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FOLK FESTIVAL - A Celebration of Music recorded at the Sidmouth International Festival Gottdiscs GOTTBOX 011

This is a box set comprising 2 CDs and a handsome 28-page book and billed as 'A Celebration of Music recorded at the Sidmouth International Festival'. Because the release coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Festival, my expectation was that this would be an in-depth project on Sidmouth with lots of historic material - in the style of Free Reed's 'Revival Masters'. This is not the case. Although the book provides a summary of the Sidmouth Festival over the years, the release appears to aim to be a more general portrayal of a typical folk festival, using material from Sidmouth as its source. The 35 tracks spanning the two CDs offer the listener plenty of excellent material and all but one of the tracks are previously unreleased. The standard of design is excellent and the set should have a broad appeal to a wide audience extending far beyond those who have attended Sidmouth over the years.

The focus of the set is weighted towards 'star names'. There is also a bias towards meaty songs of social comment with powerful performances including Ralph McTell's 'Pepper and Tomatoes', Vin Garbutt's ' City of Angels' and Coope Boyes and Simpson's 'Jerusalem Revisited'. Some artists contribute more than one track, which some might consider strange considering the choice available given the breadth of the booking policy at Sidmouth, but one bonus from this approach is that there are three top quality recordings from Nic Jones.

I don't have an insight into the amount of material that the compiler, David Suff, had to choose from but I suspect that he chose strong songs from a variety of performances and then set about the task of sequencing them. The end result is more like a 'best of' sampler than the considered choice of an artist structuring a performance set from a repertoire of songs. There is little sense of it being a 'live album'. Most of the tracks sound as if they were recorded through PA systems, giving near studio quality sound but with little or no audience interaction other than quickly faded out applause at the end of each track. One track that best captured one of the more informal and unusual moments that crop up at festivals, was an unaccompanied version of 'Streets of London' with Ralph McTell joined by Show of Hands and Chris While & Julie Matthews. This version, far removed from the normal setting of the song was for me one of the highlights of the set.

To sum up: an excellent set of recordings presented in a way that projects a quality image of the Folk Festival. It is not the aural equivalent of the book on Sidmouth's fifty-year history, but it is a welcome attempt at telling part of the story.

Pete Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.