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Sunday, 30 August 2009

Whitby Folk Week

This week-long folk festival crams around 600 events into 7 days. Needless to say, when there's folk, there's real ale as well; I'll do a separate posting on the pubs and beer tomorrow.

This year, Folk Week coincided with the Whitby Regatta which took place over the first weekend and meant the town was filled to bursting with very diverse groups of people. The fireworks display on the east pier on Monday at the end of the regatta was quite spectacular.

My folk week included watching various kinds of traditional dance displays (the picture shows Jet Set Border Morris), some concerts, pub music sessions and singarounds, and the launch of the Lunchtime Legends CD, Daze, on Wednesday.

To those who think traditional dance consists only of bells & hankies, you couldn't be more wrong: clog, sword, Irish, Appalachian, North West, and rapper were just some of the styles I saw during the week. The Newcastle Kingsman impressed a lot of people with their humour as much as their skill: they're a young team of students and graduates dancing rapper, which is "... a fast traditional English dance [from] Northumberland and Durham involving five people connected by short, two-handled, flexible swords (called rappers) forming a chain. Without breaking this chain the dancers weave in and out of one another twisting the swords to form locks and breastplates, sometimes even jumping or somersaulting over the swords." So now you know.

Performers I saw included: Bryony, a female trio singing intricate harmonies of mostly traditional material; Strawhead, a male trio who sing otherwise forgotten songs from the 16th to 19th centuries on a huge range of topics, often introduced by Greg Butler's humorous take on events in our history; Tich Frier, an endearing Scot with a great sense of humour, a fine singing voice and a great range of material from trad & Burns to modern songs; Kerr Fagan Harbron, a group of young singers and musicians who take their music from English, Irish, Australian and American traditions; plus too many others to list. Suffice to say I didn't see a bad performance all week.

Our CD launch filled out the Elsinore, a small pub on Flowergate, and was opened by festival guest, Jez Lowe, a great singer songwriter from the North East, who showed his rock & roll roots with a set including Get Back and House of the Rising Sun. We did 3 sets, ending with Hi Ho Silver Lining, which as ever raised the roof wonderfully. We also sold a few CDs.

Spontaneous pub sessions are a feature of folk week, and I particularly enjoyed an afternoon playing with other singers and musicians in the Elsinore, including a young man just up for the day whose guitar style was tremendous. The songs ranged from Steve Earle, Steely Dan, Al Stewart, Johnny Cash & others, to traditional songs and tunes.

Wednesday night is always rock & roll night with Shagpile, a group led by veteran folk singer Dave Burland that attracts a huge range of punters from some old hippies who can show everyone how to jive properly to young kids who make up their own rock & roll dances or just conga around the hall. Unmissable for many of us.

I didn't get to any of the many workshops and ceilidh dances that took place every day throughout the week, but they're there for those who want them. My folk week ended on Friday night listening to musicians in the Station Inn until closing time at 2 a.m. We had to be out of our flat by 10 a.m. on Saturday, and I made it ... just.

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