We’ve more interviews to come from some of British Folk’s big names looking back at their memories of Sidmouth Folk Week who celebrate their Diamond Anniversary this year. Today we have some great memories from singer and multi-instrumentalist – Pete Coe.
The festival takes place between 1st – 8th August 2014 and you can read the rest of our interviews here.
When did you first come to Sidmouth, and what for?
I first came to Sidmouth in 65/66 with The Songwainers (Cheltenham Victory FSC). The main singing venue was The Beach Store, MC’d by Ted Poole & he gave me a chance to sing a few songs during those sessions.
What do you most remember about your first (and/or subsequent) Sidmouth festival experiences?
I heard Scan Tester play and sing, and met up with Rod & Danny Stradling, Ken Penny & the Jolly Porter Exeter singers, some of the London singers and a very strong contingent from Sheffield too. There was some grand late night singing round the fire on the campsite. I also remember Brian Hayden (Trunkles) who was last seen after the Friday torchlit procession swimming out to sea, dressed in a white sailor suit (South Pacific), his undowsed torch held aloft & I haven’t seen him since!
Other people I heard in The Beach Store for the first time were The Young Tradition, Dave & Toni Arthur who all gave me a lot of encouragement but, at the time I’d not the faintest idea, that I’d also end up singing for a living.
Do you remember the first song you sang, tune you played, story you told, the first dance you called or danced or played for?
I think one of the first songs I sang was The Banks Of Red Roses.
Do you have memories of particular people you met at the festival? Or particular performances?
Having moved from being a student in Cheltenham to teach in Birmingham I came down with Chris Coe and some of the Birmingham singers & by this time we sang pretty regularly at other venues around town. You could see the song side increasingly better represented at what was originally mainly a dance festival. I wasn’t that bothered about dancing until we both ended up playing in The Garden Gnome Ceilidh Band lead by Johnny Adams and caller Roger Watson. We did do a rescue ceilidh (due to a downpour) in The Drill Hall where we had two callers, Roger & Brian Jones both calling different dances at the same time, presided over by Lady Vinegar Butty (Vin Garbutt in my grandmother’s twin set & pearls). Bless.
In 1973, the 19th festival….I’m not sure how I ended up organising the hunt for, the trial of and execution of director, Bill Rutter. Early in the week I’d distributed broadsides (designed by John Crane) accusing him of various spurious crimes but nobody seemed to be that interested. However, by Thursday it suddenly sprang to life and took on a life of its own. Bill was discovered cowering in The Beach Store, seized by morris men and was processed ceremoniously to a full marquee on The Ham, awaiting his trial. Having shinned up the main tent pole to secure a noose I sat back wondering what was going to happen next. I think Taffy Thomas was the sentencing judge and Bill, looking suitably repentant for his many trumped up misdemeanors, including interfering with the Matron of Sidmouth Hospital, where his main accuser & witness was actually Bill’s wife, who shouted that we should hang the bugger. It should be stated clearly that no directors were harmed in this very public execution.
And the years rolled by…. Roy Harris was a great song director, carrying on Ted Poole’s egalitarian approach to running the singing sessions.
We were booked as Red Shift around 1980, doing a few concerts & at one of our Ham Ceilidhs, during another downpour, lightning struck the generator and blew the PA System so, without stopping, we carried on acoustic, half the band on one side of the marquee, the other half on the other side & me calling in the middle.
I also got to call & play with The Shepherds (Willy Taylor, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton) augmented by Alistair Anderson & Sue Bainbridge, a great privilege which I would have done for no fee (though I didn’t tell Alan Bearman that).
I missed a few years in the early 90s as I was folk music tutor for The WMA Summer School but when that finished it was great to get back to the festival every year. I’d always maintained and told others that, whilst there were some good festivals around, Sidmouth was by far the best, to see a wide variety of song music and dance, and to be booked at as a guest artist. It’s certainly been a large part of my life.
I do regret that for the 50th Anniversary we couldn’t get the whale that was used in the film Moby Dick to enter Sidmouth Bay just as the torches were doused. We did try, but to no avail!
What are your hopes for the future of the festival?
As to the future of the festival … it helps that it has an artistic director with experience and vision who values the old and has an eye out for the worthwhile new and programmes events with care.
More of the same really. It’s the place to be.
Pete Coe talks about and sings Joseph Baker, for the wonderful Maggie Boyle: www.kitchensongs.org.uk
Pete Coe – Seven Gypsies (The Albert Hole Bristol 26th May 89) Courtesy of Bristol Ron
Sidmouth FolkWeek 1st – 8th August 2014
We’ll have more memories soon from: Andy Cutting, Jackie Oates, Jim Causely, Jo Freya, John Kirkpatrick, Oysterband & Steve Knightley.
Find out more about this years festival and line-up by visiting: http://www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk/
New CD: Pete Coe & Alice Jones
Pete has released a new CD with Alice Jones called ‘The Search for Five Finger Frank‘. Order it direct from his website here.