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SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - 3-10 August 2019

Last year I mentioned that many of the events on Saturday evening at Sidmouth sported ‘House Full’ signs, seeing this as evidence of the vigour and popularity of the festival. This year it seemed to be more of a problem. People were complaining that, having bought expensive season tickets, they weren’t able to get into the events they wanted, because individual event tickets were being sold – and these were given priority at the door. This led them to wonder why they should support the festival by buying season tickets, when it was much cheaper and time efficient to buy individual tickets for the specific events they wanted to see. Queuing for up to two hours for an event, as well as meaning they possibly missed something else, didn’t seem a good way to spend a holiday. In previous times, season ticket holders could dip in and out of events, such as concerts at the Ham – now they have to pay extra for these and are constrained to choose one concert/event and stick with it. This is a circle that needs to be squared by the organisers before it causes serious problems.

As for the events they could go to, these were well up to the enviable standards of previous years – and the sunshine helped as well! This really is the senior festival, with the town, beach, gardens all playing a part. The ability to hear top artists either in a large marquee or in more intimate venues is one of the top selling points of the event. I still miss the busking on the promenade, with its possibilities of discovering new music, dance or playing, in favour of the array of henna tattooists, hair braiders and jewellery sellers, but there are other playing spaces and the stalls do give visitors a taste of the unusual.

Amongst my favourite events this year was the show Through The Seasons, presented by Will Pound, Debs Newbold, Benji Kirkpatrick and Ross Grant (with a brilliant cameo by John Kirkpatrick) which featured the cycle of the seasons as shown through ritual dance tunes and stories. Great music, great (if lengthy) stories, but odd in that a complete show about dance featured no dance (despite one of our best morris dancers sitting in the front row in full kit!). Another concert contrasted Ye Vagabonds, who reminded me of the Everly Brothers, two brothers singing around one microphone, the voices blending in beautiful harmony on a thoughtful selection of traditional and contemporary material, followed by the folk-prog rock of Kathryn Tickell’s new band. A highly varied and terrific evening all round.

Paul Burgess