Sidmouth Folk Week 2009: Article and letters in Sidmouth Herald 21 August 2009.

Read between the lines (as usual) and you'll get the general idea - everybody loves the festival, it all went wonderfully well, it's all a solid local partnership and the future is assured - so long as the public money keeps coming in. Just let's hope they are right!

The point is well made about sell-outs at main venues. Many years ago, one of Sidmouth's more intelligent and long serving town councillors, Kim Smith, observed that when Sidmouth is full it is full. This was in the context of one of the many and perennial arguments about providing more parking in an already congested town centre in order to entice yet more shoppers into the town.

So when John Braithwaite said in the FolkWeek newsletter on 7 August - "don't forget to bring another family or friend with you next year" we must assume he knows where he would put all these extra people? On the campsite? In the sold out venues? In the Arena up at the Knowle? Now that really would be a return to the International Festival!

For those of us with long memories, the last night processions of the old festival really were spectacular. They lasted for hours. But I guess you have to start somewhere. An amazing amount has indeed been accomplished in only a few years but too much may depend on the continuing efforts of too few people.

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FolkWeek 'bigger and better than ever'

BIGGER audiences, tangible town support and a truly vibrant atmosphere was how John Braithwaite, chairman of Sidmouth FolkWeek Productions Ltd, summed up this year's festival. He said: "This was a watershed year for Sidmouth FolkWeek, but in so many ways proved a resounding success.

"For perhaps the first time, the town was in true partnership with the festival, giving its backing in a very tangible way. "The festival attracted many more visitors, bringing bigger audiences and sell-outs at the main venues.

"The atmosphere was truly vibrant and responses to some of the evening and late night bands overwhelming. "All this, despite the recession and a few spots of rain!"

It takes more than a year to plan each festival and three weeks to build. This year's new management team implemented innovative changes. There were positive responses to the new HUB area at the Ham and Port Royal end of the Esplanade. "It can now be taken to its next stage of development'" said John. Blackmore Gardens has become the new in-town festival centre, boasting new features and an excellent atmosphere as crowds flocked there to take part in Young Sidmouth, go to the dances and displays, browse the music fair or simply relax.

The Bulverton venue was at its best this year, with great bands and the Festival Clubhouse dances, including a highly popular Silent Disco, which is likely to become a must for future festivals. "We also welcomed the return of international acts to Sidmouth, with musicians and dancers from Bulgaria, Italy, French Canada and Australia," said John.

"The closing torchlight procession was truly spectacular, led by a 15 feet high model of The Fiddler, the festival's traditional emblem, with figures and designs produced in festival workshops, funded by a grant from the Sid Vale Association's Keith Owen fund. "With the county, town and festival beginning to work in a solid partnership, the foundations have been laid for this unique event to grow from strength to strength," said John, who thanked the hundreds of volunteers and local supporters of FolkWeek, which brings much-needed financial support to the local economy.

Locals should embrace the fun

MADAM - Having just enjoyed my thirty-eighth annual visit to Sidmouth, I should like to say a big 'thank you' to all the happy and smiling local residents and business owners who make Folk Week participants feel very welcome.

However, a minority of townsfolk still seem unable to enjoy the one week of fun. The two gentlemen I passed on Friday morning (August 7) in Heydons Lane, who were rejoicing that the next day would be wonderful because, "All the Gypsies will be gone!", should try attending some of the arranged events and, hopefully, become able to appreciate the vast array of talent that the festival gathers. In particular, had these gentlemen been in the audience for Friday's "Workshop Showcase concert in the Methodist Church, they would have heard a range of orchestras and choirs . For example, Sandra Kerr's choir, developed during the week's sessions, proved that almost one hundred and forty amateur enthusiasts of all ages had come together to learn songs from various genres and the performance was marvellous. (N.B.Most singers appeared to be upright citizens, some certainly of retirement age - but, anyway, why would being referred to as Gypsies offend us?! There was a very interesting presentation of Gypsy/Romany music and songs earlier in the week.)

Thank you again, though, to the majority of local Sidmouth "folk" (!) who do put up with extra crowds and a bit of disruption to share your lovely town for one special week.

IREEN BEST (MRS) 12 Cumberland Avenue Willow Park Guildford Surrey

Unforgettable week

MADAM - I have recently moved to live in Sidmouth from Liverpool and I just had to write to say how much I enjoyed my first FolkWeek. It was really enjoyable, with all the lovely music and dancing. The costumes were really colourful and the people going up and down the High Street in the Sailor Ship was fabulous, and all the buskers. It was a really good week and one I'll never forget.

Thanks to all of those who took part. I look forward to next year.

BARBARA LEPER A new Sidmouth resident 6 Salcombe Road Sidmouth

Well done folk team

MADAM - I wish to thank the people of Sidmouth for all their kindness during FolkWeek. I would also like to compliment the FolkWeek organisers on an excellent Festival.

I was particularly impressed by the Axford 5 concert and workshop. These consisted of folk songs collected in the village of Axford, Hampshire, presented by Craig Morgan Robson and the Askew sisters. Congratulation to everyone concerned.

Richard Cosgrave 96 Greenside Eastfield Northampton

Thanks from disabled visitor

MADAM - May I use your paper to thank the people of Sidmouth for another wonderful folk festival holiday. I've been visiting for about a decade and hope for many more visits. Now disabled, the consideration and helpfulness of locals, fellow visitors and the truly wonderful stewards were deeply appreciated (especially the two off-duty gentlemen who helped put up my tent in pouring rain). The dancing collection ladies at the anchor will be remembered too!

I should however warn that the campsite is really unsuitable for disabled access.

Be well friends and see you next year

AMANDA PHILLIPS 30 Hillrise Walton-on-Thames Surrey

Tacky trade fair on the seafront

MADAM - Having just returned from Folk Week, I must inform you of our reaction to the renewed presence of far too many traders on the sea front which have completely transformed the folk atmosphere.

Their numbers have considerably increased since last year; as a result they have taken over the promenade making it almost totally inaccessible in the prominent areas for groups and individuals to perform there.

In addition, their clutter prevented handicapped people from enjoying the entertainment, who previously revelled in the happy atmosphere of the music and dance. We witnessed angry incidents between holidaymakers happily singing along being harassed by traders who accused them of interfering with their trade.

A number of town shop owners are also livid at their presence for obvious reasons. It is time, therefore, for the town council to take stock of what they want the week to be, because last week showed that it has become another tacky trade fair on the seafront, as opposed to the Folk event for which it became famous.

The opportunity afforded to young musicians has been lost, along with that of many other performers. If the existing policy persists, albeit for financial reasons, it is totally misguided as it will destroy the whole character of the week, resulting in amateur performers, plus those who previously enjoyed the informal music making, staying away in future and that would be a great pity. The event has a great history and is now likely to be thrown away unless radical steps are now taken to rectify it.

FERGUS AND MARY LYONS 15 Alexandra Road Clifton Bristol

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