Ormskirk Motorfest – an unqualified success

As a youngster I remember a red E type Jaguar with some fondness. It was a coupe and was always parked neatly in the same place, presumably near the owners place of work. In a relatively modest town it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. I used to gaze through the side window and was awestruck that the speedometer went up to 160 mph. Was this possible I used to think –  that a car could possibly travel at such a speed?

a brace of etype jaguars ormskirk motorfest 2011
E type Jaguars – stiil a beautiful design forty years on

The Jaguar made a lasting impression. Fast forward 12 years and the next car to make a similar impression on me was a 1954 Morris Minor. I had just passed my test and my great-uncle felt that he could no longer drive and wanted me to have his beloved Minor. It was a godsend to my recently widowed mother and myself. It gave us some freedom and was one of those little things in life which helped to handle a bereavement.

morris minor ormskirk motorfest august 2011
Minor only in name the mighty Morris Minor attracts a crowd

The Minor was my pride and joy and I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had owned that red E Type.

So it was with some interest to learn of Ormskirk’s intentions to hold a Motorfest. The show would display cars from just every ear of automotive history. It promised a lot. The only concern was that it was rumoured that a local council were to organise the event – a possible recipe for disaster.Fortunately it transpired that the event was to be run by the Aintree Circuit Club, who it has to be said made an excellent job of the organisation

De Lorean stainless steel car at the ormskirk motorfest
Back to the Future – the De Lorean with some help from the British taxpayer

Cars of every era adorned the streets of Ormskirk with the centre piece of the event being in the town’s Coronation Park. A group of three E Types had a prominent position in the Park near to a Ferrari that was apparently once owned by Rod Stewart. For me it was no contest and the E Types timeless elegance won hands down.

De Soto ormskirk motorfest august 2011
A superb De Soto basks in the sun by the Ormskirk Clocktower

A quick walk across the grass took me over to a couple of Morris Minors. Neither was as old as my original car but they still brought back some wonderful memories. Proud owners were telling stories of renovation and hours of effort. A small crowd gathered to see the little car that brought motoring within the reach of millions of ordinary people.

At the other end of the motoring spectrum an immaculate De Soto reminded us of how different cars had evolved in th USA. Huge and slightly over the top this car could only have been made in America. Whatever happened to the De Soto name?

Ford Model T ormskirk motorfest august 2011
The car that started it all the 1915 Ford Model T

It would be impossible to mention all the cars that took part in the Motorfest. Apparently the exhibitor applications were oversubscribed which perhaps says the most about the success of this event. Certainly it was a revelation to see Ormskirk so busy with a festival such as this.

Perhaps this is the way forward for future events. Let enthusiastic volunteers like the Aintree Circuit Club organise the events with the local Council taking a back seat. We shall see. For further pictures and information – click on the Ormskirk Motorfest website.

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The Aussie rocket tells it as it is

With the Athletic World Championships in Daegu the time zone makes it a bit difficult for us Lancastrians to capture the action as it happens. One event I did manage to catch was the women’s 100 metre hurdles.

It has to be said that this event has had its fair share of drama over the years. After a period of Eastern European domination we have shared the ups and downs of some fine athletes who were favourites to win but stumbled (literally) in the final.

It would take a hard heart not feel sorry for Perdita Felicien who in the 100m final at the Athens Olympics hit the first hurdle so hard that she careered into the path of the Russian competitor and promptly ended the race for both of them.

Moving on four years to the Beijing Olympics and there was a new favourite but the story was the same. The likeable Lolo Jones was leading but hit one of the latter hurdles only to finish 7th.

As a technical event the 100 metre hurdles is the ultimate all in bet. There is no time for a second chance and a stumble or hesitation cannot be recovered. It requires a near perfect performance every time.

If the stress of such an event was not enough Aussie Sally Pearson had further problems to contend with. As a stand out favourite for 100 metres hurdles she had featured on the cover of the event programme, the problem being that previous high-profile athletes to be similarly featured had largely disappointed. In commentary boxes there were various mutterings about the curse of the cover.

We needn’t have been worried. Pearson led from start to finish with one of those performances which stays in the mind of dedicated athletics followers. In the fourth fastest time ever of 12.28 seconds, Pearson demolished the field with what was a flawless performance.

In the subsequent interview a delighted Pearson was asked to autograph the programme by the Channel interviewer. When reminded of the curse, Pearson responded “Do you know what, stuff the bloody curse. I’ve worked too hard to let that stop me”

Not bad. It’s a good day’s work to win an event in the World Championships and give the best post race interview in memory.

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The sun sets over Southport sands

At the end of a fine day a good number of amateur photographers will gather on the Southport Coastline in an attempt to capture the famous sunset. Nearly all the shots will endeavour to include the pier in silhouette – and this one is no different.

Sun setting over Southport sands

The sun sets over the Southport coastline

Sometimes the best photos are taken about 10 to 20 minutes after sunset when the sky looks very dramatic with swirling red clouds and the pier in full silhouette.

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Dont kill the music

Living in the North West with the music cities of Liverpool and Manchester on our doorstep it is easy to take live music for granted. It’s all around us – from casual street busking to major performances at either the Echo or MEN arenas. We also have the towns of Southport and Wigan with their own jazz festivals and distinctive music scene. No surprise then that such musical influence spawns a myriad of smaller live performances featuring mainly local musicians. Live music is alive and kicking it would seem.

But scratch beneath the surface and a different story emerges. Pubs and small venues, the traditional heart of the smaller live gig are under pressure. People are now staying at home seemingly content to drink cheap alcohol from the supermarket and watch television rather than take in live entertainment at their local. Grass roots live music is under threat.

Trez Fez in the Ormskirk Coronation Park

Undaunted by the lack of an audience Trez Fez start the music

So it was good news when a nearby council decided to host a number of outdoor gigs featuring local musicians. Step forward West Lancashire Borough Council who gamely organised a number of free weekend music events in Ormskirk’s Coronation Park. Last Saturday featured local band Trez Fez, a small friendly group who are well-known for their cheerily uplifting Gypsy Jazz music.

It was a splendid effort by the council, the only problem was that someone apparently forgot to promote the event.

As Trez Fez set up their instruments on the ornate bandstand in the centre of the Coronation Park it didn’t look too good. Five chairs were set out in front of bandstand and so far not one was occupied. Undaunted, Trez Fez started to play their bright and breezy music.

It was one of those occasions when your heart went out to the musicians as no doubt much time and effort had gone into preparing this performance. It must have been hugely dispiriting and taken quite a bit of courage to start playing to an empty expense of green grass. But play they did.

There was an almost defiant note in the music as it carried on the wind over Ormskirk town centre. Trez Fez were going to play and it didn’t matter that no one knew about their gig. The show would go on.

Slowly people started to realise something interesting and melodic was happening. Shoppers at the nearby Morrisons loaded their vehicles with shopping and instead of driving off looked curiously over the park railings. Likewise visitors to the Park Pool and the Two Saints shopping precinct paused a moment to listen. Some decided to put their day briefly on hold and made their way over into the park.

A man arrived with two children and said that he had heard the music from his home over half a mile away and walked to the park because he wanted to see who was playing.

Perhaps sensing that the tide was turning in their favour, Trez Fez seemed to redouble their efforts and launched confidently into the Gypsy Jazz classic  – Minor Swing. The guitars knocked out a compelling rhythm, an energetic flute solo floats through the air and a violin evoked memories of Stephane Grappelli. This was proper live music in full flow. Superb.

Now people tapped their feet and clapped and gave the fine musicians good reason to carry on with their delightful set. Moods had been changed and spirits lifted. Once again the power of live music had worked its magic on the soul.

The day had been turned around and whilst the park wasn’t as full as it should have been at least a good many people had heard some of the performance. It is pity though that this pleasant and generous band had to work so hard for their applause. A brief perusal of the Trez Fez website tells us that their diary is full of charitable events, so was it too much to hope that in return they might get some decent promotion for their park gig?

The council had done so much right here and fallen at the last hurdle. The bandstand was well presented and the music was sublime – it’s just that no one knew about it. Perhaps West Lancs should take a look at its neighbouring Sefton Council and see just how much effort goes into marketing Southport. Banners adorn Victoria Park and other strategic points making it impossible to drive around Southport and not know what is going on.

As the Coronation Park is on the Ormskirk ring road it must be surely possible to have some banners or signs promoting events to the numerous vehicles that use this road each day.

As for us, Joe Public – we also need to perhaps realise that the continued threat of recession is slowly stifling local live music and we to have a part to play. There is great live music all around us but it may not be widely promoted. We may now have to put a bit of effort in ourselves to find this music and not expect everything to be laid out on a plate for us. Sometimes the best things in life take a little effort.

No matter how good a musician may be it is difficult to take the body blow of a poorly promoted or poorly attended event. Sooner or later they will reluctantly pack away their instrument for the last time and then we will all be a lot poorer.

So if you hear of a live music event or perhaps you see a small band preparing to play in your local park, give them a few moments of your time and enjoy what they have to offer. The chances are you won’t be disappointed and your day will be greatly improved. Please don’t take it for granted they will be there another time – because that might not be the case.

Whatever happens – don’t let apathy kill the music.

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Red Arrows fly over Southport Pier

For some reason I missed this photo when posting about the recent Southport Air show. It’s a photo that can only have been taken in Southport with the historic pier clearly in view. The Red Arrows look particularly good on this one.

Red Arrows over Southport Pier Southport Air show 2011

Red Arrows fly over the Southport Pier

If the pier looks a little “new” for a Victorian construction it’s because it was almost completely rebuilt about 15 years ago. I can recall the original pier when as a small child we used to go Southport. It was one of the highlights of the day as there was a fish and chip restaurant at the end of pier –  and that meant lunch.

After that it seemed to be going the way of most piers in Britain when it was closed for many years and the threat of demolition was a real possibility. Fortunately common sense prevailed and it was saved.

If you visit Southport its worth a stroll or there is a small railway running along the pier if that’s more your style. The views are excellent on a clear day with Blackpool Tower and the massive Blackpool Pleasure Beach rollercoaster appearing deceptively nearby.

Dont expect to see much water. For the most part the pier stands high and dry in the day due to Southport’s curious tides. This gives the impression that you could actually walk to Blackpool. Not recommended of course.

I have some photos from the end of pier and will post them when I get a moment.

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Airshow thrills

There are many good reasons to visit Southport with its gentle Victorian seaside charm. One of them is the annual two-day Southport Air Show which has historically been held every year in September. After last years terrible weather on the Sunday when the show was cancelled, organisers decided to break with tradition and bring it forward in the calendar.

Fine weather and a packed beach suggested that this was a good decision as thousands turned out to see historic and modern planes take to the skies. Southport’s famous sea wall (which only ever seems to get wet twice a month) found a new purpose as it provided a perfect viewpoint across the vast sands from which to see the displays.

Spitfire at Southport Airshow 2011

Spitfire at Southport Airshow 2011

Celebrating its 20th anniversary the airshow has gone from strength  to strength with something for everyone.  From the ground shaking Tornado to the planes of yesteryear. It’s not often that an arrival generates an unprompted and spontaneous applause – but it happened yesterday when the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight approached from the west.

Making stately progress a Lancaster and solitary Spitfire struck a chord with the crowds who clearly understood how these planes and their crews had helped to avert disaster when a bleak future for Europe seemed inevitable. There was also respect for simple fact that these elderly planes were still flying after nearly 70 years.

The Vulcan Southport Airshow 2011

The Vulcan in action

Just as popular was the arrival of the Vulcan which is only still flying today due to Herculean efforts from a small group of supporters who through the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, have managed to raise enough funds to restore this magnificent plane. Having said that, funds are still perilous and donations are still sought to keep the Vulcan flying so it can be seen at air shows for a few more years at least.

I recall the Vulcan’s first visit to Southport which was probably about 3 years ago. It must have been one of the first outings for the newly restored Vulcan and the Trust had a small promotional tent to sell memorabilia in order to raise funds. A mug and a book was purchased ( I am drinking from the mug as I write) and the book was autographed by one of its pilots.

The participation of the Vulcan was in some doubt due to weather which kept delaying take off. Eventually it arrived and I remember the volunteers closing the tent for a few minutes so they could take in the display and see the results of many years hard work. Returning to the tent was clearly an emotional moment for them.

No air show worth its salt can conclude without the legendary Red Arrows. Forgive a touch of patriotic pride here as I refer to them as the best aero display team in the world. With the weather fine and the sky virtually cloudless, the Arrows were able to perform both low and high level displays.

The Red Arrows Southport Airshow 2011

The Red Arrows arrive in style

As I write this with yesterday’s memories still fresh, I can hear the sound of aircraft passing Lancashire overhead. Looking at the programme and recognising the distinctive sound it can only be the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight returning for Sunday’s events. There is more cloud so it is difficult to see them. Hopefully it will not spoil the enjoyment of today’s visitors, who will no doubt give them another splendid welcome to Southport.

Postscript

The reference to the sea wall only getting wet twice a month refers to Southport’s lack of sea. At most times all that can be seen is miles of sand, however when the sea comes in at high tide it used to flood the coast road and the area where the cinema and bowling alley are sited – making the sea wall very necessary.

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Wychwood Pilgrimage

Many armchair festival-goers will have soaked up the recent TV coverage of Glastonbury and probably concluded that the start of the British festival season was well and truly underway. And so it was – since the end of May in fact when a number of smaller unheralded  festivals kick started the season in their own unique styles.

One  of the first to traditionally open the festival season is the small but well-loved Wychwood Festival which takes over Cheltenham Racecourse each year for three days of family orientated fun.

The Wychwood big top home of the headphone disco

The familiar sight of the Wychwood Big Top

At first glance there isn’t an obvious connection between Lancashire and this friendly music festival in Cheltenham. The explanation lies in the difference between the likes of Glastonbury and Wychwood, one a huge global brand and Wychwood, small and heavily reliant on its determined volunteers who return every year to support the festival.

A sizable group of these willing volunteers travel from Lancashire, hence the North West connection. It is a journey they have made for a number of years to ensure that Wychwood has enough people to do the little jobs that keep the festival running.

The Christians at Wychwood Festival 2011

The superb Christians in action on the Wychwood main stage

It’s a huge commitment. Many volunteers will stay for 5 days and more in order to help setting up and shutting down the festival. They come from all walks of life and are prepared to take holidays and forego salaried work to attend. So why do they do it? Casual conversations identify a recurring theme – best described as the sense of belonging to something that is cherished and worthwhile.

The Wychwood magic works on many levels The location is one factor with the magnificent rolling Prestbury hills giving one of the finest backdrops to any festival in the Britain.There is no doubt that on a fine summer day there can be few better places to be, listening to live music as the sun gradually sets.

Main stage from the cocktail garden - Wychwood Festival 2011

Wychwood main stage from the cocktail garden

Also the size of the festival isnt overwhelming. There is plenty of space for everyone to find their own niche and numerous activities for all the members of the family. The family is another recurring theme at Wychwood with enough going on for even the most demanding of offspring. One person described it rather neatly as the festival for families who wouldn’t normally do festivals.

Other quirky activities that you wouldn’t see everyday include the once seen not forgotten “Headphone Disco”. Held in the Big Top and starting at 11 pm the disco requires everyone to wear headphones to listen to the music. Originally driven by licensing requirements (the racecourse is near to housing hence no music after 11pm) the Headphone Disco has proved to be an innovative way of keeping the entertainment going. Apart from the murmur of conversation the tent is quiet – but full of dancing people. It’s a surreal moment.

The Charlatans main stage Wychwood Festival 2011

The Charlatans bringing Friday to a close on the main stage

Having a large volunteer presence seems to help the smaller festivals more than just financially. The volunteer has chosen to be there, not employed or paid but driven by enthusiasm alone. There is little doubt that this collective enthusiasm contributes greatly to the overall magic of the event.

Returning to Wychwood each year is like one has never been away. It’s a familiar place with friendly faces. The sense of anticipation is high and the feeling is positive. Long may it remain.

Footnote

The 2012 Wychwood Festival will take place from Friday 8th of June till Sunday 12th of June 2012. Venue as usual will be the Cheltenham Racecourse.

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