Sidmouth Folk Festival: Friday night at the Bulverton Marquee

Sheelanagig at the Bulverton Marquee, Sidmouth Folk Festival

Sheelanagig at the Bulverton Marquee, Sidmouth Folk Festival - Credit: Paul Strange

The Sidmouth air was tingling with anticipation on Friday afternoon, as folk fans from around the world gathered for the first full Sidmouth Folk Festival since the Covid pandemic. So where better to soak up the atmosphere than the Bulverton Marquee at the festival campsite? 
The Bulverton venue, previously known for its sometimes off-the-wall headliners, late-night ceilidhs and silent discos (mustn’t wake the children) has expanded its scope this year, with daily craft sessions and dance workshops (anyone for Bhangra or West African dance?). 
We were there to see South West band Sheelanagig, and to get our first fix of Morris dancing at a Welcome Dance Party showcase featuring traditional Cotswolds sides Campden Morris Dancers, Fool’s Gambit and Harlequin Morris, along with the muscular Northeastern Rapper style of Newcastle Kingsmen and the Northern clog dancers of Lancashire Wallopers (best team name of the festival so far). 

Campden Morris Dancers, Bulverton Marquee

Campden Morris Dancers, Bulverton Marquee - Credit: Paul Strange

Newcastle Kingsmen Morris dancers

Newcastle Kingsmen - Credit: Paul Strange

The Molly style, noted for its outrageous cross-dressing and humorous antics, was represented by Seven Champions Molly Dancers, who overturned all expectations with a spine-tingling performance, the percussive beat of their steps accompanied only by a cappella singing. Truly mesmerising.

Seven Champions Molly Dancers

Seven Champions Molly Dancers - Credit: Paul Strange

Seven Champions Molly Dancers

Seven Champions Molly Dancers - Credit: Paul Strange

Seven Champions Molly Dancers

Seven Champions Molly Dancers - Credit: Paul Strange

Following the powerful dance displays there was an equally exuberant – often manic – set from Bristol-based quintet Sheelanagig. Describing themselves as 'medieval blues' and 'top of the parchment', the band’s music crossed over a bewildering number of genres. Folk, jazz, blues, groove and stomp were all in the mix as they performed a strong set of originals and traditional tunes. The band’s energetic stage antics were also delightful to watch, and the crowd responded with frenetic dancing. 

Sheelanagig

Sheelanagig - Credit: Paul Strange

Sheelanagig

Sheelanagig - Credit: Paul Strange

Sheelanagig

Sheelanagig - Credit: Paul Strange

Highlights included 'Bad Ken', 'The Manc Monk' and 'Shetlag' – a 10-minute mini-suite that traced the band’s memorable jaunt to the Shetland Folk Festival. It began with a slow haunting intro, but once it fired up, all hell broke loose. And there was us thinking that the Shetlands would be a nice, gentle relaxing place to visit… 
As Friday night at the Bulverton drew to a heady close, we looked forward to what might await us at Sidmouth Folk Festival on Saturday, July 30…