Sidmouth Folk Festival: Saturday

Steve Knightley re-contextualises Cousin Jack so it is about the migrants who are crossing the English channel at this moment, in search of a better life. And then he asks us to hold up our phones to represent lights in the darkness. He often lets events refresh his songs. For a long time Santiago was about the Chilean miners. The Bristol Slaver, which tonight he pairs with Tall Ships, has gained a couple of lines since the fall of Colston. And then they do their new, post lock down song: This Year Is Going To Be The Best One Yet. And Phil starts to do Here Comes The Sun as a counter melody. 


Show of Hands don’t just do concerts. They take you on emotional and spiritual journeys. I have no words.

The sun was much in evidence. So were the sea gulls. I had considered delaying my arrival because of the threat of Storm Ewart, but the weather remained as clement as an English seaside town in August ever is for the whole day. (The 2019 festival was brought to a premature end by the arrival of Storm Dennis. The 2020 one didn’t happen due to the pestilence. I think they missed a trick by not having Granny’s Attic start this year off by resuming their set exactly where they had to abandon it.)

This year is billed as A Celebration of Sidmouth Folk Week rather than a festival proper. The theatre of operations has shifted from a marquee on the esplanade to an open air stage in a park slightly inland. There is a free concert in the afternoon and a ticketed one each evening. Several of the other venues venues are carrying on unofficially. There were people singing Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All and Molly Malone upstairs in the Anchor on Friday, competing with a ceilidh in the beer garden, and it appears that at least some ballads will be sung in Woodlands. There is no shuttle bus or campsite, although I am one of the lucky few who has been allows to pitch on a secluded school playing field, which is rather civilised if you don’t mind a walk at the end of the day and flashbacks to PE lessons when you need a shower.

I’d thought the free concerts might turn out to be local club singers and morris sides, but the standard is almost up to the normal after noon programming. Although it is open to the public and surrounded by food stands and the bar, the focus is nicely concentrated on the stage. The only dancing comes from some scandalously angelic children. Today, at any rate, there is a very blogger friendly emphasis on The Tradition. Peter and Barbara Snape do songs mostly from The North. Go Along Bob seems to be a Napoleonic version of Katy Cruel. I particularly enjoyed a catchy singalong about two silly farmers.

one farmer pulled the head
the other one pulled the tail
over it they had a jolly row
then off to court they went
and all their money spent
while the lawyer kept a milking of the cow.

Alice Jones does slightly more popped tinged traditional material, including an epic treatment of Banks of Sweet Dundee and some mad self-slapping body percussion. The Shackleton Trio have added a second entry to the list of “great folk songs about dead pigeons” (in this case a peon to one of the carrier pigeons of World War One.) Random provided a diddly-diddly break from the ballads. But the highlight of the afternoon for me was the very lovely Jim Causly, along with Mariners Away (“the most inland shanty crew in Devon.) We had a familiar John Kanackernacker (to ri ay!) and an unfamiliar Golden Vanity where the little cabin boy sinks a pirate ship rather than a Spaniard in the low lands low. He does a wonderfully old fashioned political anthem exhorting us go vote Liberal in the 1891 Totnes bi election. And of course he sings his own Cry of The Tin, definitely my other favourite song about the West Country tin mining industry

After the Show of Hands revival meeting, I retreated to the Swan, where, I swear, the same man was singing Rock Me Mother Like A South Bound Train on the same table he had been singing it in 2019. I am not at all ashamed that I shouted along to I Remember Dublin In the Rare Old Time, but am slightly concerned that someone may have filmed me on an IPhone.

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