“Punk witches” take Croydon’s musical scene to Manchester

Bugeye performing at 2019’s Cro Cro Land festival. Pic: Steven Willcox

A music festival that celebrates Croydon-based musicians is heading to Manchester next month.

Acts including “punk witches” Dream Nails, “sequin-drenched” Bugeye and “kitchenpop foursome” I, Doris will be bringing the musical force of Croydon to Retro Bar in Manchester on December 5.

They form part of As The Cro Cro Flies, a touring arm of the Cro Cro Land festival. The festival was started in 2019 by Angela Martin and Julia Woollams, founders of culture blog the Croydonist.

The group aims to celebrate the borough’s rich musical history by platforming local musicians. It is hoped the festival will buck the borough’s image of dull, outer London suburbia and highlight its rich and vibrant creative scene.

Founders of Cro Cro Land Angela Martin and Julia Woollams. Pic: Murray Scott

Among the renowned musicians who grew up in Croydon are Stormzy, Loyle Carner and Katie Melua. With the borough previously being a popular location for touring artists, the festival partially came about as an act of defiance following a string of venue closures in the area.

Martin told Eastlondonlines: “That’s what I wanted to do with Cro Cro Land, bring bands back here and give people the opportunity to not just play at a festival but see [Croydon] as a viable place to bring events as well… I realised very quickly that one festival event in a year is not really going to do that. And if we wanted to be part of a tour, why don’t we just create a touring arm?”

Born in Newham, Martin moved to Croydon after being persuaded by Woollams, a native of the borough. The pair then started the Croydonist as a result of Martin’s converted love for the area.

Martin told ELL: “I found that it was the most welcoming place, which is the opposite of what I thought Croydon would be. There’s a lot of arts and culture going on here. It’s a very diverse place, there’s always something going on.”

Martin is scheduled to perform at the event herself as the lead singer of Croydon rock outfit Bugeye.

Cro Cro Land is closely aligned with the PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative, which intends to deliver an equal gender balance at music festivals by 2022.

Martin told ELL: “Rock music has always been diverse, but you wouldn’t think that from the media. It looks like it’s a white male genre.”

Martin and Woollams have worked to ensure equal representation is present in all aspects of the festival. This includes artists, sound engineers, security, operations managers and beyond.

Despite festivals such as Cro Cro Land and the much larger Glastonbury encouraging the Keychange initiative, Martin maintains that the progress towards gender parity has been “very slow” and “quite limited”.

The singer recalls audience members at Bugeye shows expressing their shock afterwards that female musicians could “really play guitar”, as well as potential managers declining their offers, saying they “have already got a female band”.

Martin told ELL: “If you want things to change, you have to make sure your organisation is representative.”

“If you’re not seeing women on stage, if you’re not seeing people of colour on stage in different genres of music, then it’s like a subconscious message going out saying that this isn’t for you. You can watch it but you can’t be part of it.”

While gender parity is an integral element to the festival, Martin is quick to reinforce the community aspect of the event: “The requirement to play Cro Cro Land isn’t that you have to be a political band… what is a requirement is that it’s bands who are part of this grassroots movement.”

“They’re supporting each other, they’re sharing contacts, they genuinely are fans of music and want to see another wave of this industry. So that is the ethos of the festival, that it’s a collective.”

In line with such intentions, Lives Not Knives were a charity partner for the previous edition of Cro Cro Land. The charity focuses on educating young people on the dangers of knife crime and improving their life chances.

“It’s really important to give young people in the community an opportunity to get involved and try to inspire people to perhaps pick a different path,” said Martin.

“You can learn a lot from industry professionals, and that’s what we wanted to give people in Croydon. The opportunity to get a glimpse of that, but then also to build a network of their own locally.”

After attempting to facilitate Cro Cro Land twice in 2020, the duo are determined for the event to return to Croydon “on a bigger scale”. Martin said that her and Woollams are “working on it for next year” with an unconfirmed September date planned.

Tickets for As The Cro Cro Flies are priced at £12 each plus booking fee. They are available to buy here.

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