Folk legend Nic Jones made a triumphant return to the stage at Sidmouth on Thursday afternoon in what will undoubtedly be the highlight of the 56th staging of the town’s international festival, writes Richard Walsh.

Folk legend Nic Jones made a triumphant return to the stage at Sidmouth on Thursday afternoon in what will undoubtedly be the highlight of the 56th staging of the town’s international festival writes Richard Walsh.

If there was ever any doubt as to how successful Nic Jones’ first stage performance, 28 years after being involved in an horrific road accident that has left his slightly disabled, they were dispelled by the packed house audience who started to queue outside the Ham Marquee more than two hours before the In Search of Nic Jones concert began.

By the time the doors were opened and 1000 rushed into the marquee the atmosphere was electric as the tension mounted to welcome a man who was at the pinnacle of his career in 1982 when at the age of 35 his life was almost ended after he collided with a brick lorry on his way home from a performance in Glossop late one night.

On Thursday afternoon the years were rolled away when Nic Jones strode out onto the stage to a standing ovation from the audience- there was not a dry eye in the house.

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The 1970’s folk icon, who had a devoted following in folk venues the length and breadth of the country, and who at one stage almost bought the Troubadour Club in Bristol, then sat centre stage and watched and listened as the audience were treated to renditions of the folk heroes’ best known songs performed by the likes of Martin Simpson, Jim Moray, Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, Jackie Oates, Jon Boden and Pete and Chris Coe.

The afternoon kicked off with Farewell to Gold, performed by James Fagan, who had arranged the programme and his wife Nancy Kerr, which set the standard for what was to follow- a back catalogue of songs associated with Jones.

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The haunting song Annachie Gordon was beautifully performed by the haunting voice of Jackie Oates on fiddle, with a moving keyboard accompaniment, but that was just one of so many songs that tore at the heart strings of the audience.

After about an hour, during which he had sat and listened and joined in with the choruses Nic Jones, who has not performed on stage since that fateful day back in 1982, stood up and walked to the mike and announced ‘Now you are going to hear some real rubbish.’

Jones, along with two other members of the original Bandoggs, Pete and Chris Coe then performed several songs from their repertoire of the late 1970s including the Swimming Song, which Pete Coe said they played to remind Nic of the time that he worked as a life guard at a local pool in Essex- before he became a professional musician.

In each of the Bandoggs numbers Nic Jones was part of the close harmony choruses and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying every minute of being back in the limelight-as were the audience.

After the Bandoggs set each of the performers sang another Nic Jones song much to the delight of the crowded Ham Marquee before the afternoon concluded with two chorus songs that all the 15 or so performers on stage and the audience joined in with.

Almost as soon as it had started the concert was over but the final word was left to Nic Jones, who stepped forward and said “Thank you to you all for supporting us this afternoon” whereas it was the audience who should have been expressing their thanks to the folk hero and the organisers for putting together such a wonderful array of talent and a truly entertaining and moving programme of folk music.

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