It’s a challenge to tear myself away from Suffolk says Maverick Festival founder Paul Spencer
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:38 30 June 2017
Maverick Festival founder Paul Spencer’s Easton cottage began life as a retreat, somewhere to relax but it’s become somewhere he works and plays.
Paul’s lived in the village going on 13 years, moving there from London. He’s no newcomer to Suffolk though. His mother’s family lived in the Eastbridge area and one of his aunt’s used to have The Eel’s Foot Pub, so he’d often visit for holidays when he was little.
“Living in London in the 1980s I was looking for a little place in the country... A little country retreat. I was out in Suffolk, whether it was a family visit or I was taking a girlfriend round or something, I drove through the village which I’d not previously been to - so knew nothing about its rather conservative credentials,” recalls the music video maker.
“I liked the village and saw this funny little round thatched cottage. There was an old lady sitting in the garden which was really overgrown and very enchanting - and there was a for sale notice.
“Apparently there were a lot of other people trying to buy it but it worked out I was able to complete before anybody else. I wasn’t hugely attached to the idea of buying it but I got it very inexpensively so I was very lucky.”
These were the days before commuting to London was as easy as it is today. Not that it mattered to Paul who used it as a weekend place. In 1991 he got the chance to move to Los Angeles to run a music video company whose head office was in Hollywood. He ended up staying there for 12 years.
“I was very lucky because it’s such a quirky, idiosyncratic, charming little Hobbit house I was able to rent it consistently, with the occasional period where I’d come over in the summer or visit family (and) if it was possible, if it was empty, I might get a week or two in it.”
He brought his then soon-to-be American wife with him on one such trip, who liked the cottage too. When they decided to give up their lives in Hollywood to raise children, it was a perfect fit.
“That was the prime mover for coming back... We had one young daughter, we were going to have another and we couldn’t envisage being in Hollywood and raising kids. We moved here around 2003 or 2004.
“Then the challenge was going to be ‘what will I do in Easton to make a living’. Luckily London was (more) accessible so I was able to work in the TV business making a bunch of music documentaries for BBC Four until I had the idea for Maverick Festival and of course all of that is my backyard. My (now) ex-wife and I are still very good friends. We stayed in Easton, raised our daughters Ella and Georgia here...”
In those early days, it was about getting to know the parameters of their new life.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” laughs Paul, “I was quite community-minded and became chairman of the school governors at Easton Primary School, I was a parish councillor for seven years. That was a way of getting to grips with local life... To (show) my commitment, my respect for the area. It was a question of refocusing.”
A celebration of Americana music, made him some friends and lost him some. Looking back, he thinks the village was worried how visitors would behave and the impact on the environment.
“If you look at something like Glastonbury, the scale of that, how that takes over an entire area... Maverick was always going to be a small, boutique, family friendly event. They’ve embraced it now and we have the local community choir perform with us on the Sunday morning, that’s become a tradition which has been going on for four or five years... It’s good for the area.”
It’s been exciting to be part of the area’s cultural development. Suffolk always seemed to be a nexus for creative people; even if they were dispersed.
“It’s developed hugely and lots of interesting, like-minded people have settled here to escape from London; bringing their ideas and energy to the area. So there’s a lot of art, a lot of great food, different events.”
Paul loves the space and the peace and quiet the region brings with London only an hour and 40 minutes away.
“We’ve got Stansted Airport, train connections which are ever hopefully improving... London was very much part of my life in that early stage when I was doing my stuff with the BBC so that eased me into rural life.
“I go to London once every couple of weeks and now I find it more and more of a challenge because I have to tear myself away from Suffolk. It began as a retreat, somewhere to relax. Now it’s very much the nexus of my professional life as well with Maverick.”
He’s particularly fond of the Suffolk coast, having grown up on it as a kid. He finds it has it’s own unique character; that ruggedness, that wild feel you get at Aldeburgh or Orford.
“I particularly love Orford. It’s a shame it does seem to be populated by a lot of second-homers... That’s a little sad but inevitable because it’s such a gorgeous place... Hopefully more and more people are making it their permanent home.”
He likes “all the clichés” about the area - trips to the coast, a nice meal, a nice bottle of wine. He’s tempted to take up birdwatching.
“I feel like I’m going to turn into a birdwatcher because I’m always fascinated by the bird life in my immediate area... With Minsmere up the road it could be a good excuse and my aunt’s old pub is right there on the boarders so a visit to the Eel’s Foot and a bit of birdwatching...”
Spiritually and aesthetically there’s nothing Paul would really to tamper with. His only gripes are very minor.
“Internet access sounds like a bit of a middle class problem... I think we’ve been pretty let down in terms of the resources that have been put into giving us decent internet... It’s still pretty poor,” he sighs.
“A coming problem, which again is a trivial thing, is parking. My nearest railway station is Wickham Market. It has a very small car park so my nightmare is when I drive there to go to London or anywhere and there isn’t anywhere to park and then you’re really in trouble. They’re going to have to improve parking provision.”