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SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - 25-26 August 2017

Sidmouth Festival had sent me regular news beforehand and when I arrived gave me tickets, an information pack highlighting events of interest, a programme and a mobile phone number to call if I needed anything or wanted interviews with artists arranged. A bit of a contrast to my arrival at Shrewsbury, where I was given a ticket (which told me sternly that I was not allowed backstage – so no talking to the artists then), no information or programme but a strict encomium that I was to return the ticket if I set foot off the site as they were “running short” - so no reviewing events in the town either! Luckily there was so much going on that it was easy enough to get immersed. The site is spacious, with plenty of camping room which really makes a difference to the enjoyment of the weekend. Dogs are allowed on site – a big deal for some people, but one that didn't seem to be causing any problems.

Concerts in the main marquee are treated to some of the highest production standards you'll find at a festival (folk or otherwise) with regard to staging, sound, lighting etc. and this really helps to showcase the quality of the artists booked (a long way from those festivals that spend a lot of money on artists and then ruin it with a cheap PA). They even arranged for the weather to be hot and sunny! As might be expected, there was a terrific range of artists and events. Although there was an overall sadness at the untimely passing of the festival founder, Alan Surtees, there was considerable hope and support for his co-founder, Sandra Surtees, and the knowledge that they have given people a wonderful and lasting legacy.

The festival has regularly sponsored new shows – folk/theatre, putting together interesting combinations of writers and performers on a particular theme. This year O'Hooley & Tidow premiered The Passerine – a powerful piece of work featuring refugee and migrant musicians. The simply but imaginatively staged production of The Transports was a treat – a terrific cast of singers (Nancy Kerr in particular lived her part) - although the new song to bring the context up-to-date seemed completely out of place stylistically (perhaps that was the intent?) but a brave and thoughtful development of a great work. Le Vent Du Nord as ever wowed the crowd with great songs, tunes and showmanship. Skipinnish ripped it up. And on the smaller stage, some class acts such as Mick Ryan & Paul Downes were on fine form. If that wasn't enough, the unprepossessing concrete block that is the bar hosted two of the finest music sessions of the year. You know it's good when booked artists come and join in and the people just arriving to buy a drink stay and listen. All in all, a belting weekend.

Just a reminder that you can still watch many of these performances on the Shrewsbury Folk Festival website.

Paul Burgess