Southwest Folk Festivals 2016

Here we go with an updated list of folk festivals due to take place in the Westcountry in 2016. Sadly, we seem to have lost a few in the last couple of years – lack of sponsorship being the usually quoted reason. Nevertheless, we have lots to look forward to.

Have fun – and see you there!

January

16th & 17th – Bradford Roots: Bradford, Wiltshire

17th for 5 days – Halsway Winter Warmer: Halsway Manor, Crowcombe, Somerset. A residential break with a programme of English folk music and dance.

February

12th for 3 days – Folk 3 – Cheltenham Town Hall.

March

18th – Lyme Folk Revisited: not really a festival, just one night at the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis, but worth supporting a concert by young musicians, hosted by Jim Causley.

April

30th & 1st May – Bristol Folk Festival

May

13th, 14th and 15th – Credition Folk Weekend: Cheriton Fitzpaine, Devon.

13th, 14th & 15th – Dart Music Festival: Dartmouth, Devon. Lots of folk mixed with other genres.

27th, 28th & 29th – Bude & Stratton Folk Festival: Bude, Cornwall. A fun festival right on the Cornish coast.

27th for 4 days – Chippenham Folk Festival: Chippenham, Wiltshire.

27th, 28th & 29th – Gloucester Shanty Festival.

June

3rd, 4th & 5th – Wessex Folk Festival: Weymouth, Dorset.

10th, 11th & 12th – Wimborne Minster Folk Festival: Wimborne Dorset.

10th, 11th & 12th – Bradninch Music Festival: Bradninch, near Exeter, Devon.

17th, 18th & 19th – Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival: Falmouth, Cornwall.

17th, 18th & 19th – Teignmouth Folk Festival: Teignmouth, Devon.

17th, 18th & 19th – Ukelele Festival of Grest Britain: Cheltenham

25th & 26th – Folk on the Quay: Poole, Dorset.

July

1st – 10th – Frome Festival: a 10-day general arts festival with lots of folk music: Frome, Somerset.

8th, 9th & 10th – Priddy Folk Festival: Priddy, Wells, Somerset.

22nd & 23rd – Chagstock Festival: Whiddon Down, Devon.

29th for 8 days – Sidmouth Folk Week: Sidmouth, Devon – the biggest and best!

August

5th, 6th & 7th – Dartmoor Folk Festival: South Zeal, Dartmoor, Devon.

6th for 7 days – Bath Folk Festival: a week-long festival with lots of workshops and chances to perform.

19th, 20th & 21st – Beautiful Days: Escot Park, near Ottery St Mary, Devon – such a lot crammed into 3 days with this family-orientated, camping festival.

25th for 4 days – Purbeck Valley Folk Festival, near Swanage, Dorset.

26th for 4 days – Cornwall Folk Festival: county showground, Wadebridge, Cornwall.

September

9th, 10th & 11th – Lyme Folk Weekend: Lyme Regis, Dorset

9th, 10th & 11th – Swanage Folk Festival: Swanage, Dorset.

10th – 24th – St Ives September Festival: St Ives, Cornwall – a 15-day music festival with lots of folk.

23rd, 24th & 25th – Looe Music Festival: Looe, Cornwall – mainly folk.

23rd, 24th, 25th & 26th – The Little Big Gig: Henry’s Campsite, The Lizard, Cornwall.

30th, Ist & 2nd – Riverside Beer & Music Festival: South Molton, Devon.

October

22nd – North Dorset Folk Festival: Marnhull, Dorset.

November

2nd-6th – Lowender Peran: Newquay, Cornwall – a 5-day festival celebrating Cornish Celtic Culture.

 

 

 

Sidmouth Folk Week – a day in the life.

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.

Customs and Exiles

Customs and Exiles

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.

Star and Shadow

Star and Shadow

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. DSC03662Emerging 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.

 

 

 

The end of our first season of motorhomes.

One of our reasons for acquiring a motorhome was to provide our own accommodation at folk festivals. After Sidmouth in early August, we managed three more: Lyme Folk Festival at Lyme Regis (just a couple of weeks after Sidmouth); Cornwall Folk Festival at Wadebridge at the end of the month and the Swanage Folk Festival in mid-September. This part of the plan was working well.
We also made a number of very enjoyable trips to events that were fun, but where we’d found local accommodation tricky/expensive to arrange in the past. With a motorhome it is so much easier to get to the Tiverton Balloon Festival, for example. The Minnows site, on the towpath of the Grand Western Canal, is a few miles outside Tiverton, but only a short walk to a bus stop.
Similarly, a day at Widecombe Fair can be enjoyed to the full when staying on a site a few minutes’ walk along the lane.
We also found some very pretty spots in North Devon, Dorset and Somerset. In late autumn we were able to watch the huge murmurations of starlings over the Somerset levels.
So, we’d reached the end of our first season of motorhoming. It was time to make a decision. Did we want to continue owning a motorhome? Was it worth the costs?
The answer was a resounding, ‘YES!’ We love it!
One thing I haven’t really mentioned in these posts is the issue of where to keep it. We’d deliberately searched for a small unit that we could keep at home, but we’d only had it a few weeks when we had to admit that really wasn’t acceptable. We live in a small cul-de-sac with only three houses in it. Those houses, and their gardens, are well-maintained. When turning into the cul-de-sac it’s an attractive aspect – helped by the sea view. With the motorhome outside our house there was no doubt that it was the motorhome that caught the eye. It was an eyesore – and there was no way to screen it.
We arranged a space on a secure storage site a few miles away. It was obviously less convenient, and it cost about £500 p.a., but it felt the right thing to do.
Shortly afterwards a rumour spread among users that the site, which is mainly used for secure storage in containers, was going to do away with the motorhome/caravan/boat storage and put in more containers. Just in case that was true (months later, it still hasn’t happened, and may never) we put ourselves on the waiting list for storage at a local Caravan Club site and after a few months we made the move.
The significant issue was that after making the move to storage, we were no longer restricted on the length of the unit.
The small size was causing us problems, mainly that we couldn’t put the dinette bed together with the overcab bed ladder in place – which we felt restricted our ability to take our young granddaughter away with us.
The Compass 100 had served its purpose. It had taught us that motorhoming appealed very strongly to some basic instincts.
We drew up a revised list of our requirements and spent the winter searching for our ideal model. We looked over dozens before finding our perfect motorhome.
Next time I’ll tell you what features were on our list and what model we eventually bought.

Brixham: Fishstock and the FishMish

On the 13th September the 6th Fishstock event was held in Brixham. This annual one-day food and music festival goes from strength to strength.

It takes place within the newly-enlarged premises of our fish market. This year we had two music stages (with twelve hours of music on each), two demonstration kitchens featuring top chefs preparing fish dishes, about fifty trade stands, a beer tent, a wine bar and for the youngsters a bouncy castle and children’s entertainers. Tied up at the quay were a crabber, a beamer, the lifeboat, a sailing trawler and a sailing lugger, and visitors could take a tour over each. Those last two are treasured members of Brixham’s Heritage Fleet of restored fishing boats from a bygone age.

Maggie Duffy and Mike Weed on the acoustic stage

Maggie Duffy and Mike Weed on the acoustic stage

We were blessed with perfect weather. The gates opened at 10am and thousands of people poured in to enjoy a great day. This isn’t just an event for us locals; it draws in visitors from a wide area as evidenced by the fact that the organisers have just been contacted by Exeter City Council with a request that in setting the date for Fishstock 2015 they take into account the dates of the Rugby World Cup games scheduled to take place at Exeter Chiefs new stadium during next September/October.

I’ve blogged about Fishstock before, posting it under Folk Music as it’s that stage that usually attracts me. This time I want to look at the background to the event: how it comes about – and why.

It wouldn’t happen at all if it wasn’t for the enthusiastic support of two organisations, their staff and a large team of volunteers. The organisations are the fishmarket landlord, Torbay Harbour Authority, and the tenants, Brixham Trawler Agents. The new fishmarket occupies a large site and the market operates normally on the Friday morning with the catches landed during the previous 24-hours sold at the early morning auction then collected by vans and lorries for distribution around the country.

I must just break off to mention something that always makes me smile. There among the huge refrigerated lorries you’ll see Simone Cook with her little trolley. Every morning Simone is there, carefully selecting small quantities of prime fish that she loads into her trolley and trundles along the quay to where she prepares and serves it in Beamers Restaurant that she runs with her husband and daughter.

One of the demonstration kitchens.

One of the demonstration kitchens.

The huge effort then begins to get the fishmarket activity wrapped up by 10am on Friday, the floors cleared of ice, washed down, disinfected and dried by 2pm when the task begins of erecting marquees, stages, kitchens, sound systems, trade stands and exhibitions, getting everything ready to open at 10am on Saturday. The last visitors have left the site by midnight when the whole operation goes into reverse so that the fishmarket can be handed back to Brixham Trawler Agents by Sunday lunchtime.

That’s how it comes about – but why are so many people prepared to put in such effort to make it happen? Not just physical effort either, but also generous contributions including the fish used in the demonstrations. This year Morrison’s supermarket (and we don’t have one in Brixham) donated 1000 bread rolls that were all used in making fishburgers. The answer is that it raises thousands of pounds for a charity that is close to the heart of the Brixham community, the Fishermen’s Mission – affectionately known as FishMish.

I’d like to take you back, a long, long way back, to see how it all began.

From the early 1800s it became commonplace for ports to have a shore-based Mission to provide faith-based (usually Methodist) facilities to seamen. In 1881 a giant step forward was taken, courtesy of Ebenezer Mather who was then responsible for the Thames ChurchMission that served seamen using the Port of London.

Ebenezer Mather

Ebenezer Mather

Mather accepted a challenge to go on a 5-day voyage on a ship called Supply whose role was to sail to the at-sea North Sea fishing fleet taking empty fish boxes and ice, collect the catch, and return with it to Billingsgate Market.

The weather was awful throughout his 600-mile trip. Mather witnessed the appalling conditions that the fishermen endured. He realised that the fleet was effectively a floating village with a population of around 1500 people living without any of the basic comforts available to those ashore.

On his return he set about acquiring a 56-ton fishing smack that he converted to provide services to the fishing fleet. She was renamed Ensign and was equipped with medical supplies, warm clothing, food, reading materials and Bibles. Mather changed the principle of his Mission to have the theme, ‘Rendering service, not just Services.’

He wrote a book about the lives of deep sea fishermen that, using the fishermen’s terminology, he titled, ‘Nar’ard of the Dagger’ (north of Dogger Bank).

Queen Victoria read it, sent a donation to his mission and then agreed to become patron of what became known as, ‘The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fisherman.’

FishMish still operates in accordance with the basic principle of providing a full range of practical support services to fishermen and their families. That support is needed in what is the most dangerous peacetime occupation.

The Brixham branch opened in 1901 and demand for its services is as high as ever. Fishermen face the daily danger of death or serious injury at sea and financial insecurity onshore. FishMish provides comfort and support to the bereaved and injured, and helps those in need steer a course through the complex benefits system. The need for the financial support shouldn’t be under estimated. At the start of 2014, for example, the weather was so bad that for six weeks most of the Brixham fleet couldn’t put to sea. The organisation is also involved in the development and supply of improved safety equipment for the fishing industry.

Some years ago the chap in charge of the Brixham branch (known as the Port Missioner) had the bright idea of asking Jim Portus to help with fund-raising. I imagine he was following the maxim that if you want something doing you should ask a busy person to do it.

Jim is one of those people who appear to have more than 24 hours in their day. He is employed as chief executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation Ltd and elected chairman of the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations. He is also a Minister’s appointee on the Devon and Severn Inshore and Fisheries Conservation Authority; an appointed member of the Seafish Industry Authority Domestic and Export Panel and a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology. As a result of his involvement with the FishMish he is a member of council and trustee of the charity. He spends much of his time lobbying European ministers about fish quotas. The fact that the Westcountry ports of Brixham, Plymouth and Newlyn have coped so well with the upheavals of the European fisheries policies is largely down to the work of Jim and his team.

Since 2000 Jim has completed eighteen marathons. Together with his wife, Margaret, (who also runs marathons) he has walked across France and Spain, and from John O’Groats to Land’s End. By doing so they have raised well over £40,000 in sponsorship for FishMish. Fishstock is Jim’s brainchild; he even came up with the name, and he has been the driving force behind it. The latest Fishstock will bring the total raised by that event to over £50,000.

Just in case you are picturing a pair of young human dynamos, I should point out that in a couple of months Jim and Margaret will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.

In 2012 our regional newspaper, The Western Morning News, awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Seafood festivals are becoming very popular. The National Holidays blog recently listed a number here taking place in Wales and the Southwest. No doubt there are more in other parts of the country. Behind every one of them there will be someone like Jim Portus. Without people like him the country would feel a lot poorer.

Jim Portus. Picture taken fromthe Herald Express

Jim Portus.
Picture taken from the Herald Express

 

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.

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