The Exmoor Folk Festival in the rural East Lyn riverside village of Brendon, UK last weekend (11th - 13th May 2007) rocked on, despite the heavy rain, just as the Army and Navy evacuated Dartmoor's 47th annual two-day Ten Tors walk.
Admittedly, sitting happily in a bar, listening to some great folk music whilst taking the odd sip of Exmoor Gold cannot truly be compared to yomping over the craggy heather and gorse carpeted heights of Dartmoor but I reckon the folk bands, most of whom were camping overnight, and stall holders who braved the elements throughout the Saturday afternoon deserve more than a small accolade.
How bad was the weather? Well, according to the Mid Devon Star,
the Ten Tors walk was last severely affected by bad weather in 1996 when 2,100 of the 2,400 taking part were evacuated.It was a once in ten years bad!
Did I see glum faces? Well a few but they were all quickly followed by a determined grin. Doubtless, the weather affected the public attendance but the professionalism of the bands was huge. Even when the wind was threatening to lift the performance tents into the air, they still played on giving a great show.
The bad weather also affected the indoor events.
Although, the Friday evening Barn Dance, featuring that popular Devon band Redwing at the Brendon Village Hall, was sold out, many ticket holders never made it to the dance through the wind and rain swept country lanes of Exmoor.
However, those that did enjoyed a wonderful medley of traditional English folk dances with influences from America, Ireland and Scotland and a great exhibition of Appalachian dancing. I will certainly make sure I see more of Redwing's Pete and Nicole.
Friday evening ended with me jigging up and down energetically to the individual and very boppable music of the North Devon Band 'Parcel of Rogues'.
The Millslade camp site owned by the Millslade Country Hotel was idyllic with the East Lyn River running alongside. As a long standing tinnitus sufferer, I normally sleep with the radio on to give me something other than high pitched whistles to listen to. This was definitely not necessary at the Millslade camp site with the river running close by in full spate. After a few hours of joining in at a great folk music session at the Rockford Inn, the country sounds of the East Lyn River quickly lulled me to sleep in my camper van.
Special mention must go to Ali and Graeme of the Devil's Elbow. Ali has a quality of voice that was transfixing and hypnotic and, between the two of them, they provided music on a spectacularly wide range of musical instruments.
Well, what can one say about the Swanvesta Social Club? They are an eight piece band plus sound man and their professional presence was monumental. They exploded into life during the pig roast with their unique blend of Anglo Cuban Music and made everybody forget the weather. Prepare be happy muchachos! We gowin' to party!
Saturday evening featured The Exmoor Do-Dah Band performing at the Staghunters Hotel to a rapt and packed audience. With shades of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (remember them), they skiffled and joked their way through the evening to loads of table thumping and audience participation. The evening ended with Martin Babb and friends singing some well loved local country songs.
On Sunday morning, the West Country weather seemed to be trying to prove it could get even worse and the water was coming down in sheets. So I found refuge with the members of that great band Babel Fish (previously Marisco) who were in the Chapel where Lisa was giving a step dancing workshop (more about Babel Fish). Hey I can step dance now ... a bit ...
Sunday lunchtime came and I was pleasd to reacquaint myself with the Dambuskers with their special blend of popular folk songs and English and Irish jigs 'n' reels. Les Hansen, who plays a fantastic bass guitar with them, took some time out to fill me in with all the gossip of that acoustic guitar jam sessioning mecca of Appledore, Devon. (I've just got to get back down to Appledore, soon. They have an incredible four pub jamming sessions a week in that small Devonshire harbour town. It's unreal!)
My weekend finished with a great session at the Rockford Inn with, among others, the Exeter busker extraordinaire Stripey Howling Hancock whose mixture of Blues, rock, folk and anything else musical adds new dimensions to the concept of a great folk jamming session.
The Exmoor Folk Festival was a lot of fun and sometimes the lack of overwhelming crowds is nice because it gives more time to chat to other folk without the frenetic rush of trying to get around and see everybody.
And, surely, chatting and mixing with other people who love music is what folk is all about.
What do you think?
Bye for now
(Rob Hopcott - online author and amiable folk chatterer)
P.S. my watch stopped at some time in my first evening in the Brendon Valley ... then started again two days later as I emerged out of the Brendon Valley ... Is that strange, or what?