This summer could easily have been memorable solely for the appalling weather, but there has been so much going on that the weather has become irrelevant. We started with the Jubilee; then followed the most amazing summer of sport imaginable. Wimbledon, the football Euros, cricket – all great: I reckon I’m pretty passionate about sport, but it was the Olympics and Paralympics that frequently reduced me to an emotional mess. I feel immensely proud that Britain has staged such magnificent Games and provided unsurpassed levels of support to athletes of all nations.
So, given all of that, why the heading for this blog?
Well, looking back on this extraordinary summer, despite the unique package of sport, the most enjoyable event for me was Sidmouth Folk Week, a music festival that takes place every year beginning on the first Friday in August and ending the following Friday.
Sidmouth is a beautiful town on the Devon coast – on a clear day I can just see it from my lounge window in Brixham. It has a classical Georgian sea front, pretty open spaces, loads of interesting independent shops and a lovely, long park through which the River Sid runs on its way to the sea at the eastern end of the beach. The town is dressed in masses of flowers for the festival and looks stunning. It may have very active rugby, cricket, sailing and angling clubs, but it gives the impression of a rather elegant, genteel town. Well, genteel or not, the whole town throws itself into the festival with great enthusiasm.
It is a quite amazing experience to be in a town of 18,000 people, topped up with thousands of visitors, all committed to music for eight days. There are venues for the hundreds of events all over town making use of three marquees, the Arts Centre, the rugby club, Manor Pavilion, Kennaway House, the Conservative Club, four church halls, and the function rooms in several hotels. There are workshops plus performances – vocal, instrumental and dance. Every open space is utilised.
Then there are the informal sessions taking in place in all the pubs, along the prom and on the beach. It felt very strange to get back to Brixham, go into a pub and find there were no musicians casually jamming.
On one occasion that we called into one of the bars of The Bedford we found all three bars and a function room in use simultaneously with different music in each.
We heard and saw so many great performances that it is hard to pick out favourites – but I’ll have a go: Show of Hands put on a tremendous concert to open the festival; Dervish were wonderful – Irish music with a stream of patter like a script from Father Ted; Black Umfolosi and Frank Yamma were delightful; The Big Ukelele band simply hilarious. Among the dance teams Pig Dyke Molly were striking with their startling black and white outfits and smooth, vibrant routines; Seven Champions provide atmospheric street theatre with their blackened faces (they’re supposed to be miners), their hob-nailed boots and aggressive style.
And there was a personal highlight when Cheryl performed in the Sidmouth Spoons Orchestra in the concert on the final day. If you invite us to dinner I suggest that you don’t serve soup or dessert.
What was really pleasing was to see so many young people involved in folk music, both in the audiences and performing. At one ceilidh a breathless young man was overheard saying, ‘I finally get this. It’s zumba for old people.’ Then off he went again, dancing with immense enthusiasm.
If you haven’t been before, try Sidmouth next year when the festival will start on Friday 2nd August.