29 May

The Hay on Wye Literary Festival is in full swing and we attended a couple of events yesterday. To be more precise, I went in the morning and we both went in the late evening. Hay is a small town just over the border with Wales, and has more bookshops than you can shake a stick at. A couple of years ago the sponsorship of the festival moved from the liberal, arty-farty Guardian newspaper to the old time, one nation Tory Telegraph. There has been a marked dip in the alternative side of the festival, and it has become much more predictable. As Hay is only twenty odd miles away, it is, by our standards, on our doorstep. The weather yesterday was filthy, with steady rain falling for over sixteen hours, soaking but never torrential. What did you expect in Wales at this time of year?

Anyhow, I ought to say a bit about what we saw. In the morning, at 10 AM I went to see Barry Cunliffe talk about his latest tome, which deals with human settlement in Britain from Mesolithic times up to the Norman Conquest, lavishly illustrated and with a very fetching cover. Sir Barry, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford, has the sort of vanity which rejoices in studied informality. The talk was pretty good, well pitched to an audience of limited expertise. He has gone through all the available evidence including the latest DNA and water isotopes in teeth to tell where people came from. There were brief and more traditional discussions of movements in Celtic art and who the Celts were, though this came off rather badly in comparison to the new stuff. There was also a discussion of the origin of languages, especially of the Celtic languages and the Germanic elements of south and east Britain from before the Roman interruption. The audience questions became fixated on this. I did consider queuing up to get a signed copy of the book, but decided against it as there was a huge swarm of accompanied children blocking the entrance to the book shop and because I can get a copy at £10:50 off at Amazon! He showed a slide of the Dover boat, as he was emphasising the sea as a means of communication rather than an obstacle. I would have liked to have mentioned the excavator, my friend Keith Parfitt, and the Langdon Bay hoard. Anyway, as everyone was sheltering from the rain and the queues for coffee were silly I decided to go back home.

I dragged a tired Hazel out to see Seth Lakeman in the evening. The event started at nine thirty PM, which is a bit late. As I only know a couple of his songs there was not a huge level of recognition for me and Hazel knew less. The audibility was further reduced by there being far too much reverb on Lakeman’s mic, which rendered even the spoken introductions almost inaudible. The balance was also a bit out, with the guitar level far too low compared with the other instruments. My understanding of such events is that amplified acoustic instruments give a muddier sound than purely electric ones, but there is no excuse for the voice being distorted. Worst of all was the habit of the lighting man to swing the swivelling coloured spots onto the audience during the upbeat numbers. It was like camping next to a set of temporary traffic lights. This might be alright in the mosh-pit but was only instant eye strain for those seated, especially if they wear glasses. Enough of the moan. Lakeman is a persuasive and exciting performer who writes good songs and has found a good band to perform with. He had a large number of people up and bopping by the end. He has a considerable and enthusiastic following and the atmosphere was good. It was nearly midnight before we got back and I was followed from Hay to nearly Leominster by a car with one blown headlight. That gave me a bit of eye strain as well.


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