Review: Whitby Folk Week, Whitby, August 16 to 22

Whitby Folk Week

Whitby Folk Week

First published in Music news and reviews
Last updated

OSCAR Wilde said "Nothing ages like happiness", and driving back over the moors after another Whitby Folk Week, his words had never had more resonance.

While this was only my fourth Whitby Folk Week, I was familiar with the surprisingly acute pangs in the stomach that come with the realisation another one is over and the real world is again demanding one’s attention.

For anyone who chooses to spend a few days at this event – this year's festival was the 49th – I can guarantee at some point you will attain a brief glimpse of true contentment.

For me it usually comes at one of the many "singarounds", which seem to occur spontaneously wherever two or more folkies gather over a pot of ale.

For the non-folkies, a singaround is a kind of open-mic event for anyone who wants to get up and have a bash at singing a song. Beginners are particularly encouraged to have go and, fueled with the aforementioned ale, many do.

Most of those who burst into song, however, are truly talented veterans, able to engage a whole pub with a rousing sea shanty, songs of fair maidens, Geordie miners or battles fought long ago.

The singarounds capture the true spirit of Folk Week. That warm fog of a few too many good beers in an old quay-side tavern while outside the masts of the yachts bob in the harbour and you do not have a clue what time, day, or even year it is. I got more of warm cosy feeling knowing one of the organised singarounds raised more than £4,000 for the RNLI this year.

But of course Whitby Folk Week is far more than that. In nearly half a century the event has grown into a huge celebration of everything to do with English and Celtic folk culture. There were more than 600 events that took place throughout the week, from concerts featuring a huge array of singers, musicians and groups, to ceilidhs, workshops, dance displays and plenty more.

Arriving on the Saturday, we pitched up our tent and headed straight for a rare double headliner show featuring the five hairy Wilson brothers from Teesside and the Mighty Doonans, another big family of talented musicians from the North East who veer towards folk rock.

This sell-out show at the Spa Theatre was the perfect way to kick off the week with The Wilsons’ usually a cappella performance given a new depth, thanks to the great musicianship of the Mighty Doonans and a running gag about folk thongs (don’t ask).

I’d like to say the rest of our stay had some focus or timetable but it simply didn’t. We spent our days meeting friends, heading to concerts, drinking too much, eating fish and chips, laughing, singing and just wandering round Whitby. And that’s exactly what I recommend you do in 2015 for the event’s 50th anniversary.

Get up, go to a beginners’ banjo workshop, watch some clog dancers on the quay side, go to a singaround, see an Irish fiddler in a hot rugby club concert, get out there and do something.

Just prepare yourself for that horrible jolt of returning to the world of normal folk when it’s all over.

• Keep an eye on the Whitby Folk Week website: www.whitbyfolk.co.uk/ for details of next year's 50th anniversary festival.

- Richard Catton

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