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“No Sleep ‘Til Sidmouth” screams David Owen’s iconic artwork. “No Sleep At Sid- mouth” I might be inclined to reply, but only with good intention. We wait all year long for the fun and freedom of the festival sea- son, why would we want to contemplate sleep when there’s so much going on? For 16 hours a day for a whole week, organised con- certs, sessions, singarounds, dances, talks and workshops spill out of every available space in this sunny seaside town on the South Devon coast. If you factor in all the ad hoc music-making on top of that (an impromptu tune session by the Saduto Lithuanian Folk Dance & Song Group in full costume on the top decker of the festival bus one morning was a great example), it’s little wonder we’re so happily knackered by the end of it. And how do we show our appreciation for such a wealth of folk extravaganzas? We take the humble art of queuing to extreme lengths.

Snaking down the hill from the Bulverton Marquee, several bodies thick and almost to the road, the queue to see Bellowhead was already at epic proportions 45 minutes before the support act was due on. Bellowhead arrived all guns blazing and played a stonking set from their new album to a heaving crowd baying for more. But not every Sidmouth event was so predictable. Outside the same tent 24 hours earlier and you’d never have known that one of the most-hyped gigs of the festival was about to take place. There was no queue and when the support act walked on there was virtually no audience either. A glance around the bar and the outside seating area though, revealed a discerning gathering of those in the know, including fans from the band’s previous incarnation and many of today’s young stars of the folk scene, plus oth- ers who’d just come along for the ride.

For a band who last performed together in 1998, the mighty Cordelia’s Dad were on great form. Regrettably, the same couldn’t be said for the sound man and his desk of tricks who successfully buried Tim Eriksen and Cath Tyler’s hair-raising vocals during the acoustic set – despite moving renditions of Katie Cruel, You Drowsy Sleeper, Granite Mills and Return Again from The Sacred Harp – and couldn’t cope with the volume during the electric set, allowing Eriksen a meagre 1.5 on guitar. Still, the punk rock spark was alive and kicking as the band went electric and drowned out audi- ence chatter with thrumming grunge guitars, pinned bewildered teens to the spot with clas- sics like Shallow Brown, Camille’s Not Afraid Of The Barn, Brother Judson and Will The Cir- cle Be Unbroken and left a blur of distortion and feedback in the wake of their dramatic exit with a writhing mosh-pit demanding more. A full-on burst of electric Idumea rounded off a welcome reunion, sadly marred by the woeful sound and low turnout.

One thing that Sidmouth excels at is pro- ducing memorable moments and Thursday was certainly a contender for high point of the week in the Ham Marquee. After an evening of manic exertion with Bellowhead, Jon Boden kicked off proceedings at midday with a demanding selection of songs from Peter Bellamy’s repertoire, interspersed with interesting anecdotes about the man and his music. Ever the professional, Boden delivered a string of powerful performances, including Big Steamers, The Days Of ‘49, Fakenham Fair, Nostradamus and a beautifully sung Us

Nic Jones centre, between Pete & Chris Coe in Bandoggs

Poor Fellows from The Transports. Where he gets his tireless creative energy from I don’t know, but Boden’s passion for these songs and the tales therein couldn’t fail to touch all those in attendance.

Rumours of Nic Jones’ appearance at Sid- mouth spread like wildfire during the festi- val, so it was no surprise that non-ticket-hold- ers were seen queuing three hours before In Search Of Nic Jones started. Outside, the excitement rippled along the queue; inside, the emotion was immediately palpable and once Nic Jones emerged on stage the flood gates opened leaving barely a dry eye in the house. As Chris Wood aptly pointed out, for those on stage – all top-notch musicians, each taking a turn to perform one of Nic’s songs – this was a tough gig to play with the man himself sitting among them. Most handled it well but it was impossible not to feel the ner- vous tension in the air that afternoon.

Not a murmur resounded as Jackie Oates’ clear voice rang out across the mar- quee with bell-like clarity on Annachie Gor- don, subtly supported by Belinda O’Hooley on keyboards. At the riskier end of the style spectrum, Pete Flood’s flat, Leonard Cohen- style delivery of Master Kilby was a brave choice. With effective oboe accompaniment from Paul Sartin and solid support from James Fagan and the Faustus crew, Flood’s performance seemed to balance precariously between disaster and success, but I rather enjoyed the thrill of the unknown. Their rous- ing rendition of Ballina Whalers during the second singaround was a highlight.

James Fagan & Nancy Kerr, Martin Simp- son, Jon Boden and Lester Simpson all gave accomplished performances, but it was Chris Wood who broke the tense atmosphere, engaging the audience in a delightful version of Tucker Zimmerman’s Taoist Tale. Sam Carter’s Barrack Street was particularly impressive, Jim Moray’s Canadee-i-o less so, but there was still plenty to revel in. Paul Sartin and Jon Loomes joined Bandoggs cohorts Pete & Chris Coe and Nic Jones on Adam Was A Poacher, The Tailor In The Tea Chest, Swimming Song and more. Hearing Nic’s voice soaring above all the others on Lit- tle Pot Stove and the whole audience singing along in joyous admiration was one of those

momentous occasions. An encore of The Singer’s Request led by Moray brought this wondrous event to a close. How could you possibly follow that?

Needless to say, a relaxed evening in with Andy Cutting and his friends was the perfect answer. It was a real pleasure to hear Andy and Chris Wood performing as a duo once again, their uplifting tune-playing bounced along merrily with the entertaining banter. Ian Carr and later John McCusker contributed to the warm, laid-back atmosphere on stage with equally engaging performances. The arrival of June Tabor brought a more soulful edge to the evening as she delivered powerful interpretations of The Dancing, Soldiers Three and Belle Rose ably supported by Andy, Mark Emerson and bass player Tim Harries.

A raft of musical treats filled the second half: Julie Murphy’s exquisite singing of French, Welsh and Breton folk songs, includ- ing the beautiful Le Gabier De Terre-Neuve, accompanied by guitarist Ceri Rhys Matthews; Tim Harries and Andy in a percussive, inven- tive take on a Swedish polska; Martin Simp- son’s duo with Andy on Lakes Of Champlain and an unforgettable rendition of Richard Thompson’s This Is A Strange Affair by Martin and June. Last but not least, the very wonder- ful Blowzabella playing Oliver’s & Two Beers and Origin Of The World provided a great finale. All of which served to remind us that not only does Andy have some very talented friends, but it’s clear why he’s held in such high esteem by all who work with him. “If there was a world embargo on musicians and I could only have one for the rest of my life, it would be Andy,” said Martin Simpson, sum- ming up the occasion rather well.

This of course is just a snapshot of what Sidmouth had to offer this year. There were many, many other highlights, among them: The Seven Champions, The Wilsons, Barry & Jack Honeysett (winners of the Double Jig Competition), Chris Wood, Mawkin:Causley, Sara Grey & Kieron Means, Blue Murder and Derek Schofield’s EFDSS Gold Badge Award, the Christmas Silent Ceilidh, Travelling People Concert, Shapenote Workshops, Maclaine Colston & Saul Rose, Jeff Warner and Cele- brating Sanctuary’s Geata from Ethiopia.

Sofi Mogensen

Photo: Derek Schofield

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