Venturing up to the wilds of Lincolnshire for Alchemy (last festival of the season!), we were struck immediately by the refreshingly small scale hippie charm it has retained, despite being in its fifth year.
Organised as close to the Autumn Equinox as possible to fit with the ‘Alchemy ethos’, this mere 3,000 strong party really does seem to have maintained its non – corporate, non – commercial beginnings – something it is all too easy to forget in today’s world of boutique camping and two-week wage tickets.
The site which plays host to this old style event is the stunning wildlife reserve in Tattershall, and its ancient beauty was hailed with Alchemy’s creation of the Wild Woodland: a magical route through the undergrowth complete with willow weaving workshops, glowing fairy lights and a literally awesome 600 year old weeping willow tree that sprawled across the paths and made great seats/ dens for the children that leapt and lay in its branches.
Arrival – Friday
We arrived on the Friday night around 8, in the somewhat depressing post Summer darkness. Attracted to the bright lights and bass of the already throbbing sound system, we parked up and dived into the throng of dancing festival goers. It was really hard to know what we were actually dancing to however, as there was no programme. It was only on the Saturday morning that we finally discovered the chalk written signs outside each stage with names and times of performances. It was interesting, and refreshingly old school to trust your ears and bounce around to whatever draws you in at the time, moving around the festival as the music evolved through the night. We definitely listened to things we weren’t expecting. After running full pelt into the Mushroom Stage and dancing solidly for a good hour to the absolutely thumping psy-trance of god-knows-who, we got some air and mooched over to the Philosopher’s Stone Stage. Here, punks in frilly dresses skanked to the rhythmic ska of Culture Shock, who rocked the open stages area with musical skill and quirky performance.
After a dance, we sampled some of the late night food in the (new for 2014) Alchemy Roundhouse, beautifully constructed from clay, straw and branches for an open topped roof. Reasonably priced baked potatoes, homemade chips and burgers were all on offer until late into late into the night. The other side of the Roundhouse hosted the Alchemy bar, where local ales, wine and spirits were drunk around rustic haystack seats.
One of the lovely things about small festivals is that you don’t have to walk miles to discover each stage, or to go back to your tent. Alchemy was perfect for this: all the stages were in a neat circle around the site, (except for the Shroomery Cycle Stage which was hidden in the woods) easily in view and not far if you wanted to see something separate to your group. The hill on which the fire pit stood was a perfect meeting spot between everything. If anything it was rather hard to hear anything particular standing in the middle of the festival, the stages being so close to each other. Some may take this as a sign of a less ‘developed’ festival, but this size and intimacy is what makes Alchemy so great. You stop at things you wouldn’t normally see, you are closer to the musicians than you would ever be at a larger event: organic is exactly what the Alchemy team are going for.
Saturday – The Weird and Wonderful
When waking up on Saturday morning we were disappointed to discover that the previous night’s steward had put us in the wrong place on arrival. The campervan field was over full, so they had begun filling up the car parking area. This was fine by us – we no longer cared where we slept, as long as we got in and got to sample some of the weird and wonderful sights on offer. But after being told we were blocking the emergency route (which we weren’t, and so ‘weren’t a whole other row of cars) we moved our campervan to a neat little spot up the field. This wasn’t good enough, however for the rude and persistently pedantic stewards, who insisted the row we had pulled into was a temporary parking bay. Funny, we thought, that everyone else in the overspill had parked their van in that area, there being no space anywhere else. They even started towing cars out of their spaces – not getting very far, mind. We put this down to bad organisation and a long night of shepherding festivalers through a dark wet field, and went to have fun.
In the light, we could see many more beautiful things. Craft and creation is a big thing at Alchemy, and the stalls mainly sold things that were made by independent artists; ornaments made form driftwood; pictures sculpted from felt. We then discovered the woodland and the previously hidden Shroomery Cycle Stage – powered by enthusiastic cyclists at the side of the stage. Walking through the woodland trail, we found the delightful cocktail bar and chill out sofa area, complete with a free for all to play piano. A lovely spot to unwind at the end of the night.
Throughout the camping areas the Alchemy crew had really made an effort with lighting. Fairy lights adorned the sea of tents, making for a pleasant walk down to the music stages and proving that they had thought about the little things. Signs everywhere urged us to ‘Keep Alchemy Clean’, and it really worked; the usual trawl of beer cans and crisp packets were nowhere to be seen.
Boogie on down, again
Alchemy has eight stages – The Philosopher’s Stone Stage; The Kaplick Solar Stage; The liberty Stage (solar powered); The Shroomery Cycle Stage (powered by pedals); The Mushroom Stage; The Toadstall Stage; The Psychedelic Breakfast Bar and The Alchemy Bar Stage. All sounds pretty trippy eh? Not entirely. Alchemy has a most eclectic selection of musical acts. The Mushroom Stage and The Toadstall Stage were dedicated to drum n bass, psy trance and other funky dance genres, while The Freedom Stage specialised in interesting new reggae/ ska bands.
We headed back out on the Saturday night after a meal in the campervan, amazed at the power of the lazers breaking through the sky. Six piece band The Electric Swing Circus got us bouncing with their energetic fusion of reggae, swing and electro and Ferocious Dog had hundreds swirling to the melodious clash of their punky folk /rock on The Philosopher’s Stone Stage. Personal highlights were Far Too Loud and Lab 4 (despite them being late) on the Saturday night, when crazily dressed ravers thumped feet to the beat of the bass bins. Alchemy has a 24 hour music license, and though everything finished disappointingly early on Friday, it carried on through the early hours till Sunday in the Roundhouse area.
Craft and Creation
Besides the diverse music at Alchemy, there is lots to see and do, even for the little ones (children not Hobbits, I mean, although the latter would probably enjoy it too). A large section of the field plays host to the kids’ area, where circus skills are learnt and beautiful things are made. But these activities are not restricted to one area – children were everywhere, throwing hay at each other, workshopping with the Black ‘smiff’ or playing in the nooks of the huge trees in the woods. All well behaved and well looked after. It is not very nice to see kids unhappy and neglected at festivals, but at Alchemy they were truly involved, respected and respectful of the less innocent revellers around them. They could even make sculptured out of used nos canisters.
Next to the circus arena sat the Black ‘smiff’, then a rather eccentric sculpture doing live shows of his chainsaw made masterpieces – scarf dangling down and all – and beyond this, an absolutely beautiful traditional gypsy bow top caravan. A really romantic spectacle. Stalls of independent sellers were scattered around the site, with many lovely handmade artsy things on show. And it may have been because it was the last festival of the season, but we thought everything seemed a tad cheaper than normal.
To be honest, we were expecting more food than there was. But the selection of Indian, Greek, Italian and ‘normal food’ there was delicious. The chicken tikka masala from the Indian was excellent. We sampled pretty much everything at some point, it being so reasonably priced. A ten inch pizza was £5, extra toppings 50p, and baked potatoes from the Alchemy bar were in the £4 region. Definitely no more than you would pay in an average day in town. A bottle of wine from the festival bar (with fully recyclable plastic bottle) was £10 – very nice price for someone used to drinking in over priced pubs. We never felt pushed into buying anything. So, the lurid beasts of consumerism were kept at bay for the weekend, which was lovely.
Alchemy also have volunteers working as carers for those who need a bit of help getting around the site. Disabled people. They had thought about everyone, and this showed.
We came home from Alchemy Festival grudgingly, feeling the sense of delightful community and love of beautiful things might not occur so readily in the non- festival world. Well, we can always dream.