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SIDMOUTH FOLK FESTIVAL - Sidmouth, Devon - 2-9 August 2019

The daddy of all the festivals, the 65th Sidmouth Folk Festival lasted for nine-and-a-couple-of-bits days and had no fewer than 867 events scheduled. As ever, this gives the visitor the ability to follow a particular thread of music or dance throughout the week, or alternatively to experience the kaleidoscope of music which is on offer. And if you should weary of that, just over the road is a splendid beach. This year saw quite good weather until the final day, when gale-force winds from the sea forced events at the Ham to be cancelled, the marquee itself to be taken down and events moved to the Bulverton marquee, a more sheltered inland venue. Sadly, this was to no avail as the audience had to be evacuated when it became apparent that the wind was causing the steel supports to flex. Many congratulations to the organisers for making the difficult decision to cancel events for the safety of the public, whilst doing their utmost to find alternatives.

The venues served a number of different functions: the Ham hosted large scale concerts with good sound and excellent lighting, although people sitting on the rake at the back had to put up with a considerable amount of noise from the bar behind, which badly disrupted the quieter artists. The Bulverton concentrated on dance, with European and lively local bands to the fore. Unfortunately, the Bulverton still remains out-of-bounds for anyone with mobility problems and many of the artists featured here are not given spots elsewhere in the town - but season ticket holders are still paying for it. I had been looking forward to seeing Topette, for example, but this was their only appearance.

The acquisition of a new venue, the elegant ballroom at the Sidholme Hotel, proved very popular and gave an elegant ambience for historic social dance. The Manor Pavilion Theatre hosted a surprisingly large number of shows. It was impressive to see a project such as Hey In The Hay come together through resources put together purely during festival week. This was an imagination of the circumstance surrounding the famous 1717 painting, Country Around Dixton Manor, or The Dixton Haymakers, which shows haymaking in a Gloucestershire village, including the first painted depiction of a team of Morris dancers. John Kirkpatrick impressively led appropriate songs and tunes and Adrian Williams’s script neatly blended social history and dance with some welcome dashes of humour.

Last year there had been disquiet about season ticket holders being unable to access events, especially at the weekend. This year that problem had been addressed and everyone seemed very happy with the arrangements.

The main concerts were, as usual, varied and excellent: The Spooky Men’s Chorale, at the end of their tour, were on fine form. Le Vent Du Nord produced a great show, although they are getting more and more flashy and ‘entertaining’ with compulsory grins and smiles, and Julie Fowlis and her fine band lived up to high expectations. There didn’t seem to be a huge number of dance teams, but those that were there were excellent, with Earlsdon exemplifying the normal high standard. I still miss seeing the dancing on the front since East Devon Council decided to fill the space with traders. The craft fair seems to shrink every year, although the usual suspects were all in attendance at the music fair. Traditional performers seemed thin on the ground, with the Woodland Hotel sessions mostly consisting of revival singers and festival guests. These are observations rather than criticisms, for with 867 events, there was an unbelievable flow of top-class music, dance and song. As ever, an incredible week for the whole family to enjoy.

Paul Burgess