Teignmouth Folk Festival 21st – 23rd June 2013

photo of a morris dancing side

A Border Morris side

This was the 15th Teignmouth Folk Festival – and what a treat it was! Teignmouth is an ideal location. Its long pedestrianised prom and pedestrianised town centre are perfect for the parades and outside performances that give the whole event such character. Most of the venues are within a couple of minutes walk of the sea front Carlton Theatre where the headline acts perform.

This year those headline acts included the legendary Tannahill Weavers. Formed way back in 1968 they are Scotland’s finest traditional band. Two of the members (Roy Gullane and Phil Smiilie) have been with the band since the beginning. The list of former members reads like a Hall of Fame of Scottish folk music. At their Saturday evening concert they were very ably supported by Geoff Lakeman (father of musical brothers Sean, Seth and Sam). I love Geoff’s laid-back style. He often plays with his band Unstrung Heroes. If you get the chance to see them, grab it.

A photo of Emma Sweeney and Matheu Watson

Emma Sweeney & Matheu Watson

The Friday night concert featured the irresistible Jim Causley supported by fiddle-player/vocalist Emma Sweeney and multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson. One of the advantages of a festival of this size is that it is big enough to attract the top names, like the Weavers, but small enough to remain cheerfully informal. On the morning after their concert, Emma and Matheu held a very enjoyable ‘meet the artists’ session in the theatre bar when they answered questions about their music and played requests.

The Old Gaffers a 10-man shanty crew

The Old Gaffers

 Andy Irvine, oozing Irish charm and genial musicality, gave the final concert in the Carlton Theatre. He is one of those rare people who can make each member of a large audience feel like an old friend.

Elsewhere, The Old Gaffers, a 10-man shanty crew from South Devon, gave excellent performances at a number of venues. They are going from strength to strength. 

The weather was odd for late June, with the constant threat of rain and a cold wind. I didn’t see a single person venture onto the beach on any of the three days, but the rain did hold off and all the outside events went ahead as planned. There was lots of very entertaining dancing of a variety of styles, including Morris, Border Morris and Appalachian. The parade of dancers from the East Cliff Café along the prom and into the town centre is always a treat.

A couple Border Morris dancing

Border Morris

 The main organiser of the festival is Anne Gill, with husband Steve providing lots of support. Anne and Steve are well-known faces on the Devon folk scene, finding time to run two folk clubs and performing with a number of other musicians in various bands. They are to be congratulated on once again putting together a delightful festival at very reasonable cost. A ticket covering all of the events was only £32.

Next year’s Teignmouth Festival will be 20th – 22nd June.

Don’t miss it! 

Photo of dancers sitting on the ground.

Tiring business.

Fishstock: 7th September 2013

Photo of two people dressed as trees

Strange visitors

Fishstock is Brixham’s seafood and music festival, named with a tip of the hat in the direction of Woodstock and the fact that Brixham is England’s busiest fish port.

There is a serious purpose behind the festival – raising money for the Brixham Fisherman’s Mission. Since May 2012 staff at the Mission have had to deal with the loss of five fishermen at sea and a number of crippling injuries.

There may be a serious purpose, but it’s still a great fun day. The event takes place in the fish market and received a boost when the new, much bigger, market opened a couple of years ago. Things get underway at 10.00 a.m. and carry on until midnight.

More than forty species of fish are landed in commercial quantities at Brixham, only twelve of which are subject to quotas, so the majority can be enjoyed without concern over depletion of stocks. The food part of the festival comprises demonstrations of the preparation and cooking of these rarer species, plus lots of trade stands with plenty of samples of food and drink. Celebrity chefs fill the air with the tantalising smell of delicious dishes and take part in good-humoured competitions.

There are two stages to accommodate the music – and to say we had a rich mixture would be an understatement. We had everything from pounding rock bands to gentle folk, taking in along the way two groups of belly dancers and Tibetan monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

As added entertainment a number of boats tie up alongside the quay and the public can look over them. This year we had a crabber, a beam trawler, the lifeboat, a fishery protection vessel and one of the Brixham fleet of heritage (i.e. sailing) trawlers. There were also demonstrations of net making and lobster pot weaving.

A photo of family folk band Banned from the Moor

Banned from the Moor

There were several musical highlights for me – in addition to the belly dancing. Banned from the Moor, a family folk band from Dartmoor provided an excellent set. I hadn’t seen Lisa Angharad before. The Welsh songbird turned up with her two sisters and two friends she’d recently met at the Edinburgh Festival. Lisa has a lot of stage presence and their performance was a delight.

Appearing with Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall turned Philip Henry and Hannah Martin into an overnight success – after years of hard work. Both have had spells in the States and the time Philip spent studying in India shows through his slide-playing of his Dobro. They produced a fine set in a packed main marquee and included tracks from their new album, Mynd, due to be released in October.

And last, but definitely not least, Maggie Duffy and Mike Weed were stunning. Maggie is an award-winning singer-songwriter with a Joan Baez voice. Mike has played with a number of folk bands over the years and appeared on 14 cds. The combination of Maggie’s beautiful voice and Mike’s haunting harmonica and whistle accompaniment always takes my breath away.

By midnight a lot of people had been drinking for a very long time. Was there any hassle? Of course not – this is Brixham’s party day and whole thing passes off in a spirit of cheerful celebration. It was a great day and thousands of pounds were raised for a very worthy cause.

Photo of Lisa Angharad

Lisa Angharad with sisters and friends

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Cover imageThis is the third of the Robert Langdon novels. I enjoyed Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I’ve probably been a bit slow in getting to this one because of the large number of highly negative reviews it received. However, I spotted it in our local library and decided to give it a go as it would only cost me time – especially as the fourth Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, is now out.

The problem was, at 670 pages, it cost me quite a lot of time that I didn’t feel was well spent.

I found the book had a number of weaknesses. As with the first two, all of the action takes place within considerably less than 24 hours. That can work well, but not when it means that characters subjected to extremes of harrowing torture and mutilation to the very brink of death are rushing around minutes later committing rugby tackles.

Whereas the first two books are set in European locations with history stretching back many hundreds, if not thousands, of years, this is set entirely in Washington and making such a modern city a convincing resting place of hidden ‘Ancient Truths’ is a tough challenge.

All the author manages is an obsession with the rituals of Freemasonry and a seemingly endless listing of Masonic symbols built into Washington’s architecture. Dan Brown (or certainly his main character, Robert Langdon) appears convinced that we should all feel relaxed, even comforted, by the thought that many men in positions of power belong to a secret society. I’m not so sure about that.

Here Langdon is working with the Deputy Director of the CIA to foil the villain’s dastardly plot to cause havoc. When we finally find out just what the plot is, it’s laughable. I can’t be the only one who thought that it would be a good idea if the villain succeeded.

At times the book reads more like non-fiction than a novel, but some of the facts poured out simply aren’t correct – such as ‘sincere’ deriving from the old French ‘sin cerae’ meaning ‘without wax’, when it actually derives from the Latin ‘sincerus’ meaning ‘pure’.

The first two books had been made into successful films (even though the film version of Angels and Demons mangled the storyline) and I was left with the impression that Brown wrote this one with the American film audience in mind – a villain with a lot of visual impact and lots of dramatic shots of well-known Washington landmarks. I haven’t seen the film, but I suspect that it’s more entertaining than the book.

The book is available in various formats from Amazon The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon)

Devon Folk Festival 2013 Calendar

Crediton Folk Weekend: 12th – 14th April

Brixham Pirate & Shanty Festival: 4th – 5th May

Dartmouth Music Festival: 10th – 12th May

Exmouth Art & Music Festival: 23rd – 31st May

Dulverton Folk Festival: 24th – 27th May

Bude & Stratton Folk Festival: 24th – 27th May (OK, I know it’s in Cornwall – but it’s close)

Bradninch Music & Arts Festival: 7th – 9th June

Teignmouth Folk Festival: Friday 21st – 23rd June

South Brent Folk Festival: 12th – 14th July

Chagford Folk Festival (Chagstock): 19th – 20th July

Sidmouth Folk Week 2nd – 9th August

Dartmoor Folk Festival 10th – 12th August

Beautiful Days Festival (Exeter): 16th – 18th August

Totnes Festival: 23rd August – 1st September

Lyme Regis (Lyme Folk Weekend): 30th August – 1st September (OK, I know it’s Dorset – but it’s close)

Brixham Seafood & Music Festival (Fishstock): 7th September

Okehampton Baring-Gould Folk Festival: 25th – 27th October

Bampton Festival (After the Fair): 1st – 3rd November

Sidmouth Folk Week August 2nd – 9th 2013

Photo of The Byes

The Byes

Sidmouth gave us another wonderful eight days. I think it’s a combination of factors that come together to make this a uniquely delightful festival.

The town itself has a great deal to do with it. Whether it’s festival time or not, it’s well worth a visit. The town nestles in a valley between two towering headlands on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Fine Regency buildings line the prom; there’s a lovely two-mile long parkland called The Byes through which the River Sid runs on its way to the sea; there are attractive parks and a town centre filled with independent shops.

During Folk Week the whole town is given over to music and visitors are attracted from all over the world. There are venues everywhere: in the marquees that appear in the open spaces, in the theatre, the church halls, the hotels, the school, the sailing club, the Arts Centre and the pubs. Pub car parks accommodate ceilidhs.

photo of folk dancing

Mollies

This year the programme listed 870 organised events. The basic format is workshops in the morning and performances from lunchtime until 1.00 a.m.

The workshops covered singing, playing instruments, dance and story-telling.

The quality of the organised concerts is remarkable. For me the highlights of this year’s ‘big’ concerts were the emotional appearance of Nic Jones, the hugely enjoyable Show of Hands, Maddy Prior and the refreshingly different Spooky Men’s Chorale.

Photo of a large group singing on the beach led by the Spooky Men's Chorale.

An impromptu sing-song led by The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

If you haven’t seen the SMC in action, and you get the chance to go during their current UK tour, I highly recommend that you grab the opportunity.

Bankers should avoid Show of Hands concerts. With over 1000 people bawling out the words to ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ lynch-mob frenzy gets close.

There were lots of gems scattered between the ‘big’ events, (I managed to catch Jim Causley three times), but one of the joys of such a huge, varied programme was strolling into a gig by someone I didn’t know and being blown away. The Stream of Sound youth choir put on just such a performance.

Simply wandering between events on the organised programme is a delight. Inside (and outside) the pubs, in the parks, along the prom and on the beach musicians get together to compare instruments, chat about their experiences and jam. I went into The Bedford to find an organised gig in their function room and each of their three bars occupied by groups of musicians chatting and jamming – fiddles in one, banjos in another and melodeons in the third.

Photo of folk dancers leaping into the air.

The music will get you jumping!

2014 sees the 60th anniversary of Sidmouth Folk Week and the organisers are promising ‘something really special’. It starts on Friday 1st August. We’ve already booked our accommodation. Come and join in the fun!