Sidmouth Folk Week 2011, Priddy, Warwick and other festivals - the year of the great sell-out?

2011 was also the year FolkWeek management seemed to take a tougher line towards both traders and stewards.

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2011 was supposed to be the year when the recession and job losses really started to bite.

Hundreds of local and central government staff lost their jobs. Things were equally cheerful in parts of the private sector. Bank Rate stayed at 0.5% and with savers lucky to get 3% gross on their savings - or 1.8% after 40% tax, compared with inflation at 4 or 5%.

So on savings of 1million (not an unusual sum in Sidmouth), net of inflation losses were around 30,000 annually - or 3.40 per hour. Somehow, Sidmouth tickets looked inexpensive!

Yet amidst all this supposed gloom, 2011was also the year when many festivals including Shrewsbury and Priddy sold out well in advance of their scheduled dates - Shrewsbury by a record 3.5 months. Warwick Festival also reported brisk ticket sales.

Later in the year, Sidmouth announced a sell out of its expensive 'All-in-One' tickets and also for several headline concerts. Later still, in mid August 2011, Towersey festival was 'almost sold out' ten days before the event.

Yet other festivals were cancelled - Oxford, Bideford and one in the Mendips, owing to poor advance ticket sales.

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2011 was also notable early in the season for the changes in stewarding arrangements at Sidmouth and for an altogether tougher style of management.

Gone was the co-operation of 2005/6. Many previously loyal people started to question their allegiances - especially after their services as stewards were dispensed with - in my case it seems on the direct orders of the Festival Director! Other more senior stewards including at the campsite and Bulverton marquee were told their services were no longer required - a consequence perhaps of the new stewarding organiser wanting to install 'one of her own people' into key positions.

Despite therefore that 2011 saw many changes (some of them, like the redesign of the Sidmouth website, best forgotten) one of the most potentially serious Health and Safety issues still may not be addressed - meeting recognised fire-protection standards on the official campsite. There are few legal requirements for temporary campsites - just recommendations following from the requirements on permanent sites such as those operated by the Caravan Club.

And in 2011 there was a potentially serious fire incident on the FolkWeek Bulverton campsite.

2011 also saw changes in organisation of artists' accommodation in Sidmouth with Steve Thompson (Chairman of the Sidmouth FolkWeek Charity) pulling out - I was told because of "the way he was treated" by FolkWeek management the previous year. Certainly there were problems with some properties being left in a 'disgusting' condition after having been occupied by artists for a few days. So much for encouraging goodwill amongst the local population!

There was discontent also amongst some of the stalwarts who had assisted for years running the Blackmore Gardens marquee - and getting stewards privileges as a 'thank-you'. It is possible the festival organisers want to 'rent out' the Blackmore Gardens bar area as they already rent the area in the Ham marquee and spaces in the craft tent.

There was one specific example of how Sidmouth FolkWeek management treat people who they consider are no longer of any use. The following images were first published on the internet via Facebook and with a link from the Mudcat folk forum website. Curiously, despite that in past years such a post would have created much comment, there was very little - reflecting perhaps the realisation that 'disloyalty' of any description would no longer be tolerated. Indeed, compared to past years, comment on Sidmouth FolkWeek all but disappeared from public internet forums.

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Some further information can be gleaned from these emails: John Braithwaite is still with Entity - a firm of computer and IT consultants based in Kent. Indeed - he is the Chairman! The same email address appeared earlier in the Sidmouth Press - in Dec 2008.

Sophie Braithwaite does not have an obvious matching profile on Facebook.

lemonadelady2.jpg (164614 bytes) These are some of the immediately accessible comments from Facebook friends of Sally Stamford - who can be seen plying her trade at many folk festivals.

But no longer at Sidmouth!

Some of the comments are ridiculous - in running a 'public' event the organisers have to allow entrance to any member of the public - but they are free to choose who to have as traders and stewards, provided they don't fall foul of race/sex/whatever discrimination legislation. 

One of the few postings on Mudcat in support of 'The Lemonade Lady' was from Lizzie Cornish - who years ago was one of the most voluble on-line commentators and a great supporter of Sidmouth Festival. Some of her previous posts are here and here.

Subject: RE: Sidmouth Folk Week 2011 - Who's going?
From: Lizzie Cornish 1
Date: 30 Jul 11 - 03:59 AM

At the very least, Sally, it would have been 'the right thing' for John to have written to you, apologising for his arrogance and rudeness.

He is in charge of this Festival, and therefore, his behaviour, and attitude, should be beyond reproach towards everyone.

You most certainly don't just discard those who've been at Sidmouth for many years, because you have others now who will willingly pay the recent vast increases in pitch fees without questioning as to why they are having to pay so much more.

Or maybe you do, if your folk week is about money and nothing else. I'd always thought that Sidmouth carried with it a certain amount of loyalty to artists and those who make it what it is, the crafts people, the catering crews, the cool drinks sellers...

Sadly, it seems The Corporate Bastard Attitude has even crept into the world of the folk festival.

I've been reading a few sad reports about why people no longer are attending Cambridge this year too.

Very sad when Greed comes before Loyalty towards all those who make Folk Festivals/Weeks, what they always have been.

I think the harm that has been done over this horrid email is evident, particularly on your FB page where people have left many comments in your support.

You will be greatly missed, Sally, by many of the adults as well as the children, for whom I'm sure, 'The Lemonade Lady' stall in Blackmore Gardens, with its' cooling, fresh lemonade, has always been a very welcome and much loved part of Sidmouth Folk Week.

lizziecornish aug2011.jpg (69973 bytes) Later, on 14 August, Lizzie posted another comment on

It is reproduced here because it is one of the few examples where she has agreed with anything I have said or done.

My own non-selection for Box Office duties seemed to follow directly from the annoyance of John Braithwaite, the Director of Sidmouth FolkWeek, with my having publicly criticised the redesign of the 2011 website - perhaps he is a man who cannot bear genuine and merited criticism!

Yet this pettiness seems to be par for the course at other festivals also - there is a streak of egocentric and macho behaviour in many folk festivals directors. Even at Chippenham, known as one of the best organised and friendliest festivals, one well known dance teacher and caller had the temerity years ago to question the design of either a leaflet or part of the website - and he has never been invited to participate in that festival again. If this seems small minded - consider an example from Sidmouth, again involving John Braithwaite.

I have long argued (including on the Mudcat website) that it doesn't matter if people wish to stay on other local campsites or in B&B accommodation so long as they spend some time and money at the festival - yet the attitude in some discussions has been clearly that information given out about alternatives to the Bulverton campsite was somehow 'disloyal' to FolkWeek.

In 2010, a couple of people asked at the Sidmouth Box Office about the (unofficial) ALPHA festival bus to the Salcombe Regis campsite. John Braithwaite was standing by the door to the Box Office at the time. He muttered darkly - "it's nothing to do with the festival" - clearly expecting me not to provide a helpful answer to the visitors. So I told them all they needed to know - that the bus they wanted stopped at the end of Millford Road. John Braithwaite has probably never forgotten the episode - and neither have I.

Having local people with a good local knowledge in the Box Office and who are able and willing to answer most questions should be considered a positive help - but not at Sidmouth and despite that Salcombe Regis Thorn Park campsite has been involved by way of taking 'over-spill' campers for over 30 years. Some photos of Thorn Park from 2011 are here.

It has been suggested to me that my non-selection as a steward in 2011 and 2012 could have other reasons - that FolkWeek didn't want me to see the transition to a computerised box office (which happened to a small extent in 2011), that they didn't want me to have access to their computer systems and databases (knowing how competent I am with computers) and that they wouldn't want me taking phone calls from irate people who were critical of their new website design, in as much as they had trouble working out ticket prices in 2011. But all that seems far fetched.

The mudcat postings that illustrate all this trouble are reproduced on the next page (see link below).

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