Comments and opinions from folkies on the crisis facing the Sidmouth Festival.
Gripes corner, cynics rectangle, and other geometry
A frequent 'cynical' observation is that part of what is wrong with Sidmouth is that it has gone too far in the direction of being centred upon 'star' acts. The need to pay high fees has driven the organisers to try and recoup as much money as possible and this in turn has led to bad feeling. Gripes about amateur teams not being made welcome any more are also common.
Paying £5 to go into the festival market is outrageous, so I go after 5pm. The traders are not happy. Last year I overheard one saying "It must be 5-o-clock we've got customers". The whole ethos of Sidmouth comes across as being about taking money and greed on the part of the organisers. This may be wrong but that's how it appears.
I much prefer when the foreign teams (including the local "foreign" teams) are dedicated amateurs, for whom it's a holiday, in which they stay the whole week and rough it like most of the festival goers, rather than professionals dropping in for another gig on a frantic tour.
I'd like to see the festival as it changes move away from the show-biz emphasis that has started to creep in over the years.
Sidmouth lost its charm when the current management took over and stopped inviting the majority of English Folk teams, and subsequently dropped folk from the title.
There may not be such a thing as a free lunch but many folk are not looking for one. But shouldn't you be able to sing and then eat your own sandwiches on the seafront, without someone expecting payment.
If you follow some of the trade stalls, their prices are 25% more at Sidmouth than they are at Towersey, and being the end of the season is not the reason, because they are 25% cheaper at Chippenham and that's the beginning of the season!
There doesn't seem to be a Chamber of Trade in Sidmouth, maybe they need one, and perhaps this is the sort of issue that could get one set up. They need our custom, and the custom of the people we draw to the town.
I suspect the festival pumps a huge amount of money into the local economy but the local economy does not repay anything back into the festival. Remember they all like our money but they don't like folkies.
Insurance - ALL insurance policies have exploded in the last 2-3 years, regardless of what you are insuring, it's not a great deal to do with Al Q'eeda, but more to do with the litigious society we are now entering into. When you can sue a "restaurant" for selling you a cup of hot coffee and not telling you it was hot, or that it would be stupid to put it between your legs whilst driving, then what do you expect?
The cynic in me is thinking....Towersey makes a lot of money...is Sidmouth a tax loss?
If you have a campus-type festival, where everything happens on a field, like Cambridge, everybody coming pays towards the cost. But when you have it distributed around a town, with a fringe that is so big and varied that you can have a great time without buying any tickets at all, a lot of people are not going to buy the tickets.
How about selling tickets to get into Sidmouth? We could have road blocks, where anyone going anywhere near Sidmouth is hauled out of their cars and all their money is forcibly taken from them? That should generate enough money keep the festival going for a few years. To me, the Festival Press Release sounds like scare mongering to try and get a more visible backer. Hope it works. Mind you, if it doesn't, maybe we can go back to the sort of festival it was when I first went in 1989, when it seemed much friendlier and more musical.
The fringe may not have happened in Sidmouth without the commercial festival but this fringe can certainly continue, should the current organisers finally pull-out. As they have been threatening to do - it seems - every recent year.
I do tire of these threats and this brinkmanship. We must accept that the private concern that runs the current affair (and appears to wish to charge everyone for breathing in the Sidmouth air, for that week) - can pull the plug and walk away at any time. And as a private company, they face many risks other than the issue here. Losses in other ventures may cause them to go bust - this could cause the festival to cease at any time.
Get back to the roots most people that appeared at Sidmouth twenty years ago, stayed the week, treated it as a holiday, and didn't screw the organisers. Now most song events by established performers are simply a quick breeze into Sidmouth, do the show, take the money and scarper.
The crucial word about any future trust fund, is the word trust. If they (Mrs Casey's Music) get want they want this time, are the current organisers to be trusted not to come up with some other threat in the future. If I were a local business or councillor I might be wary of giving in to this public demand, and be concerned about the form the next blackmail attempt may take.
Sidmouth has 3 problems.
It's in the wrong place. It's a pain in the neck for most people to get to.
The weather is horrible. Every year. Move it somewhere warmer.
The campsite is bollocks. Who really wants to sleep at a 45 degree angle?
Broadstairs, which is a week later is always warm and sunny - still a pain to get to, but a damn sight nearer London. The campsite is flat. Broadstairs is getting bigger every year.
I love Sidmouth Festival to bits - but the place is rubbish. You can't park anywhere for love or money. At Broadstairs, everywhere is walking distance from the campsite.
I really do think that a change of location could solve a lot of problems for Sidmouth. There must be other festivals that run for a week and make a profit? Anyone know any figures for Whitby?
next page of comments
next main page of the folk section
back to top of section
back to home page