We’re quite partial to a quirky concert or two here at the Two Moors Festival and the more interesting our venue choice for performances during the main two-week event in October, the more popular they seem to be. Take last year for example – we decided it would be lots of fun to have an day of traditional classical and jazz, all played going down the Grand Western Canal on the last horse-drawn barge in the westcountry. You can imagine how quickly the tickets went!
Our penchant for out-of-the-ordinary venues really all began back in 2005 with cellist Natalie Clein and Culbone Church, the smallest complete parish church in England that can accommodate 33 people on a good day (and if the congregation squishes up a little!) . Although God made this house of worship small, he also made it perfectly formed, nestling it in a beautiful wooded copse just above Porlock and the north coast of Exmoor.
The history of this parish is a particularly rich one, so you’ll get a real taste of the past and hear some amazing music in a truly glorious setting if you do come to one of our Culbone concerts.
Culbone is mentioned in the Domesday Book (and the Guinness Book of Records!) and may well have been built to serve communities of lepers who dwelt in the woods for centuries. It’s thought that the rubble walls – which are original – are 12th century, while the nave could well be of Saxon origin. It was re-roofed in the late 15th century and a south window was inserted. The screen was built in the late 14th century, while the font behind the door could be Norman, although the pedestal it stands on is most likely Victorian. The porch is probably 13th century and it is thought that the spire – built of slate and deal – was added in around 1810. The bells are of particular interest, one of which is the oldest bell in west Somerset, dating from the 14th century.
The huts and cottages around the church, as well as numerous houses that once stood in the surrounding woodlands, may have now all disappeared but a great many more people have discovered the wonder that is Culbone thanks to our concerts over the years. Aside from Natalie Clein, we’ve welcomed the likes of violinist Tasmin Little, principal oboist with the Berlin Philharmonic Jonathan Kelly, soprano Caroline MacPhie and the Brasil Guitar Duo through the church doors – so it’s no wonder that audiences are keen to tackle the two-mile walk up the hill!
“Artists who expect a green room at Culbone won’t get it!” Two Moors artistic director Penny Adie says. “The church is so small that the only way the performer can warm up is by making sure the audience stays outside in the churchyard. You play in at least three jumpers and cross your legs as there is no loo! It’s only for musicians with character.”
Luckily, the performers all seem to get into the spirit of things when doing a Culbone concert. Jonathan Kelly and viola-player Matthew Hunter (also with the Berlin Philharmonic) even both insisted on walking to the church, with their instruments being ferried up by 4×4!
If you think this sounds like the concert venue for you, just remember to don sensible footwear. We’ve had people trying to get there in very smart shoes!
What’s the oddest place you’ve ever been to a classical concert?
- St Beuno’s Church, Culbone, Somerset (thejournalofantiquities.com)
- World’s youngest conductor? Boy, 14, to direct Venezuelan orchestra (guardian.co.uk)
- The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Takes You Inside Their Instruments (geardiary.com)