Sidmouth nostalgia: A look back at Folk Week

PUBLISHED: 18:55 07 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:34 10 June 2010

ANYONE in Sidmouth this week will have experienced FolkWeek. Thousands thronged the streets, playing, dancing or just listening to performers during this annual event, which grew from small beginnings to the international giant of its golden anniversary

ANYONE in Sidmouth this week will have experienced FolkWeek.

Thousands thronged the streets, playing, dancing or just listening to performers during this annual event, which grew from small beginnings to the international giant of its golden anniversary in 2004.

Derek Schofield has been associated with the festival since the early '70s and for its 50th anniversary wrote The First Week in August - an account of its early days and meteoric rise to fame.

The English Folk Dance and Song Society was born in 1932, having emerged from the amalgamation of the Folk-Song Society and English Folk Dance Society.

Its director, Douglas Kennedy, reorganised EFDSS during the '40s and, to make folk dance more accessible, introduced the American-style 'caller' to explain dances, which could be learned by copying.

Derek writes: "The aim was to allow people to walk in off the street and take part straight away.

"The new popularity of folk dancing was greatly helped by the Square Dance boom, which was prompted when the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and Prince Philip took part in a square dance in Canada in 1951."

It was in 1949 that EFDSS members Nibs Matthews and Jean Forsyth; who he later married, began promoting folk dance in Devon with a Whit Monday tour.

"Morris men, musicians and dancers performed in towns and villages including Branscombe, Salcombe Regis, Honiton, Beer, Seaton, Sidbury and Sidmouth," writes Derek.

"Sidmouth was one of the stops on that first tour when an audience of hundreds watched the show and joined in social dances."

The following year the audience had grown to more than 1,000 and in 1952 there was Morris and country dancing in Connaught Gardens on Whit Saturday.

"There was already a folk dance club at Salcombe Regis, founded in 1947 by Doris Moore, wife of the vicar; and children from Sidmouth Secondary Modern School at Woolbrook gave folk dance displays in the Connaught Gardens."

In 1955 EFDSS, which ran the Stratford-on-Avon Festival, branched out and Sidmouth's festival was born.

Dates of the first one were Saturday, July 30 to Saturday, August 6 and so it has remained. Fees have changed over the decades. Then it cost £4 double for the whole festival, or £2 10/- for a single man (£2 for girls). An adult season ticket today is £140-£160.

Sidmouth soon became a must on the folk festival calendar and 1968 marked a real change when Bill Rutter took the small-scale dance festival and made it an international event.

In his report to Sidmouth Urban District Council in 1967 he stated: "The Sidmouth Festival is unique and in accordance with its greater importance, next year will be known as Sidmouth International Folk Week."

For the festival's silver jubilee he wrote: "We are celebrating with a mixture of nostalgia and the current scene. Expect nothing. Create everything anew."

Since its golden celebrations, when Steve Heap announced it was his last as organiser, the festival has gone back to its roots, events are centred more on the town and local businesses are helping to sponsor what is now called FolkWeek.

This year is the fifth in that format and the production team has produced a bigger, better festival with a new team and a new look and feel. Long may there be the buzz of FolkWeek in Sidmouth for years to come.

end

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