a selected review of Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth Folk Week 2012 review

By Hector Gilchrist | Published: Wed 22nd Aug 2012

around the festival site (Bulverton Dances)

Friday 3rd to Friday 10th August 2012
Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8XR, England MAP
£248 for all-in-one adult ticket
Daily capacity: 25,000
Last updated: Mon 16th Jul 2012

Thursday 2nd

The Big Chris Barber Band The Ham, 8:00

The Big Chris Barber Band
Once again, Sidmouth was treated to a pre-Festival concert of a different genre of entertainment, and the marquee provides the opportunity to cater for a larger audience than is available in the town for the rest of the year. Acker Bilk was the guest last year, and so it was with great interest that I went to sample another of the Jazz 'Great Names' from my youth – Chris Barber. I admit to being far more familiar with folk music, but could not resist being drawn in by the music, both blues and jazz: Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Brownie McGhee…. And of course the rousing finale of The Saints is familiar to us all. I had not realised that Lonnie Donegan was the banjo-player when they started: I was fascinated at the role of the banjo in the band, which with the double bass, balance the array of wind instruments – trumpet, trombone, clarinet and sax.
It is difficult to believe that Chris Barber first started touring in the early 50's, and seems so full of energy, both playing trombone and singing, at 82!

Friday 3rd

War Horseconcert The Ham, 3pm

Warhorse (the concert) with Michael Morpurgo, John Tams & Barry Coope
I had not been to see the film of War Horse, as I had hoped to see the original stage production first, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to see this 'concert' version – a simple reading of the story, by the author Michael Morpurgo, with the music provided by the 'songmaker' for the National Theatre production, John Tams with Barry Coope. It was a captivating and poignant experience – read with so much expression by Michael, and the songs so simply presented, so familiar, taking on new life as an integral part of the story. By the end of the performance there was scarcely a dry eye in the audience, and the author/narrator was visibly moved. What an overwhelming start to the festival!

Saturday 4th

Opening Welcome Concert Ham Marquee. 11:30.

The award winning Sidmouth Town Band opened this free, 'taster' concert by playing beautifully some regular brass band favourites and competition pieces. It is clear to see why this superbly disciplined band of mainly youngish musicians, have received so many accolades and given pleasure to local residents and band enthusiasts throughout the County and further afield.

This was followed by short sets, featuring young musicians from Halsway Manor and Roots Acoustic, who all demonstrated why English folk music is in good hands.

The Exmouth Shanty Men, Debby McClatchy invigorated the programme with their customary enthusiasm. The headline artist was the evergreen American banjo and song icon, Exmouth Shanty Men, Debby McClatchy, making one of her regular visits to these shores. This short concert helped to set the standard for the remainder of the Festival.

The Tradition Gathers Woodlands Hotel, 8:00.

This was a real treat for lovers of 'The Tradition'. Mostly acapella singing, but with contributions from Will Duke (melodian) accompanied by his son, a recent Newcastle graduate, on fiddle more than capably standing in for Dan Quinn, who was unable to attend.

Songs, in the East Coast of Scotland dialect, from Joe Aitken, and Geordie Murrison demonstrated that whilst all the words may not be fully understood by English listeners, the story and mood of the song can be ably conveyed by these two masters of the genre whether in humour or pathos.

Len Graham, from Northern Ireland, is one of the most gentle and tuneful singers and he showed just why he is held in such high regard - this evening and in later appearances during the week.

His fellow countryman Jack Lynch was also to the fore, in that respect. Dublin based Jerry O'Reilly, a stalwart of the Goilin Club and always good value for money, performed with customary power and enthusiasm.

Holding up the English vocal contributions were Peta Webb & Ken Hall, organisers of The London Traditions Club, and respected bearers of tradition. Peta's unique vocal style continues to delight.

Sunday 5th

Themed Singaround Rugby Club. 3:30.

For some years, Colin Andrews has been a stalwart of the South West Folk Scene as a performer and journalist.

During the Festival he has run regular Themed Singarounds, formerly at The Woodlands, but now transferred to the Rugby Club venue. These have always proved popular and this year was no exception. This particular one was described as a 'Sinaround' and participants had to come up with a song based on 'Murder,Rape and Pillage' or the parts thereof..

Needless to say, there was no shortage of volunteers and the subjects were broadly treated without repetition, some raising a smile and others of a more serious nature.

An enjoyable afternoon - another event at which a donation only is asked for.

Festival Folk Club Arts Centre. 8:00.

The organisers of the Chippenham Folk Festival, Bob & Gill Berry run this evening on semi-formal lines by inviting Festival guests to perform a spot.. The Berrys themselves are of course consummate performers and it is this writer's view that young budding artists would do well to study their approach to, and delivery of, their material. Both sing with great sincerity and Gill's lovely voice always transfers to the audience the joy she exudes when singing. The special guests on this evening were the ever reliable and hard working Pete Coe, and Gavin Davenport.

Contributions from the audience made this another successful evening.

Monday 6th

Shapenote Singing Workshop Methodist Church. 9:30.

This was a delightful, uplifting musical session. The Babylon Lane quartet demonstrated what can be done when four voices blend in well practised harmony. The West Gallery 'Quire' and orchestra rang out with disciplined enthusiasm, thereby encouraging the assembled 'congregation' give of their best. The results of this workshop would surely be a highlight for later in the week.
Jackie Oates and Old Man Luedecke Ham Marquee. 3:15.

Old Man Luedecke
The main stage marquee was suitably full to hear these two artists. Canadian based, Old Man Luedecke opened with a range of banjo accompanied song. Apparently he had chosen the banjo after becoming proficient on a number of instruments. He is a fine performer with a strong vocal technique and those who are inclined to disparage this instrument should just sit back and listen to this man at the top of his game.

Don't let the name mislead you. Steve Leudecke is a young man, new growth from old routes. He is fresh and enthusiastic. His melodies in Sidmouth begged to be hummed. His memorable set had many poetic gems from his 'My Hands are on Fire' collection of love songs. It is a CD to be savoured and shared. His influences range from Toronto to Nova Scotia from Woody Guthrie to the inner Leudecke. His lyrics were contemporary and always married to the irresistible rhythm of the old time banjo. We were totally entertained in Sidmouth by the brilliant Old Man Leudecke – a young master at the same time. His links between songs were charming, family stories for example, he is missing his twin girl’s first steps while here in Sidmouth or gripping musings on the minute, the ridiculous and the sublime. Hurry back Old Man and thanks for coming.

Jackie Oates (and band)
Jackie Oates is, of course, well known to a Devon audience, and has charmed many a heart with her instrumental skill and pleasant vocal treatment of English traditional song. Her direct, unpretentious approach to an audience also enhances this. I have listened to Jackie sing on a number of occasions but I am pleased to note that her vocal range has now strengthened and she attacks the higher register with confidence and precision. This complements her fine playing on her custom-made viola.

Jackie is now resident in Oxford with her partner and admits that a settled existence may have helped her gain a new confidence in her performances. It must also be a factor that she is now backed by a fine trio of young musicians. Continuing success is assured.

Benjamin's Book. Manor Pavillion. 8:00.

Written and presented by the multi-talented, musician/actor, Tim Laycock, this period costume play followed the fortunes of Dorset Farmer Benjamin Rose, based on his preserved manuscript book. The fiddle music was provided by Colin Thomson, with Tim on his concertina from time to time. This skilled presentation held the interest throughout with balanced sound production from Doug Bailey and his team.

The Manor Theatre is a fine venue, but when full, quickly becomes overheated. Ice cream sales were up!

Tuesday 7th

Mary Humphries and Anahata Woodlands Hotel. 3:00.

I first heard this duo many years ago, when we were both recording on the Wildgoose label. Since then, I have never lost an opportunity to listen to them when within my compass.

Collectors and students of mainly English tradition, they do not forget Mary Humphreys's Welsh roots. They perform with professionalism and delight in their subject. Anahata's cello work is mellow and understated in accompaniment, and his skill on his several melodians, outstanding. Mary claims that she is relatively new to the concertina, but her developed skill is testament to many hours of practice. Together they produce a glorious sound.

The track of the traditional song 'Rue' was recorded on their first C.D. It is no surprise to learn that its popularity has resulted in it being re-recorded on their latest.

For me there is no finer performance of this song, which was included in their programme as a request.

Spiers and Boden plus Pete Coe Ham Marquee. 8:00.

Pete Coe
The ever busy one man Folk Show, Pete Coe, opened this concert with his customary enthusiasm and audience engagement. Pete has been present for so long on the scene, that it is easy to forget how skilled he is on a variety of instruments, not forgetting his ability to play, sing and dance at the same time. On this occasion he did not dance except for one gentle tease about his friend John Boden, and his right footed stomp box. Not everyone may agree with Pete's Republican views but that aside, he remains a fascinating and entertaining performer.

Spiers & Boden - Musical pyrotechnics would best describe this duo's performance, which has become well established on the British Folk scene. They always leave their audience calling for more and this occasion was no exception. They blend seamlessly into their programme of jigs and reels, many of them self composed. It is easy to see why they are in demand for Festivals and concerts.

Wednesday 8th

Big Sing Methodist Church. 1:00.

around the festival site (Big Sing Workshop)
This workshop was conducted by New Zealand-born Stephen Taberner, known to many as the Director of the Australian Choir 'The Spooky Men’s Chorale.' Their bizarre sense of humour and rich choral sound has made them firm favourites at this and other Festivals in recent years.

Here, however, one was allowed to observe Stephen performing the role as conventional choirmaster, moulding a disparate group of sopranos, altos, tenors and bases into a choir, capable of performing later in the week. The short, intended repertoire included a jazz orientated number and a traditional Maori song. Like all good choirmasters, Stephen employed a mixture of charisma, discipline and humour to achieve an end result. I regretted not being around to hear the final performance.

Concert with Martin Simpson Trio and special Guests Ham Marquee. 8:00.

To the average guitar player, the skills which Martin Simpson demonstrates on this instrument appear to be from another planet, and with his trio we were treated to a selection of his virtuosity.

He then introduced his first guest, the fine singer Fay Hield, who has rapidly become a firm favourite with audiences and also fellow musicians, in various combinations, throughout the week.

She was then followed by Jon Boden and he, together with the band, romped through a number of high speed instrumental acrobatics, to the delight of the audience.

His third guest was the long term treasure of the British Folk Scene, June Tabor, who has lost none of the quality and clarity of her special voice. Her treatment of 'Heart Like a Wheel' will remain in the memory bank. Martin provided a suitably sensitive accompaniment.

The final guest was the Scottish veteran performer Dick Gaughan, joining Martin in three songs - perhaps by coincidence, war related. Unfortunately, the instrumental backing volume tended to obscure the vocals on two of the numbers and the sound engineers should have taken this into consideration.

Thursday 9th

Working With Scottish Songs Lower Methodist Church Hall. 9:30.

The well known Scottish singer, Janet Russell, who was also appearing during the week in the group Sisters Unlimited, ran this workshop. This was potentially a wide ranging topic given the inclusion of the Burns repertoire and the range of Scots dialect. Nevertheless, she managed to encourage an interesting debate on questions raised by the audience. She also encouraged some of those present to demonstrate songs in which they sought clarification of phrases and pronunciation.

No doubt, this subject could do with additional workshop time.

Eve Mathews reports Later in the Day!

Middle Bar Singers
At last the weather changed from the dull, though mainly dry, conditions, to clear blue skies and sunshine, and the town took on a more vibrant quality… the beach became crowded, with young and old enjoying the sea. The prom was full of people exploring the market stalls, and enjoying the musicians and entertainers. It was no surprise in the mid-afternoon, therefore, to see the yellow-T shirted phalanx! A motley crew of singers from the Middle Bar of the Anchor – singing with their usual vigour as they marched bravely into the sea, where they entertained those within earshot, and probably puzzled many others!

Archie Fisher & Dick Gaughan Ham Marquee. 3:15.

Archie Fisher
It had rained all morning so it was decision time. Take the welcome sunshine and walk the busy promenade or go the Ham Marquee. The sun may shine tomorrow – but the contrasting duo of Archie Fisher, and Dick Gaughan could not be missed. The great Lester Simpson had interviewed them both. Archie this year, Dick a couple of years ago. If a guest has something to say or sing, breach of lament, Lester is wonderfully accommodating. He verbally supplied their backgrounds for me now for the live performance.

Archie Fisher reached Sidmouth a day late buts lets be grateful. This favourite uncle like figure was totally relaxed on stage, at peace with himself, seeking to prove nothing except share stories through engaging thought provoking songs. Whether he is singing the praises of his beloved Borders area or the Bonnie Border Las or even his favourite horse, Archie Fisher's gentle voice and masterful guitar work leave nothing behind. He lives the lyrics, whether it is his own material or the material of his chosen singer/song-writing favourites. His years in presenting BBC Radio Scotland 'Travelling Folk' has given him knowledge of stories and anecdotes. He is a communicator first and foremost. He engaged a packed Ham Marquee from start to finish. A gentle giant of folk had captured all in his web.

Dick Gaughan
A short break to prepare for the contrast enter the assertive presence of Dick Gaughan. John Peel has described his voice as one of the greatest voices of our time. John Peel was right in my opinion. I heard no deterioration in this powerfully committed voice – yes it can be powerful and protesting and on this Thursday in early August it was also beautifully soulful. The spirit of the underdog will never die why Dick has songs to sing. He chooses wisely, like Archie Fisher from his own material and the material of others.

Yes he sings of justice and equality and does not suffer fools gladly. He is also audience conscious and entertains as well. Two legends in one Marquee. Gentle and strong, loving and protesting – long may both of them sing.

Friday 10th

around the festival site (Ceilidh in The Ford)
In similar vein, Friday saw the other annual splash – the Ceilidh in the Ford. The fine weather made this event (which regularly never takes place…) more popular than ever, and the recent flood water had scoured the river/road crossing almost free of the weed that makes it so slippery. Dancing was certainly unrestrained. Participants and spectators had a wonderful hour, and the musicians (entering the spirit of the occasion, with due regard for their instruments) must be applauded. This must be a truly unique 'Sidmouth' happening.

I went from this to the end of the Blackmore Gardens Workshop Showcase, and love to see the enthusiasm and hard work that has been put into this side of the Festival, by both the leaders and participants.

The Ukelele Orchestra of Sidmouth - a large group ranging from pre-school to grannies wielded their colourful instruments, played and sang… a must-do workshop for next year!

around the festival site (Sidmouth Procession)
In the evening I dipped into a couple of concerts – the Ham to see Jack Lynch and Len Graham, and Archie Fisher at the Bedford, but the warm weather drew me outside sooner than usual to await the procession and fireworks that mark the end of the Festival. The torch-lit teams danced their way along the prom and the illuminated white tissue-covered willow sculptures of fish and boats looked magnificent. The parade made its way onto the beach, and a flare signalled the dousing of the torches, (the wake-up call to every sea-gull in the area) and the start of the splendid firework display. For the first time this was launched from a raft a short distance off the shore, and this provided an extra dimension to the display by reflecting the vivid colours in the water, as well as providing an unrestricted view for everyone along the promenade. We must thank all the local business supporters who make this impressive display possible.

Once again the Sidmouth Festival Week has flown by, but left us all with many memories of music, dance and friendship.. until next year.
review by: Hector Gilchrist

photos by: Eve Mathews

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