Summer is a time for festivals. Traditionally culture and performing arts-related, if you look hard enough, there’s something for everyone – and often it’s to be found in the same place.
During July, Lincoln hosted three events. Normally, the performing arts don’t get much of a look-in, but the city does host Steampunk, at the end of August, now in its 13th year and reputedly the largest gathering of its type anywhere.
Last month’s festivals were staged in the Cathedral (a fantastic setting but not without flaws) and in Castle Square, in front of the Cathedral. There’s no finer setting for an outdoor event (especially when the weather co-operates; not so much fun when it doesn’t).
Music for all tastes
The first event was a five day celebration centred around the 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd. The Cathedral was, unquestionably, the right place for it and it was hard not to imagine the famous Lincoln Imp sitting atop his pillar with a quiet smile of recognition on his face as Byrd’s church music – written to be sung there – filled the vault with glorious polyphony as it must have done 400 years ago.
The acoustic properties of the nave are really quite poor but that didn’t really matter. They say that whale songs are a good way to relax but let me tell you – hearing the Cathedral choir sing Ave Maria (a work by Robert Parsons) and The Tallis Scholars performing the anthem Sing Joyfully is just as calming.
A week later, the Cathedral nave played host to the opening concert in the Lincoln Jazz Festival. Whereas the Byrd was a one-off, the Jazz Festival has been held a number of times before (though not always in consecutive years as far as I’m aware). In 2022 it featured the Darius Brubeck Quartet and coincided with the spell of extreme heat that produced a temperature of 40.3oC at Coningsby, just down the road. It would be true to say the Cathedral was the coolest place in the county at that point.
Not so this year, but the outside temperature didn’t matter. Inside the Cathedral, the Clare Teal Quartet produced a sparkling evening’s entertainment. I knew nothing about her and her band beforehand but her set was exceptional, a bluesy mixture of styles from Big Band and swing classics from Peggy Lee and Duke Ellington, to tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and a quite beautiful version of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars.
In spite of the dodgy acoustics, the sound engineers did a good job of making sure the music didn’t disappear into the vault. The band, with Simon Little on bass, Ed Richardson on drums and Jason Rebello on piano, played with terrific verve, delightfully supported on the trombone by guest artist and festival artistic director Dennis Rollins. Both events were packed out, proving that people in Lincoln need and value the chance to see top quality artists.
Back to the 1940s
The final event could not have been in greater contrast. Lincolnshire is obsessed with the 1940s to such an extent you’d think nothing had ever taken place before or since. This year, two 1940s festivals have been held already – one in Woodhall Spa and the other in front of the Cathedral.
The blurb for the latter event spoke of “experiencing the spirit of 1940s Britain” with “live music and dance, food and drink in the local businesses, craft markets, classic vehicle displays, family activities and pop-up street theatre, vintage fairground (including a carousel and children’s swing boats!), and traditional games.” There’s a mountain of evidence to show that life in 1940s Britain was one of extreme hardship with queueing, food rationing, the threat of invasion, evacuation and danger of being killed during air raids.
Whatever else live music, craft markets, pop-up street theatre and vintage fairgrounds were, they weren’t available to the population during the war. No matter. Those that attended them doubtless thoroughly enjoyed these activities and were unlikely to complain too much at the inaccuracies.
It’s important that festivals provide for every taste and in this respect, Lincoln’s July festivals most certainly offered something for everyone.