Preparations underway for Staxtonbury music festival

Staxtonbury organisers Ray Roberts and Marc Chaplin with farmer Ray Roberts and their music festival's giant straw mascots.  Pictures: Richard Ponter
Staxtonbury organisers Ray Roberts and Marc Chaplin with farmer Ray Roberts and their music festival's giant straw mascots. Pictures: Richard Ponter
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THE HILLS will be alive with the sound of music this summer near the village of Staxton on the A64 where Tony and Helen Hill run their 940-acre mixed arable, beef and sheep enterprise at Manor Farm.

The week’s leading up to the first weekend in July see the farm transformed into Staxtonbury, home of one of the country’s friendliest family music festivals attracting 5,000 each day and with over 400 performers.

Staxtonbury's giant straw mascots have increased in stature with every year.

Staxtonbury's giant straw mascots have increased in stature with every year.

Tony has both a musical and farming pedigree, and although the festival was born at another farm seven years ago it has been held at Manor Farm, where Tony moved to in 1972 with his father, brothers and sister, every time since.

His mother Gladys passed away in 1971. His father Roland was a director of and one of the men behind the pirate station Radio 270 that broadcast from North Sea waters off Scarborough during 1965-66 and saw a future Radio 1 DJ Paul Burnett make his first broadcasts.

“Our family had moved to Seamer near Scarborough from Northalleron in the 1950s. My father farmed, had two butchers’ shops, bought a little keel boat and then became involved in buying Oceaan 7[CORRECT] the ship that was home to Radio 270. I saw it being fitted out in Scarborough harbour and dad went on board quite regularly.

“I’ve always loved music and saw The Beatles twice in the 60s at the Futurist Theatre and others such as the Dave Clark 5. I remember seeing David Bowie come to what was then called The Penthouse in Scarborough.

The cows at Manor Farm must wonder what all the fuss is about.

The cows at Manor Farm must wonder what all the fuss is about.

“When Ray (Roberts) asked whether we would host Staxtonbury I said yes immediately. I’ve always been to see big name acts but I love going to see pub bands too. Staxtonbury prides itself on offering the best in Yorkshire-based bands and solo acts and it’s all about having fun.

“It’s a really good break for us on the farm before we start on harvest and the whole family gets involved. I keep the generators going by filling them with diesel three times a day and my son Tom is one of the performers. We start making all the preparations the fortnight beforehand.”

Those preparations are already underway and the results of painstaking labour undertaken by Tom and farm worker ‘Ants’ Hawkin are obvious. Together they have constructed what have become known as the ‘Staxtonbury Bears’, massive figures made from straw bales all playing musical instruments.

“They have become the festival’s mascots and they appear to be growing each year.

Tony Hill relaxes after a hard day.

Tony Hill relaxes after a hard day.

“Our land is ideal for the festival. The 16-acre field where all the stages are based has a gradual slope and that provides an amphitheatre-style setting for the main stage with the rolling hills of the Wolds in the background and the sun setting beautifully over the Vale of York in the summer evenings.

“It’s sandy land and in the year when the rains came and the Great Yorkshire Show announced it was to be cancelled we were getting calls from our local radio station asking whether we were calling off Staxtonbury too. It was pelting down at 7.30am and had rained hard for days but the rain stopped at midday and the sun came out. We had one or two soggy spots but otherwise it was just like Scarborough beach drying very quickly. We also have an eight-acre field that is ideal for camping, caravans and those with motorhomes.

“This year’s line-up is probably the best yet with the Kast Off Kinks who include some of the members that were in the band when the Kinks had their hits; The Bogus Beatles; and some great bands from all around Yorkshire including my favourite band Snatch, and some great up and coming bands like The Sherlocks.”

Tony nearly didn’t get to see Snatch in 2013. He was rescuing his combine harvester from a barn after bales caught fire while the festival was on. Ray Roberts, one of Staxtonbury’s organisers, and Mark Chaplin, told of how Tony dealt with the scene.

“Firemen stood back as flames engulfed the barn where Tony’s combine was stored but he went inside, climbed up to the driver’s seat and backed it out into the safety of the yard through clouds of smoke and flames. It was like watching Die Hard. The firemen were in awe of what they’d witnessed but Tony just jumped down, dusted himself off, went for his customary half of lager and even managed to catch the end of Snatch’s set. Within an hour the story had been right around the world on social media. One Staxtonbury regular sent a text from the east coast of the USA asking whether everyone was okay yet there were people here who wouldn’t know to this day there had ever been a fire.

“Tony’s farm is the perfect venue and he’s also the perfect farmer to host it. He understands the value of planning and is meticulous in making sure everything is right. He turns 70 in October and already has plans in store for a big party with a marquee and a couple of his favourite bands playing. Tony and Helen pride themselves on organising all sorts of charitable events.”

Staxtonbury Festival takes place on July 3-5 at Manor Farm, Staxton. To book, visit www.staxtonbury.com or call 07798 655416.

The Chris Berry Band will play the main stage on the Saturday at 2.15pm and the marquee stage at 7.50pm. Chris also plays the acoustic stage at 4.20pm.