Words: Robin Turner
Photos: Wendy Barrett
Whichever way round you look at the map of Britain, fforest farm sits pretty much at the edge of it. Tucked away in the far west of Wales, it takes a bit of effort to get there, an investment of half a day at least if you’re coming from the Smoke. When you finally arrive in glorious Ceredigion though, it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re going all that way, what you’re no doubt after is pure nature, for mile after mile after mile. The kind of thing us city dwellers read about, dream about, yet get so little access to. fforest is just nature. There’s nothing else there. The mobile signal blinks in and out like the light from a distant star and the onsite pub feels like a shelter you’ve stumbled across halfway up a mountain on a cross-country hike. Although we’ve done festivals before, it’s something of an understatement to say the first Caught by the River Teifi was a trip well away from our comfort zone.
What strikes you first about the location is the stillness. Bird song is everywhere – never more so than from a troupe of low flying house martins that strafe the site in the hours after dawn. Strain your ears and you can hear the distant babble of a river. That’s the onsite swimming pool, a beachy inlet in the river Teifi. Listen really closely and you might hear the sound of brows furrowing as people get properly involved in daily workshops from Pete Fowler, Nick Hand, Rob St John, Neil Thomson, Matt Sewell, Bruno Vincent and Will Burns. Occasionally, the stillness is punctuated by the sound of children and the sound of the busy bar. Otherwise, it’s a glorious, cinematic silence (that might sound contradictory by definition but I’m standing by it); a retreat from all of modern life’s distortions.
When we’ve done a lot of incredible festivals before – No 6, Port Eliot, Dinefwr, Create, Field Day, Good Life – we’ve been brought in by organizers to bring something different to a pre-existing line-up. Caught by the River Teifi was different in that it was conceived and executed by us (mainly the unrelenting, brilliant pair of Carl Gosling and Jackson Tucker Lynch). There was no main stage just off in the distance; no dance tent, no healing field. It was us and the people from fforest (with a little help at the weekend from fantastic local promoters Nyth and the good folks behind the Wales Arts Review) and the people who came. We didn’t know how it would work, we just asked a bunch of likeminded friends to help out and crossed our fingers.
The week we spent in Cardigan has to rate as one of the best things Caught by the River has ever been involved in. The weather was stunning (I’m Welsh and I’ve never known consistent weather like it). The workshops were perfect – from notes on field recording to Monsterism mask making to creative writing. The music from DJs and live bands (including Gwenno, Justin Robertson, Stealing Sheep, Jeb Loy Nichols, H.Hawkline, Colorama, Richard Hector Jones, Pete Fowler, Matt Sewell, James Endeacott, Meilyr Jones, Zefur Wolves and a whole host more) was impeccable. The campfire talks – from Richard King, Nina Lyon, Anna Wood and more and a one-off live Jeb’s Jukebox with Jeb himself and Will Burns – were alternately moving, hilarious and transportational; often within the space of one session. The beer was local and ridiculously drinkable. From the very young to the young at heart, people were up for whatever opportunities or challenges were offered them (from swim sessions in the freezing cold drink to outdoor interpretive performance classes). The whole thing would have failed without participation. And it really, really didn’t fail.
Back in London, fforest seems so distant again – for me, it’s a swirl of flashbacks to the freedoms of childhood and all the carefree laughter of young adulthood. Really hope we get to do it again one day.