Warwickshire’s Also Festival
Flower-power, feasts & fascinating talks. Warwickshire's intimate boutique Also festival reviewed here.
Truth or Dare was the theme of the fourth Also Festival – with brilliant speakers, an immersive theatrical Truth or Dare Banquet and workshops picking up the thread. It’s the rural retreat of cultural entertainment organisation Salon London, co-founded by award-winning Warwickshire-born screenwriter Helen Bagnall and Juliet Russell, a voice coach on The Voice.
‘Small Festival, Big Ideas’ is the catch line of this quirky weekend escape in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside. Mr Muddy and my son met up with the man who helped come up with the slogan – Christian Banfield, Creative director of Schmick Film & Photography bureau – at his excellent Taking Better Pictures workshop.
The approach to the main site off the Fosse Way near Compton Verney, Warwickshire, is along a country lane through crop fields with amazing views. There were no queues when we arrived. We simply parked the car in field, picked up our wrist-bands and walked into the next field where the site was lit up entirely by fairy-lights below, looking just magical at dusk.
It may be small compared to the sheer scale of Glastonbury but it’s perfectly formed, with a well-designed wooded site in 50 acres of beautiful Capability Brown parkland and a stunning lake.
This is much more of an intimate festival experience with one main stage, a talks tent, the disco bunker – a sound-proofed straw barn – vine-covered dining tent, a bar and a handful of food outlets. In the next field up by the lake was the Orangerie, Spanish tapas bar Getaria, the Rum shack, coffee shop and glamping site – the Safari Hotel.
A very relaxed, intimate and carefully curated festival of ideas. There’s plenty to challenge the mind and fun to entertain all ages ranging from a Saturday morning philosophy breakfast on the power of effective altruism with the University of Oxford’s Prof Hilary Greaves, to Renegade economist Kate Raworth on Doughnut Economics, scented yoga, and closely fought Lip Sync Battles. Other highlights included a bonfire, lantern procession, cabaret, music and wild swimming in the lake, 2- 4pm.
This was our first visit. It’s the kind of festival where you feel the intelligentsia quota is particularly high. I took my eight-year-old daughter to the Kids tent on Sunday morning for an hour of Truth or Dare games. A younger girl around 6 joined in clearly in a bit of a quandary. “I really don’t know what to do next,” she told us. “Song Writing for Kids or (The Beauty in) Gravitational Waves? – They’re both on at the same time!” The latter being a talk by Prof David Tong, one of the most influential theoretical physicists around from Cambridge Uni. Wow, impressive! I’d lost my programme at this point and didn’t know what was on where…
A massively impressive line-up of exceptional talkers with academics from top UK universities including Oxbridge and partnered with Warwick Uni, a London community food grower, self-taught gardener and BBC journalist encompassing science, art, food and psychology.
They included BBC and ITV historian, Dr Michael Scott; psychologist Philippa Perry; acclaimed philosopher Roman Kznaric and the award-winning author, Helen Oyeyemi, whose Soundtrack to Your Life I caught in the bar.
I caught snippets of Clinical psychologist Dr Bergljot Gjelsvik’s Mindfulness: Does it Work?; the intriguing Could you Live Like a Badger? by University of Oxford Professor and barrister Charles Foster, London community food grower Farook Bhabha’s Imagine Better Food for All and Jamie Bartlett’s Why We Need Radicals. But there’s so much interesting stuff I missed out on. See here.
Some great alternative cabaret was showing too including Marcel Lucont’s C’est Cabaret. C’est Fantastique. UK perfumier Sarah McCartney, explored the ideas of gender and scent in a perfume-making workshop. While London’s leading theatrical life drawing company, Art Macabre, invited festival-goers to draw together at an intimate life drawing salon.
I was keen to see Kora-playing Belgian-Cameroon singer Lubiana. She revealed how learning to play the African harp (Kora) had connected the two cultures. My teenage daughter and her friend really enjoyed the gig too, admiring her Adidas Superstars, as well as amazing voice. A jazz music graduate, I loved her acoustic version of Nina Simone’s Love Me or Leave Me. She was followed by London International Gospel Choir (currently fighting it out on BBC1’s Pitch Battle).
Then came the incredibly popular and hotly contested Lip Sync Battles hosted by the energetic and super glam Juliet Russell in sequin trousers. The Main Tent was absolutely packed as kids and adults took to the stage miming to their favourite tracks. Two women clinched the clap-a-thon with their comic rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s 80s classic Total Eclipse of the Heart, my vote went to the teenage girl who totally nailed Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance!
After toasting marshmallows on the bonfire, listening to Juliet’s festival choir and watching the lantern procession we went back to the main tent to see talented songstress Gabby Young with her blue bob in a customised eclectic outfit made from her bridesmaids’ dress, she informed us – a sheer chiffon electric blue poncho over a mini pink dress. Her set started off acoustically when the festival generator went down momentarily and members of the audience pitched in telling pirate jokes.
With so many delectable food & drink options on offer, we spent Friday evening lake-side drinking cocktails from the colourful Jamaican- inspired Rum shack and munched on spiced chickpeas from Spanish tapas bar Getaria while the kids listened to Also’s first ever Terrifying Short Story in the Orangerie. Gutted I missed out on Cocktail Powered Time Travel at 7pm!
On Saturday afternoon, the girls debated over whether to make a Flower Crown with festival florists, Petal to the Metal, or take Summer Afternoon Tea, both at 3pm. Tea and cake it was. A theatrical affair in the gorgeously decorated Dining Tent, long tables were resplendent with wild flowers, berry pavlovas, tiered cake-stands and triangle sandwiches. Served by Mrs Rooney and the Poly Girls, we drank endless pots of tea in vintage china and there was a cheeky glass of Prosecco for grown-ups.
You could also book in for a rip-roaring Shipwrecked Midnight Feast, Summer Heights pop-up restaurant or the main festival foodie highlight, What Lies Beneath, a Truth or Dare Banquet and pudding procession designed by experimental food outfit, James Knight and Rebecca Otero, starting with Daring cocktails at 6.30pm. (£65pp).
Instead we enjoyed this stunning Sunday Balearic Brunch (£20 per adult, £8 for children) – a glass of Cava Sangria a cup of Gazpacho followed by a beautifully laid-out table of colourful Ibizan-inspired dishes, including Chorizo, toast, anchovies, red peppers, Spanish cheese and a huge pan of chicken Paella. For the vegetarians among us –the alternative was a tasty plate of Falafel, flatbreads, salads and lentils.
Definitely. Gone have the student halcyon days of Glastonbury, Reading, London’s Deptford Urban Free and Notting Hill Carnival. Over the last 10 years we’ve ventured to smaller family-friendly festivals swapping The Pixies & Suzanne Vega circa 1989, Primal Scream and Massive Attack for Mr Tumble; acrobatics & the Kid’s Field. At 10am on Saturday morning my youngest daughter asked to go to a Shakespeare for Kids workshop as her class are reading Macbeth in school. We watched the results of Dr Adam Baker’s Build Your Own Rocket session being fired into the air and families all went wild-swimming in the lake between 2- 4pm over the weekend. Two lifeguards were on standby. Lots of people brought blankets to sit on the banks of the lake. It was warm, sunny and super chilled. Perfect cossie weather.
Saturday’s Lip Sync Battles, the bonfire and lantern procession were some of the other big family hits. The Kidnight Beast inspired by ‘Being a Beast’ – the incredible book by Prof Charles Foster – Lantern-making workshops, Dare to Draw Monsters session with Art Macabre, DJing for Kids, Scrabble Jewellery workshop and Forest School were all very popular too.
There is lots of open space for camping, as you can see here near the Safari Hotel glampsite. There’s a bigger, busier camping area and campervan site, close to the second festival entrance and showers. Here you can park nearer to your tent. Mr Muddy and I, plus 4 kids aged 8, 16 and two 13-year-olds were in two tents. It was a good job we bought our trolley camping as we did decide to trek up and down thick, grassy sheep fields with all our camping gear in one of the furthest corners! We pitched up the quiet area close to the Safari Hotel glampsite in a shady spot close to posh flushing loos, The Rum Shack (a good call) and The Orangerie. We had a forest behind us and gorgeous views over the wooded lake. I was woken up at 4am on both mornings by orchestral birdsong!
Good for: Also benefits from being one of the UK’s smaller boutique festivals and is an amazing cultural asset for Warwickshire (alas only once a year – boo-hoo!). Thanks for having us! No queues, no crammed stage arenas and flushing loos are also a major draw, especially if you’re with younger children. It has a lovely intimacy, friendliness, fascinating talks, fairylights and an idyllic green location, plus being just 25 minutes from home means you can quickly nip back home if your inflatable has a huge hole (like ours did!)…
Not for: Anyone expecting big headline music acts.
££: A volunteer ticket £50 (in return for a 6-hour shift over the weekend); early-bird adult weekend ticket £80 & a family Weekend Ticket (for 2 adults and up to 4 children, includes camping), £175.
Also 2018 dates are already in, June 29-July 1. Early bird tickets are available here.