The music mad duke who brought a slice of the Deep South to East Anglia
PUBLISHED: 16:34 24 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:14 28 May 2019
Steve Anglesey finds out how Harry, Duke of Grafton, came to bring the much loved Red Rooster festival to the grounds of Euston Hall...
The 12th Duke of Grafton has been educating his children about royalty.
"At school recently my son Alfred was asked what he'd been learning and he told them, 'Jerry Lee Lewis was The Killer and his mate Elvis Presley was The King,'" he says, laughing.
The seven-year-old's homework came courtesy of a chat with his dad, a hugely likeable music obsessive who just happens to be custodian of Euston Hall, the 17th century country house set in a 10,500-acre estate on the Suffolk/Norfolk border near Thetford.
This month the Duke, who prefers to be known as Harry Grafton, gets to combine his passion with his home when he hosts Red Rooster, a boutique festival of blues, country and roots music.
Set around the woods and Capability Brown-designed lake of the Euston estate, it's a dreamy three-dayer which this year features Nick Lowe, country music maverick Dale Watson and Brooklyn afro-soul outfit The Budos Band.
In its sixth year, Red Rooster attracts a largely East Anglian crowd of around 5,000, many of whom tip a trucker's cap to the music in the way they dress.
"There are a lot of dungarees," Grafton says. "But in many ways, East Anglia is Britain's Deep South."
Besotted with music from an early age - he credits his maternal grandfather, who played piano in Humphrey Lyttleton's jazz band - Harry followed a conventional upper crust education with a curveball: two years in Nashville, Tennessee working for a country music management company.
"I think my grandparents were quite confused," he says of the 11th Duke and his wife, who holds the ceremonial title of Mistress of the Robes to the Queen. "I think they would have been happy with a rural chartered surveyor grandson, but that's not quite what they got.
"I had a great two years in Nashville. My girlfriend at the time was from North Mississippi, where there was an incredible blues music scene and her family had a little music festival on their farm. It reminded me a lot of being out on the farm here and the characters you meet. And I thought 'this could really work back at home'."
That thought was put on hold when Harry took a job on the Rolling Stones' blockbusting A Bigger Bang tour in 2005, although this was one occasion where his family tree was definitely no advantage.
"On my first day on the tour there were 300 of us at Heathrow Airport at 5am and before you fly, there is a big list with everybody's passport name on it," he remembers. "I was queuing up and suddenly Keith Richards' guitar tech shouted 'who the f*** is Viscount Henry Oliver Charles Ipswich?' And I'm like 'hi, it's me'. And he said 'right boys, $10 on him not lasting two weeks'. And they started betting on how long it would be before I got fired. So I'm very proud of having lasted the full 18 months."
Before long, Grafton was affectionately known on tour as Harry Five Names ("where the f*** is Five Names?" he says, impersonating an American roadie). He entered the band's orbit too. "I would have to go into the backstage area every single night and deliver t-shirts to their guests, and after a couple of months they'd get to know your face a little bit and you'd have Mick Jagger saying (perfect Jagger impression) 'awright Harry, what's the weather like out there?' 'Raining, Mick.' 'Oh gawd, I better get my galoshes on.'
"The first six months of the tour they didn't gel too well, and then the promoter had the idea of putting a little tent in the backstage area with guitars and a drum kit where they would have to warm up before they went on. And I used to sit outside this tent, and hear them playing these old songs from back in the day. And that was amazing, sitting out there with a beer, listening to the Rolling Stones playing two feet away."
At the end of the tour, fate intervened to bring Harry back to Euston.
First his father, who would have inherited, was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away in 2009. His grandfather followed two years later. "If things had gone to plan and my dad was still alive I would be definitely working in live music now," he says. Instead, he says, "I was sitting in this room at Euston Hall thinking 'what am I going to do with this?' And one of the things I thought was, 'remember that festival idea from a couple of years ago?' Let's do that."
There was also a huge restoration programme to embark on. "When I took the place on it was not doing well," he says. "The assumption when you see the grandeur of the site is that it's just the two of us swanning around living the life of Riley, but the cold reality of the business is that if you break even you are lucky and we have worked really hard for the last seven years." Parts of Euston Hall were unloved too; the Capability Brown-designed weir system was "knackered" and "on the top floor where we hadn't been allowed to go as children and it was creepy, there were dead flies and old newspapers everywhere. It was a bit like The Shining - you expected to see the twins at the end of each corridor!"
As well as the long process which has returned both hall and grounds to past glories, Harry has also become an expert in his family history. "My parents and grandparents tried to teach me but I wasn't great at taking it on board - in those days I would have much rather watched the A-Team on TV. But because of taking it on so soon, I've had to do the research."
Among the highlights? "The reason there is a Duke Of Grafton in the first place is that when Charles II comes in after Cromwell looking to establish a body of royalists behind him, he decided to marry off one of his bastard sons to the daughter of Arlington, who owned the Euston estate. The son was about seven at the time and the daughter was five. Arlington would only accept the deal if his daughter was made a Duchess, so the son had to be a Duke. And that's where this title begins - a bit ridiculous really.
"The third Duke was prime minister in the time of George III when he lost the Americas, and George blamed the Duke even though it was nothing to do with him at all. So we have a portrait here of the Duke of Grafton with the Declaration of Independence in his hand, looking angry."
But Harry's favourite is the third Duke's grandson, Admiral FitzRoy, "not a Duke but he was captain of the Beagle on the voyage when Charles Darwin wrote The Origin Of Species. FitzRoy was a devout Christian who believed that by enabling the theory of evolution he had helped bring down one of the building blocks of Christianity. So he thought he was a great failure. He went on the invent the barometer and spending his entire fortune on making them and sending them across the UK, to pivotal points like the Scilly Isles and John o' Groats, so you could ticker tape the results back to London and you would know how the weather was doing elsewhere. Unfortunately he was so mocked by the navy establishment for this that he committed suicide. They said he was obsessed. But by doing it he saved so many lives."
No pressure to achieve, then, for Harry Grafton. "My aim is to keep Euston on the rails, to enjoy my time here and to improve it," he says.
And on the way there will be plenty of musc, too. "There's always music playing in this house somewhere," he says. "What was good for me was to get away, to go to Nashville and work my own path out. Then when it all came around I've tried very hard to maintain being myself as well as taking this on. I don't want to give up the music stuff ever, because that's what I really love."
* The Red Rooster festival is at Euston Hall, Suffolk from Thursday 30th May to Saturday 1st June, More details at www.redrooster.org.uk/
While we had Harry, we decided to ask him our usual East Anglian Heaven questions
What is your connection to East Anglia?
I was born here, I live here at Euston Hall, an amazing place to live which I can't take for granted. I'm a Suffolk boy but I'm 100% East Anglian.
What is your East Anglian Heaven ie what do you love most about East Anglia?
It's cut off from the rest of the UK, which makes it so unique, like Britain's version of America's Deep South. There are some quirky people here. Great food, great farming land, great coastline.
What is your East Anglian Hell ie what you hate most about living here?
What's your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmunds, Benedicts in Norwich. We've got great quality meat and fish here.
What's your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
Under the stars at the Red Rooster festival.
What's your favourite East Anglian landmark?
I feel you're in East Anglia when you drive on the A11 past the war memorial. The fact that it's in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, supposedly in upstate New York, is brilliant.
What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
It's obviously the Red Rooster festival. We've got great music and great food in a fantastic, unique setting. You can swim, we've got pedalos, there's a kids' area. It feels nice and cosy.
What your specialist Mastermind subject?
The album Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones. All Down the Line is my favourite track. That's when the Stones were thumping it.
What is always in your fridge?
Brinjal pickle, perfect with a bit of cheddar.
What's your favourite film?
The Last Waltz, the film by Martin Scorsese of The Band's final concert.
What was your first job?
Working part time at university for a record label called Southpaw. The guy who ran it was John Niven, who wrote a great book about the music industry called Kill Your Friends. He was bemused that I was working there and took the p*** out of me every day.
Who do you admire most?
What is your biggest indulgence?
What's your worst character trait?
There are so many I don't know where to start.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
The Andaman Islands, between India and Indonesia. A friend of mine bought some land there with the intention of building a hotel. It took him 12 years but he'd finally done and it is just beautiful.
Best day of your life?
Getting married, having kids, Red Rooster, my first day on the Rolling Stones tour.
What's your favourite breakfast?
Oysters. In New Orleans, where you can get oysters and a Martini at 9am. Breakfast of champions.
What's your favourite tipple?
A negroni (a cocktail with equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth).
What's your hidden talent?
I'm learning to DJ.
When were you most embarrassed?
At my son's christening I over celebrated and was sent to bed at 8pm.
What's your earliest memory?
Riding on a combine harvester at Euston. I also remember being about five years old and in the bathtub one day when I was told that one day I would have to take on the Euston estate. It really freaked me out.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
Get Off of My Cloud by the Rolling Stones.
Tell us something people don't know about you?
My mother's father was a jazz pianist who played with Humphrey Lyttelton and he was a big influence on me. He was a really cool character; at Christmas he'd sit at the piano smoking his pipe and playing honky tonk piano. We would sit there transfixed.
What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
"Last orders, please".
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
Come to Red Rooster!
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East Anglian Daily Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.