Sidmouth FolkWeek - six of the best events

Sidmouth festival historian and board member of Sidmouth FolkWeek, Derek Schofield, introduces this year s festival programme and picks some gems.

Sidmouth festival historian and board member of Sidmouth FolkWeek, Derek Schofield, introduces this year's festival programme and picks some gems.

Looking back over the fifty-five years of the folk festival here in Sidmouth during the first week in August, I'm always struck by the amazing diversity of the music and dance that is on offer. Whatever your tastes, this festival will surely cater for them - and if the organisers miss something out, the loyal festival-goers and supporters are sure to point out the omission.

I'm also struck by the fantastic opportunities open to people to learn new skills and develop existing ones. There is less of a boundary between performer and audience at this festival than anywhere else, and this contributes significantly to the loyalty of the festival goers and the friendliness of the atmosphere.

I'm sometimes unsure whether the residents of East Devon realise the importance in the folk world nationally - internationally - of this festival. "Sidmouth" may be the name of the town that many readers of this Sidmouth Herald supplement happen to live in - and how lucky you are to do so! - but to the world of folk music it is synonymous with quality folk music and dance. The word "Sidmouth" needs no further explanation -a beautiful location for the best folk music party!

2009's festival line-up is at least as strong as any previous year, so it's difficult to choose the gems. But here's six that you shouldn't overlook.

Lark Rise: millions of people enjoyed the two series of TV adaptations of Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford recently. The National Theatre production was a landmark theatrical experience in the 1980s, with music arranged by former Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention bass player, Ashley Hutchings. Now Ashley's Lark Rise Band is playing music from the two adaptations and you can see them in the Manor Pavilion, Monday at 8pm.

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Newcastle Showcase: The Newcastle University folk music degree course is the first in England, and over recent years, we have heard many great students and graduates perform at the festival. Here is an opportunity to hear the current students. Manor Pavilion, Tuesday at 2.30pm.

Sidmouth Traditions: some of the best traditional performers from Britain and Ireland have appeared at this festival. Just ordinary men and women whose songs and tunes are part of their everyday lives, they are best heard acoustically in an informal, social atmosphere.

Sussex farmer Bob Lewis, Aberdeenshire mouth-organ player Bob Hay, Scottish bothy ballad singer Joe Aitken, Pennine dry-stone waller Will Noble, Essex step-dancer Simon Ritchie and twenty-something All Ireland button accordion champion Darren Breslin are amongst this year's guests. Several events including Arts Centre, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, 8pm.

Old Swan Band Ceilidh: back in the seventies, this band was responsible for revolutionising folk dance music. They pushed musical boundaries and challenged the accepted way of doing things, simply by going back to the basic folk tunes and discovering the true essence of traditional music. The band have moved on, gathered new members and lost a few on the way. But they're still at the forefront of the ceilidh scene. Blackmore Gardens Marquee, Tuesday at 7.30pm. (And Wednesday's Late Night Extra).

New Deal String Band: this band was formed in the 1960s and brought American old time music to a new generation of enthusiasts here in England. Original members Tom Paley and Joe Locker are joined by Tom's son Ben to remind us all how great their music is. Bedford Hotel, Wednesday at 8pm. Talking about Americans, also look out for Sara Grey and her son Kieron Means - two formidable champions of American song, both living in Britain.

Derek Schofield's history of the Sidmouth Folk Festival, The First Week in August, published to celebrate the 50th festival in 2004, is available at the sales outlet in the Ham Marquee: Hub and at the Whole Wide World CD stall in the Music Fair in the Blackmore Gardens. Price: only �5.

Turning the Leaves: Enthusiasm, exuberance and talent were not invented by today's teenagers. I recently helped Taffy Thomas celebrate his 60th birthday - he first visited the festival as a schoolboy and has been the ringleader of many of the festival's memorable events (who remembers his Celebration of Fire in 1976?). He's joined by Sandra Kerr - a tutor on the Newcastle degree course whose enthusiasm must easily match the students! Sandra is famous as the voice of Madeline the Rag Doll in Bagpuss! Songs and stories of the changing seasons. Manor Pavilion, Friday at 2.30pm.