Convention Review


The 2020 UK Filk Convention

Peter Tyers reports on the 32nd annual convention
held 7th to 9th February, 2020 at the
Best Western Hotel, Marks Tey, Colchester, Essex.



Once again the filk clans gathered in Marks Tey for their annual UK convention, with the nearly 120 attending members being predominantly British but with the usual sizeable delegation of Germans and a smattering of Americans. It made for a nice mix and an enjoyable atmosphere. Being in early February it serves as reminder that winter will not be with us much longer, though the storm raging outside on the Saturday and reports of flooding in various parts of the country left some folks wondering about their journeys home afterwards (fortunately the weather had greatly improved by Monday morning).

My afternoon journey had been fine so I was soon settled into the hotel and made my way to the upstairs bar, just outside the convention’s main hall. Technical set-up was still going on so I chatted to Roger Robinson on the Dealers’ table, where he was selling a mixture of songbooks from BECCON Publications and a variety of CDs on behalf of the various artists/members attending. This was also a good place to catch-up with everyone else as they too arrived, not having seen most of them since last year’s event.

The Opening Ceremony was only a little late starting though late starting was to be a feature of the weekend. The problem with music and musicians is that the tech set-up needs to be right for everybody and everybody is different, and this was just one of those weekends when nothing seemed to go quite as smoothly for Tech as it usually does. Still, there were always plenty of people to talk to, friends both old and new, and any queuing was in the bar area so it was hardly onerous.

First up was Blind Lemming Chiffon, from Denver, CO, who proved he will travel a surprising distance to attend a filk con and regards the UK’s annual one as worthy of the effort. Unfortunately Tech were still sorting out gremlins and his rather quiet voice struggled to come over, and the instrumental choice of a ukulele did not help, which left us struggling at times to get the best from his humorous songs. He was followed by Cosmic Trifle who played songs written by their bandmate, the recently late Zanda Myrande (previously known as Zander Nyrond and to the rest of the world as Jonathan Waite). The evening finished with a circle, concentrating on remembering Zanda/Zander; it was well past midnight when it came to a close - gone but not forgotten.

Chantelle kicked off Saturday morning with her Cabinet of Curiosities, followed by Mike Richards, and it finished with Bed & Breakfast (aka Bill & Brenda Sutton). Lunch ran in parallel with a new idea, a purely acoustic one-shot concert in the alternative programme room - a chance for anyone to try out a new song or whatever in front of a small audience. The afternoon saw the usual business meeting and then a rousing set from the n’Early Music Consort (or NMC). This was followed by the main concert where everyone (who wanted to) performed a number, with the Filk Auction running in a couple of slots during the concert.

The evening saw the two Guests of Honour. Sunnie Larsen, the American guest, took the first slot with The Spaces Between The Notes, though it ought to have been called Sunnie and Friends as all told, across her two concerts, I counted at least ten other musicians on stage with her. She was followed by the UK guest, Annie Griffith, who single-handedly entertained us for a straight (or not so straight) hour. Although Annie suffered a few technical hitches, she dealt with them effortlessly by making a joke out of every occasion and the audience just followed along with her - something of a tour de force.

Sunday morning was scheduled to start with Aquapella, i.e. singing in the hotel’s swimming pool, though as I did not get there I cannot comment. Last time they did one the song sheets were laminated to keep them dry (that is experience for you). As I spent most of the morning chatting to folks, I missed both the main items - Jela Schmidt’s Mixed Feelings, followed by Nat and Jenny H performing their Quarries and Corridors album.

The afternoon was given over to the two guests and the annual Sam Awards. Annie Giffith, this time with her partner Chris, entertained us in their personas of a pair of well-to-do, steampunk Victorians extolling us to have a jolly time fighting the Martians (and so on). We were issued with song sheets to join in with their singing; the tunes were well known but the words, apart from a couple by Chris Malme, were written for the occasion. It was very silly and a lot of fun. Bravo for a rather different and most enjoyable hour! Sunnie’s second performance, Songs With Heart, was much as her first performance, again with various musicians joining her on stage from song to song. There was also a second session of the Filk auction and the final sum raised exceeded a thousand pounds, so there is money in the bank ready for next year’s extravaganza.

The last musical item was the Sams Concert, where the winning songs were performed. This year the Sams went to:
          Best Silly: ‘FTL’ written and performed by Robert Beckwith
          Best Serious: ‘Past Hope’ written and performed by Philip Allcock
          At Con Performance: ‘Starlight and Saxophone’ performed by Matt Beswick & Peter
                                              Westhead (written by Tom Smith)
          Filk Gold: ‘Like Their Feet Have Wings’ written and performed by Gwen Knighton Raftery

Following the brief Closing Ceremony it was time for the technical tear-down and then dinner. With no organised music to come back to, many ventured out to local restaurants. As with the other nights, there was open filking in the later evening and on into the early hours (though personally I found the need for sleep dragged me to my bed).

The one downside to the whole weekend was the lack of the usual real ale and real cider. Despite all the arrangements, late on the Wednesday night the hotel’s manager decide to renege on the arrangements and made significant and unrealistic payment demands on the committee, as a result of which they reluctantly had to forgo the traditional ‘real’ beer and cider. The background to this unfortunate attitude lies in previous years, especially last year, when the bar staff, who are untrained in the arts of handling and caring for real ale, decided to move the barrels to the downstairs bar on the Sunday evening, thus rendering their contents undrinkable. For some reason the management decided this, the lack of drinking on Sunday evening, was the responsibility of the convention and not of the staff who had ruined the product (let alone the management who had not trained their staff properly). Whilst there was most certainly beer still being drunk, I understand it was noticeably less than previous years and many, myself included, admitted to occasionally nipping out to somewhere local for a decent beer. This, at least in part, was a factor in deciding that the next Filkcon would be held elsewhere, in fact returning to the hotel in Grantham which had been its previous long-term ‘home’.

Next year’s convention was planned to be ‘Long Play’, the 33(and 1/3)rd UK Filk Convention. Scheduled for the 5th-7th of February 2021, it was to be at the Union Hotel, Grantham. (The hotel was previously known as the Ramada.) The Overseas Guest of Honour would be Leslie Hudson and the UK Guest of Honour would be Chris ‘Magician’ O'Shea.

However, taking account of government advice, the impact of CoVID-19 has meant the cancellation or postponement of the 2021 event. The hotel has agreed to move the booking to 2022 so hopefully the planned event will take place then. It is also hoped that, as with other Filkcons, there may be some sort of online equivalent event for 2021 (details to be announced nearer the time).

Peter Tyers


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