a selected review of Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth Folk Week 2015 review

published: Tue 18th Aug 2015

around the festival site (Bulverton campsite)

Friday 31st July to Friday 7th August 2015
various venues, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8XR, England MAP
292 for all-in-one adult ticket
daily capacity: 25000
last updated: Thu 4th Jun 2015

Due to a prior engagement I was unable to attend the Thursday evening pre-festival concert with Kate Rusby and Ninebarrow, specially laid on for the early arrivals and townsfolk. Friend and Radio Dublin City FM presenter Peter Grogan, covered this event.The rest of the week proved as ever a challenge for a solo reviewer and only a representative selection is featured.

Kate Rusby/Nine Barrow at The Ham.
Advertised as a Festival special, this concert lived up to its billing.The Barnsley Lass came south to Sidmouth and was her usual charming, melodic, entertaining self. Kate Rusby was weaned on music and her technique and delivery demonstrates this. Husband Damien O'Kane, nodded and winked and led an ace band of musicians to a fine, fine performance.

These musicians combining talents from Kilkenny, Coleraine and England backed Kate through a varied selection including songs from her latest C.D. One of the highlights for me was "Bring me a Boat" an original song to a tune written by Phil Cunningham and old favourites like "Awkward Annie" "The Yorkshire Maypole" and "Whose the Fool Now" had the audience firmly on her side The Band's mid concert set was brilliant. All in all a great choice to kick off the Festival.

The supporting group Ninebarrow, comprising of the Dorset based duo of Jon Whitely and Jay laBouchardiere demonstrated a real skill in close harmony within their selection of songs firmly rooted in the heart and history of The British Isles.

This multi- award winning pair lived up to their reputation and will no doubt continue
on their upward trajectory within the folk scene.

Steve Tilston at The Kingston and Deveron Hotel.
Steve Tilston travelled "The Rocky Road" to open this concert which instantly had his audience of dedicated fans singing along in chorus.

Steve is a consumate performer singing and playing with skill, craftsmanship and a keen sense of what the audience wants.

Stand out songs were "The Road when I was Young","Here's to you Tom Payne" He also sang and included his tale of finding an original song "The Fisher Lad of Whitby" in an old book and in tribute to that Festival town decided to learn it. However in the end he decided that the words needed some re-write and that it deserved a better tune. I have no doubt that it is an improvement on the original.

That his skills as an artist and and song writer remain undiminished, were evident in this performance and further re-inforced in his new C.D.

Afternoon Concert at The Ham.
Three acts were booked for this concert. Steve Tilston, (reviewed elsewhere), The Wilsons and Moirai.

The individual talents of Moirai - three ladies, Jo Freya, Sarah Mathews and Melanie Biggs have recently been recorded by Wildgoose on a C.D. "Sideways" and have demonstrated how experienced performers can seamlessly blend into a new and interesting form without detracting from their original musical persona.

Their relatively short afternoon performance on this stage underlined this phenomenon .and hopefully will lead to multiple bookings at Clubs and Festivals.

What can one possibly say about The Wilsons which hasn't been said before about this unique singing family from the North East ? Their popularity at Festivals and in Clubs over 40 years is ensured and that, combined with their interest and promotion of The Tradition, will continue to keep them in demand.

Despite an obvious limitation to the choice of traditional song, they continue to perform with genuine enthusiasm for the material as ever interspersed with family banter and observation. Always a refreshing interlude as they demonstrated here. Their set included perennial favourites "Byker Hill" "Close the Coalhouse Door" and Clive Gregson's "Lost at Sea."

"From Granny to Google" talk at The Arts Centre.
Grace Toland delivered a fascinating insight to the extensive collection of documents and memorabilia contained within the walls of the Dublin building administered by I.T.M.A. (for older readers, Not that one!) but The Irish Traditional Music Archive. This is a treasure trove of musical scores, recordings, photographs and posters. Much of the material was donated by collectors and relatives of long gone musicians but the collection continues to be augmented by more modern contributions. Grace and her colleague even rescued a treasure trove of photographs formerly in the files of a newspaper, which were about to be consigned to a refuse tip.

Much of the recorded material some of which is in a delicate state, has been professionally digitalised and has been made available to the general public and interested parties. Access is by direct contact with the office in Dublin. The work is funded by the Irish equivalent of The Arts Council and a European Grant which underlines the Irish Governments commitment to preserving the Nations cultural heritage. Something to which our present Government should pay a greater heed.

The Askew Sisters and Jekyll and Hyde. The Bedford.
This concert was billed as a "Folk Rising Plus" event although the Askew Sisters must now almost be considered veterans of the Folk Scene having celebrated 10 years of performing as a popular duo this year. The openers, Jekyll & Hyde, were a trio of young lads their title reflecting their eclectic musical choices. Joe Hardman, Miles Stringer and Felix Churchill Moss, are promising musicians who took to the stage with the usual confidence of youth and played a varied selection of songs and tunes well. Their on-stage personalities are yet to fully develop but this will come with further exposure and hopefully we will be hearing more from them.

I have heard the Askew Sisters many times over the years and always come away with a smile on my face. They are both very competent on their chosen instruments and are constantly expanding their range. Delightful music and song from two lovely people would sum it up and hopefully diverging musical projects and interests will not prevent them from continuing to entertain as a duo for at least another decade.

Barluath The Ham.
The Scottish Conservatoire in Glasgow has produced many fine artists in the folk genre in recent years, (although personally I find the title of the establishment a little
pretentious) but none more so than this fine award winning, 6 piece band, Barluath, who are deservedly popular on the Festival scene. These talented young folk have already crossed the Atlantic by invitation and if they can survive financially in these times they are surely destined to become one of Scotland's most successful groups.


Their programme is diverse in that the lead vocalist the attractive Ainsley Hamill is
capable of singing in Gaelic and English (with an occasional transatlantic influence on American numbers), whilst her speaking voice is clearly Lanarkshire based. That apart she has a good technique and control over her range and the ability to convey the emotion of the story. They opened with a fast paced Gaelic number followed by a song written by Chris Algar about pit life. Their programme also contained The Scarborough Settlers Lament. An American number about the town of Harland, A recruiting song and one of Ainsley's tunes to Gaelic lyrics "Sweet Sorrow" and a sparkling instrumental break.

The other members are all experienced musicians with prestigious mentors and tutors throughout their formative years and are Eilidh Firth fiddle, Alistair Paterson pipes and keyboard, Colin Greeves pipes and whistles, Edward Seaman pipes whistles bouzouki and Luke McNally guitar.

Emily Smith with Jamie Mc Clennan. The Ham
There are some voices which are immediately recognisable and I confess that Emily's "sweet and wild notes" always bring me back to my home country of the South West of Scotland. Emily Smith & Jamie MacClennan opened with a song from the other side however, from Dundee, the well known song of seduction "Rairies Hill". Her programme also included,"The Hawk and the Crow" "Clerk Saunders" Archie Fisher's "The Final Trawl" "The Twa Sisters" "A life that's Good" (Sarah Siskin) "Traivellers Joy" and one or two more from her latest C.D. Emily is always a delight to listen to and Jamie's clever guitar work compliments.

It has been mentioned to me by a well known Scots Trad. singer, that sometimes he finds that the elaborate guitar accompaniment intrudes on the story. I respect the view but don't have a problem with that. Emily announced that they will be having an addition to the family so we have to expect her to be "off the road" for a while in the meantime, Jamie has formed a duo with James Fagan (The James Brothers) which will no doubt be an Antipodean delight.

Maz O'Connor at The Ham.
That good things come in small packages is certainly true of Maz O'Connor. She commands the stage with her personality and talent as a songwriter/singer.

She is about to embark on a funded project called "Sweet Liberties" alongside other luminaries of the Folk Music world including Nancy Kerr,Sam Carter and Martin Joseph. I have no doubt that Maz's strong hitting political views will be to the fore The Project has been jointly commisioned by Folk by The Oak, EFDSS,PRS, in partnership with Parliament. The fruits of the Project will be toured from the 24th of November from Cambridge to Bristol,Bury, Cardiff, London and Gateshead.

Her set included her classic song Derby Day, seen from the perspective of a young boy watching the events which unfolded during the attempt of the suffragette Emily Davison to attach a suffragette emblem to the Kings horse Anmer. Other notable songs were Richman's Hill and a song about growing up but in truth all were given rapt attention by a good sized audience for a lunchtime concert and there was a good sized queue at the CD table.

Whapweasel at the Ham
Now if the energy produced by the joint output of Whapweasel could be captured, we might well have less need of alternative sources.

One of the best ceilidh bands on the planet had the audience stamping their feet (well, as best as they could on grass) and calling for more. Saul Rose was in great form as were the other members of the band including the eccentric saxophone players with their obvious enjoyment of gigging together as a unit. They might not have won "Strictly" but made a good show of the Choreography with a strong percussion element assisting.

They set out with High Barbary and included amongst others their versions of Byker Hill, Wanton Seed, Loxley Hall and Country Life. They were of course playing later at "Late Night Extra" at The Bulverton so I trust everyone involved survived.

Debs Newbold at The Manor Pavilion
Remarkably this was Debs Newbold's sixth invitation to Sidmouth. Earlier in the week, she had presented her one person version of Shakespeare's King Lear in the Kingswood downstairs room to a full house audience. She repeated this feat at The Manor to showcase her one woman play "Lost in Blue". This was a carefully constructed story of a family tragedy involving an accident to an artist father which left him in a permanent coma and in the care of a loving sister whilst his wife, a promising singer, had emigrated to Australia with their daughter. They had finally made the decision to come home some years later. The play unfolded with flashbacks and the daughters insistence that her father had shown some signs of recovery not noticed by the home based nursing staff or visiting doctors.

It is not possible to detail here the dialogue and intricacies of this story but the colour
blue is important and in the end we do not really know the outcome except that the
daughter decides to follow a career in Art.

A clever device employed by Debs throughout the play was an audio loop system which was cued by herself, providing a background theme to various elements of the story eg,The sound of a respirator, the noise of an airline cabin, leaking water, piano music etc.

In a previous review of the Festival,I have described Debs as a phenomenon. I am still of that view and look forward to the contribution of this highly skilled and experienced
actor next year.

In Conversation with Andy Irvine at Carinas
There is something about a nightclub venue in the daylight which doesn't really lend itself to a one to one conversation. It may be the décor (or lack of it) or the slightly obtrusive H and V system. In the event both the interviewer and his subject had to resort to hand held mics. It is a pity that Kennaway House is no longer available.

Andy Irvine kicked off the one hour and 15 minutes with two accompanied songs."The Bold Reynardine" and "Matt Hall" a true story about an Irishman imprisoned in Spain after the Civil War who was exiled from his Country but eventually he was returned for

Then followed a catalogue of Andy's long and distiguished career in Folk Music,his
early influences and friendship with Rambling Jack Elliot and details of his various high profile membership of now iconic folk bands. Perhaps not many people were aware of his early thespian career as a child actor which eventually took him aged 18. from his London birthplace to Dublin where he continued to perform as a jobbing actor in Dublin's two main theatres. Inevitably he stumbled into the Folk Music scene in O' Donohue's where the Dubliners held sway. Andy soon became a part of that inner circle and found himself playing and travelling with the boys and Sweeny's Men with Joe Dolan until they split.

Visits back to London resulted in him meeting up,aged 26, with Donal Lunny around 1968. Then, followed an eighteen months travelling in Romania with a girl friend, before coming back to Dublin and being invited to join up with the very successful Planxty which became a major influence in Irish Folk Music.

The Band finally split up in 1976 at which time he formed a duo with Paul Brady. Of course there was a Planxty re-union with some line up changes which performed until 1982. Thereafter Andy has continued to tour and travel throughout the World solo and occasionally in various line ups.

A more experienced interviewer might have teased out a bit more about his Romanian adventure and his views on other topics,but stopping an Irishman in full flow is not an easy task. A new album is planned for recording in September.

Traditional Night Out at The Woodlands.
This evening was hosted by the amiable and experienced Dan Quinn the well known Sussex based melodian player and singer. A genial host generally makes for a good evening and so it proved to be, with contributions from nine invited guests and groups. The ceilidh band Jigfoot opened complete with stepdancer. .

Moe Keast sang, and then followed contributions from newly formed Alma, Nell Ni Chroinin, a specially invited Sean Nos singer who unfortunately had to return home early due to a family bereavement and ex-Coelbeg songstress Barbara Dymnock. New to me, were the duo oLaura Smyth & Ted Kemp who sang very pleasantly. It was also good to hear Annie Winter formerly a regular at Lewes Thursday Club. Walking musical encyclopedia and nice man, Jeff Warner also contributed as did Dave Townsend. The Tradition is in good hands.

Blackmore Gardens. American Dance Workshop
It is very easy as a musician to become over focused on the cornucopia of musical
offerings programmed at The Festival. With that in mind I took myself off to "take the air and to view the land" of the Blackmore Gardens. Now I did not "espy" a couple in particular, but at least a hundred be-sporting themselves in the main Dance marquee. I was informed that on a good day with the sides open, the venue had accommodated over 500 happy dancers. One is immediately struck by the enthusiasm of the participants and their ability to work out the steps and patterns of the various dances with apparent ease in most cases. On this occasion the key to all this was a good band and the highly experienced Caller, Tom Hinds, an American, who had left his wife for a week to look after their small holding and various goats and other animals. Presumably equally disciplined.

The other revelation was how lean and fit looking the participants were. Could this be
the result of my presence at too many singarounds ? but I fear it was not an illusion.

Jeff Warner and Chris Smither at The Ham.
Now there's a contrast in styles. I'm not quite sure why this combination was chosen.
Did it work? Well yes, in a strange way.

Jeff Warner is of course a regular and welcome visitor to Sidmouth and other Festivals spending about two months a year here during the Festival season and filling in with Club gigs and occasional recording projects A couple of years ago, he participated in a short tour "Short Sharp Shanties" A project conceived by Tom and Barbara Brown from a Cecil Sharp collection of the sea songs of John Short, shantyman. The collection was recorded on 3 CD's and produced by Doug Bailey's Wildgoose label with The Browns and a host of well known folk musicians including Jeff.

Jeff's programme did include a shanty "Long time travelin' and an American version of the "Devil and the farmers Wife" and even a song by the Scottish music hall maestro Harry lauder, which included the line "There's someone waiting for me, with a smile and a wee cup of tea" That made me smile. He also sang one of his and audience favourites, "Come Take a Trip in my Airship" Jeff of course is an acknowledged expert on songs from earlier times as his parents collected extensively throughout the U.S.A songs of the Civil War and Music Hall.

Jeff plays and sings with sincerity and the audience is left in no doubt that here is a man who knows what he is about and will remain a popular guest as long as he wishes to travel over here.

I took no notes at Chris Smither's performance, but just sat back and let the music flow. I expect that there are many followers of Folk who don't quite get Chris' style, but looking around the enthusiastic audience at this concert, maybe I'm wrong.

Personally I love his music and material to the extent that one of his CD's kept in my car has virtually worn out. It is clear from the beginning that here is a man who has fought his way through life. His struggles with addiction to drink and drugs are well
documented and fortunately he has overcome these. This I believe is his second
invitation to Sidmouth and I hope that it won't be his last.

Kirsty Bromley at The Ham.
Kirsty Bromley was scheduled in a prime spot at the Ham in which to launch her new C.D.
"Time Ashore" and she took full advantage of it, reprising many of the tracks. Her
trio band of Philippe Barnes,Simon Dumpleton and Oli Mathews are all fine
musicians and complement Kirsty's high quality and pleasing vocal range. Kirsty
has over the years been mentored and encouraged by a host of well known
musicians but in particular she is grateful to her father and family for encouragement and support along the way.

Initially her introduction into the Folk scene was via Morris dance and those who weren't aware of her background were astonished when she belted out a chorus of one of the numbers on the new C.D on her trumpet. Her quiet personality and caring nature combined with her English rose looks in fact belie her determination to succeed in the music business and on the evidence of this performance there is no reason why she shouldn't. As one fan said to me afterwards, She Nailed It ! And indeed she did.

Greig Russell and Ciaran Algar at Carinas
Settling down to listen to Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, the friendly chap next to me declared that as a committed dance enthusiast he didn't know them, having come to listen to Leveret, but had assumed that they must be an up and coming duo. I had to advise him that they had arrived some time ago and following their performance he needed no further convincing.

To have but a fraction of their energy distributed around would save the NHS a fortune.
Was ever a Smith more lusty ? Another song about "George", formerly a trouble maker
was an interesting one, he having found the pleasures of dancing to quell his aggressive instincts.(Boxers and Rugby players on "Strictly" ?)

They also included a love song "Feelin In Your Arms" and a version of John Henry.
Their high tempo instrumental breaks are something to behold matching the high
temperature within this venue.

Greig has developed into a fine vocalist with a style that suits the traditional ballad. If I
were to be a little critical it might be that he has to consider a little more light and shade in some of his phrasing, just winding down the turbo occasionally. All in all, a fine performance.

Jackie Oates at The Ham.
Although originally hailing from Staffordshire Jackie Oates has become one of Devon's
favourite daughters. Now living in Oxford, she and hubby are looking forward to the
birth of their first child and we wish them well.

She is now firmly established on the top shelf of the English Folk World and a glance at the many of the 2015 Festival line ups bearing her name underline this. Her programme contained samples from her new C.D " The Spyglass and the
Herringbone" ably supported by her familiar band.

Her set included "The Dusty Mistress" a song about the overseer in a cotton mill, The
well known Banks of The Bann and the moving "Take this letter to my Mother" plus the
title track written by Chris Sarjeant guitarist on the CD, the son of an old friend of mine
No better way to spend a "Pleasant and Delightful" hour.

Final Concert. The Ham. with Alma, Jimmy Crowley and Faustus.
This was an excellent choice of line up with which to finish a wonderful week.
Alma, are a relatively new line up of Emily Smith, Nicola Lyons, John Dipper and guitarist Adrian Lever.

Their choice of fiddle music crosses continents, being inspired by tunes from
England,Europe and Africa. The sound of three fiddles and guitar in harmony is quite mesmerising and the enjoyment which the musicians exude when playing together is an added bonus. Their allocated time within the programme was shorter than normal but it did leave us wishing for more which is no bad thing.

Jimmy Crowley is an iconic figure in the annals of Irish traditional music. His band The Boys of Fairhill was formed around 1976 and this soon morphed into Stokers Lodge, musicians hand picked by Jimmy to record and preserve the songs of his native town and county of Cork. They were soon in demand across Europe and America for a number of years.

When they disbanded Jimmy, ever innovative, turned his attention to learning the Irish
language enabling him to collect and record popular and rare ballads. Later on he took an interest in the modern American ballads of the thirties and forties including those "Irish" songs written by nostalgic ex-pats and commercial writers.

Jimmy has of course a preference for the double stringed instrument and on this
occasion, he chose a bouzouki with twin pickups which gave a full sound to his vocals
With his self deprecating style, Jimmy quickly won over those who didn't know him
well with some old favourites like "I know my Love" My Husband's in Salonika"
"Queen of the White Star line" He remains a great advert for the Irish Nation.

It has become customary until now for many a Festival to close with super group
Bellowhead unfortunately, soon to disband. However, the trio Faustus are in my opinion well capable of performing this function in the future. Modern sound technology assisted melodion maestro Saul Rose, in producing a sound and volume of almost orchestral quality and that combined with Paul Sartin's skills on fiddle and oboe and Benji Kirkpatrick's excellent contribution would surely satisfy any grieving Bellowhead fan.

These lads after years on the circuit in various guises, really know how to get an
audience going and there were well deserved encore calls following their set. Vocally, I
think that Paul sang as well as I have ever heard him and the input from his colleagues kept raising the bar.

The message to all Festival organisers? Book them!

review by: Hector Gilchrist

photos by: Eve Mathews

Friday 31st July to Friday 7th August 2015
various venues, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8XR, England MAP
292 for all-in-one adult ticket
daily capacity: 25000
last updated: Thu 4th Jun 2015

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