begin to attract criticism – then as now they were branded elitist exclusive and divisive.
What was needed, thought students like the soon to be famous DJ Trevor Dann, was a music festival with arts and performers, for everyone. Amazingly with all the ups and downs Strawberry Fair has suffered (banned one year after police appealed their licence) often berated by nearby residents and sighed over by older citizens, it is still going strong.
There were the heady days of bands like Ezio who found fame when Tony Blair featured them on Desert Island Discs or the fantastic local combo Katrina and the Waves (remember their fabulous one hit wonder ‘Walking on Sunshine’ that still has an Abba style power to get everyone up and dancing?) but today the quality and class is still there.
Democratically, bands compete for performance rights and there were some cracking musical turns there on Saturday. Particularly wonderful were Split Whiskers who rocked on like a true sixties combo but kept faithfully to the tight time schedule and moved over for the next act despite a huge demand for encores. Frankly it could have been 1974 at times.
Walking past the acoustic wigwam the sounds of Bob Marley’s top hits echoed soulfully over the strains of a steel band ‘Songs of Freedom’ sounded as reggaeresonant as the day they were first heard. And still as relevant. For the musical record, the competition which took place in May, threw up some brilliant bands Flint Moore, Maverick, The Hot One Two Cavetown, Vulpes, Jason & The Skagonauts and the best talent prize went to Flint Moore.
The King’s Head’s high tech competiton was in rocking evidence with winners showing the skills of 2017 command of digital entertainment. Categories ranged from a two-hour slot of family music to some deep challenging rap and hip hop presentations. In this way, Strawberry Fair manages to straddle the generations -- presenting the best of the old and the most sophisticated of the ultra modern. The heats of the coveted DJ prize have been going on behind the scenes and the winners as good as any online star or Radio 1 jock.
Good humored well behaved, excellently planned, Strawberry Fair still feels what it claims to be; a festival by the People and for the People. Many congratulations to everyone who took part and made it the colourful fun and pleasurable arts feast it succeeded in being. In an age of security problems and financial concerns, it is a huge achievement to conjure a day for all ages, morphing into an evening for serious music aficionados.
Photo by David Bradley https://sciencebase.com/photos