Gulbenkian Stories: Debs Earl, Folk In The Barn
7 Jun 2019
I first visited the Gulbenkian Theatre in 1978 aged 14 on a school trip from West Kent to see ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ which we were studying in English.
I remember clearly the emotional impact of the theatre itself, the layout and warmth of the auditorium and the unusual geometric stage. I instantly loved the space and how it made me feel…safe, yet excited. I was captivated and had no idea how much the place would come to feature in my future life.
Fast forward ten years to the mid-80s, our family had moved from North West Kent to East Kent, with Mum and Dad living at the top of St Thomas’ Hill, literally a stone’s throw from the University. They became regular Gulbenkian attendees and when Mum couldn’t go, Dad would invite me instead. He was a huge supporter of all the local ‘Am Dram’ groups. We loved our theatre visits together, so much laughter and tears throughout those years. Memories I treasure. In 1999 we saw ‘A Little Shop of Horrors’, featuring a young lad named Ian Mason, who unbeknownst to us, decades later was to become an important part of our family and Folk in the Barn team. I only discovered this fact from finding Dad’s box of programmes last year.
In 1998 my friend Lynette Underwood ‘dragged’ me along to the Gulbenkian to see Acoustic Duo – Show of Hands. Their music and way of connecting with the audience blew my mind and that concert changed my life. It opened a door to an inspiring world of roots music I didn’t know existed, this led me to promote a concert for the duo In 2003 at the Kingston Barn. – for the late great Terry Wogan’s favourite singer songwriter – Beth Nielsen Chapman. By 2014 the concert series under the banner ‘Folk in the Barn’ had grown to 30 events a year, and once again involved the Gulbenkian, this time for legendary folk rock band Fairport Convention. I decided to throw my heart and soul into FitB and make it a business that would support me, so with Liz Moran’s encouragement I booked a further 7 dates at the Gulbenkian that year with bands such as Breabach, Turin Brakes and BBC’s ‘The Voice’ finalist Sally Barker.
It felt great to bring Fairport Convention back to the University 45 years after their first performance there in 1970, supported in Rutherford by Genesis. Unexpected personal happiness followed too, after a long time working relationship led to romance in 2015 when Fairport’s Simon Nicol became my partner.
Back to the present day and helped by Simon, Lynette, Ian and my daughter Rosie, out of 285 concerts over 16 years, I’ve held nearly 70 of those at the Gulbenkian, bringing the UK and World’s best folk-roots-acoustic-rock-blues musicians to Canterbury and East Kent, culminating last April in FiBFEST – the Folk in the Barn Festival – to celebrate our 15th Anniversary.
I couldn’t have achieved this without the wonderful theatre, the brilliant team that run it and the fantastic Folk in the Barn audiences, many of whom have become friends. I lost my Dad in 2005 so he never got to see my success with Folk in the Barn, but every time I step out on the Gulbenkian stage to welcome the audience and introduce an evening I feel him right there with me and know how happy and proud he’d be and how much he’d have loved the music and the wonderful community it’s created. I’ve sponsored a new Gulbenkian seat in his name as a thank you and tribute to my Dad – John Causton.
This year marks 50 years since Gulbenkian first opened to the public. Join us as we celebrate 50 years of Gulbenkian this summer #gulbenkianstories
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