The swing of hundreds of petticoats amongst a sea of white tents is the first thing my eyes saw as I entered Newbury Showground on Saturday August 12th. It was my first experience with Retro Festival and I had specifically booked the weekend off work to go. Something so close to my heart sitting right on my doorstep was an opportunity too good to pass on. The whole ticket cost us about £45.00 and this provided us with entry to the Friday evening events plus all day Saturday and Sunday. We didn’t attend the Friday evening due to being at a friend’s fancy dress birthday party (see ‘Beauty School Dropout‘) so I was super excited for the weekend.
We entered the showground after being given our weekend passes and having our bags searched, and the first thing we saw were dozens of beautiful ‘glamping’ bell tents, complete with welcome mats and fairy lights. Camping has never been my idea of fun after I was traumatised by my secondary school’s ‘get to know year seven’ camping trip. That corned beef stew still haunts my dreams *vom*. These tents, however, made me see camping in a whole other light. It’s no joke to say that I’m high maintenance so a tent that you are able to stand in and walk around, comes complete with double bed and home furnishings such as rugs and stools, and has an electricity supply is definitely more in line with my idea of homeliness. I must admit, that we are definitely interested in the idea of camping for 2018, especially now that we don’t live in the area. Although I’m sure a travelodge would be a lot cheaper, the whole atmosphere of Retro Festival is amazing and I feel like glamping on-site would just complete the weekend. If you want to see more about these amazing tents, visit the suppliers website here: Brook Bell Tents (be warned, you’re looking at between £300 and £500 for the weekend, plus your ticket price. And you have to bring your own bedding, etc.)
As we moved further into the showground we suddenly became surrounded by rows upon rows of classic cars, caravans and camper vans. I’d be lying if I said motors were something I was into or clued up on, but I can still appreciate the beauty in a 1950’s Cadillac or Dodge! Classic cars please me in no other way than their beautiful aesthetics. I fell in love with an aqua blue vintage Dodge (I couldn’t tell you anything else about the car; all I know is that it was pretty!) and seeing all the VW Campers made me want to tour Cornwall in one even more! We have actually looked into hiring one whilst in Cornwall next year but you have to have had a driving license for a minimum of two years and Sam will only have had his for a year and a half. Although I’m always drawn to the split-window campers in royal blues and cherry reds, my favourite at this festival was a gorgeous mustard yellow colour with decor in matching mustard, burnt orange and chocolate browns, which overall gave a very 70s feel off. Again, this is something I’m not normally drawn to, being a typical pin up girl obsessed with anything 1940s and 1950s and dabbling slightly with 1960s style occasionally.
The Retro Caravan Club were also attending the festival. Members of the RCC have the most beautiful teardrop-shaped attachment caravans that I’ve ever seen. Up until seeing these, the word ‘caravan’ only created thoughts of boring holidays in the countryside and a lack of space, but these truly vintage caravans just looked so quaint and delicate. Again, I’m not going to pretend that I know anything in the world of automotives, caravans included, so my interest was purely aesthetic, but I could just see myself touring the fields of Cornwall in one of these cute little homes (although I’d much prefer a VW Camper Van for this, really!)
As we walked further through the showground, past rows and rows of caravans and camper vans, classic cars, vintage forces vehicles such as tanks and even a classic London double decker bus, the buzz of a fairground became apparent. From the harsh chimings of the carosel to the whirring of the helter skelter, the atmosphere changed as though crossing a line, as the admiration of vintage vehicles faded into a nostalgic child-like quest for fun. The carosel was the highlight for me in particular. From being six months old, my family have always took annual summer holidays to Cornwall. For as long as I could remember, we would stop off in the little fishing town of Looe, and in one of the main carparks there stood a giant Victorian-style carosel, or ginny horses. I would insist of having a ride on it as we passed it walking to the harbour, and once again on the way back to the car. My mum even has a video of me on it when I was about three years old; I’d fallen down some really steep concrete steps and badly hurt my leg – it was all bandaged up beyond belief, but I still insisted on my ginny horse ride! Now I’m older, I’m a fan of whiteknuckle rides – rollercoasters and towers that throw you up in the air at immense speed – but the carosel still holds a dear spot in my heart. Because the festival goes on late into the night, once darkness hits, the fairground becomes a sea of neon lights and the atmosphere is absolutely electric. It happens to be right next to one of the performance tents, The Black Hangar rock ‘n’ roll stage. Complete with dancefloor and live rockabilly music, the performers go on through the night right next door to the fairground. The melodic jives tunes mixed with nostalgic fun creates the most amazingly giddy atmosphere.
Rows and rows of white box tents contain copious stalls selling varies clothing, home decor and vehicle parts. My favourite happens to be a cute little stall ran by the most delightful couple called Isobel’s Retro and Vintage. Here you can find all the classic pin up and vintage reproduction brands, including but not limited to, Collectif, Hell Bunny, Banned and Dancing Dames. I purchased an amazing Hell Bunny circle dress with an adorable nautical pattern containing lighthouses and beach huts, and paired it with a navy blue petticoat. I bought it on the first day of the festival and wore it on the second; it has such a lovely fit, I feel fabulous in it. I teamed it with a nautical-style cardigan, also from Hell Bunny, that I had purchased from Isobel a few weeks earlier. I was also extremely pleased to see Guns ‘N’ Posies attending the festival. They are an independent brand who sell handmade home accessories and jewellery featuring classic designs such as flamingos, tiki masks and cherries. So much hard work and effort goes into every single one of their pieces, which is amazing, but what is more amazing is how much love and passion goes into their products too. They really care about what they are creating and about their customers. I had had my eye on one of their custom made lanterns for a long time; they take old jam jars and mason jars and create stunning hand-drawn designs on them, add decorations around the edgings and fill them with fairy lights. They also make an adorable polymer flamingo necklace, but I’ve saved that for another day! I would highly recommend checking them out if you are after quirky, kitsch jewellery or home decor.
There are three stages at the Retro Festival: The Ricky Tick, The Black Hangar and The Spitfire Pavilion. The Ricky Tick is a mod stage and features a range of artists playing a mixture of ska, 80s mod revival and northern soul. The Ricky Tick Club closed it’s doors in 1967, and this stage aims to recreate it’s unique atmosphere. The Black Hangar stage features the best of rock and roll and rockabilly. Sporting a huge black and white checker board dance floor, every can adorn their dancing shoes whether you’re a professional swing dancer, have dabbled in swing here and there or have two left feet! As well as it’s booming bass lines, there are swing dance classes held regularly over the duration of the festival. Lastly, The Spitfire Pavilion brings back war-time nostalgia before showcasing the best in cabaret in the evening. We went to the cabaret (you need a separate ticket for this – it cost just a fiver each and the proceeds go to charity) and had such a good time. Hosted by a comedian, there were various burlesque acts including the Folly Mixtures, who I have seen perform before at An Evening of Burlesque, as well as singers and acrobats. We actually stayed in the tent after the show and were treated to a performance by electroswing group Elle and the Pocket Belles. I love electroswing. The classic vintage rhythms and melodies paired with an energetic bassline just means you can’t help bopping along – it’s actually inspired my husband and I to take some swing dance lessons ready for next years festival!
Around each stage, there are also an array of food stalls. You can find every cuisine you can think of including Chinese, Mexican, traditional grills, vegetarian, desserts and good old fashioned fish and chips! Alcohol is served within the show ground – each performance tent has a pop up bar next to the dance floor and there are also vans and pop up bars dotted around the showground selling beers, wines and cocktails. The Spitfire Pavilion also serves a traditional afternoon tea that places you into a war-time setting for jam and scones, strawberries and cream, cakes, tea and coffee, and more!
Overall, the entire weekend was simply superb. You find yourself transported back in time where women wore big dresses with petticoats and men wore suits and braces. The music has more swing, the dancing has more fire and the atmosphere is one of frivolous fun, childlike nostalgia and utter awe. Grab yourself an early bird ticket for next year, priced at £40 for the whole weekend, and experience it for yourself!