Monday 3rd August 2015
10.00 a.m. From the campsite we head to Sidmouth Cricket Club for the best value breakfast in town: 2 rashers of bacon, 2 sausages, egg, 2 hash browns, beans, tomato, mushrooms, 2 slices of toast, marmalade, coffee – £6.
10.45 a.m. We stroll across town to The Hub (the open space at the eastern end of the prom) to watch a dance display. We pull out of our backpacks our lightweight folding stools and settle down to be entertained. Four Morris sides perform: Customs and Exiles, a mixed side from Berkshire performing traditional North West Morris; Fool’s Gambit, a very young and energetic mixed Cotswold Morris side; Moulton Morris Men from Northants who perform various forms of traditional English Morris, including sword; Star & Shadow Rapper, a women’s side from Newcastle.
Rapper is a form of sword dance performed by a team of five dancers, often with a sixth character called The Captain who makes announcements and keeps the crowd involved. It always looks dangerous to me and I can’t help wondering how much skin they lose in practice. Here’s a clip of a rapper side in The Hub at last year’s folk week. The white structure in the background is the Ham Marquee, a 1000-seater venue where three concerts are held each day – and that’s only one of twenty venues.
12.00. We walk along the prom, passing the numerous craft stalls and buskers, to The Bedford Hotel where we somehow manage to wriggle our way into the packed main bar famous for its jam sessions that begin about 11.00 a.m. and go on all day until around midnight. Musicians come and go. At one stage I count twenty-seven, all somehow contriving to play the same tune (or a close approximation). There are: strings – ukes, banjos, guitars and fiddles; wind – whistles, flutes, mouth organ, a saxophone and all shapes and sizes of squeezebox; percussion – bodhran and bones. From time to time staff appear bearing jugs of beer with trays of chicken and chips.
1.30 p.m. We wriggle back out of the Bedford and walk the short distance to Blackmore Gardens, a small park in the middle of town where events in the Children’s Folk Week are held and where the Music Tent stands. This is the marquee occupied by instrument retailers. It draws me irresistibly, but we bump into friends and spend our time chatting. Emerging with wallet unopened, we head for the Anchor, pausing in Market Square to watch some extraordinary street entertainment provided by two gymnasts/acrobats. They combine strength, flexibility and dexterity in eye-catching ways. The young man, for example, balances upside down on his head while solving a Rubik’s cube.
3.00 p.m. We settle in Anchor Garden (actually the car park behind the Anchor Inn) where there’s a stage and a servery with sixteen real ales on offer. For the next hour we enjoy a free concert by The Drystones, two lads who look so young to me that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear they still have paper rounds. Young or not, they are wonderfully talented and give us a very lively hour on fiddle and guitar.
4.00 p.m. We realise that the Cricket Club breakfast was so large that we haven’t even thought of lunch. We head back there. Their cake slices are as generous as their breakfasts. I work out the tactics of the cricket team. They clearly try to field first and during the interval fill the opposition with such an enormous tea that they can neither bowl nor field. We take our time getting outside fruit cake and tea, then realise that a jam session has started in the bar.
6.00 p.m. We head back to The Hub where another dance display is underway. It’s Moulton Morris Men that we saw this morning, but now they are joined by Crooked Moon, an Appalachian dance group from Brighton. Cheryl joined an Appalachian group years ago when we lived in Totnes and she’s always keen to watch a session. She tells me that each complex sequence takes months to learn. You can see a group in action here.
7.15 p.m. As a precaution against the unlikely event of our being overcome by hunger during the evening concert we’re enjoying one of Tom’s Pies at the bar outside the Ham Marquee.
8.00 p.m. We have moved inside the marquee for what proves to be one of the most enjoyable concerts we have ever attended.
The Devil’s Interval start us off with their beautiful three-part harmonies. The three are Jim Causley (who lives on Dartmoor, so we see a lot of him), Lauren McCormick and Emily Portman. They performed together years ago, but then went their separate ways. It’s great to hear them back together. Jim told us that it was so long since they’d sung together that they’d forgotten the songs they used to sing. They found that someone had illicitly recorded them (and many others) in concert and put the recordings up on YouTube. Each time they got together to practise they re-learned the words and harmonies from the internet, but they were horrified to discover that someone had complained and the recordings had been taken down. They had to trace the chap and ask him to send them the recording – which he duly did.
They are followed by the incomparable Vin Garbutt. He really is unlike any other performer I’ve ever seen. His character-filled, mobile features are riveting. Over the years he has written many powerful songs of protest and social commentary, but what really sets him apart is his humour. His relaxed chat between songs is truly hilarious – a mix of jokes and stories based on his experiences touring the world, in the telling of which he makes full use of his rich Teesside accent. As the years have gone by (he’s 67, one month younger than me) those stories increasingly relate to his health problems. He recently suffered arrhythmia and spent time in hospital. “The feller in the next bed said to me, ‘Hey, Vin, you’re a man of the world. What does it mean when one of your testicles is much smaller than the other two?’”
Check him out on his website and if he’s due to appear near you, give yourself a treat.
11.00 p.m. Uplifted by the concert we’re having a drink in the nearby Sailing Club before heading back to the campsite.
Will we have the energy to do it all again tomorrow?
Without a doubt.