there's a pronounced Celtic flavour to another successful Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth Folk Week 2011

published: Tue 16th Aug 2011

around the festival site (1)

Friday 29th July to Friday 5th August 2011
Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8XR, England MAP
£248 for all-in-one adult ticket
last updated: Tue 19th Jul 2011

The pretty Devon town of Sidmouth once more played host to the UK's longest running Folk Festival of song and dance, running from the 29th of July until the 5th of August. This famous 'First Week in August' Festival continues to produce a cornucopia of top class entertainment and festivities for all the family, throughout the week.

around the festival site (3)
The narrow streets of this popular seaside town were alive with fringe activities provided by official street entertainers, and other souls who just wanted to try a bit of busking in the sunshine. Sidmouth, being a seaside magnet for tourists of the more gentle kind, is blessed with a plentiful selection of good quality restaurants and food outlets. Most of the pubs have naturally embraced the Festival as an opportunity to welcome in musicians and their followers. No doubt it gives a welcome mini-harvest in these difficult times. Processions of Morris sides, in their individually designed outfits, added to the colour of the week as they performed and paraded throughout the town centre and in the Blackmore Gardens.

All along the promenade, which also provided a stage for impromptu music and dance, were located numerous stalls, selling a wide range of jewellery, clothing, cosmetics and other craft items. This may have accounted for the fairly sparsely booked, official craft tent, although that may have been connected with the higher cost of the covered space rental.

The Festival indoor events are held in approximately 20 venues throughout the town plus a number of 'fringe' locations, where those seeking a spot to enjoy a singaround or music session, gathered daily. A mile and a half outside the town is the Bulverton Marquee and Festival car park, plus the camping site, with frequent shuttle bus service. Parking within the town itself is obviously limited, and the regular car parks remain nearly full throughout the week. The Cricket and Rugby Club fields within the town are set up as temporary car parks and an additional site for motor homes during the Festival.

around the festival site (3)
The compact layout of this old town, with its myriad winding streets, makes travel on foot to the various venues an easy task.

The main concert venue is the Ham Marquee, a 1200 seat facility which has been improved this year as a result of a grant from the Town Council, one of a number of sponsors. The result is much improved acoustics, although some may miss the patter and view of the not so tiny feet of the gulls on the old roof, as they appeared to groove to the music - though not always in time!

Acker Bilk
The Sidmouth Festival organisers have not (yet) succumbed to the marketing gimmick used by some other festivals by including so called 'Headline' acts from other popular music genres. In this, I think they are to be congratulated, particularly as professional folk musicians are faced with a decreasing number of outlets for their talents. An exception of course, was the Trad. Jazz Concert on Thursday evening, featuring the band led by the amazing octogenarian Acker Bilk. This provided an opportunity for those town residents, not necessarily into folk music, and other visitors of a 'certain age', to wallow in a bit of nostalgia.

A feature of this years Festival has been the inclusion in the official programme, of a healthy number of young, talented musicians appearing in groups or as solo artists. This may give some comfort to those who might fear the loss of 'The Tradition'. I was also impressed by an impromptu performance by a group of singers from Cecil Sharp House who sang delightfully two traditional songs, in the back yard of the Swan Inn, whilst I slaked my thirst one sunny afternoon. This year there was a pronounced Celtic flavour to the Festival, as a result of support from 'Culture Ireland', which enabled a number of Irish traditional musicians, most of whom would be unknown to British audiences, to take part in the programme. This was added to, by the presence of the Karine Polwart band, Alasdair Roberts, and Welsh group, Fernhill - not forgetting story teller Taffy Thomas.

The Spooky Mens Chorale (procession)
The Festival, once again, welcomed back The Spooky Men's Chorale, founded by Stephen Taberner, with recruits mainly from the Blue Mountain area of Australia and even a couple of "mercenaries" from the UK! They delighted audiences with their bizarre humour and skilled harmony singing during the week in various venues, including leading a procession, three hundred in number, all singing, through the town, resulting in general chaos and lots of merriment.

around the festival site (Choirs and Workshops)
The Festival organisers have recognised the importance of providing a complete and separate programme of events for those with young families through their 'Family Sidmouth' initiative. Located mainly in the Blackmore Gardens area, the activities range from tuition in instruments, dance, song, story telling and even a guide to healthy eating!

The older members of the family (13 to 18) are catered for by the Shooting Roots and Stream of Sound, programmes. Activities in this sector were supported by a number of skilled tutors and covered a wide range of topics, including Theatre, Dance, Music, Choral singing, Story telling and Craft works. The results of this programme were ably demonstrated by the students during the week, and culminated in a showcase performance on Friday afternoon.

The weather this year was particularly kind, which added to the fun, with the exception of a very wet Wednesday night, which resulted in one Festival guest to my knowledge, emerging from an ancient borrowed tent, in a waterlogged state. A new one next time?

Dougie Maclean
The Festival wound up on the Friday evening with a number of events including a concert by Scotland's finest, Dougie MacLean and a Torchlight Procession, followed by a Fireworks Display.

All in all a successful week and congratulations are due to the hard work put in by Festival Director John Braithwaite, Artistic Director Joan Crump and their Board members, not forgetting the army of volunteer Stewards, who dealt admirably with day to day queries and the inevitable minor problems which crop up in an enterprise of this kind. Thanks are also due to the tolerance of the Townsfolk of Sidmouth and all the business sponsors both private and corporate.

Book your tickets early for next year!
review by: Hector Gilchrist

photos by: Eve Mathews

Friday 29th July to Friday 5th August 2011
Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8XR, England MAP
£248 for all-in-one adult ticket
last updated: Tue 19th Jul 2011

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