Here it is, the first instalment. More will be added as I do it. If anyones been waiting for this, I’m sorry for the delay but I’ve been COMPLETELY KNACKERED!


Well here we go. My own account of SOLFEST 2006, now that I’m just about recovered from the event that has, though it was so completely wonderful had left me feeling so dead of heart and soul, physically exhausted and not wanting to even look at anything related to Solfest and any other festival.

But what a weekend it was, what an amazing crowd of beautiful people are you that stump up your hard earned cash to come and see us here in the hinterlands of West Cumbria on fields that had for centuries been believed to have nothing there but spirits, ghosts and faerie folk. So no, change there then.


It started early, even as we were still putting the finishing touches to the site. The gates opened at 9 O’clock that morning and in they came and never stopped for some hours.

On the Artists and Traders gate our carefully planned system of allocating wristbands and passes had quickly gone haywire and was never to recover, somehow everyone that was supposed to be inside got inside and I think they all had their passes. But it was waiting for my light and sound that was my main concern and it was good to see Paul arrive. But the news he brought with him was devastating.

Dave Davidson my sound engineer had had a heart attack earlier that morning, having been through one before he knew the signs and had the presence of mind to call for an ambulance. His heart stopped en route to hospital and as the crew resuscitated him, some of his ribs had been broken. The next twelve hours were crucial…

…Solfest and the Drystone Stage became the most insignificant things on the planet. My mind became a fog, was I responsible for this? Did the pressure of working the sound at Solfest cause this? Someone said that I had to try and contact Gary who was providing our gear to check that he had the extra equipment we needed, obviously the items Dave was going to bring were not going to be there.
I went to the site office to try to find his number in the Yellow Pages; I had not brought it with me. However, as I tried to read the book it had become an intelligible mass of blurred lines and odd glyphs that made no sense and inside I felt myself beginning to unravel. I managed to give an urgent call to Karen on the walkie-talkie; I needed her at that moment. Just to hold me a moment and help me recover and refocus.
I had 5000 people here who were up for the best party of their lives; I must distance myself from this, detach myself and become Wizardmarra the genial and enthusiastic host of the show.

Karen and I finally found each other and she did what she always does and helped me find my strength and composure again and when I arrived back down at the Drystone there was Paul smiling as Gary and Sam had arrived with everything that we needed. I will state here and now the immense debt of gratitude I owe to them, they pulled triumph from tragedy and gave me a stage, which had I think the best quality sound and light at the festival.

Most things were a blur for a while, my fellow MC’s arrived Ann Wilson, Phil (Big Tree) Hazlehurst, and Sarah Ledger and I brought them up to speed on who was where and when and before I knew it was time to go and get myself ready for opening the mainstage.
My composure had returned and I changed into my stage clothes an act, which nearly had me cracking up again. The new (to me) red waistcoat had been given to me from Dave, it was his Dads and for a moment, I lost it a little. Deep, deep breaths and a word to whoever it was up there that took notice of such things that this night was for Dave.


I’d thought originally that our new stage was a bit tatty looking, but seeing it now fully kitted out with the silver SOLFEST shining on the backcloth it looked the job. I still prefer our old handmade mainstage, but the extra space backstage was so much more practical for changeovers, (and gave me ample room to have my own dance floor for backstage jigging around).

And so it came to pass that I turned the ignition key backstage and the mighty juggernaut that is mainstage began it’s journey through time.

It is quite simply the best job in the world opening the festival; there is no other feeling that compares with being on that stage. Looking out across the front; and seeing faces that are there every year, smiling, anticipating the weekend ahead.

“Who’ve you got for us this year Wiz?”

This year was particularly good to do as Gerard (for it is he that runs and does the booking for mainstage) had THE OUTROADS to open the show. I’d had them closing the Drystone last year (their demo CD was one of those that as soon as I put it on gave me an “OOOO! That’s GOOD!”) R ‘n’ B in the original, true sense Rhythm and Blues but with a new and fresh twenty first century edge.

Along with the devastating news of Daves heart attack, I’d also had word the day before that the father of Nick from DYFRAMIX had also fallen to the same cruel fairy arrow and so the band were unable to perform at Solfest on the Sunday night. The good side of this was that I was able to offer the slot to Outroads, they had emailed me earlier asking for a chance to play on the stage, they had enjoyed their set on the Drystone so much last year. So, they were overjoyed when I asked them. DYFRAMIX fans need not worry as their booking simply slides along into next year.

So OUTROADS opened SOLFEST 2006 with that same opening track on the demo “NO ACCIDENT”

It was the first of many backstage “OOOOOOO’s!”


And here was a surprise, as I didn’t realise that this was my old marra ROGER PURVES along with KATIE DOHERTY and ANDREW CADIE. Now there are few people in the world who can play the Mandolin like Roger. I have a treasured memory from my days as a visual artist, it was the day of the private view/opening of my exhibition “Unearthing The Muse” and I’d asked Roger to provide music for me. He sat quietly in the corner of the gallery and played the most beautiful music for about two hours. This was probably wasted on some of the freebie snatchers who attend such things. However, not all, even to this day I still get people commenting on the fact that I had music at all my exhibitions “like the guy on the Mandolin.”

State of play Mainstage 2 bands down
Wizardmarra appreciation rating 2+

Next, up AMY WADGE

Here I faced the potential minefield of cock-ups that any Master Of Ceremonies might face…

…”How the hell do you pronounce WADGE?”

There is only one answer to this question, when in doubt, ASK! And she seemed pleased I did, it’s pronounced WODGE as in CASH, too many got it wrong and said WADGE as in WANNAMAKETHOSEEYESATMEFOR.

She made beautiful noises from her throakit and claque anywoy.


As you would hope from a man by the name of Friend, Simon is one of the nicest blokes I’ve had the pleasure of seeing back of the mainstage, and at this point, it is a good place to insert the first of these…


Sitting back of mainstage chatting to those present and thinking…
…I’m talking to Simon Friend AND Rory McLeod!

…Tis of such things that though perhaps sad that I should take great delight in merely being in the company of FAMOUS PEOPLE! But such things are the Silver Balls and Vermicelli on the already sweetly iced Solfest Cake. But I don’t imagine that Simon or Rory will remember it so.

What a truly rare and splendid set he gave us though, with such delights! Not only the aforementioned Rory McLeod (who, when all is said and done gave Solfest more than our monies worth playing it seemed everywhere he could onsite) but also our own beloved MARY. For too long we have waited for Mary to sing at Solfest. Bless her though; her voice has been dogged by trouble these past two years. But sang she did, as she began I seemed to hear a nervous note or two but not for long and out it came. That pure liquid voice of hers, an aural potion of depth and magic. That last song she sang with Simon, the title of which evaded me…

State of play Mainstage 4 bands down
Wizardmarra appreciation rating 4+

It was good to hear some of those fantastic two tone tunes from when I just lost my teenage acne and was making the transitional to full grown man boils. But it did get of to bad start.

I’d briefly wandered up the artists gate as the poor stewards there (who at the time were my mates Scotch Andy and Vicki) had fallen foul of the mix up that the pass allocation had become and were facing a growing number of bands and their guests and in some cases no record of their names could be found. They needed help, one I was able to sort out straight away, The Dieselfitters were one my bookings and the envelope containing their passes had gone missing, but word from me and was sorted. But by this time I was ensnared in the mire of confusion only just managing to extricate myself in time to hear SAM THE STAGE MANAGERS urgent tones, it was time to announce The Selecter. This highlights one of the problems that keep recurring over the weekend. When I’m Wizardmarra I MUST FOCUS ONLY ON MY JOB AS MC, and storyteller. Anything that relates to any other jobs I do pre Solfest are now someone elses problem. Otherwise I don’t do either well.

Lurching onto stage to a call along the lines of “So glad you could join us.” From the direction of the keyboards, bang LADIES ANNNAAAAAGENELLMEN! SELECTER!
And lurch off.
The keyboard player used to be in Bad Manners, and Pauline Black uses a telephone voice when she isn’t on stage.

From then on time began to play strange tricks. Was it the AIRZOOKA

that did the butterfly wing somewhere equals hurricane in Tokyo effect on time. For an endless eternity of setting up had begun for BELLOWHEAD

An entire village of flight cases and instruments had grown up backstage, one (for me) delightful thing was the percussionists little set up, bells and tams garlanded with spoons, forks and assorted cutlery transformed into a wonderful piece of modern art. As you would imagine for a band so rooted in the English tradition this village was populated by bucolics dressed by MAN AT THOMAS HARDY all going about their daily business with potatoes and sheep. They had stipulated the provision of an IDIOT on their rider, as their regular one had been double booked.
Another reason we are grateful for having Wilson Wise as part of the team, versatile and talented.
But of course, due to the time it was taking to set up you never got to see the pastoral magnificence of all of this.
Tumbleweed began to roll (That’s rustic tumbleweede) as the wait began to take its toll, for at Jon Bodens second (or was it third?) Oh what a beautiful morning, John Spiers was rather miffed. I for one don’t blame him he just wanted to get on with it. But the other side of the coin is that when you get a big band like that, you have to get the sound balance right.

During the wait, Plummer Dave (who owned the Airzooka) and I tried. Purely in the interest of science and the advancement of Human Knowledge tried to persuade Justin Thurgur to attempt blowing his trombone while simultaneously being airzookerd up it. He thought not, and sadly, we have no record of what might have occurred. Well, he is a traditionalist!

More waiting…
…”Might as well have a fag.” I said
…”I’ll join you.” Said John Spiers

And that did it. I should have known. The fag trick; if ever you are waiting for a bus or train that never seems to arrive, roll a cigarette. There is a law in the universe that makes things happen at the most awkward moment possible, because of this the transport will arrive just as you are in mid roll and pre licking. Allowing of course for the difficulty of reaching your change fast and how much you have to carry. If you really need the smoke it will be just as you light it.

The set when it came was superb. I’d seen Bellowhead earlier in the year at Knockengorroch and they hadn’t done the trick. But tonight was different, maybe it was the English Soil maybe it was because it was Solfest and they were the first headliners of the weekend. Maybe it was just because I didn’t have to hear Jon Boden singing “Oh what a beautiful morning” again. It’s lovely song, and he has an immaculate voice. But you can have far too much of a good thing.

The Wizards Pot

An archive of the life and rantings of The Wizardmarra. The Best Storyteller In The World.

About Alan Whittaker

A storyteller like no other. Weaving traditional storytelling with madcap posing and stand up comedy riffing. Taking the listener from here to there and back again at break neck speed; with panache and a fine sense of the ridiculous.For more information about Alan, read his biography.

Comments are closed.