Sunday morning, 11am, finally arrived bright but cloudy and brought with it the start of Alfresco. This was the festival’s fourth year and my first time. I couldn’t wait to get in as I’d heard nothing but good things about the previous years.
My initial impression was just how great the location was; an expanse of clean green in front of the Cricket Club, with a huge marquee and stalls arranged in a looping horseshoe shape. There was also a camping area added this year, over on the far right.
My second impression was how cheery everyone seemed to be, even those furiously wrestling with their folding tables and mini-marquees. I think we’d all expected poor weather, but the sky was bright with just a few clouds and the temperature was agreeably warm.
Another thing that was immediately apparent was the mix of amazing smells coming from all of the food stalls (which all got rave reviews from everyone I spoke to); the quality of the meals on offer were fantastic. I had Italian meatballs and pasta to start with from Absolute Experience, a London-based Italian food company, which were probably the nicest I’ve ever had. I followed that up swiftly with a delightful red velvet and white chocolate cupcake from Cake Tin Delights who actually held a biscuit-decorating competition during the afternoon, which was a great success with the children.
I have to admit I also had a hog roast, which sadly left me absolutely no room to try any more of the myriad of foods available which were hot dogs, Mexican, stone-baked pizza, traditional festival burgers or pad thai. This made me especially sad as I’d watched the pad thai demonstration held at the Three Wise Monkeys stall. I was hugely impressed at the range of ingredients and cookery set-up that they’d managed to transport from Todmorden.
One of the definite highlights of the event was Gloucester-based artist Hayley Kendal’s colourfully spray-painted double-decker bus. Outside it was a sign proclaiming it to be The Rusty Alexander Travelling Art Gallery and it was truly a cornucopia of wonders. It was filled to the brim with an ecletic arrangement of gorgeous paintings, jewellery, sculptures and toys for sale ranging from £5 to £300.
“The event looks brilliant and really lively, I think it’s so great for Blackpool to have something family-friendly and art-based,” said Greg Sinclair, a student of Blackpool and the Fylde College who was displaying pieces there, alongside Stephen Lynn of Dionysus Art in Warrington and Sarah Hicks Art who displayed a huge board for a collaborative piece of art by the children who attended.
“It’s great to be able to engage with all ages of the community,” agreed jewellery maker and designer Danielle Chappelle, who hosted origami and collage workshops in the afternoon.
I heard many more positive things from other stall-holders: “There are real, quality, home-grown products on offer here and I think it’s a real boon to the town, it brings people here to spend money and it’s something a bit different,” said Jayne Hart of Alfresco Food Co, a sentiment roundly endorsed by David Healy of Infected by Design and MisterDee Toyou, who were just two of the artists creating large live outdoor pieces over the course of the day. Quadruple threat (screen-printer, artist, photographer and designer) Raki from HM Avenue added, “This is very much a growing event, I’ve seen that from attending last year and I think it’s so positive for the local community.”
It was great to see almost as many kids as adults milling about safely in the enclosed area, a smile on every face. Two face-painting tents and activities laid on by the various stall-holders such as puppet-making, hula-hooping, crafting with recycled materials, frisbee and football kept them all fairly occupied and allowed many a grateful parent the golden opportunity to sit and chat or grab a cold drink and enjoy the sun.
The fantastic atmosphere was even more enhanced by the fabulous Government, a local band whose hip-hop/funk sounds floated out of the marquee and pleased many an ear, judging by all the dancing going on in the vicinity.
The rain held off until 5.30pm, so a quick vist to the bar was in order where the DJ in the Cricket Club ingratiated himself to me by playing classics from Prince and Erasure. The star of the show for that hour was the adorable six month old strapped to his mum’s back. Wearing his ear-defenders proudly, he jigged away and dispensed beaming smiles to the girls on the dance floor and seemed to be having as good a time as anyone there. There were a few other acts on during the event, which many had come to see, especially Mr Scruff, A Certain Ratio, Andrew Weatherall, Section 25, Chris Duckenfield and 2 Billlion Beats. Even the intermittent rain couldn’t cast a pall on the revelry with such a line-up.
Also worthy of a mention were the breakdancing competitions and workshops, hosted by Tha Gods and Speak to the Streets which were a huge draw. Some amazing break battles took place and I was glad to see such a great opportunity for local talent to showcase their skills.
So will I be attending next year? Most assuredly so, and so should you. Whether you have kids or not, it’s such good value for money and a great chance to see fantastic artists and acts and sample some wonderful food while mixing with like-minded members of the local community in a friendly, safe and relaxed atmosphere.
Images courtesy of Jill Reidy at Two Old Birds Photography.
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