Changing message of Two Moors Festival
On the eve of the 13th Two Moors Festival, founder Penny Adie talks to Toby Meyjes about music and mishaps.
You founded the festival in 2001 to combat the effects of foot and mouth disease. What inspired you to start it?
I had been putting on concerts for a very long time all over the world, particularly in the Middle East. It is just something I knew could bring people together, it just seemed the obvious thing to do. It was really brought home to me that we should do this one day when I was on a long road from the top of the moor down to Barnstaple about four miles away. On a clear day you can see from Hartland (Peninsula) to Bodmin. It was on such a day that I could see a lot of piles burning and I could smell them. I got home and said "we've got do something".
Do you still remember that first year? What was it like? Has the festival changed at all?
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That first year was intended to be a one-off. We had no expectation. We advertised it in national newspapers, musical magazine, Country Living, all these kinds of things, and gave it as much sponsorship as we possibly could, wanting for something to happen. Little did we know the take-up would be so high, that it could spark such enthusiasm and so much support. It was only afterwards, when all the letters came flooding in that we realised that it couldn't be a one-off, we would have to keep going on with it. The first year there was a lot of foot and mouth money but in subsequent years there was not the funding – musical events do not fund themselves. About 33% of the amount needed to put on the festival comes from ticket sales, then the friends of the festival come up with about £20,000 but if we did not have funding from trust funds we simply wouldn't survive.
Has the message changed?
Yes it has. We do not talk about foot and month at all. When it comes to the 15th anniversary it will be an concert of celebration that foot and mouth has been got over and people have survived and there is a message of how we moved on a long time ago. It was what started the festival and the tourism level has built considerably. We had 14 concerts that first year, we now have 30, it is three a day for 10 or 12 days. The number of concerts has risen dramatically so you would expect the number of visitors to rise. Last year we sold 5,000 tickets.
What do you think has made the festival so popular?
It has got a format that seems to be very attractive to people right across the board, particularly to the active semi-retired type of person that's got some disposable income. That sort of person that comes, and will come from anywhere in the country, and increasingly stay in the area. They will go and sample lots of pub grub, they will go and support village shops, they will go for healthy strolls on the moor and probably go to six or seven concerts. These people know that it does not matter if they turn up to a concert in wellies. It's got the right atmosphere and the right entertainment. But I do not mean to say it is that type of person that comes 100%, it appeals to all sorts.
What mishaps have occurred along the way? An incident involving a dropped piano springs to mind...
Up until 2007 we had been hiring a big piano from Steinway in London. But we had saved £26,000 for us to go and purchase a piano from the London piano auction. This we did. It was brought down to us by professional piano movers, but as they took it out of the van they dropped it on top of our stone steps and it smashed. The end result was that Bösendorfer, who had heard what happened, gave the festival a brand new piano. If you search for "dropped piano Two Moors festival" on Google you get one million and one hits. The feature that made it so popular was one picture that I just happened to take, little realising what I was taking, one particular shot quite by luck. It showed one of the removal men with the piano at his feet standing with his hands behind his head.
What other stand-out memories do you have?
In the life of the festival one particular one which is a very memory. It occurred in 2010, we were celebrating the tenth anniversary and we decided to mark that with a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. As far as I was concerned, there seemed a good reason. It seemed like a great way of celebrating it. It seemed to me that it would be one hell of a PR exercise, it would flag up the area, flag up the festival in a way that had not been done before, it would get publicity like no other. It seemed to strike the balance between music and the great outdoors. If you start to think about all the pieces of music that were inspired by things of nature. It had been two years in the planning, we had a huge amount of support from the Royal Horticultural Society, they told us that everything was in the planning, and that you had to have everything in place before you put your application in. We were completely astonished when we came away with a gold medal and Best in Show in the Courtyard category.
The Countess of Wessex is set to visit for the fourth time this year. What has she been like as a patron of the festival?
She was invited and graciously agreed to accept and she has been a huge support. She takes a very keen interest in what we do and the concerts she's been to have all featured the young artists, so they have been full of enthusiasm.
She has enjoyed that keenness. I think she has met very interesting people down here and she has got to know us a little and she knows exactly what makes the festival tick. She is a very sweet person, in her official role.
Does music run in the family? What was your background before starting the festival?
I have three daughters: the eldest is a professional harpist, the middle one is a journalist, and the youngest was a professional oboist until three months ago when she started a Teach First scheme to be a primary school teacher. I come from a very musical family. I studied singing at the Royal Academy of Music and I went on to have a professional singing career. I married someone in the Army and when he left the forces we moved out to the Middle East and spent 10 years in the Sultanate of Oman, where life changed dramatically. I saw an opportunity to put on concerts, particularly because of the beautiful place in which we lived and seeing a brand new beautiful auditorium that was hardly used. My first concert was in 1987. From that one concert they gradually grew and I ran a series (across the Middle East). I also ran a tour for years for BBC Young Musicians of the Year from 1992 to 2006.
What should we look out for this year?
There are two things that I think are very significant. The first is the opening concert, which is the Callum Au Big Band. It is one of the occasions we do charity fundraising and this year we are doing for the Exmoor Calvert Trust and Barnstaple Samaritans. The other is the Exeter Cathedral performance, which is the production Noye's Fludde which involves 170 children from schools situated within the festival's 1,200 square mile area.
The Two Moors Festival runs from October 16 until October 27. For more information or to book tickets call 01643 831006 or visit thetwomoorsfestival.com.