Carabosse Fire Gardens, Campbell Park

When I moved to Milton Keynes, I was (Milton) keen* to embrace the sorts of cultural events that were bound to pop up around the city.

* Sorry about that.

Having had the great fortune to live in a city like Manchester for the last four years, I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by interesting, diverse and exciting events seemingly constantly on the go. There was always something happening and, inevitably, I started to take that for granted and let a lot of it go ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed and took part in my fair share, but it’s true to say I was spoiled for choice in Manchester.

So my move to Milton Keynes was always coupled with a small fear that I would lose out in that arena; I had this preconception that, as an ‘artificial’ new city, MK would lack the kind of cultural infrastructure for which Manchester is so celebrated.

Luckily there has been a good deal of stuff to grab my interest – some of which I’ve covered here already. The latest slice of culture in the city to catch my eye – actually it caught Lisa’s eye – was the Carabosse Fire Gardens at Campbell Park, part of the intriguing Milton Keynes International Festival.

Taking place last weekend, the installation was only there for a couple of nights, and thanks to the sudden good weather, it was very popular, with the £2 tickets all but selling out.

Lisa and I went down not really knowing what to expect – probably not the huge queues (which we fortunately bypassed due to pre-booking), and certainly not an installation as vast as what we found in the park.

Stretching as far as we could see in the dying light – around the recently-erected beacon – were thousands of tiny flickering lights: flames alongside paths, in trees, suspended from metal frames and fires being bellowed and stoked all around.

Although the popularity meant that some sections moved at snails’ pace, there were plenty of focal points to stop and take it all in.

And that was the best part of it really, the whole surreality of it all. The icing on the cake was the live music – from ethereal loop-ridden guitar music to plaintive and eerie saxophone occasionally accompanied by xylophone and soft singing from musicians in metallic constructions wearing hats and suits.

It all had a rather Gothic, steampunk feel to it. Amongst the twilight and the deeply natural feeling of skin warmed by flame on a long summer’s evening, I absolutely loved it.

It wasn’t without the inevitable slice of humanity who turned up pissed and probably weren’t in the best frame of mind to really enjoy it – but you can’t have anything. Taking the time to stop and take in the weird majesty of it all more than made up for that.

Anyway, it was brilliant and totally unexpected – and a huge success: reports say that more than 12,000 people attended over the course of the weekend. Hurrah for that, and hurrah for more like it in future.

As an aside, I made a little video while I was there – hopefully it’ll give you a better flavour of the event than my silly words:

http://vimeo.com/46242610