The Sun in the East – Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs and Albion Unenclosed – Part 2: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 12/52
In Part 1 of this post (which can be read here) I wrote about three photography orientated books which document British alternative/counter cultural outdoor festivals from the 1960s to 1980s: Jeremy Sandford and Ron Reid’s Tomorrow’s People (1974), Richard Barnes’ The Sun in the East – Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs (1983) and Sam Knee’s Memory of a Free Festival – The Golden Era of the British Underground Festival Scene (2017).
Part 2 of this post focuses further on The Sun in the East, a book which via a collection of Richard Barnes’ and other photographs alongside articles, cartoons, fliers and posters, interviews, memories and reflections on the festival etc presents a snapshot of a set of smaller scale fairs or festivals including the Barsham Faires and Albion Fairs, which took place in a particular area of Britain between 1972-1982.
As referred to in Part 1 of the post, in large part the overall aesthetic and culture presented and captured in the book is what could be loosely called latter period hippie-esque and possibly proto-new age traveller (with a few punks/anarcho-punks sneaking in towards the end).
And as also mentioned in Part 1, accompanying those aesthetics some of the fairs in The Sun in the East were medieval themed, with the entertainers and some of the attendees costumed or dressed in that manner. This may have reflected an early 1970s folk related interest in such things, an almost Arcadian wish to return to the land and the old ways that was often interconnected with hippie-esque culture and which has been described as a form of “imaginative time travel” (to quote Rob Young).
(As an aside, some of the posters/fliers for the festivals show the entrance fee as being 30p or 20p if in costume, which allowing for inflation is approximately £2.50 to £1.50 at contemporary prices – which seems somewhat cheap compared to the modern day festival ticket prices that can run into hundreds of pounds).
The festivals the book features are different from most of those in Tomorrow’s People and Memories of a Free Festival in that they weren’t big name band orientated, rather they featured performers nearer to say street performers – mimes, clowns, puppeteers, stilt walkers, small scale theatre shows etc.
In the photographs these performers seem nearer to being just another part of the festival, with them often performing literally in amongst the other attendees.
Looked at now, the festivals and in particular their entertainments in part seem not all that dissimilar to say a new age/eco leaning contemporary family friendly festival that was possibly organised or sponsored by for example a local council or a grant funded organisation of some form – which is also possibly in part a reflection of the incorporation and acceptance by wider society, governing bodies and authorities of some elements of what was once more fringe and counter culture.
Alongside the medieval and hippie-esque aspects and those just mentioned performers, looking through The Sun in the East there are at times old time music hall, cabaret and burlesque aspects to some of the performances, which is an intriguing prefiguring of the more recent revivals in such things.
The Sun is in The East is now long out of print and at the point of writing not all that cheap to buy second hand but it’s worth seeking out as a document of a semi-forgotten corner of cultural history.
I was first pointed in the direction of the book by undercurrents-of-folklore explorers and merchandisers Hare and Tabor, who as I have mentioned around these parts before have produced a t-shirt which is inspired by artwork for the Albion Fair, proceeds from which go towards funding the Fairs Archive, which is a travelling exhibition that documents the Fairs.
Their Albion Fair t-shirt page also contains some interesting background on the fair and related links. Well worth a visit.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music
2) Day #40/365: Electric Eden Ether Reprise… from the wild woods to broadcasts from the pylons…
3) Week #6/52: Tomorrow’s People, further considerations of the past as a foreign country and hauntology away from its more frequent signifiers and imagery…
4) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #46/52a: Barsham Faire 1974 and a Merry Albion Psychedelia
5) Chapter 1 Book Images: Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
6) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 11/52: The Sun in the East – Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs and Albion Unenclosed – Part 1