Earlier this week we featured an interview with Northumbrian piper and tradition bearer Kathryn Tickell (read it here) in which she shared her memories of Sidmouth FolkWeek which takes place between 1st – 8th August 2014. This year marks its Diamond Anniversary, celebrating 60 years. To mark this occasion we have a great collection of memories to share from some of the biggest names on the British folk scene, Kathryn was the first, and today we have Sandra Kerr, singer, musician, academic and Festival Choir leader at Sidmouth for 20 years!
Sandra has a long and distinguished career in English folk music which began with her training in the famous Critic’s Group( 1963-72 ), under the guidance of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Most of you probably first heard her on the TV…She co-wrote with John Faulkner the songs and music for the much-loved TV series “Bagpuss”.
In Oliver Postgate’s autobiography (the creator of Bagpuss) titled ‘Seeing Things’ he had this to say about Sandra and John:
“Between them they could play every sort of instrument from a mountain dulcimer to an Irish fiddle. They knew and could sing every tune in the world and didn’t bother with written music, except as a last resort. They were exactly suited to be Gabriel the Toad and Madeleine the Rag Doll and in those roles were happy to play whatever music and sing whatever songs would be needed.”
Between the three of them they provided all the voices, including those high pitched mice for which they used a variable-speed spindles on a tape recorder. Postgate recalled
“we all sang for the mice at the slow speed but in high voices. This, when played back at normal speed, finally produced the elegant fluting tones for which they became famous. (Incidentally, the mouse singing out-of-tune was me.)”
As I say to my own kids today…’They don’t make them like that anymore.’
When did you first come to Sidmouth, and what for?
I think it was in 1984 – I was booked solo, but returned in following years with Sisters Unlimited.
What do you most remember about your first (and/or subsequent) Sidmouth festival experiences?
Curiously I associate Sidmouth with sun – though I know that’s not always a feature – but also that lovely sense of freedom – to wander, dipping in and out of events, sitting somewhere along the promenade, drinking Pimm’s (usually at the Riviera) and people watching, always with music in the background. Chatting to friends old and new, catching up, setting the world to rights, drinking Pimm’s, enjoying the panorama of dancers, colourful displays of wares on the stalls, and families enjoying the experience together. And of course, drinking Pimm’s….!
Do you remember the first song you sang, tune you played, story you told, the first dance you called or danced or played for?
1984 was a fertile time for me as a songwriter, so I remember singing a lot of my own material: Underneath It All Was Me, We Were There and of course, because of the miner’s strike, things like No Going Back.
Do you have memories of particular venues ?
Carin’s and The Radway and, of course, the Bedford were always good to work in. The first time my lovely and frighteningly talented daughter, Nancy, performed solo was at The Radway in about 1989. She was 14.
I remember the whole row of people where I was sitting watching me, as well as Nancy – and nodding and smiling, and so many saying afterwards – ‘You must be so proud’. I was, still am and always will be.
Last year was very memorable too. My lovely festival choir, as ever, did a terrific job at the sharing concert on the Friday afternoon in the Blackmore Gardens, but that year, which was the centenary of the death of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, I had yet another choir (some 80 strong) of women’s voices, The Emily Inspires Choir and their concert in the Manor, of songs of suffrage and liberation, with readings, was very moving. I was immensely proud of them.
Do you have memories of particular people you met at the festival? Or particular performance?
We did the Bagpuss Show at The Manor Pavilion a few years ago: John Faulkner and I with Nancy Kerr and James Fagan. That was very special. Seeing all those families (the theatre was packed) with the children wearing their mousemasks (some of the parents, too!)
leaving the show looking so happy was a treat.
The first time Nancy and Eliza Carthy performed at the Radway was very special too – I remember the compere, after their set, saying “Well, the tradition’s in good hands” and the audience applauding loudly.
What are your lasting impressions of the festival?
Sidmouth is holistic. Not wanting to be too ‘waftie nightie’ about it, but it is not just a folk music festival. Place, people, events, ambience all combine to create a complete experience. It represents what is best about the world of traditional and folk music – not just the stunning music, dance and song, and the variety of settings in which they can be appreciated, but the mixing of generations, the way in which children, the future bearers of our tradition, are encouraged and nurtured. I know of now respected and immensely talented performers who cut their musical teeth at children’s and young people’s workshops at Sidmouth. That’s how it should be. It’s a way of ‘going on’ for all of us.
What are your hopes for the future of the festival?
Long may it continue. I wish it success, sun, and a secure future.
It is an institution of the best kind, and in this changing and insecure world, we need it.
Sidmouth FolkWeek 1st – 8th August 2014
We’ll have more memories soon from: Andy Cutting, Jackie Oates, Chris Wood, Jim Causely, Jo Freya, John Kirkpatrick, Oysterband, Peter Coe & Steve Knightley.
Find out more about this years festival and line-up by visiting: http://www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk/