Letter to Gordon Newton dated 20 July 2005 - the important paragraphs relate to the noise level at festival ceilidhs.
Some people avoid Sidmouth's LNE because of the excessive noise level, some do not attend most of the Great Western ceilidhs in Exeter for the same reason, and complaints from residents is always a concern for 'in-town' festivals. At Sidmouth 2005, Gordon Newton was adamant he did not want to upset local people - so why were the noise levels once again so high? In 2004, the local Boots store apparently sold out of ear plugs!
The Stone Shop
SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK
We spoke recently about your plans and in particular the circumstances that led to you taking over the LNE. You mentioned that you were hoping to create a 'mini-festival' at Bulverton, in effect to fill the day as well as the evening. I have some reservations about this - I hope you do not mind if I share them with you, even at this late stage. I have discussed with a few local 'folkies' also.
As you know, Bulverton has been used mainly for the LNE since the Bowd marquee was abandoned some years ago to save costs. This led to more than a few complaints about it (Bulverton) being just too crowded for LNE dancing - and most of the music was far too loud. However, these are side issues. Daytime events have comprised 'specialised' workshops and audiences have tended to be 'small and select' - in effect you needed a good reason to trek north in the middle of the day with so much else going on in town.
This year, with fewer people attending from overseas (both performers and paying visitors) and with some UK devotees having decided long ago to book their summer holiday elsewhere, overall numbers will be lower and the social mix may be skewed away from the 'free spending' overseas and casual tourists. Incidentally, this would concern me if I had taken a trade stand to sell expensive 'tourist' merchandise such as scented candles!
Thus, I have concerns about numbers attending some of the 'marginal' events including those you may be planning for Bulverton. Attendees this year may be more 'session' folkies and concertgoers. Some social dancers decided long ago that the Ray Goodswen venues were not for them. I just don't know about numbers here.
The feeling I have is of an ever-larger number of events being put on - aiming to fill every venue at all times of the day - and yet with an uncertain number of ticket sales, especially if the weather is poor and 'day trippers' stay away. The other factor here is the lack this year (as I understand it) of the large festival car park mid-way between the Arena and Bulverton. This may hamper day-trippers. There is no mention of it in the programme leaflet that was issued some time ago and it is not on the folk week map.
I can appreciate your desire to make the most use of Bulverton but even in its new location the LNE may not be attended very well (if only because of the cost this year when it has always been regarded as an 'extra' thrown in with a season ticket) and daytime events could be less well attended. Against this, you could pick up some 'casual' LNE trade because this year you do not need a season ticket to get in. However, this is in itself a cause for concern. In past years there have been attempts to 'gatecrash' the LNE venue by people wanting a late night thrash around - these people not being card-carrying folkies. This year, with the Caribbean Night not happening, there may be an unwelcome element of local youth buying into some nights.
I know you are taking more of a risk with the LNE than with the Ham and I would not wish to see you lose further by 'overstretching' the number of events having to be financed. I might be wrong (and I hope I am) but trudging up to Bulverton in the rain to sit with ten other people is not everyone's idea of a festival.
Finally, we discussed the noise level at dances and ceilidhs. At Bulverton you can be deafened - to what real effect other than to annoy the few local people who leave their windows open so they can have something to complain about? At Bridgnorth in 2004 I had several conversations with other stewards about this because we had to keep windows shut (in the heat) because of possible complaints from nearby housing. Yet most people were agreed that the problem was being made worse than it need be by the so called 'sound engineers' who appeared to believe that unless people were deafened they were failing in their duties.
Sometimes solutions are staring people in the face - just turn it down. Most dancers will be grateful, Boots will sell fewer earplugs, the neighbours will be placated and a few windows can be left open so we can breathe as well as hear ourselves talk.
I have sent in my Stewards application form for work prior to the week but Alan White tells me he has plenty of volunteers already. If you have a last minute panic on anything and need a local pair of hands, let me know.
I am sending this the old fashioned way because I dont know your email address.
Regards - and good luck.
Dr Stephen J Wozniak
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