Barnaby reborn


It's about time we reported back on the Barnaby Festival, which took place in Macclesfield on 18-20 June (those heady days when England were still in the World Cup and a 70-68 final tennis set was a logical impossibility).

As explained in previous posts, the Barnaby Festival is a revival of a centuries-old tradition of celebrating the feast of St Barnabas, which used to be a very big deal in Macclesfield. We got involved when the idea was a glint in the eye of a small band of local volunteers. Initially, we created a logo and a set of postcards. Later, there was the offical brochure and various banners around Macclesfield.

Our involvement was only one part of a much greater effort by the whole organising committee to create a weekend of entertainment from scratch, drawing on the time, good will and creativity of local people. It was deeply inspiring seeing the whole thing come together. But no one really knew how it would turn out until the weekend itself.

Happily, it was a huge and heartening success.

Hundreds of people lined the streets for the Barnaby parade, creating the kind of scenes that Macclesfield hasn't seen in decades. (Street parades are great – there should be more of them.)

Elsewhere, there were visual arts events, a specially commissioned Barnaby opera, a Barnaby tea party, poetry readings, digital graffiti and the world's biggest knitted cardigan. All sorts of stuff.

For us, it was particularly nice to see how the brand and identity became public property, used and reinterpreted in different ways. Local shops were encouraged to decorate their windows in line with the Barnaby theme, so we had the rare privilege of Marks & Spencer recreating one of our postcards:


Good work, M&S.

Elsewhere, there were some nice wooden signs to mark out the various venues on the Visual Arts trail:


And the town was filled with silk flags and handmade bunting in the Barnaby colours:


But the biggest honour of all was for our Barnaby poem to be set to music by local legend Tim Woodhouse. For those who don't know, Tim Woodhouse is Macclesfield's answer to John Shuttleworth, and possibly the most majestically brooding vocal presence to emerge from Macclesfield since Ian Curtis. His previous work includes There is a little room above the sandwich shop and Verity Stokes' Knitting. This is what he did with the Barnaby verse:

And the best news of all? Businesses reported takings trebling compared to an average weekend, and local punters were impressed. So Barnaby will almost certainly be back. Job done, for now at least.

Barnaby bulletin


A few weeks back, we mentioned how we're doing the branding for the Barnaby Festival, a revival of a local Macclesfield celebration that goes back centuries, but has all but died out in recent years. The festival takes place in a couple of weeks' time, so things have been busy.

Alongside the set of postcards we produced, the main piece of print is the festival brochure (pictured above). Once you fold it out, half of it doubles as an A3 poster:


which various shop windows have now started displaying:


And this is how the rest of it looks:



About 40,000 copies were sent for delivery around Macclesfield, while we volunteered to deliver a couple of thousand door-to-door in nearby Bollington (our manor).


This was a slightly bigger task than we first realised and we now have an intimate acquaintance with the many letterbox designs of Britain. Hats off to whoever invented the ankle-high, vertical, tightly-sprung-metal-flap, stiff-brush variety – contender for most misanthropic invention of modern times.

Meanwhile, some big Barnaby banners have started to spring up around Macclesfield, partly as advertising, but also to help with the town decoration for the festivities themselves. 


Not long to go now. Trust you've all kept the weekend free. (Macclesfield is exactly 100 minutes on the Virgin train from London and, from what we've heard, there's never much going on there at the weekends.)

Two tales of one town


We're just putting the finishing touches to the Macclesfield Barnaby Festival brochure, building on the work that we reported a few weeks back.

The festival is about injecting excitement and creativity into a town that is traditionally seen as being a bit on the grim, northern side. In reality, it has a rich creative history, from the silk industry to Joy Division, David Shrigley and the novels of Alan Garner. And the man who invented the deck chair.

It's also a happy place. It came fifth in a study of Britain's happiest places to live, so it's official. And it shouldn't be surprising in a town surrounded by the wonders of the Peak District, where you can see the hills from the high street.

This is the good story we want to bring out.

And this is the bad story:


Macclesfield has a habit of making the news in a bad way. In 2004, The Times rated it the least cultured town in Britain, which is something the festival is setting out to address.

But then, last week, came a full-on assault from the Daily Mail.

They'd picked up on a competition run by the Macclesfield Civic Society, designed to recognise the most improved buildings in Macclesfield. The idea behind the competition is no bad thing, rewarding small improvements on a mundane level, rather than buildings that were grand and beautiful in the first place.

Nevertheless, it's pretty embarrassing when your local civic architecture awards end up nominating stuff like this:


And this:


And this:


To be fair, all of the above are nominations by the public that have yet to be awarded. But they have been press released and it's unfortunate, to say the least.

We have two main things to say about this:

1. To the Macclesfield Civic Society

Sorry, but you're not helping. By all means, encourage improvements at a low level, but don't press release it as some great competition, because this is exactly the kind of coverage it's obviously going to attract. Either use a filtering process before going public, or work a lot harder to explain what you're doing. The Daily Mail are idiots, but don't give them the ammunition.

2. To the Daily Mail

You're idiots. Whining, inexplicably self-satisfied idiots who have a far more malign influence on the British cultural landscape than any fried chicken joint. We don't want your readers round here anyway. And here's a song you might enjoy.

The Barnaby Festival takes place on 18-20 June 2010 and will hopefully be the first of many.

Postcards from Macclesfield


More attentive readers will already know that, having been based in London until around a year ago, Asbury & Asbury has moved back to the north-west, just outside Macclesfield – that fine mill town famous as the home of the silk industry, Joy Division and, erm, the Macc Lads.

We've found ourselves in the position of branding a new local arts festival, known as Barnaby. It's a revival of the old charter fair that Macclesfield began celebrating around the Middle Ages, connected to St. Barnabas Day and the summer solstice.

It used to be a very big deal. Victorian times saw thousands of people flocking into Macclesfield to see fairs, travelling zoos and music hall entertainers. For a while, the fair left Macclesfield altogether – the mills would shut down for a fortnight and the town would head off en masse to Blackpool.

Over the course of the last century, the whole thing died out, as the mills closed for good and working practices and holiday patterns changed. Now it's coming back again, in the form of a long weekend of artistic, cultural and family-friendly events. It's organised entirely by a few local people volunteering their time, so there's a real grassroots feeling to the whole thing.

Anyway, these are the first fruits of our extensive, in-depth branding exercise (otherwise known as designing a logo and some postcards).


The mill is the logo and centrepiece – not so much dark and satanic as bright and breezy.

Barnabytwo Barnabybright

There's plenty of folklore and archive material associated with the festival, which the organisers have done a great job in unearthing. Like this old press cutting:


And this folk rhyme, alluding to the festival's position around the summer solstice:


We used that rhyme as the starting point for some rhyming copy (not quite worthy of the term 'poem'), hinting at what the festival will include:


We're continuing to think about various festival materials, so there may be a few more goodies to show soon.