Folk Festival review: a feast of fun and entertainment on Sunday

Sidmouth Horse Trials - Betley the Wonder Horse

Sidmouth Horse Trials - Betley the Wonder Horse refuses to jump the broomstick - Credit: Paul Strange

The Sidmouth Horse Trials, held at Port Royal, is one of the festival’s silliest events, and so was the perfect place to start our Sunday walkabout. The Trials began as a contest for the masked and skirted 'Hobby Horses' that often accompany dance teams; however, the recent proliferation of species has led a new collective term – 'Beasts of Disguise'. 

Sidmouth Horse Trials

Sidmouth Horse Trials - Credit: Delia Pemberton

And indeed, there was a veritable menagerie competing for the coveted Aardman Award, sponsored by Aardman Animations. Apart from the horses (including a clothes horse), there were sheep, a zebra, a seagull, an owl and even a dinosaur – hats off to eight-year-old Edward the Talkosaurus.

MC Stephen Rowley interviews the Talkosaurus

MC Stephen Rowley interviews the Talkosaurus at Sidmouth Horse Trials - Credit: Paul Strange

Entrants had to complete a course that involved jumping over a broomstick, showing off their best dance steps and demonstrating their special skills: playing the whistle, blowing bubbles, and in the case of the Talkosaurus... talking! But there could only be one winner, and in the end Betley The Wonder Horse took the prize thanks to her secret weapon – her cute-as-a-button mini-me Little Betley!

Winner of Sidmouth Horse Trials

Winner of Sidmouth Horse Trials Betley receives the Aardman Award from Peter Lord - Credit: Paul Strange

Next up at Port Royal was a performance by the ever-hilarious Sidmouth Mummers, always a must-see on our festival checklist. In a new twist on the traditional tale, the cast list had expanded to include Nelson, King Charles (or was it King George?), Napoleon, Father Christmas, William of Orange and a camel, plus St George (fresh from last year’s victory over the Coronavirus monster) and the Turkish Knight.

Sidmouth Mummers

Sidmouth Mummers - Credit: Paul Strange

The Doctor was also there to patch up the victims of the inevitable bloodshed. But where was he about to stick that giant hypodermic? You can probably guess... And one more chorus of Rule Britannia? Oh, go on then... 

Sidmouth Mummers at the Folk Festival

Sidmouth Mummers at the Folk Festival - Credit: Paul Strange

By now, the festival was in full swing, and the Esplanade was overflowing with music spilling out from impromptu sessions in the seafront bars and hotels, and the colourful dance teams and choirs entertaining the crowds outside. 

John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition at Sidmouth Folk Festival

John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition at Sidmouth Folk Festival - Credit: Paul Strange

Despite the temptation to linger, we headed off to the Blackmore Gardens to see one of the week’s key events: the 34th John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition. In contrast to the team dances, a jig is a solo or duo dance that enables dancers to showcase their individual skills, and the competition was instigated as a means of encouraging excellence in Morris dancing. Contestants are judged on criteria including control and precision of movement, regularity of stepping and other elements, and the capacity crowd were loud in their applause of the dancers’ elegant figures and gravity-defying leaps. 

Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage at The Ham Marquee

Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage at The Ham Marquee - Credit: Paul Strange

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We moved on to the Ham Marquee for a stirring performance from Festival patrons and local folk heroes Show of Hands, supported by up-and-coming Americana duo Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage. 

Since we first caught them last year – where they gave a promising set at the Blackmore Gardens – Sanders and Savage have turned up the wick. Now more assured and with friendly chat to the audience between numbers, the guitar duo charmed the Ham crowd with their harmony voices, performing a mix of original and Appalachian songs, including 'Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maids', 'A Thousand New Moons' and 'Polly O Polly'. Finishing with a triumphant 'Deep Blue Sea', they are clearly ones to watch. 

Show of Hands at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2022

Show of Hands at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2022 1 - Credit: Paul Strange

Acoustic roots/folk duo Show of Hands – comprising Steve Knightley (guitar, vocals) and Phil Beer (guitar, multiple instruments and vocals) – are always solid and dependable. Tonight, we were in for a treat. Playing as just a duo – with no additional musicians, backing singers or pzazz – it was a chance to appreciate their fine, often politically charged work. Knightley was on form with a poignant 'The Dive', a singalong  'Dreckly', an edgy 'Country Life' and a standout 'The Ride'. Beer shone too, especially on 'Crow on the Cradle', and the duo really worked the crowd, bringing things to a head with a storming 'Cousin Jack'. 

Show of Hands at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2022

Show of Hands at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2022 - Credit: Paul Strange

It was a fitting end to a brilliant day. Bring on the rest of the Festival, dreckly…