If you’d said to me when I was in my 20’s that one day I would be the organizer of a 3 day festival I would have looked at you incredulously. However Dear Reader, it is the truth! 10 years ago in May 2011 my partner and I held the 1st ever steampunk festival in Wales.
It’s my chaps fault really, he got me into steampunk plus we were regularly going to events in Bristol, UK organised by a amazing circus troupe called The Invisible Circus.They are the brainchild of ring master Doug Francisco, who made these amazing immersive events that were just colourful, fantastical and full of fun,theatricality, music and imagination.
At that point in 2010 steampunk in the UK was only a very small scene with just one event which was in Lincoln called Asylum Steampunk Festival . It is still going strong and now is the largest steampunk event in the UK, plus a few evening events in London.
The Invisible Circus events plus Asylum sowed the seeds in our heads -if we did a steampunk event what would it be like?
Then one day Andy (my chap and partner in crime) had an appointment in the beautiful medieval town of Chepstow and discovered the Riverside Gardens and Bandstand. We knew there was was a venue called the Drill Hall but we hadn’t lived in Wales that long and hadn’t really explored Chepstow much at that point.
I came home from work that evening to find Andy full of excitement: “Chepstow would be a brilliant place to hold a steampunk event!” and how did I feel about just going for it? After some discussion we found ourselves to be first time event organisers!
We discussed an outline of what we might want to do and also had to chose a date. Asylum was in September , so we felt to avoid any clash that we would go for May as it was the other end of the calendar, as well as being other side of the country, so no toes would be trod on.
The next big thing was choosing an event name, we came up with loads until we fixed on ‘Waltz on the Wye-Wales first Steampunk and Neo Victorian Festival’. The Wye btw is the river that runs alongside the town.
Like many of these type of events, we would have been nowhere without the support of our friends and family and a bunch of lovely people we didn’t know from the town of Chepstow plus so many of our guests helped out even though we didn’t know them then!
Chepstow is so very lucky, they have a very dedicated group of fabulous people who are passionate about events , music and film in the town. In particular of help were Ned Heywood, David John Rock, Chepstow Tourist Information Centre, plus the very lovely man in charge of Chepstow Castle at that point ; Pascal.
We wanted to make it a weekend chock full of adventure, fun, whimsy and colour. Possibly the best steampunk event no one went to! lol
Andy and I took certain aspects of the event under each of our wings-I mostly dealt with organising the entertainment, finding acts and booking the market. Andy dealt with a bunch of paper work and venues electrical stuff,insurance , booze, etc. It was a real joint effort between him and I, we worked brilliantly bouncing off each other.
So to the event itself!
We felt Friday should be a gentle evening’s entertainment with a welcome barbecue in The Three Tuns pub. We decided for some music from Ellethia and the fabulous band Pocketwatch who played a blinding set on the Bandstand by the river as the sun set.
Saturday morning was the opening on The Mechanised Market! We filled the Drill Hall with wonderous steampunk market stalls plus we were lucky to get some wonderful people to do talks on interesting subjects to the steampunk taste from Gwilym Games, James Richardson Brown, The Governess and the Cursing Chemist.
We also held a contraptions exhibition over the two days in Chepstow Castle. The castle owned by Cadw was being run at that time by Pascal who helped us get a reduced entry rate which we included in weekend ticket price. Contraptions are very important to steampunks and it was a stunning exhibition showcasing the wonderful talents of James Richardson Brown, Arfon Jones, Andy, Roseanne Wakely, Matt McCall and Jarkman. I will refer you to a blog post written by the fab Mim aka Crinoline Robot for the full details.
Outside on the riverside gardens we had Wyatt Nerfs Shootin Shack , border Morris Dancing from The Widders, Ellethia and Chepstow Town Band on the bandstand. Plus a Treasure Hunt around the town with prizes at the end and a costume competition!
Below are 2 of the few photos taken of Andy and I over the course of the weekend! We both were mostly running around making sure everything was going to plan! and yes, I am ginger there!
We also were very grateful to have onsite catering by The Strumpets with Crumpets who we discovered at The Invisble Circus. As you may guess they filled peoples bellies up with a serving of sauce! Sadly they stopped trading in 2019.
Another stroke of luck was a phone call from the fantastic Chris Bullzini a few days before the event offering his slack rope show, which he performed on the Riverside Gardens to the utter astonishment of a captivated audience. He’s now a world renowned high wire artist!
One of the extra events we put on alongside the main bit was ‘An Expedition to England!’. Chepstow lies on the River Wye and the other side of the famous Chepstow bridge is England.
As it became known that we would be holding this event, we got a email one day from a chap called Karl Daymond. What we didn’t know is that Karl was a very well known baritone opera singer residing just over the Wye bridge and had in his garden ‘The Worlds Smallest Opera House’!. Karl was a force of nature-he cared passionately about music, the arts and Chepstow and was very keen to get involved in the event. We had already decided on doing ‘An Expedition to England’ as a walk and picnic, so the idea of the final destination being an opera house and show was one we couldn’t turn down! Sadly Karl passed away very suddenly in 2017, we are forever grateful to his involvement in our little event and the memories he created.
Then Saturday evening was the Grand Cabaret and Ball!
Our host for the evening Lily Belle opened the evening with a cabaret including The Great Dandini,
Matt Pang, Gentleman Juggler
An amazing can-can from Pink Kitten Dance School and burlesque by Lily Belle and Velveteen Hussey
We were lucky to great the fabulous Jarmean? from London town as our first band
And then local Gypsy Punk Rockers from Newportograd “Rogora Khart” brought the house down with a rip roaring set
Mim and Pete were wonderful to us and ran a photo booth in the venue so our guests could be photographed in all their finery and purchase a print to take home with them. The link to Pete’s Flicker account at the bottom of this page has all those portraits for you to view.
We had a bar to libate our guests which included our famous Mar-Tea-Ni! a cocktail made with Earl Grey Tea infused gin!
Sunday was gentler with a small boat trip up the Wye (quite awkward due to the changing tides) and the market and more talks in the Drill Hall.
The market was closed at 3.30pm ish with a charity raffle for SARA (many items provided by the generous traders) and also a very generously goody bag of items and a card from the market traders for Andy and I! It was so kind and unexpected and I still have the items and card!
Most of our lovely attendees got on their dirigibles on Sunday afternoon and made their way home to normality after the market closed. For those who had a little energy left joined crew in The Three Tuns pub one last time for wind down pints listening to an acoustic set by Ellethia.
It’s been marvelous revisiting the event and I still can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I hope we were an inspiration to others to set up events, many seemed to start popping up all over the country soon after and there’s now always (bar Covid times) a full diary of steampunk events to attend.
I do think we achieved what we set out to :to organise a fun inclusive event for anyone who wanted to join in with the chaos and craziness of Steampunk (except some bloke who turned up in Nazi gear-he was turned away!). Also thank you to Anne and Birger who flew in from Norway for our event! We welcomed more than 300 people to our event.
On a personal note it showed me I could do things I’d never considered doing before. I loved making people happy, bringing people together and being able to showcase all these amazing performers and artists.
I’m so grateful to everyone that supported us in all the different ways, from those who booked stalls, from having faith in us to buy tickets, to those good friends who helped with the drudgery, minding the bar at the Ball to all helpers minding the contraptions exhibition and to Chepstow town and all those that sail in her! Apologies for forgetting exactly who did what, it’s been so long that I can’t quite remember but we love you all!
We also got in SFX magazine (courtesy of Mim you star!)
We did do it all again in 2012 successfully but it took it’s toll on my health and I couldn’t face the stress of 3 years in a row (plus we had some issues with Cadw). By then another event came along in May in Frome and we didn’t want to flood the market.
However, never say never -who knows we may have done a 10 year anniversary event if it hadn’t been for Covid-19 😉
Huge thanks go out to our amazing pal Pete who kindly documented the whole weekend for us photographically and allowed me use many of his pictures for this blog piece . Also some credit goes to LM Cooke for some pictures too.
Please also find a contemporaneous and lovely blog post by our friend and artist Arfon here
Thank you for reading!