Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Is Folk Week good for Sidmouth?

It's Folk Week in Sidmouth:
Sidmouth Folk week - Welcome to Sidmouth FolkWeek!

And there's been quite a discussion on the Sidmouth pages of Streetlife, the 'British social network for local communities'
Sidmouth | Streetlife
Streetlife - the local social network

FolkWeek - a boost or a drain?

FolkWeek is upon us again – but is that a good thing?

Do you think it’s a boon for Sidmouth that makes the town more vibrant and puts it in the international spotlight – a festival that brings beautiful music, thousands of folkies to the town and many more pounds to the local economy?

Or has it grown too big and started to attract the ‘wrong crowd’ who don’t actually spend their money in the town, disrupt the locals and break the law?

Do you avidly embrace FolkWeek or do your best to avoid it?

Let us know.

Sidmouth Herald team
  • 64%
  • 28%
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Please log in to vote.
Total votes: 25
Streetlife | FolkWeek - a boost or a drain | Page 1

Thanks to the Herald for stimulating the debate:
Latest local news & information in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald
Streetlife - the local social network

Plus another posting at Streetlife on FolkWeek - with lots of opinions:

Observations on 'Folk Week'

I put Folk Week in inverted commas as I think we are all agreed that what you can observe during the week is not necessarily due to Folk.

Streetlife | Observations on 'Folk Week' | Page 2

On the negative side, there is much more noise, disorderly behaviour, drunkenness etc on the streets, but Sidmouth continues to be a very safe place to be:
40 per cent fall in crime tally - News - Sidmouth Herald

On the positive, if you need to impress your guests, then you need to give the place a good clean-out:
Sidmouth sewers spruced up for Folk Week | The Exeter Daily
Futures Forum: Sidmouth and sewage

It's 60 years since the show started - and it's been covered quite extensively in the press:
Diamond Folk festival at Sidmouth | Torquay Herald Express
Photos: Sidmouth FolkWeek dance procession | Exeter Express and Echo
The best folk festivals this August - The Irish Post
Diamonds on the soles of their shoes at Sidmouth | Western Daily Press
View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

A big piece in the Western Morning News celebrates the event:

How 'seaside holiday for dancers' became a trailblazing folk fest

By Western Morning News | Posted: August 01, 2014

By Fran McElhone

Sidmouth Folk Week, which runs from today until August 8, celebrates its 60th anniversary this summer. Boasting an unwavering popularity over its six decades, festival stalwart Derek Schofield explains how the first eclectic music and dance showcase of its kind, remains true to its roots in 1955 in its ability to blur the lines between performer and reveller, writes Fran McElhone

For six decades, for one week each summer, song, dance, the clashing of sticks and tinkling of bells, has intermingled with the roar of laughter and the salty sea air in the genteel East Devon town of Sidmouth.

Annually, throughout Folk Week when thousands of musicians, dancers and revellers, all sharing a penchant for the folk movement, pop up from all corners of the kingdom and scatter the usually peaceful streets and esplanade of the Regency settlement.

For eight days, the town comes alive and embraces the diverse world of folk music and dance which traverses a broad soundscape, where contemporary folk-rock and folk-punk musicians attract as excitable crowds as those brandishing harmonicas and accordions, taking on an unrivalled zeal all of its own – much to the delight of its residents. And all who choose to buy a ticket to one of the hundreds of concerts in the programme which boasts some of folk’s top acts, partake in a music or dance workshop, join in a ceilidh, turn up to one of the pubs and catch a band performing for nothing, or wander the promenade and enjoy the free-spirited offerings from buskers and street performers, are as much a part of the festival as the performers themselves.

Having attended the festival in 1971 as a performer, Derek Schofield, 63, despite living in Cheshire, is a festival stalwart and over the years has taken-on various guises which includes festival historian and author of the 50th anniversary book, and concert MC.

At its inception, the festival was organised by the English Folk Dance and Song Society and would take place in Connaught Gardens and along the Esplanade and was mainly comprised of country, Morris and sword dancers.

Since 2005, it has been run by a group of earnest volunteers who make up the Sidmouth Folk Week Production Ltd, a not-for-profit enterprise which is responsible for the vast spectrum of music and entertainment on offer.

“In the first year of the festival there were just 100 or so folk dancers from all over the country, it was a like a seaside holiday for folk singers and dancers,” he said. “An important ingredient was getting the audience to join in – this was part of the missionary zeal of folk dancers, to spread the word about folk dancing around the country. More and more folk dancers wanted to be part of it. It was very much about folk dancing at first. The folk song revival didn’t come until the 60s, encouraged by the protest era, when the real boost came.”

Derek reels off a string of acts including the Dubliners, the Spinners and Steeleye Span who were influential in stoking the craze. “There weren’t really any other folk festivals around like it, Sidmouth was a trailblazer in that way,” explains Derek. The society used to promote folk dancing and music throughout the country and it was one member, Eileen Phelan, who lived in Sidmouth, who suggested the idea of a festival in the town. The others were very keen.

“In the 60s lots of things changed. A festival director came in, Bill Rutter who, in 1962, introduced a daily folk song event. The great growth of the festival during the 60s was largely through the folk enthusiasts coming. Bill, very much an internationalist, also decided to invite international dancers. Irish dancers were the first to come over and they were followed by other European countries. So an international dimension to the festival was introduced with dancers coming from all corners of the world from South America, Africa and Asia by the 1980s and 1990s.”

By now, the festival was scattered around a medley of venues with the Blackmore Gardens and Connaught Gardens both bursting at the seems with crowds spilling over into the flower beds. So the bosses brokered a deal with Sidmouth Urban District Council, now East Devon District Council, to plot the big stage at Knowle Gardens.

“Bill stood in the middle of the gardens and thought to himself, what a perfect location it would be,” continues Derek. “It wasn’t the green lawn it is today, more scrubby back then. He discussed it with the council who were keen to get the crowds there.”

At first, Knowle Arena was a modest wooden stage skirted by a handful of facilities. By the 80s it had become a show ground with stalls and other entertainment in between the main stage acts. At this point, there had long been a marquee at the Ham with informal music and dancing along the Esplanade and displays at various other venues including church halls and even the beach store, or deck chair storage.

“The informality of the festival has always been there,” Derek comments. “Performers have always stepped off stage and then wandered off whether to Market Square, or along the Esplanade, or into a pub, and carried on playing music, and then you may get Morris Men dancing outside.”

In the 1960s the workshop element manifested.

“This presented an amazing, incredible opportunity for people to learn new musicianship skills or develop existing ones,” says Derek. “By 9.30am people would be rushing around town carrying a fiddle case, or other instruments, heading for a workshop. The boundaries between performer and audience is a very grey area but this is a feature of folk music generally.

“There were several hundred folk festivals by now but Sidmouth was the first, and the first to introduce a workshop programme, and a lot of the other festivals would follow suit.”

In the late 80s, the organisation was taken-on by Steve Heap and his enterprise Mrs Casey Music.

“He had a new plan and was looking at bringing in more diversity at the show ground,” recalls Derek. “Up until now, groups would perform throughout the week, so there was a move to having groups coming for a shorter time and more music concerts.”

In 2004, the festival’s half-century anniversary, Mrs Casey Music retired. The festival had become so popular, conversely, it meant that there was a greater financial risk due to the open air show ground.

A vacuum presented itself and the future of the festival was in jeopardy, yet, such was the love for the festival, a vast number of performers and revellers vowed to return to Sidmouth and play and listen to music, regardless. But the void was quickly filled, with Derek chairing a steering group which saw folk enthusiasts uniting with a common goal of preserving the festival’s longevity into its Diamond decade.

The festival ceased to be help at Knowle and instead continued at its other established locations including the Bulverton Marquee plotted on the hillside, with Blackmore Gardens established as the dance venue, with craft and children’s marquees too.

“The town itself is a very attractive place,” Derek adds. “It’s a lovely seaside town without the trappings of a modern resort, there’s no candy floss or fun fair, and hugged by the cliffs at either end, with a town centre that funnels towards the beach,” who tells me that everyone in the folk world has heard about Sidmouth.

“It has such a good reputation,” he adds. “It’s always been at the forefront of the folk music scene and people want to be there. Performers and visitors who were teenagers or in their 20s when the festival first started are still coming back today, but you still have a very large young crowd. It’s a very intergenerational festival.”

How 'seaside holiday for dancers' became a trailblazing folk fest | Western Morning News

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