Attitude Festival: Q&A with Geoff Cripps

Wales Arts Review caught Geoff Cripps for a quick chat about the inaugural day long festival in Merthyr Tydfil on May 9th, for which he is one of the founding organisers.

How did Attitude Festival come to Merthyr?

This is happening in Merthyr through the collective ambition and desire of these organisations :- Age Cymru, Head 4 Arts, Merthyr Arts & Libraries Service (newly moved from the LA to a trust); Redhouse and Theatr Soar. The particular impetus for this event was a shared ambition to re-boot the long-established Gwanwyn Festival and to re-focus on what creative older adults (which means 50+!!) can and are doing in any artistic genre.

Geoff CrippsSo this is an arts festival that focusses on the creative work of the over 50s? Is that a tough sell in this day and age?

Well, in my experience of trying to sell tickets at valleys venues across four decades apart from one or two exceptions it is always a tough job persuading people to part with their hard-earned cash. But the beauty of this event is that there a large number of free events and we hope that people tempted just to view these will be swayed to make a purchase!

The Redhouse is somewhat of a beacon in this part of the world, isn’t it? What is the story behind the venue?

Well, I am not the best person to answer this question but, as I understand it Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association were very keen that the town’s most iconic building had gone from the unlikely if fleetingly popular use as a night club to becoming totally unused and in danger of being derelict. With advice from many organisations and specialists in regeneration projects they envisaged a future for the building where it could house a great deal of social and cultural activities, afford a dynamic home to some courses from Merthyr College and offer a quickened pulse to a range of artistic and cultural endeavours.

The line-up is certainly eclectic. Firstly, how did you manage to get the legendary Peggy Seeger to headline?

As always happens with programming you start with an ideal list of possible artists who fit the ethos of your event (if there is one!), fit your given budget and (stating the obvious here!) are available and actually want to do it! Applying all the criteria soon whittles the names on the list down in number. Because of my former life as Artistic Director for RCT Theatres I have a good contacts list and I knew that Peggy was absolutely the right person to headline the event so, after contacting her agent and explaining the ethos behind the day, she said yes!

Good timing with her recent album out. Would you say Peggy, with her past associations with political movements, might be a perfect headliner for a place like Merthyr? Did that come into it at all?

Peggy is in many ways the perfect fit for this our first Attitude Festival. We saw the terrific reviews for her most recent album and were also aware that she was nominated in the Folk Awards for best original song – but we had no way of knowing that she would win!

So, I’d say that this was a perfect marriage of intent and serendipity!

What is the feel you’re going for at Attitude?

Although we are emphasising and selecting artists above a certain age with a body of work made over many decades for the most part we are aiming for as wide an audience/participant range as possible. Our tag-line is “Experience the Experience” and we want people to take the plunge on the day and try out, see, hear things they might previously have shied away from. Whether that is having a go at a NO Fit State Circus Workshop or your first ever NIA class or wondering how Railroad Bill make skiffle relevant to 21st Century audiences or you always secretly wanted to dance to a silent disco in a library – come to Merthyr and live dangerously!  We definitely didn’t want to do WWII sing-alongs, tea-dances or 1950s style ‘light entertainment!’

Well, of course, over 50 now means you were potentially a foetus when Elvis played Ed Sullivan. Do you think festivals are changing as the ‘first’ generation to really invest in them (financially and culturally) are now the senior generation?

The UK plays host to a mind-blowing myriad of festivals of scale, artistic ambition and genres. There is scarcely a weekend in the year when you would not have a choice of festival. As part of the senior generation whose camping days at Cambridge Folk Festival is well behind him, I am quite enamoured with an event like Attitude that crams so much into just one day plus I get to be in my own bed that night! Festivals are changing but most remain a fantastic opportunity to go for one reason/artist but to come back converted by an act you may never have heard of previously. I hope that Attitude also achieves that effect.

I’m intrigued by the layout. You have four venues – what can you expect from each?

Our range of venues and the fact that they are all in easy walking distance of each other in Merthyr’s town centre is a fantastic gift to us as organisers. We are just delighted that we are the first to say – we could do a festival here!  Theatr Soar offers us a theatre space wherein Tan Dance will perform as well as studio space which will be where the circus skills workshops and NIA classes will take place. The Central Library has a couple of meeting rooms and these will play host to the Merthyr Mix/Silent Disco and the conversations/sharings that Mal Pope will host with our musicians. Redhouse is central to the event as this is where tickets and wristbands for all the events can be purchased or obtained (as the event has a mix of free and purchased events). In the Redhouse Gallery visitors will be able to see The Welsh Group Exhibition – which we hope all attending will do so! Redhouse studio theatre will be where Tin Shed Theatre company will present the matinee performance of “An Inspector Calls” and it will be in the courtyard that Peggy Seeger will bring proceedings to a close in the evening. Outside Redhouse on Penderyn Square will be our temporary outdoor stage on which Railroad Bill, DnA and Clive Gregson will perform whilst elsewhere in the square Terry Chinn is inviting the people of Merthyr to help make the town’s own version of ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ utilising any unwanted CDs they may have.

You have two young and independent theatre companies in NoFitState and Tin Shed. What attracted the festival organisers to these companies? It seems from the outside like a bit of a statement of intent.

I am pleased that this looks like a statement of intent because that is exactly what we are aiming for. It is great that a young theatre company could offer us their interpretation of a theatrical masterpiece written when its author was 51 years of age (see previous ageist statements!) whilst No Fit State have a tremendous track record of offering circus skills workshops across the Valleys region. Both these companies assist us greatly in ensuring that the broadest range of the performing arts is showcased in this festival.

Will you find time for a go on the trapeze?

At that point in the proceedings I’m sure I will be required to high tail it to Newport to perform at Tredegar House Folk Festival with Allan Yn Y Fan……Or should I say – after you?!

Are you expecting a great many attendees from the local area?

Well we are certainly hoping that local people turn out for what we know will be a fantastic day – as with all events the public like to keep the organisers on the edge of their seats and lacking sleep – so the message is go to  or call 01685 384111 and book now!

What do you think an event like Attitude can do for the local communities in Merthyr?

Prove to the outside world that the real Merthyr is rich in cultural activities, aspirations and ambitions and can host a one-day festival with Attitude and Aplomb!  Skint – no way!!