Harvest time with Alex James
PUBLISHED: 18:10 17 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:51 20 February 2013
A mixture of music and food promises a family-friendly festival this month, as Alex James tells Mark Taylor. Photography by Fiona Campbell
Whatever you do, dont talk about Blur.
That was the crux of the message from the PR company that arranged for me to interview pop star turned Cotswold cheesemaker Alex James about his food and music festival.
Given that Blur were one of the most successful British bands of all time, its a pretty difficult subject to avoid but, thankfully, it takes only a few seconds before James breaks the ice by drawing comparisons between food and music.
Its funny, there are real parallels with indie music and food producers. I think the sort of people who were spending 15 on a Blur CD 20 years ago are now spending 15 on a truffle.
Going out to a gig is like going to a restaurant and buying a record is like going to the local deli. Actually, going to a gig is about 100 now so thats more like going out for dinner at The Ivy.
I suppose that makes going to Daylesford more like getting that rare Japanese import album a treat but youve just got to have it!
This month, James brings together his love of food and music at Harvest, a three-day festival on his farm near Chipping Norton.
The event runs simultaneously with one at celebrity farmer Jimmy Dohertys Suffolk farm and its being billed as a festival with a bite.
Seen by some as a foodie version of Glastonbury, Harvest aims to champion the best of British cooking and music.
The eclectic line-up brings together some of the biggest names from the world of food and music, plus a number of events for children.
There can be few events where food writers and chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tom Parker-Bowles and Mark Hix share the stage with The Kooks, KT Tunstall and Gilles Peterson, not to mention Charlie & Lola and Roald Dahls Fantastic Mr Fox.
A mix of music, cookery demonstrations (including the Daylesford Cookery School) and stalls selling street food and local produce, Harvest promises to be a family-friendly event.
Ive always wanted to do an event at the farm and harvest time seemed like the perfect combination. This festival really does reflect my life perfectly mainly food with a bit of music.
This part of the Cotswolds is a foodie heaven and there are some great places like Wild Thyme in Chipping Norton, Allium in Fairford and The Kingham Plough.
Theres a lot of expertise to draw upon, whether its microbreweries, foragers or cheese makers, and its great to be able to bring it all together.
Since moving to the 200-acre farm with his wife and their five children, James has become as well known for producing award-winning cheeses such as Blue Monday and Little Wallop, as he was making chart-toppers like Beetlebum and Parklife.
And, yes, he still sees the irony in the fact that Blurs 1995 hit Country House about a man leaving the pressures of the city to move to the country could have easily been written about himself.
When I bought a farm I didnt realise it was a clich. I thought I was the first person in the world to be doing it and I thought I was doing the most romantic, reckless thing imaginable.
Of course, now I know it was a clich and the farm is the natural habitat for the ageing rock gentleman.
I talked to Roger Daltrey about it he was a groundbreaker with his trout farm! Nowadays, its hard to think of a proper ageing rock gentleman that doesnt live on a farm its what we do.
Its funny because the minute I said I was going to make cheese, everybody said youre actually alright it was really surprising.
James love of cheese has been with him since he was a boy growing up in Bournemouth but it was when he toured the world with Blur that he became connected with it in more ways than one.
I did an interview in Smash Hits and I was asked what my favourite food and I just gave a one-word answer of cheese.
Suddenly, audiences around the world would throw cheese at me. It all started in Japan but the trouble was cheese comes in tins over there so it all got a bit out of hand!
As well as Harvest festival, James is currently working on a range of new cheeses and next year sees the publication of his second autobiography, All Cheeses Great and Small A Not So Everyday Story of Country Folk.
Its all about when I moved to the country, he laughs. I guess its like A Year in Provence for cheese makers.
Just because something is made by clogs it doesnt necessarily make it better than something made by machinery, but I do support every artisan cheese maker and I cheer them on. I just want to promote good cheese and good food to a wider audience.
Alex James presents Harvest Food and Music Festival at Kingham,
September 9-12. For ticket details go to www.alexjamespresentsharvest.com