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Friday, September 03, 2010

WHITBY FOLK MUSIC FESTIVAL – WHAT’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH JAZZ?

Nothing really, but if Lance can write about Shakespeare on this blog, I reckon I can tell people who don’t normally go to folk festivals a bit about what such events are like. Maybe people can compare Whitby with, say, the Sage Jazz Festival.
Whitby Folk Week is run by a hardworking committee who plan for it during the whole year. The main events are concerts, ceilidhs (folk dances) and dance displays. I’d love to have some dancing at jazz festivals as there’s such a lot of dance music played. (Are people cringing in front of their computers as they read this, I wonder)?
Anyway, besides the standard folk events, some of the entertainment would be suitable for everyone, for example, the funny poetry of Les Barker (eg the dyslexic X files, called the Y files, ‘May the horse go with you’) or Vin Garbutt, a natural comedian, talking about his new varifocal specs.
There was a fun ceilidh with the Eliza Carthy Band (Eliza was brought up on jazz and has done all kinds of music). The dances were done to Motown tunes. For instance, ‘My Guy’ was played slowly and the dance looked really elegant, rather like a minuet. Then there’s a wealth of workshops, which are very varied because of the nature of folk culture, anything from morris, sword, clog and country dancing; or instrumental workshops for playing penny whistle, fiddle, melodeon, guitar, bodhran (folk drum). There was even a class in playing the Jews harp. They sounded superb and they’d obviously had great fun.
I think jazzers would have liked the American Flatfoot dancing; this is similar to modern Appalachian clog dancing. Storytelling and writing workshops have been introduced recently at folk festivals as well. And of course there’s all the singing, harmony singing and solo singing, although most singing is done in the pubs as part of the Fringe. In a folk singaround anyone who wants to can do a song. So the standard of singing varies. As a singer I’ve had to get used to the fact that in jazz clubs it’s best not to sing until you’ve reached a reasonable standard and can work with a band, whereas in folk clubs everyone is encouraged to sing, with varied results which can be very good sometimes. The week was marred for me by an event which I’m sure Jazz musicians will sympathise with. I broke my beloved penny whistle which I’d had for a year and which is the first tuned instrument that I’ve learned to play. It had cost me all of £8 at Windows. I must have hit it against a wall when it was in a shopping bag. I felt as if I’d lost a friend. I couldn’t bear to see it bent and broken so I threw it into the sea. I’ve now bought a much more expensive whistle, but there’ll never be another whistle like that one, a bit like first love really. So apart from the whistle incident I had a great time.
The Festival closes with a ceremony where a garland of local plants and flowers is brought into a ceilidh and is broken up so that everyone gets a piece for luck. I missed this as I was at a concert but it’s quite a moving moment. Whitby is a lovely town and the Abbey would make a marvellous back drop to a Jazz concert. But it’s all music and I’m enjoying having a part to play in both Jazz and Folk. Ann Alex

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