Alternatives to Sidmouth for social dance: few and far between?

Of the scores of folk festivals held in the UK, few have a substantial social dance or ceilidh content. Some have just an evening ceilidh or a barn dance attached to a few sessions in pubs and a minor concert.

Several festivals stand out in that they provide good social dancing: other than Sidmouth, the best are probably Eastbourne, Chippenham and Lichfield. None offer direct competition for Sidmouth because they are all held earlier in the season. Of those held later, Whitby and Broadstairs have social dancing that compares to that at Sidmouth. Towersey is arguably in a class of its own and it also appeals very much to younger people - there is an excellent ceilidh venue and a range of dance teaching, including specifically for youngsters.

Responses to previous webpages have included comparisons of other UK summer festivals to Sidmouth Folk Week: in particular the dates for the Warwick festival in 2011 overlap those of Sidmouth - it is usually a week earlier. The ceilidhs at Warwick are excellent but there is little other dance.

The clash of dates in 2011 may mean that quite a few folkies who live in the Midlands may go to Warwick (as usual) and then decide to miss Sidmouth - after a brief rest they can travel easily down to Broadstairs!

Whitby and Broadstairs are two festivals that seem to be increasing in popularity for dance: one email copied to me is reproduced below, as is a letter in the Guardian that also mentions Broadstairs Folk Week in the context of festivals where there is a real 'in-town' and seaside atmosphere and where locals mix freely with folkies.

Email copied to SeeRed (edited)

Yes, we went to Broadstairs this year – fantastic line up of social dance bands and callers which could do with more support. Colin Hume, Joe Hodgson, Carol Hewson, Madeleine Smith, Masquerade, Knotted Chord, Melodic Evil were the headline artists.

The Playford Ball and one of the evenings were extremely well attended (though enough space to dance) but the daytime sessions less well attended. The social dance is next to the camp site so would suit you a treat!

Broadstairs Festival is particularly good for families – the seaside is a family seaside even without the festival activities, unlike Sidmouth. The concert venue has been enlarged so everyone gets in.

Travel by train from the Midlands to Broadstairs was easy: we got there in less than 4 hours with a short walk between Euston and St Pancras meaning we didn’t have to tackle the London Underground.

Letter in the Guardian newspaper, 14 August 2010

Folk revival

Writing about Sidmouth folk festival, Colin Irwin (Review, 11 August) rightly draws attention to the importance of Nic Jones to the folk revival. He also writes: "in a week of impromptu singarounds and spontaneous collaborations, [Jon] Boden's vision of restoring folk as a genuine community music didn't seem so outlandish." My band, Crownstreet, played at Sidmouth. Although the town was taken over by folkies, elderly holidaymakers, families with kids, day trippers and indeed residents were also in evidence. Many of these non-folkies genuinely enjoyed the music - some- times through open club windows; some even joined in free ceilidh dances.

Maybe seaside resorts are where Boden's hoped-for restoration will begin. This Monday we were at Broadstairs. While waiting to play in the festival folk club, we set up in a small public park just off the promenade and started playing. Within minutes, an intrigued audience had formed, the majority holidaymakers and day trippers. Some listened for a while before moving on, but many stayed for the 90 minutes or so we played, applauding and showing interest in our songs, our tunes and our instruments. Some added improvised percussion and we even sold a few CDs! Long live the restoration!

Simon Haines
Colchester, Essex

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