The 63rd Sidmouth Folk Festival opened with the announcement that Folk Week had been awarded a prestigious BBC Music day blue plaque, for its contribution to music within the Region and to the musical map of the Country at large. This recognition is well deserved and a tribute to the organisers and many volunteers who over the years have never failed to produce an entertaining and enjoyable week of top class music, song and dance appealing to all ages and also to those who attend the many workshops dedicated to specific interests and hosted by well known experts in their field.
Without wishing to enter into the on-going debate concerning the average age of Folk Club audiences, it is pleasing to note that the Sidmouth Festival continues to attract a wide age demographic across all areas of the Folk genre.
The dedicated Children's Festival programme in the Blackmore Gardens ,continues to nurture an interest in folk song and dance and hopefully the musicians and dancers of the future. In addition to the many official venues within the boundaries of the Town, the Bulverton Marquee adjacent to the official camp site provides another haven for ceilidh and late night entertainment. This venue is served by a convenient shuttle bus from the town. It is clear that a festival of this size and popularity is a financial undertaking requiring a major investment on a scale which would be beyond the means of the the Board on its own. To this end the organisers receive support from three local Councils conscious of the benefits which The Festival brings to the area and also from partner organisations which include fRoots, Hobgoblin, EFDSS, Creative Scotland and Halsway Manor. In addition, many local businesses make welcome contributions as sponsors at various levels.
Undoubtedly, a festival of this size taking place throughout the town must cause disruption and perhaps some inconvenience to some residents who may find their usual routines interrupted, but the townspeople and the local traders are to be congratulated on their tolerance and willingness to welcome back the Festival each year to this cosy seaside town. Yes, the weather can occasionally become “British Summer” like, as it did this year but overall, the the sun shone and the dance and music warmed the heart and soul.
The Festival Director John Braithwaite and his Management team of Alan Bearman, John Radford, Jason Knight and John Haydon deserve congratulations on once again creating an excellent Festival Week. Mention must be made of the 82 page, well designed and informative programme of events with artists details etc.
For those of you with an interest in Folk music and dance and who have not yet visited Sidmouth, I urge you to book for next year always the first week of August and assure you that you will greatly enjoy the experience and the company of fellow enthusiasts. For those who wish to “fringe” there is ample opportunity for informal singarounds and sessions in several pubs and hotels throughout the week. You may even wish to join the Middle Bar Singers in the sea or others on Friday's unofficial “ceilidh in the ford” I will continue to leave these two events to other participants !
Some selected reviews:
With over 700 programmed events during the week and the limitations of a solo reviewer it is obvious that it is impossible to do justice to and report on, the many artists and groups who have attended and performed at the festival. Apologies are due to the many talented performers not reported on here. The programme included legends of the revival: Martin Carthy, Ralph McTell with Wizz Jones, Michael Chapman, Chris Wood, plus festival patrons Show of Hands; Elder statesmen: Roy Bailey and Alan Bell and a host of others who have sustained the Folk Scene over the decades. These were joined by alumni of the Degree courses at Newcastle and the Royal Scottish Conservatoire and many others at the top of their game. Whilst I am not too familiar with the art of the dance I understand that the various disciplines, ceilidh and workshop demonstrations were well attended. The Morris sides were as ever, a main feature throughout the town and sea front and can be seen on this review's photo coverage by Eve Mathews.
Pre-Festival Concert. The Ham, Thursday:
It has become the custom in recent years to arrange a concert of general appeal for those who arrive early and also to attract a local audience.
The M.C. Was on this occasion Derek Schofield, who deserves a special mention as a result of his long term association association with the Festival in various capacities and his authorship of the publication celebrating 50 years of Sidmouth. He was on duty throughout the week as part of a team of experienced M.C.'s who have become familiar faces. These include one of Devon's finest voices Barry Lister, Bill Crawford another local traditional singer and Bob Walton a long term visitor, performer and occasional journalist. They and their colleagues always add to the feeling of continuity throughout the week's programme.
The concert was opened by the young Dorset based duo Nine Barrow, named after a local pre-historic feature within the Purbeck Hills. Nominated in the “Best Emerging Artist” category in the 2017 BBC Folk Awards they perform mostly traditionally based material as befits their duo name. Jon Whitely and Jay La Bouchardiere have been friends from schooldays and their subtle musicianship and close harmony singing is of the order frequently found amongst sibling performers. It is easy to see why their performances have been lauded by fellow artists like Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman with frequent airplays on Mike Harding's programme, Mark Radcliffe's show and on International airwaves. Both artists have given up secure employment as a G.P. and as a teacher respectively to follow their musical journey A pretty full Diary ahead indicates that so far the decision has been justified.
Their programme contained some excellent mostly well known traditional songs, for example, "The Dark eyed Sailor", "Weave her a Garland", "The Prickle-y Bush", "Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping" and the gory, "Blood on the Hillside".
Don't miss them if at a venue near you.
The second half of the evening belonged to the artist Barbara Dixon accompanied by the well known Nick Holland on Keyboards. The house was full to its c. 1200 seat capacity, such is the drawing power of this two time, Olivier Award performer and the programme was as varied as one would expect from someone who started on the folk scene in a duo with Archie Fisher and later gained International fame in many venues, as a result of her success in shows by Willy Russell and Rice and Webber. Her duet with Elaine Paige “I know him so well” became and International hit remaining Number ! On the UK Charts for four weeks and she remains Scotland's most recorded female artist.
With such a C.V. There is little one can add to a Dixon performance review,except to say that she probably falls between two stools with this type of audience with one half hoping for more Traditional material and the other half more from her popular stage musical orientated career. I rather felt that whilst she plays guitar adequately, the performance would have been enhanced by a dedicated guitarist working with Nick Holland. The other little niggle was that the keyboard sound level seemed on occasions, a bit high on some numbers and tended to obscure her vocals. She included within the programme some traditional songs e.g, "My Donald", "Jamie Raeburn" and "Lang a Growin'"; songs by her late friend Gerry Rafferty; plus some crowd pleasing numbers from her show business successes. Her voice was on good form and she and Nick were roundly applauded by all present.
Pre -Festival Special. The Ham. “Where my Wellies Take Me.”:
Another full house turned out to hear a special presentation of Clare and Michael Monpurgo's above named, delightfully evocative book for children. Narrated by the authors and actor Natalie Walter, the readings described a day as seen through the eyes of an eight year old girl, as she wandered around the fields and woods adjacent to her temporary wartime home, deep in the English countryside on a sunny summers day. The Descriptions of nature and other events were enhanced with songs mostly composed for the work and performed by the a capella group Voices at the Door. Comprising the trio Coope Boyes and Simpson, Jo Freya, Fi, Fraser and Georgina Boyes. Altogether very pleasant and charming interlude. Michael with true “The show must go on” spirit, took his part in the production despite being scheduled for a vocal cord operation which hopefully, will return his voice to its full health. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Roy Bailey and Coope Boyes Simpson at the Ham:
Here we enjoyed the company of one of one of the Folk Worlds enduring masters. Roy Bailey, started a little tentatively but was soon into his stride with “Calling Joe Hill” and bringing the audience into full participatory mood with favourites like “God on his Side”, Sydney Carters “George Fox” and John Tams's “Rolling Home”. Being joined on stage by son-in law, Martin Simpson and Marc Block is of course a bonus but as ever, Roy he belies his years and flies the flag for social justice. Long may he do so.
Coope Boyes and Simpson, were appearing in one of their final Festival shows before flying off to Belgium for another concert appearance. They will be much missed as a group, but thankfully both Lester and Barry will be around in different combinations and hopefully they will organise a Re-Union at some future date. They are just such nice people and their easy harmony style is complimented by humorous asides and banter. Their gig list however, contains both the charming and deadly serious subject demanding from their audience attention and respect and they were greatly appreciated by a full house.
Welcome Concert at The Ham.
Here on the first Saturday of the Festival, The organisers had arranged a free Festival “taster concert”. There is something about a top class silver/brass band which lifts the spirit and leaves a warming glow as far as I am concerned. In this respect the Sidmouth Town Band were no exception and with a mixture of youth and experience and an enthusiastic Director in Adrian Harvey, it is clear to see why they are a prize-winning ensemble. Their choice of music ranged from “Another one bites the Dust” The music of “Queen”, a tribute to Leonard Cohen and a selection of tunes described as “Folky”. All in all, a fine programme and a real audience pleaser.
Next on stage were The Newcastle Kingsmen, a rapper sword team originally founded in 1949. No doubt they were chosen to represent the many dance sides which delighted audiences throughout the week in performances in the Town and Seafront. Opening their routine with four lassies clog dancing, they quickly brought on stage a full dance side. Their high energy and complex patterns of dance moves were much admired and applauded by the full house.
In recent years, it has become the custom to invite young musicians who have participated in and benefited from, the courses run by Halsway Manor, The National Centre for the Folk Arts. Courses are held here at various levels and in a wide range of musical disciplines throughout the year. Currently, the listed building is in need of
repair and they are continuing to raise funds to supplement Grant aid. The stage was filled to overflowing by an enthusiastic group of their youngest performers who demonstrated their ability to co-ordinate as a group with a minimum of rehearsal time and was positive proof of the skills passed down by their various tutors who, it is to be hoped will continue to receive support in this important venture.
I confess that I have known both Sara Grey and her son Kieron Means for quite a few years and remember Sara coming over and guesting at my then local club I think in her late twenties. Sara is quite remarkable for the energy and enthusiasm which she imparts from the stage in particular when explaining historical details which are the background to the songs, many of which have found their way across the”Pond” to return in new forms. Her knowledge of her craft is legendary and her her skill on the banjo is always admired. Kieron is himself an excellent guitarist with a fine voice which compliments Sara in duet. He is also a solo artist and many of his fellow performers greatly admire his skills and ability to sing and blues in authentic style. Their programme included a variety of up-beat American old time songs which had the audience tapping their feet.
The Irish Tradition. The Woodlands Hotel:
For this evening, M.C. John Howson, had invited us to sit back and listen to four guests who embodied the Irish Tradition. First up was the duo of Bryan O'Leary from Kerry on button key accordion and Jack Talty, from Clare, on concertina. Their skills and passion for their music was evident from the first few bars and their contributions greatly appreciated underlining just how vibrant the Folk Music scene continues to be in Ireland via the medium of pub sessions and any other excuse to sit down in the circle and just enjoy and entertain the general public. I have always felt that if a musician entered a pub in Ireland and didn't play he would be asked to leave, In contrast to the reception in some of our hostelries over here !
Although born in Kilburn, Marianne McAleer has been influenced by the musical traditions of her Cavan based ancestors .An award winner at both British and All Ireland Fleadh Ceoil competition, she is an expert in lilting and songs in the Irish language. Her high soprano style and an abundance of charm coupled with a keen sense of humour, make her a favourite visitor at this and other Irish gatherings. Her contributions included a lovely version of “Lough Erin's Shore”, “Along The Cavan Road” an Ulster parting song and a “diddling” song, an old style of singing a bit like the Scots Gaelic form of “Mouth Music” where singers will perform accompaniment for dancing in the absence of instruments. This technique is often employed as a form of chorus to compliment the verses. Nice to see her artistry recognised at this prestigious festival.
Thomas McCarthy, Is a unique singer and story teller from a long tradition of travelling families. It is now recognised that much of the Irish Tradition has been preserved by travelling troubadours of his ilk, although it has taken the Irish Folk Music “Establishment” too long to give them deserved credit. He has been fortunate to spend many of his young summers back in Birr, where his grandfather a “settled” traveller and a popular benefactor in the area, introduced him to the customs and music of his heritage. In addition, his late mother was a fine and popular entertainer with a wealth of songs from which Tom has been able to draw and which he sings with passion and sincerity.
Although well known in the London area, it has taken Tom a few years to be recognised by the wider Folk scene but he is now a necessary part of the British folk community and receives invitations to perform at home and abroad and this year he travelled to America and not I suspect, for the last time.
This was an event devoid of any commercial interests more like an old fashioned invitation to a musical afternoon in the company of friends and it was greatly enjoyed by all present.
Themed Singaround. Royal Glen Hotel:
This is a new Festival venue held in the comfort of the hotel lounge with an added bonus of waiter service! The presenter of the session Colin Andrews, is of course a veteran of the folk scene currently still Editor of the magazine “Folk South West” A position by the way from which he feels, he should retire. So in the event that any readers of this revue have the ambition to follow him please contact Colin. He is joined for these sessions by his wife Sonja and the idea is that each session will have a chosen topic requiring the singaround contributors to choose a related song or ballad. It is a fact that many visitors come to the Festival to attend the singarounds where there are opportunities to perform in the company of like minded enthusiasts. Hence there are regular and well attended daily gatherings at The Volunteer Inn, Royal York and Falconer Hotel morning and evening, The Bedford Hotel, Kingswood and Deveron Hotel and several pubs within the town.
The theme at the Royal Glen was on this occasion, “A sword and a pistol by her side” i.e. Any song which contains a reference to a weapon which provided plenty of scope for students of the Traditional Ballad! I have always been intrigued by the number of murders committed by the use of a “Wee pen knife” Colin's contribution described one such event with a pen knife “three foot long” So that clears up the mystery! The Andrews have been running these sessions for 15 years and it is to be hoped that they will continue.
Siobhan Miller Trio and Lau at The Ham:
Opening on this Concert was the delightful Siobhan Miller with her accompanists. Siobhan needs no introduction to followers of the Folk Music scene having received many awards and accolades over the past decade. She has graced many a stage at home and abroad and the tracks on her C.D's are always accompanied by the cream of Scotland's professional folk musicians. Her choice of songs is not confined to the Tradition .She opened with “The Banks of Newfoundland” but included two songs by Dick Gaughan and Dylan's “One Too Many Mornings”. Her strong delivery, clear enunciation and vocal range always makes for an uplifting experience and I have no doubt that her latest C.D. “Strata” will be in increasing demand.
This band is quite simply a phenomenon. Many metres of copy have been heaped upon their successful and continuing musical progress. Kris Drever, Aidan O'Rourke and Martin Green, have been firmly raised in the genre of Scots and English Traditional musicianship, a genre which they continue to play and listen to, but they have chosen to move the goalposts into an ever expanding area of progressive folk rock with re-working of old ballads and new compositions. Keyboards, electronic gizmos and stadium sound served to create an atmosphere beyond the usual, much to the approval of a largely appreciative audience, bearing in mind that the full house did contain a number of dinosaurs like your truly. They have been described as “The Mother Band” due to their inspirational influence on up and coming groups. However they do strongly caution that the roots of their craft and love of traditional music remain key to their success. The audience demanded several encores.
Ewan Mclennan at Carina's.
Keith Rusby ably introduced Ewan Mclennan to the audience in this somewhat bizarre nightclub venue, which one gathers may soon be converted to restaurant if planning is granted. The place was full as one had expected given the popularity of the artist with his engaging personality plus vocal and instrumental skills.
Seven years “on the road” have matured him and developed his range of material. Ewan has always been forthright with his political views and his demands for justice and equality are in tune with many of his folk contemporaries who continue to hope for change. The music of the people has always played an important part in this ambition and long may this be the case.
The majority of his songs were accompanied by guitar on which he uses alternative tunings from time to time to match the occasion, but he also demonstrated his skill on the banjo and explained the names given to various tunings on that instrument. That he carefully researches his material and conveys his message with a voice particularly suited to traditional song, is no doubt one of his strengths and his collaboration with George Monibot on the subject of “Breaking the Spell of Loneliness" (The Ham Tuesday 7th) further underlines his sensitivity.
With no particular set agenda he chose a variety of songs including Burns's “A Man's a Man”, “Tramps and Hawkers” Matt McGinn's “Miner's Lullaby” and the song about Scottish Rolls Royce workers successful attempt to thwart the warmongering ambitions of the then Chilean Dictatorship. All in all an interesting and popular, “Hour or So With”
Bob and Gill Berry at The Woodlands:
How pleasing to find this hard-working pair in the spotlight at this Festival Considering their regular contribution during the week to this and other Festivals in taking charge of the official “Folk Club” and also their ongoing commitment to the Chippenham Festival it was particularly thoughtful of the organisers to give this popular couple a showcase opportunity of their own. Of course they are well known throughout the Folk scene as duo performers and members of the group Tinkers Bag so there was a good turn out to listen to their anecdotes and choice of songs. Gill has a marvellous voice and Bob accompanies this well with harmony and a straightforward effective guitar technique. Their choices were mainly from the Traditional catalogue and much to the liking of the audience and the compere of the afternoon Alan Bell. As ever, their professionalism and sense of self deprecating humour showed through.
Concert at The Bedford.
Guests at this afternoon's concert were, Hector Christie with Chris Edwards, Jim and Lynette Eldon and the ceilidh band Pigeon Swing.
Hector is a long term performer, concert organiser and journalist on the Folk scene. I confess that I have not heard my near namesake in duo mode before, but he was well supported in this relatively new partnership by his colleague Chris who plays a wide range of instruments including mandola,,concertina,guitar,accordion fiddle and mandolin. Not that all of these instruments were on show during this relatively short spot but it must be comforting to a singer to know that the changes can be wrung when required.
Hector kicked off the programme with a Matt Armour song “The Shores of The Forth" followed by a version of lyrics to the well known tune Loch Lomond. Also included were “October Song” and The Violet Jacob poem about “The Last of the Tinkers”. A slightly risky choice might have been the inclusion of the Jim Reeves number “He'll Have to Go” on the set list, but they got away with that in this afternoon concert. I assume that they figured rightly, that a proportion of the audience would welcome a change from the heavy diet of trad. folk song. Their closing number was the Lady Nairne composition “The Land O' The Leal”.
We look forward to hearing that plans for a C.D. Recording will bear fruit before too long. The duo were also involved during the week in a programme about the classic ballads of Scotland, many collected by Francis Child and later from the travelling community by other folklorists and known collectively as “The Muckle Sangs” I was forced to give this a miss due to other commitments but I have no doubt that the presentation was in safe hands.
Jim and Lynette Eldon:
The necessary brevity of this review does not do justice to the talents employed by this couple from Hull who are in fact in themselves a complete traditional folk “compendium” given their musical skills and the employment of jig dolls and puppets in their longer sets. Their popularity throughout the folk community (particularly in the North East) is well established and their family heritage of folk song and music has been expanded by an interest in collection and dissemination of traditional material which might well have been lost had they not taken it to a wider audience. Of particular interest to Jim who plays old style folk fiddle were the tunes of the Pennock family of Goathland which he has studied and learned but he is also a skilled writer of parody songs and original compositions.
Lynette, on the other hand is an expert clog dancer, judge and teacher and is the ideal compliment and occasional foil to Jim's sense of humour. They finished the short set with “Still I love him” which seemed apposite. It would be good to see them more frequently in the South part of the country.
The individual members of this band represent a list of the acknowledged finest of English ceilidh an folk bands, including The Oyster Band, The Old Swan Band, Flowers and Frolics ,Gas Mark 5, Edward the Second and Tiger Moth.
Given this pedigree it is no surprise to know that they treated the audience to a high- energy set of their well known tunes from their Quebecois repertoire. They are much in demand and their ability to seamlessly move into their set tunes is testament to their individual instrumental skills and countless hour of practice required to reach this standard. They completed this concert in fine style which was M.C.'d by Derek Schofield.
No Voices Concert. Purcells Polyphonic Party ad Leveret at The Manor Pavilion.
Purcell's Polyphonic Party, are of course John Dipper with Vicky Swan and Jonny Dyer, all highly qualified and professional musicians who appear in other guises and combinations . All three are capable of excelling in a variety of instruments but for this presentation John played his Viola D'Amore, Jonny keyboard/harpsichord and Vicky Swedish nyckelharpa. They played a number of compositions by the 18th Century English composer Henry Purcell. He was noted for composing over 100 songs but his field of ability was much wider including anthems, opera and music for Shakespeare's plays. This was a very pleasant interlude presented in Swan/Dyer's inimitable style with charm and humour and would have benefited with a bit more scheduled stage time.
The trio of Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeny and Rob Harbron are three of England's finest folk musicians with long experience in the National and International folk music scene. Here, they did not disappoint their many fans who had helped to fill the Pavilion. Personally I found their contribution a little dull perhaps as a result of the “no voices” aspect of the evening but maybe my musical appreciation “bank” was becoming temporarily overfull at this point of the week. No criticism is intended of their performances which demanded encores.
John Kirkpatrick. C.D. Launch at The Manor:
Some C.D. Launches may include a glass of wine some finger food and a song or two. This was in fact a fantastic concert with John. He is as most of us know, a wonderful entertainer exhibiting dazzling skills on accordions and concertinas as was evidenced in his performances of “On the Quarter Deck” and “Harry Tuffins Musical Ride” From the start he engages an audience with his crystal clear voice, choice of material and never ending clowning. John's set list was his new C.D. “Coat Tails Flying” which is a musical journey I would recommend to everyone. Fun is always on the menu with John Kirkpatrick but his skill is in never to overplay his comedy nor does he have to, as his sense of humour is purely natural. You should have been there to experience the audience reaction when he threw his set of spoons up in the air during “The House that Jack built”.
Songs like “Hi Ho Hare”, “The Middle of the World” and “Bum Sheaddity” had the audience singing along and his rendition of “The Captain with the Whiskers” written by W.J. Florence with words by Shirley Collins was ideal material when not singing his own compositions.
We also got a glimpse into his personal life one of loss,followed by a new found love and happiness. This was a sheer delight of an afternoon with tunes ,spoons and hilarity. Make sure you buy his C.D. And may his coat tails never cease to fly.
Mathew Crampton with Michael Hebbert at The Woodlands:
This latest show of Mathew's follows on from his success with his publication and musical presentation of the history of slavery which will be due for another public airing on the main stage at Shrewsbury in August. This show at Sidmouth, was in total contrast being billed as Oh No! It's More Music Hall. Which served up an enchanting evening of songs, monologues, and jokes presented by Mathew with the aid of concertina maestro Michael Hibbert. When blessed with the charm and personality of Mathew, one can get away with most things, which included faux insulting MC Mike Norris and his musical partner within the first five minutes. Of course the two Mikes were up for it.
The packed audience enjoyed cheeky good natured humour, fine renditions of carefully selected songs and monologues and tasty accompaniment by Michael Hibbert with Mathew on ukelele on occasions. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from song one: ”My Old Dutch” and we flew on flying machines sang in horror, when baby went down the plughole and aahed to be told that one young lady was poor but honest!
Old fashioned Music Hall certainly, but Mathews finest attribute as a performer is his ability to effortlessly win over an audience. His natural charisma and delivery combined with with a fine speaking and singing voice, are the tools of his trade as was evident in the delivery several monologues. Michael Hebbert was a constant throughout the evening, understated and talented in equal measure and his solo renditions were special. At some point during the evening, Mathew used a phrase which stuck in the head. “Enough is as Good as a Feast” and the audience were certainly indulged in the fun evening which they came for.
We look forward to whichever topic Mathew's fertile mind might turn to next. President Trump ? Brexit? International Conflict? Watch the space!
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Sidmouth Folk Festival 2017 Review