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SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - 4-11 August 2017

One of the advantages of a week-long festival is that, with a bit of planning, a structured series of workshops is possible. Workshops used to be seen as filler – where a star performer would spend 40 minutes teaching a tune to a group of acolytes who would have forgotten it a couple of hours later. Nowadays Sidmouth's workshops are almost a festival in itself. On offer are no less than 17 types of dancing (does “hamboning” also count?), band, instrumental, storytelling, singing – it's almost a complete summer school. These days too, the artists put as much thought into their teaching as into their performances and provide tuition at every level, from learning to play in a band to violin masterclasses (with luminaries such as Sam Sweeney and Emma Reid). I went to some of John Dipper's fiddle workshops (intermediate level) and students were given a raft of techniques to help bring a tune to life, making them think about their presentation and performance. By the end, the group standard had noticeably increased and they will have gone home with a tangible means to continue improving their playing.

Of course, all the normal treats were there. The main concerts were at their usual high standard. Michael Morpurgo's Where My Wellies Take Me saw the countryside through the eyes of a child and featured the author, his wife, an actress voicing the thoughts of the child and songs from Voices At The Door. It was a lovely melange of words, songs, reminiscences and poetry evoking a lost world when young children were expected to go on their own into the woods and make their own entertainment. The ever-popular (and sold out) Spooky Men's Chorale rely heavily on integrating a new chunk of material each year. Stephen Taberner's whimsical and inspirational arrangements were particularly good this time around and I don't think I've ever heard the singers on quite such good form – crisp, accurate, sensitive and beautifully balanced. The Yves Lambert Trio brought their professional Quebecoisserie (“Merci very much/Thank you beaucoup”) and joie-de-vivre to lighten the stage – but the jaw-dropping swing and technique they display on some great songs and tunes is awesome. At the other end of the range, the Cellarful Of Folkadelia proved ever popular; Sheeshum & Lotus & 'Son's brand of old-timey and hokum was a welcome refresher – and anyone who can rip through Georgia Crawl like that is great in my book.

During the week the only problems we had were trying to get to the Bulverton to see Oysterband in driving rain with a disabled friend – taxis wouldn't take us, so we had to negotiate the steep grassy hill. The slide back down the hill in poor lighting was downright dangerous. And the complaints about the lack of campervan parking and the limitations of the main campsite seemed even louder this year, especially after the total chaos at the start of the week as people tried to arrive but were turned away. However, with the feast on offer – it's worth it.

Paul Burgess