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Summer of Festivals

Redbornstoke Morris Dancers
Redbornstoke in all their glory

Whitby Folk Week 2006

by Blast reporter Alex Jackson
Whitby folk festival started out as a small, dance-based festival. Now, entering its 41st year, it has grown to become one of the biggest music festivals in the north.

Mr.Tambourine man

Folk’s a funny old thing. It can entail the many traditions, different styles and even myths that appear in the dance music tradition, nursery rhymes, poetry, work songs and seemingly everything. As legendary jazz musician, Lou Armstrong, once famously said, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”

So I decided to find out more, with my first port of call right up on the West Cliff at the Royal Hotel Ballroom. Clambering up the steep steps and admiring the stunning views, I eagerly anticipated the workshop, I was to review. I was here to see the Cotswold dance in action, orchestrated by Bedfordshire’s Redbornstoke Morris. The workshop attempts to teach the full dance and all the techniques to the keen public.

Sticks and Handkerchiefs

"It’s such a friendly and exceptionally organised event that is understandably first on many people’s calendars."

The dance originally started out as a village tradition in the Cotswolds with differing styles varying between villages and people. It looks great fun, but also physically, quite exhausting. There’s a great turn out and everybody looks to be effortlessly adjusting to the moves. The dance seems to be typified by a light jumping style and uses bells, sticks and handkerchiefs to great effect.

Sciorra Backing
Joyous folk!

It’s a superbly organised workshop that is good humoured. However there is a certain amount of care to be taken as the sticks are wielded at each other. The dancers split into trios with the first taking a clockwise movement and the second moving counter clockwise. What seems to be the crux to this sequence, like all dance moves, is timing and co-ordination. The end result is a perfect, fast paced dance that lasts around three minutes and is highly rewarding. The music is brilliant to dance to and in this instance was written as a song first and interpreted later for a Morris dancer.

Colour and Creativity

After this I stumbled across the arts and crafts fair which was like a musical dream come true. It had absolutely every instrument and folk record imaginable, as well as many hand-crafted gifts. There is a real buzz running through the streets of Whitby with a local musician on every street corner plying in their trade. The clear sky and blistering heat brings out the best in what is a highly colourful and creative festival.

The festival really comes to life at both the band stand and Captain Cook monument where the live dances take place. Here I witness Redbornstoke Morris again in all their glory, kitted up in all white, dancing their own Cotswold-orientated traditions.

Two men on a bench
Music by the sea

Also performing are Ouse Washes Molly Dancers whose dance kit is indescribable and somewhat eccentric with their black face paint. Finishing off the bill is Sciorr. A Sheffield-based dancing outfit of six girls, who with the exception of one, are daughters of Sheffield City Morris Men. The girls look great in all black and perform an energetic and sublime Irish dance.

Sea Shanties

I later take my place at the bar in the bustling Endeavour and prepare myself for a spot of maritime magic from Jim Mageean. The session follows the theme of what the sailors catch today. The sea shanties come in many languages from Welsh to French to English. The beauty of this is that anyone can join in, no matter if they’re a folk superstar or dire singer, to help raise the rafters with belting choruses. The majority of people nestled in a corner of the bar are regular festival goers. Some are from as far away as Australia and America. Others have been coming since it started, 41 years ago. The atmosphere is amazing and so welcoming all in aid of keeping the folk tradition alive and in support of the RNLI lifeboat.

Folk Feel

Whitby boats
All aboard!

From my day’s experience it would be impossible to describe what the festival is like because there’s such a diverse range of events both official and unofficial on the streets and in the bars and hotels of Whitby. But by just getting a feel for the whole thing, it’s such a friendly and exceptionally organised event that is understandably first on many people’s calendars. As one man says wading through the crowds of people “It’s like being in London”, is further testament to the success of Whitby’s annual folk festival.

last updated: 11/05/07
Have Your Say
How was the Whitby folk festival for you? What's been the best moment? And would you come back again? Send in your comments here...
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Ashley Howard
Just how good is it? well 2008 will be my 25th concecutive Witby Folk Week, need I say more?

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