When I first went to Sidmouth Folk Week it was as a teenager, before I had any real interest in folk music. My friends and I would just loaf about on the rocky beach, chatting, drinking and enjoying the atmosphere of the parades, dancing and general good spirits.
As a relative grown-up folkie, Sidmouth has become one of my most looked-forward-to weeks of the year. Recently it’s put on some great shows, such the unforgettable, emotional return of Nic Jones to the live stage in 2010, and the brilliant revival of Peter Bellamy’s Transports folk opera last year.
This year, with a the return of Alan Bearman as organiser, there isn’t a massive staged ‘event’ of this kind. But Sidmouth has still done well, most notably perhaps in hosting the welcome return of Norma Waterson. Norma will be performing with her daughter, Eliza Carthy, and the formidable Gift Band (Monday 6, 8pm, Ham Marquee) for the first time since she was taken ill in the winter of 2010. Her full-bodied-Bordeaux of a voice has been missed, and it will be a major treat to see her performing alongside her equally talented daughter.
Eliza is in for a busy week. She’s also performing alongside her dad Martin (Wednesday 8, 12 noon, Ham Marquee), who in turn is playing with Brass Monkey (Tuesday 7, 3.15pm, Ham Marquee), with support from the brilliant Fay Hield and her Hurricane Party. Fay is playing alongside Jon Boden (Monday 6, 8pm, The Bedford), who is, as it happens, doing a gig with John Spiers as well (Tuesday 7, 8pm, Ham Marquee). You get the idea.
That’s to say nothing of a host of other brilliant acts such as Jackie Oates, Chris Wood, Martin Simpson, June Tabor and Oysterband, Edward II, Show of Hands and the delightfully named Whapweasel. Then there are the ceilidhs – look out for the mighty Blackbeard’s Tea Party (Monday 6, 11pm, The Bulverton) if you’ve got the energy – as well as the pub sessions, the stalls and the dancing.
There’s far too much for me to cover, but I’ll be writing about my experiences here. I’m not sure I’ll be able to top this moment of Sidmouth magic from last year, when I somehow ended up playing in a handbell choir with this rather familiar-looking bunch. I still tell people I used to be in a band with Martin Carthy…