Sidmouth Folk Festival 2021: Thursday

The first time I went to Glastonbury, the wonderful Hobo Jones finished his Friday morning punk skiffle set with the words “now go out there and find your Glastonbury”. I think he had in mind that the festival was so vast that the magical moments took place away from the main stage. Or else he was talking about drugs.

 I swear I have anxiety dreams about being at a festival without a programme and not knowing what acts I am missing. I believe FOMO, fear of missing out, is a recognisable mental health condition. This is probably why I have acquired three Sidmouth programmes. Which is pretty pointless this year since there is only one stage and I listen to whatever is on. 

 I mention this because today it rained, a lot. I tried coat, cagual and poncho and got right through Will Pound’s wonderful melodion and harmonica act (a jazz beatbox Amazing Grace, a sustained clap along Liberty Bell) but I confess I bailed when it turned out Miranda Sykes wasn’t going to be able to do her solo set. 

I withdrew to the Woodlands Hotel, where “unofficial” Ballad Sessions were advertised in the morning, and a Folk Club in the evening. In a gazebo, with the sound of chickens replacing the sound of seagulls. 

The afternoon is quite serious: people introduce songs as Child 37 and Child 52 and nothing which is not traditional and not not a ballad is allowed. We had Lord Bateman and Gilderoy and the Cruel Mother (oh the rose and the lilly oh) and the Bonny Bunch of Roses and the Fair Flower of Northumberland. (I had never noticed before that it is quite a funny story.) 

The evening is more anything goes. A lovely cover of the late lamented Bristol word smith Mike Scott’s song about an old lady called Myrtle. A reworking of John Henry about an accountant who died with his pencil in his hand. A song about a progressively more drunk man being warned to think of how his head will feel in the morning. I have said before that a festival is not a festival until I have heard a song which makes me cry, but I felt that My Father Works In The Cloud Factory and Mr Harding’s Garden in one session was over doing it slightly.

 I ended up fairly dry in the Bedford, chatting with some Bristol folkie friends and some complete strangers who hadn’t know it was folk week but thought it was all wonderful. I have a dim memory of inadvertently pontificating about why folk festivals are so White, but no one seemed to mind. Beer may have been taken. The same young lady who did The Old Dun Cow in the Swan the other night did a rather wonderful Dirty Old Town on her fiddle. I didn’t get her name, but either she is in a band or else she ought to be. I noticed that Jack Rutter, who was on the main stage three nights running, standing at the window listening to the session.  A young guy stood by the bar being a little too good with a melodeon. I think he is a friend of Double Bass man. A young guy who drinks here every night told me how much the locals embrace folk week. 

 During the ballad session in the afternoon a young guy stood up and sang about a hundred verses of a song about a man and the queen of the fairies and roses that bleed all the blood that was ever spilled and fruits that taste of all the torments of hell who finds that seven years have passed when he gets home and his is cursed always to tell the truth. Child 37: Thomas the Rhymer. I think it would be fair to say that I have found my Sidmouth.

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