Hangout UK : Interview with one half of the first handpan festival organizers
Hi everybody! Today I would like to share with you an interview of Kelly, one of the two organizers of HangOut UK.
Kelly is one of my first handpan friends. We met in 2008 and it was the first time I heard of a handpan festival. At the time the word handpan did not exist, we all had 1st and 2nd generation hang. I will never forget the excitement and emotion I felt when I saw all these instruments and all these players. I was going to be able to share, discover other stories, other styles, play many different ranges and jam with lots of people. It was the first time I realized and saw that there was a handpan family!! I will be forever grateful to Kelly & Rob for what they allowed me to experience.
Hi Kelly! Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Kelly Hutchinson, I live in South-East UK and I first discovered the Hang in 2004 at the Didje in Devon, a Didjeridoo festival in the UK. A group from Holland had a Hang as part of their set. The second they started playing the hair on my neck went up. I was transfixed with the music and how the steel worked so well with the sound of the drone from the didjeridu, as a Didjeridoo player it fascinated me. It wasn’t until a year later at another Didjeridu event in Devon, ‘The Gathering’, that I discovered the name of this instrument and more details about where it was built, and so I set about getting myself one.
I had several email communications with Felix @ PANart, being told they no longer ship Hangs and I would have to visit them in person, which was difficult for me as my first son had just been born. I knew what scale I wanted and set about trying to get a friend to collect one for me. Then out of the blue Felix contacted me by email and said they had just received a Hang in the scale I wanted and that they were willing to ship it to me. I was overjoyed and within a couple of weeks of that exchange it arrived. That was some 11 years ago now and this instrument changed my life in so many ways.
What is the hangOut UK for those who don’t know it yet?
HangOut UK is a weekend handpan music festival held in September at Mellow Farm near Farnham in Surrey. The aim of the event is to bring Hang and Handpan owners, players, makers & enthusiasts from around the world together in one venue for an intimate weekend of Hang and Handpan music. HangOut UK is not a world music event, it is a weekend aimed only at the Hang & Handpan, although we do welcome other instruments that complement the genre. HangOut UK is limited to 220 people per year, as we try to keep an intimate feel to the weekend, which is hard as we have so many people each year that want to come. It’s very hard every year to say sorry, we’re full.
What decided you to create this gathering?
HangOut UK was born as an idea in November 2006, after attending a weekend Hang event that Torbz had put on at his home in Glastonbury. Rob Watkins and I had been friends for a few years prior and had also attended a number of Didjeridu weekends with our families, namely ‘The Gathering’ which was an intimate weekend music weekend dedicated to Didjeridu and was run by Ant Scott and his wife Lin. It was a simple but effective idea for a music weekend, find a venue with land for camping, an indoor space for performances and workshops and there you have it.
Rob and I were active members over on GiDDAs old ‘Hang-Music’ forum, long before Handpan.org forum was created. We got back from the Torbz Hang weekend and put a message out there, would people be interested in an event and did anyone have any idea on a venue. Didn’t take long, Michael Colley, who we had already chatted with via the forum for a while and who we first met at Torbz little hang weekend, found a venue, Mellow Farm. Rob and I booked a meeting with the owner and took our Hang with us so they could get a real feel for what we were about. It was a great meeting, James the owner was in awe of the instrument and without any hesitation on hearing it asked Rob if he would mind going inside and playing some for his daughter, who was currently very sick in bed, she is also blind and with learning difficulties. That moment changed lives, the instrument touched the family in a way that has seen us all become really connected over the years and meant we had secured our venue.
The first HangOut happened in September 2007 and was attended by 32 people. But what surprised us was that in that first year we had people travel from Scotland, Germany & NEW ZEALAND! Just to be at HangOut, it was amazing. From there we steadily grew the event year on year to capacity, which in 2017 sits at 220 people.
Rob and I really do make a great team for organising HangOut, we have such different skills sets that work so well together. Rob is a front man, great for being our weekend compere, for being the centre of the party and for keeping that party going. I manage in my day job and I’m good at organizing. So although most people hear from me all year, we’re working very much as a team and none of this would work without the other, you’ll rarely catch me standing up and making jokes in front of an audience, as much as you’ll rarely see Rob replying to an email. It works and we love it.
How did you find the name of it ?
The name was an obvious play on words. When we created HangOut there were no other handpans being made, the Hang was it. So an event based on the Hang and with like minded enthusiasts coming together in one place to ‘Hangout’, it was just too obvious a choice not to use it. We added the UK bit to the name only because hangout.co.uk as a web address had already been taken. 😀
When was the first one? Any stories, good memories? What did you feel, to see that many handpans? What do you miss about the very first gatherings?
So the first HangOut was 2007, it was amazing. 32 people is really intimate and that was what we wanted to create. A weekend where people got to know each other, build friendships and learn. We were all knew to this instrument really and meeting up with like minded people, there was nothing else like it at that time. The first HangOut we only hired the chicken shed and had limited camping on the grass outside. We had huge support from close friends and family which meant that even if we didn’t sell one ticket we still had funds to cover the rent. We provided tea, coffee and breakfast for everyone that came, using money from the ticket sales. It was special.
2008 however is the year that me and Rob look back on with the fondest memories, we doubled tickets and met some of the most wonderful people that are still great friends today. Spyros, Paul Hankin, Barry Mason, Simon Wood, Richard Bowring, Rusty James, David Charrier and of course returning friends Colin Dunn and Michael Colley.
From then on the event has grown every year and although it has lost a bit of that intimate feel that you would expect going from 32 people to 220, it’s still one of the most magical weekends in the year for us and for everyone that comes.
We have so many friends and thankful moments that have happened over the last 11 years, the journey of HangOut has changed our lives for so much and everyone that comes or support us has made that happen.
What do you like the most about handpan? About our community?
The generosity of sharing knowledge & the friendships that have built up over the years. It all started for me and a handful of others on GiDDAs hang-music forum, chatting with the likes of Danny Sorensen, Michael Colley, Rusty James and Michael Paschko to name a few. To see how it’s evolved and grown to this massive global community of people sharing ideas, techniques, makers popping up in every corner of the world, new events sparking new friendships and new people meeting these instruments for the first time and sharing their experiences. It’s a community but on a different level, harder and harder to keep up with every day as new videos come out, new makers, new dreams being made. It’s been a wonderful thing to watch grow, but now it’s hard to keep watching, there is so much to watch.
What do you like the most about hangout UK?
The people, they are what make HangOut. Without them it would just be me and Rob in a field… and as much as I like Rob we’d probably just end up getting drunk and calling each other names.
What are the “values” of the hangoutUK?
HangOut UK values are what we feel keep the festival grounded and real. HangOut is a festival for everyone that comes, everyone plays their part, everyone gets involved and everyone is what makes it. The fundamental thing about any festival is that everyone has a good time and Rob and I do our utmost all year to make sure that this happens.
Everyone that comes to HangOut is on the same level, we like people to leave any ego at the door. Come, enjoy, be a part of, but be equal with your neighbour.
Some people pay for tickets, this helps us to cover the cost of venue hire (it’s not cheap) print tickets, letters, programmes, wristbands, cleaning equipment, insurance, etc.
We offer exchange of free tickets to performers, on the basis that if you want to get in for free then all we ask is a minimum of a 10/15 minutes performance. Any more is up to you depending on what you want to give. People are generous and we have had some AMAZING performances over the year, AMAZING! We don’t pay performers or offer paid travel expenses, if people want to come and get in for free then this is their give.
What if we have no performers willing to give their time for free? HangOut will still go on, it would just evolve in a new way, maybe become just one big jam session. We organise the space, the people create HangOut, it also enables us to keep ticket prices relatively affordable for the weekend.
Rob and I do HangOut for the love of it, there is a lot of work that goes into making it happen and a successful weekend full of happy people is all we need to carry us through to the next year.
An anecdote or funny story related to hangOut UK?
I think one of the best moments from HangOut for me, one that will always make me and quite a few others smile is the late Jim Dusin. Sat around the fire one night at HangOut a few years back, he was telling stories, as Jim very much liked to do, about his days as an engineer and his involvement with building the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Everyone had had a few drinks and it was getting late into the night… so late in fact that although Jim was still talking, everyone around the fire had fallen asleep. Jim was eventually told by someone passing that everyone had fallen asleep and he said, yeah, he knew, he just felt like talking and so carried on regardless 😀Such a character and will be greatly missed.
Jim will always stand out in mind, as a 70 something year old man having a massive life changing moment when he first came to HangOut. At 70+ years old how many life changing moments are there still to have? He and Kyle had been making Halo for a while before they made the trek across the Atlantic to join us at Mellow Farm. Jim said that making Halo was just another job, he saw their potential but didn’t really understand them, until he came to HangOut and met for the first time the people they were making these instrument for. It then hit home that this was something really special and both Rob and I feel absolutely blessed that HangOut brought about the right time and place for Jim to have that realization, we gathered the right people together to create a life changing moment for someone, WOW! That’s enough of a gift for me, we made a difference and that brings me so much joy every time I think about it.
A saying you like or a punchline to share about handpan?
I knew him first! (those in the know will know)
Would you share a tip or some advice for someone who wants to start organizing a handpan gathering?
Our advice to anyone wanting to start a gathering is to establish support, start small and build it. Don’t rush in trying to do a big event. It’s hard work and has a high probability to cost you money. Start small, gather friends to support you and find a good venue. Anyone can contact us for advice, we like to think we’re very open and approachable people and will help where we can with any questions.
When is the next one ? How can we register?
We will be opening up applications for HangOut 2018 in February so please find us on Facebook ‘HangOut Uk’ or keep an eye on our website www.hangoutuk.co.uk for further details about forthcoming HangOut weekends.
What is your website address? Could you give us links for 2 or 3 of the best videos of the HangOut UK?
Our website : www.hangoutuk.co.uk
These are my favourite 3 videos of HangOut EVER!
- The meaning of life by Rob Watkins: (this for me sums up HangOut weekend)
- Archer and Tripp (my favourite musicians)
- Andi Steil the man, the LEGEND! It’s an old video, this is the first time we saw Andi play live, away from his crazy Youtube channel and the guy is pure comic beauty
Alright, thank you bro for your time. Thank you Rob & Kelly for this amazing and legendary handpan gathering that has also marked me a lot. Thanks for the joy and the energy you are putting to make that “experience” possible years after years. I love you guys! See you next year!
Dear readers,Let’s enjoy these beautiful shots from HangOut UK 2017 by Chris Ng and Vincent Guilbaud. www.vincentguilbaud.com Thanks guys for these amazing photos.
Please, do not hesitate to share your HangOut UK own experience by commenting the article!
See you soon!