Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2006 - observations on this new festival and comparisons with Sidmouth Folk Week.

page in draft form: comments from residents and attendees welcome email here

Important note: This webpage records events during the one year when Shrewsbury Folk Festival was located at two sites close to the town centre. For 2007 and onwards, it is planned to be situated at the West Midlands showground, just outside the town. This large flat site should make the festival much easier to manage and reduce the scope for complaints about infrastructure. However, the event will become more of a 'ring fenced festival' rather than a predominately 'in-town' experience, such as is enjoyed at Sidmouth.

The organisers moved remarkably quickly to secure the new location - an indication perhaps of the number of problems that occurred in 2006. There were some complaints late in 2006 about noise from other events held at the West Midlands ground. The local council discussed these early in 2007. Shrewsbury is no stranger to complaints about noise - at least one resident moved house because of the number of events being staged at the Quarry - one of the festival venues in 2006. Her experiences are here.

Shrewsbury Festival seems set to expand further and, as has been stated elsewhere, it is certainly 'one to watch'. This page is being retained as a historical record of what happened in 2006 - a year to remember! It also highlights some of the problems that occur at too many folk festivals - and many of them (including excessive noise levels) are avoidable!  

welcomesign.JPG (33827 bytes)   outofuse.JPG (23475 bytes)

Two signs that came to symbolise the first Shrewsbury folk festival - it retained the welcoming atmosphere of Bridgnorth but there were problems with the infrastructure - and not a few disgruntled attendees. The problems all had minor causes and are unlikely to be allowed to recur.

Shrewsbury Folk Festival was held for the first time over the late August bank holiday in 2006. In previous years, a festival had been held at nearby Bridgnorth. It became recognised as one of the 'best value' events of its type. However, problems with a few of the natives, an increasingly obstructive local council (so I am told) and limited space for camping, all conspired to encourage the organisers to look elsewhere.

Leaving aside for now small matters of economic analysis, use of public resources and the incompetence of some parts of the festival organisation (and some inept local officials), Shrewsbury Folk Festival promises to become an exemplar of how local government and festival organisers can work together. Whether the marriage survives past the honeymoon period remains to be seen!

The motto of Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council is 'Striving for Excellence'. There was certainly some of that spirit in evidence. More details are given below. Opposition to the festival was led by some of the local natives from 'Millionaires Row' - the expensive houses that overlook the River Severn as it winds around this picturesque and obviously wealthy town. They were apparently busy organising a petition to have the great unwashed of the folk world removed from their beloved local parkland - even before they had experienced the event. Little did they know that 'unwashed' would be a more than usually accurate description!

dingle3.JPG (86697 bytes)

"Who are all these dreadful people?" asked one incredulous blue-rinsed lady as I was busy telling her equally voluble and indignant husband that there was restricted access to their beloved public park - of which The Dingle (pictured above) is a treasured emblem of polite society. Another lady remonstrated "All I want to do is walk to work". The folk festival may have to rethink closing off the Quarry site to pedestrians - but closing off the entire park for the Shrewsbury Festival of Flowers seems to cause no sense of outrage.

Many other locals simply stared in bemusement at all the tents, marquees and caravans - minimal pre-festival press coverage meant that they had no prior knowledge of what had descended upon the town.

The festival organisers apparently expected the change of venue from Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury to result in a 5% loss of attendees. In the event 30% more turned up, events were sold out well before the festival began and camping space may need to be further extended next year. It is certainly an event to be watched. But what a pity the ceilidh dancing was generally to such a poor standard!

Food stalls at Shrewsbury - how to keep folkies happy?

One of the enduringly popular features of folk festivals is the range of 'unusual' foods that are often on offer. Olives stuffed with unusual substances, odour free garlic balls (!) and expensive hand made fudges compete for ones attention - as do bacon sandwiches and Mexican or Caribbean dishes. It is all a part of the 'family day out' that this type of festival encourages. The stalls are an essential part of out-of-town or 'green field' festivals, a welcome adjunct to festivals that take place primarily on the edges of towns (as in Shrewsbury) and yet can be viewed as unwelcome competition within town-centre festivals such as Sidmouth. You couldn't fit all the following selection of food outlets onto the Ham at Sidmouth - but it's a tempting thought.

foodcarib.JPG (12663 bytes)      foodlemon.JPG (8133 bytes)

foodpotato.JPG (11793 bytes)      foodgeorgio.JPG (9610 bytes)            

foodmexican.JPG (29017 bytes)

foodnobones.JPG (22307 bytes)

foodnuts.JPG (13062 bytes)   foodolives.JPG (22082 bytes)

At Shrewsbury there was a good selection of daytime food available at both camping sites but late night food at the main County Ground only - which caused some complaints.

Campsite organisation - a few calculations and a tape measure would have helped!

cgsitearrival.JPG (18554 bytes)

The main County Ground (cricket club) site. Flat, well drained and ideal for camping, it can be covered by several feet of water if the River Severn floods - but not in summertime! As a bonus there were fixed showers and WCs.


poplarisland2.JPG (21468 bytes)

The adjoining Poplar Island site was less welcoming with undulating land and rough cut grass. Intended primarily for camping(?) it had to accommodate caravans as space ran out on the main festival sites.

cgsiteoverview2.JPG (27437 bytes)

Attendees generally parked within the designated bays leaving roadways clear for fire access and exit purposes. However the units were closer together than would be allowed on permanent caravan sites.


cgsiteoverview3.JPG (20984 bytes)

Caravans and tents stretched as far as the eye could see. On the County Ground I was told there were over 900 outfits and 2300 people - and maybe a few hundred non-paying campers because access was so easy on foot.

There were always bound to be a a few problems in relocating the festival to Shrewsbury. In the event, there were several problems with the infrastructure but these resulted from a few failures to anticipate how systems would cope with a large number of attendees. Therefore, there should be no repetition next year.

tempbridge.JPG (26163 bytes)

tempbridge3.JPG (28501 bytes)

Rapidly put into place and with new fence posts and a new gate - the web address says it all. This was the entrance into the 'overflow' camping site on Poplar Island.

Senior stewards all stressed that the Borough Council had been extremely accommodating in encouraging the festival to relocate. During the festival, council officials were walking around the sites talking to stewards and attendees with the aim of ensuring that any problems that could not be sorted out immediately were resolved in good time for 2007. One example was the provision of free showers and toilet facilities for festival attendees in the swimming pool complex near to the Quarry site - and including on Bank Holiday Monday.

The most obvious problem was overcrowding of the camping sites. This had two principal causes - the larger than expected number of attendees and the fact that so many of them had large caravans and especially large tents (and gazebos!) that occupied a substantial area of ground. The council's response was twofold. Even before the festival had ended it apparently indicated that the organisers could make use of council mapping facilities so that the land could be marked out into allocated pitches perhaps of different sizes in order that people might be charged on a square metre basis. This apparently already happens at the Cambridge Festival. They also have indicated that another field (or two!?) could be made available if the festival wishes to expand.

However, a year of consolidation may be more advisable, given that some of the 'caravan club' type campers may not return next year (whatever promises are made about improved infrastructure). Also, a number of other competing festivals are held over the same weekend which would restrict the number of genuine 'folkies' attending and maybe decrease the ratio of folkies to day-trippers. As indicated below, this may have already caused problems with the quality of the ceilidh dancing.

It has also been blamed in some 'folkie' circles for the previous campsite at Bridgnorth being covered in litter during the last few years (say 2002 to 2005) - genuine folkies being people who would "often leave a site tidier than when they arrived". There was little problem at Shrewsbury - litter picking teams operated throughout the festival. In Sidmouth, most of the litter and almost all of the drunken and loutish behaviour now seen in Folk Week can be blamed squarely on non-folkies. The general problem here is that as 'folk festivals' seek to maximise income to stay solvent, they may attract elements of the population who give the whole event a bad name.

However, the major problems in expanding at Shrewsbury may not be camping sites but the areas of reasonably flat land available for marquees on the Quarry site and that fact that even in its first year, all major events were sold out almost before the festival began. Also, sound from the main marquee (which was often arguably too loud) carried into the second (smaller) marquee and there is hardly space for a third.

In 2006, it seemed that most of the town had little idea what was going on. In subsequent years, many more local people may try to attend. So maybe book your 'family day out' tickets sooner rather than later!

The other problems on the main campsite centred upon inadequate infrastructure and especially the number of toilets and showers. In fact, these might have proved almost adequate had it not been for a a few simple plumbing design problems within the pavilion. So many problems resulted from these that the county ground almost took on the air of a long running farce with many people treating the absence of working facilities as a part of their festival experience.

Many others complained rudely and often at length to festival stewards and campsite wardens. Although the complaints were (perhaps) understandable, the wardens were doing everything in their power to rectify problems and did not deserve to be treated with contempt. At least one steward stopped wearing his badge when 'off duty' - he said he was getting so much flak from disgruntled punters around the main marquee.

Few if any of the complainants were likely to be seasoned 'folkies' - most of whom would have experienced similar problems on other sites (Towersey?!). They were more likely to be the 'caravan club' type of people who complain if a blade of grass is out of place on their pitch or (perish the thought) that a whiff of the countryside has permeated their air conditioned 100,000 palace on wheels. (Such people do exist!).

One man apparently berated the campsite warden at length and threatened to "go and see Trading Standards tomorrow" on the grounds that "this is not what I was promised and not what I paid for". A steward commented wryly "He'll have a job, it's bank holiday tomorrow, they'll be shut!"

A camping pass for the County Ground or the Quarry site cost 6 per adult for the entire four days. What was he expecting? Sidmouth Folk Week camping costs 40 per week and the mud and appalling showers are legendary.

One folkie walking around on the Shrewsbury County Ground in her bare feet summed it up:

This isn't Lebanon, we haven't seen our kids blown to pieces, we're not starving to death, so what the **** is all the fuss about?

showerblock.JPG (29050 bytes)

Calculations for gas and water usage are here

Inside, the Portakabin shower block looked like something out of a luxury bathroom catalogue compared to the types of facilities that are often available at folk festivals. 10/10 for effort.

There were individual cubicles, sliding glass doors, fluorescent lighting, and wall mounted hot air heaters that could also be used as a hair dryer. 10/10 for design.

Unfortunately this luxury unisex facility was out of action for much of the festival owing to two unrelated but easily foreseen problems. So 2/10 for achievement.

The twin gas boilers probably had an output of about 50 kW. In all, a very neat system.

The first problem was that the entire water or supply for drinking purposes and for the block of five showers had been arranged via a single 15 mm diameter pipe. Whenever people used the taps to fill their drinking water containers the water pressure to the shower units reduced to such a low level that showering became impossible. There was also a suggestion that the water pressure to the building was low owing to an underground leak.

A potentially more serious problem was that all the waste water from the shower block had for some reason not been piped into one of the nearby drains but into a large tank which more usually would have been used to accommodate toilet or other waste.

bluetank.JPG (26365 bytes)

Calculations for gas and water usage are here

It can be calculated that this 800 gallon tank would fill after around 90 showers (or after around 5 hours of full time use) - and indeed this proved to be the case.

Unfortunately, over the bank holiday no one could be found to empty it! The tank therefore overflowed, saturating the main grass roadway. Given that some people were emptying the contents of their caravan toilets into the tank, there was a potential health problem.

An identical tank at the opposite end of the site was designated for toilet waste - which may have added to the confusion.

The plumbing farce was exacerbated because all the water being taken for drinking or being used within the new shower block resulted in the main storage tank within the roof of the pavilion becoming depleted. This led to the fixed toilets and showers inside the pavilion ceasing to function. As valiant efforts were made to understand how the plumbing system would react to various changes of use, the luxury shower block was put temporarily out of use in order to allow the other systems time to recuperate. However, the warden did not have a key to lock it up, so it continued to be used, presumably by people who could not read the large CLOSED sign.

waterbutts.JPG (28994 bytes) Unfortunately, the problems were not confined to the pavilion area of the site.

Large plastic water tanks had been installed near to the Poplar Island. These were initially labelled as drinking water, despite the fact that some of the containers were also labelled to the effect that they were not to be used for drinking water.

suckesstanker.JPG (36488 bytes) Later, this was corrected but then it was found that the tanker from a company called (appropriately!) SUCK CESS supplying the 'drinking water' was not in fact suitable for this purpose.

Notices were hurriedly stuck on the remaining tanks to the effect that all water should be boiled before use.

An operative is shown here refilling the 'drinking water' tanks from a hose attached to the back of his tanker.

Needless to say, most people soon made the trek to the pavilion to obtain their drinking water supplies directly from the mains - which further exacerbated the lack of supply for the shower blocks and toilets.

There were additional problems with the inadequate number of temporary chemical toilets supplied on site but these arose (and need not be further described!) probably only because the fixed toilet blocks had been put out of use.

During the festival, the council promised to sort out all the plumbing problems in the pavilion ready for 2007. It may be that the provision of a couple of Portakabin unisex shower blocks together with one or two similar toilet blocks with proper waste disposal (taken to a nearby permanent sewer) would resolve all of the problems on the site, and without the need for many chemical toilets. On the Knowle Arena site at Sidmouth, which sometimes accommodated over 6000 people, provision of a few Portakabin type toilet blocks plumbed into mains water and mains drainage proved adequate, albeit they were used so heavily they could have been cleaned rather more frequently.

Upgrading the heat exchange system in the pavilion at Shrewsbury could be a costly exercise - and it is the heat exchanger rather than the boiler capacity that could be a problem. At Towersey, the festival has apparently paid for a new system in the Rugby Club, so showers should now be available for longer than the half hour per day that has been routine for so many years. (Information on this upgrade was obtained from a girl who said she was a long serving member of the Towersey Bog Squad!).   

There are only about 20 fixed public toilets for either sex in the whole of central Sidmouth (check this figure) - together with a similar number (?) in pubs and restaurants, and Folk Week can see over 10,000 people in the town. Facilities at the swimming pool are not available 'foc' to folkies and the St John Ambulance boosted its income in 2006 by opening genuine WCs as an alternative to the single chemical toilet placed in the Blackmore Gardens. People willingly gave a donation to use a clean and 'proper' toilet.

It would be a pity if the problems this year at Shrewsbury persuaded the organisers to overspend next year. A few queues hardly matter - provided the facilities are clean and work properly when you get to them. The usual marginal cost benefit analysis should apply. Providing sufficient facilities so that there were never any queues would be a waste of festival money. But ensuring that heavily used facilities are adequately serviced is essential.

Dance marquee Health and Safety: slippery floors and fire exits

Grand Union are a most danceable band - what a pity the first night was such a disappointment. I forget whether it was before the first dance or three seconds into it that I first became aware of the appallingly slippery surface of the dance marquee floor. Most mental effort was not given to the dancing but to re-orientating oneself after each incipient fall.

After a few collisions and near misses I spoke both to the caller, Dave Hunt, and to Sue Barker - the ceilidh co-ordinator. Dave Hunt said that it was really not his job to intervene and Sue Barker said that yes, she was aware of the condition of the floor and that she was hoping it would improve with use!

Accomplished dancers from Flash Company experienced problems with the floor during their Molly Dance workshop. Some of their routines had had to be curtailed for safety reasons.

I spoke to Sue Barker again and told her that this was a safety issue that needed to be addressed - and soon. Other people remarked upon the condition of the floor especially near its edges. Next day (Saturday) when I brought some other issue to Sue Barker's attention she said that "it's on its way", referring to dispatch of an appropriate compound with which to treat the floor.

Another festival organiser said that there were two standard remedies, one was to spread rosin over the floor, the other was to spray it with a solution of some compound which dried rapidly to leave a slightly sticky surface.

Why were these standard remedies not already available on site? Later, a white powder was spread on the floor prior to the next ceilidh. Jokes were made by the caller about it being Vim - and that this would invigorate the dances! At the time I regarded this as a play on words. Later still I saw someone actually spreading powder from a Vim container.

There must be some question as to whether this abrasive and irritant cleaning compound was in fact used on a dance floor on which young children were scurrying around during the intervals, seeing how far they could slide, and getting the compound on their clothes, feet and hands and possibly into their eyes. Health and Safety anyone?

However, perhaps the most telling aspect of the saga is not the apparent indifference of the organisers towards a few twisted ankles (or worse) but the comments made by a Health and Safety official from the local council. This person apparently inspected the dance fall and determined that in her expert opinion people were walking onto the floor with small quantities of grass and moisture on their feet! She thought that this could make it very slippery. Her views were relayed to me by a lady who was apparently in charge of the marquee. I told her that I had never before heard anything so stupid, even from a local government official.

Dance floors in marquees routinely have people walking onto them from wet grass. They have condensation dripping from marquee roofs. Floors that are inherently satisfactory do not suddenly become dangerously slippery unless they get a lot of water on them. If they are varnished or waxed inappropriately they can be lethal - wet or dry.

It would be helpful if Health and Safety officials deployed to dance venues are first instructed on some of the factors that can affect safety on a dance floor:

(1) a slippery surface should be treated with a standard remedy before dancing commences

(2) ridges where adjoining sheets of wood are not properly aligned

(3) protruding nails and screws

(4) protruding ground stakes (these are used to prevent sideways movement of the assembled floor sections)

(5) people who move chairs into fire exit zones and sit there with pushchairs

(6) stewards who do nothing about item (5) even when asked to do so and

(7) people who smoke in marquees

(8) people who walk across dance floors spilling beer

(9) overcrowding.

To this standard list might be added people who spread irritant substances such as Vim.

Once these junior officials have learnt the basics and how to apply them, might they perhaps be worth a small fraction of their substantial salaries? In addition, mandatory and entirely farcical announcements about the positioning of fire exits (telling adults how to walk out of an open door?) might be viewed with less derision if more important and entirely obvious management and H&S issues had received even scant attention.

The economics of success?

It has become apparent in recent years that many folk festivals may no longer be viable if health and safety and related costs continue to increase. The same is true for carnivals and even egg and spoon races in schools. H&S and other increasing 'fixed' costs was a major factor cited in respect of Sidmouth and the demise of of the International Festival.

Another cost that threatens to get out of hand is security - both for providing full perimeter campsite fencing (as at Sidmouth) and SIA 'qualified' security staff. During the years of the Sidmouth International Festival camping was expensive and much prized - perimeter security had to be substantial in order to deter casual (non-paying) campers and casual thieves. The latter problem has become more a concern recently (2006) with the advent of organised gangs who apparently buy season tickets to festivals to steal from tents. This was highlighted at Sidmouth in one of the Folk Week handouts:

scan in here

However at Bridgnorth the security was minimal - as discussed here - and the same casual approach was adopted at Shrewsbury in 2006 with tents pitched close to public footpaths. There seemed to be few if any problems. At night-time, a few security staff patrolled in fluorescent jackets (so any thieves could see clearly where they were?). Their walkie talkies blared out at full volume (why no ear pieces?) again presumably to ensure that thieves were never encountered. As for the site notices warning of 'dog patrols', I did once see a security man with two overgrown puppies out for their evening walk. Any passer-by might have been at risk of being licked to death. The serious point is that all this mandatory employment of often ineffective people costs money.  

bluefence2.JPG (56084 bytes) The long perimeter along the River Severn was fenced with easily scalable plastic mesh.

It might (just) have prevented small children wandering into the river (except where there were large gaps!) but it was no deterrence at all to the light-fingered.

The footpath alongside was used by anglers. If this was at Sidmouth, the entire perimeter would be surrounded by 2 metre high steel mesh fencing (and probably floodlit!).

The campsite at Sidmouth is still 'ring fenced' at considerable cost despite the whole festival now being less attractive to 'folkies' but arguably increasingly attractive to non-folkie unruly elements because of the Bulverton early evening events. Chippenham has no site security on its main caravan park - it is fully open to the public - but the regimented rows of expensive camper vans and caravans (no tents allowed) leads to a soulless atmosphere (and with hardly any litter!). Tents are concentrated in a smaller campsite that is better protected.

There has been some discussion recently about the benefits to a town or region during folk festivals. Some of the claims have been patently absurd. In particular, the claim was made that the Sidmouth International Festival brought 6 million into the East Devon region.

At Bridgnorth, the festival paid the Oldbury School 5,000 per year for use of buildings and land. I was told that all the land owned by Shrewsbury council was provided to the festival in 2006 at a minimal or zero rent - but I was also told that Oldbury had been paid 40,000 per year (a gross overestimate!).

quarrymarquee1closeup.JPG (32252 bytes) On a grey morning after a damp night, the main marquee looks forlorn - and so do the few people who have bothered to get out of bed.

Seating around 1400, it needs a substantial area of land because of all the guy ropes, in contrast to the 'clear span' designs used at Sidmouth.

The marquee was not without its operating problems - overcrowding, disgruntled punters, sound levels that were too high and poor quality sound.

It is rumoured that an independent economic analysis of the Bridgnorth festival was undertaken for the organisers and that this claimed a figure of over 2 million as the input to the town by virtue of having the festival located there over a long weekend. At first sight, this figure seems to be as ridiculous as the 6 million figure quoted for the week-long Sidmouth festival in East Devon. It would be interesting to see exactly how it was calculated. It is also rumoured that local businessmen in Bridgnorth are trying to set up an alternative festival weekend to help regain some of the benefits to the town.

Certainly, it was the case that many people visiting the Shrewsbury festival only came to spend money within the Quarry site. Many shops in town were closed during the bank holiday period despite that they were the type that would have interested visitors. Also, many campers brought most of their suppliers with them and barely ventured into the town except into one (or more!) of the pubs and occasionally into the Somerfield supermarket. An analysis of supermarket takings in Sidmouth is on this page.

There are two distinct and opposing views of how local councils should aid the funding of events such as folk festivals that have appeal to a relatively small section of the community. It can be argued that as a part of increasing the profile of a tourist-oriented region a subsidy is public money well spent. Alternatively it can be argued (and often is argued by irate taxpayers) that public money should not be used to subsidise what are in effect private events and that council (public) facilities should only be rented out at their market value.

The argument that 'festivals bring money into the town' might be true for a few traders but it is not the traders who primarily pay for the local council - it is the residents.

Sidmouth Folk Festival has always been characterised by land and facilities only being made available at market rates. One substantial difference between Shrewsbury and Sidmouth is that the former is controlled by a wealthy borough council whereas in Sidmouth there is a town council that owes allegiance to the town (and to the local Tory Party!) and a District Council that owns land and facilities but that owes allegiance to a much wider area (and to the local Tory Party!) and no particular allegiance to any one town.

It will be interesting to see how the arguments are developed in Shrewsbury if indeed the formative antagonism towards the festival that has been shown already by a number of residents continues to ferment.

It's the little things that people remember!

On the last day of the festival a small car passed me at some speed on the main County Ground camping site. Distinctive noises emanated from its flat rear tyre. I managed to catch up with the car. The driver said she would park outside and deal with it there. Having other things to do, I gallantly left her to it.

Later, I saw the same car with the entire camping contents having been removed to extract the spare tyre. Two council employees who were either on car park duties or maybe attending the festival camp site for some other purpose had changed the wheel. I reiterated my surprise that the driver hadn't noticed the problem when she had loaded up the car.

"Oh, it was in the long grass so I probably didn't see it".

One of the council men took me to task. Why should she have noticed that the tyre was flat, he enquired, there was nothing wrong with most of it. It was just the bit at the bottom that was flat. The rest of it was perfectly all right! Her two or three small children were too young to appreciate the humour.

I doubt whether in many areas of the country you could meet a couple of more cheerful and helpful council employees who were prepared probably to disobey Health and Safety legislation in order to assist a hapless motorist. Were these two men qualified under the 1998 Wheel Nut and Bolt Tightening Regulations (as amended 2002, 2005)? Was their vehicle displaying an up to date certificate? Was the area cordoned off while the work was being undertaken so as to protect members of the public? Did they have authorisation to work so close to young children?

policewheelchange.jpg (29882 bytes)

You couldn't really make it up could you? This letter is from the Daily Telegraph of 8 September 2006.

However, what could have been a nasty accident on a busy road turned into a happy event that the lady will probably remember. It seemed to epitomise the whole spirit of friendly co-operation that for years was the hallmark of the Bridgnorth festival and that Shrewsbury Council seem so keen to encourage.

One can almost imagine the response to such a situation within East Devon District Council. Rules and Regulations and Health and Safety would be quoted as reasons why absolutely nothing could be done to help - even if the employees had bothered to get involved at all. An example of their attitude, which may not be entirely typical, is given here.

Ceilidh dancing. What a disappointment! But what to do about it?

The dancing at Bridgnorth was enjoyable in 2004. So what went wrong in 2006 at Shrewsbury? The bands and callers were fine but so many of the (sometimes few) people who attended simply didn't know how to dance.

Grand Union were in good form on the Friday night, the dance floor was atrocious, the venue was poorly attended, local(?) youngsters didn't know how to dance (and showed little willingness to learn) and very few proper dance sets could be made up. It was a hugely disappointing start to the weekend. Dave Hunt did his best and even risked his new troublesome hip to demonstrate some moves on the floor. But it was all to little avail.

On the Saturday at lunchtime, the John Dipper band were 'ok' - I wouldn't say more than that. Sue Barker was clear enough as a caller and tried to be enthusiastic but the event lacked sparkle. Once again there were relatively few good dancers in the venue.

Saturday evening saw the first of two ceilidhs by Monsieur Pantin with Michael Catovsky calling. Both were new to me, the calling was clear but lacked much atmosphere and the band were fine, except why these days do we have so many hop step dances? The primary fault (again) was the poor quality of many of the dancers. Some local 'yoof' showed no inclination to learn and were a menace especially on the slippery floor. In my scribbled notes I wrote "Good ceilidh dancers would have driven miles to be somewhere else. The whole evening was unforgettably appalling". Such a standard would be unheard of at Sidmouth, Chippenham or Towersey.

Sunday saw another ceilidh with Monsieur Pantin and Michael Catovsky. This was much better, albeit poorly attended. Instruction in some European dances was clear but rushed and with little time to get things right (or more often, wrong) before moving on to yet another unusual dance. This combination of band and caller could have merited a couple of hours longer and with an additional 30 or 40 good dancers on the floor.

Sunday evening featured a sometimes exasperated Martin Harvey with the Woodpecker band. Again, no problem with the caller or the band (except too loud as usual) but it never got to the standard of Sidmouth or Chippenham. By this time, some of the better dancers were asking themselves if it was ever going to get better.

Well, it did get better - much better - but not until the last ceilidh of the weekend on Monday lunchtime. John Kirkpatrick with Mr Gubbin's Bicycle produced a ceilidh to remember - and with some dances that were new to many attendees. One factor was the absence of 'yoof'. Another was the presence of many members of the dance teams who maybe had been too busy with their own routines during the weekend to attend the previous ceilidhs. If only the festival could have started with such a standard and got better as the weekend progressed!

Improvements for this aspect of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival may be difficult. A safe dance floor would have helped (but not much). Providing rigorous (not playtime) pre-ceilidh instruction for a couple of hours to 'yoof' and older inexperienced dancers (maybe as a condition of attending the ceilidhs) would have been useful (as it would be at other festivals) but the primary factor was simply the absence of good ceilidh dancers.

One girl summed up the insoluble problem: "They're all at Towersey".

Shrewsbury Folk Festival Photographs - plenty of colour, plenty of rain and lots for the children to do. And all major events sold out!

If it is colourful folkie photos you are seeking, try these links. Hundreds of pictures and only two of the first ceilidh - which may say something about priorities at this festival!

If anyone has any ceilidh photos they can let me have please email (see link on home page) (obtained via mudcat) (mainly Morris dancers; obtained via mudcat)

Floods in Shrewsbury - some photos in an EA publication - pdf file (461 kB, 2 minutes on a slow modem)

Postscript - added 9 December 2006. Once again Shrewsbury was in the news for flooding as the River Severn was swelled by heavy rain in the Welsh hills. The Frankwell car park, adjacent to the County Ground, was several feet under water. These pictures from the Shropshire Star of 8 Dec 2006. A large number of cars were submerged.

frankwelldec06.jpg (48642 bytes)    frankwelldec062.jpeg (59506 bytes)

next page

back to top of section

back to home page