That’s all folk

PUBLISHED: 17:21 11 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 February 2013

Top Essex folk band, Mawkin-Causley

Top Essex folk band, Mawkin-Causley

Leigh on Sea is home to the largest free folk festival in the country. Joanne Jarvis looks ahead to the arrival of this musical extravaganza on your doorstep next month

THIS year's Leigh Folk Festival will see an explosion of music, dance, street theatre, workshops, children's events and story-telling from June 22 to 28. Now in its 18th year, the Leigh Folk Festival has become famous for its successful format of outdoor events in the library gardens on Saturday and in Old Leigh on Sunday, with a wide range of
indoor concerts and events running concurrently throughout
the seven-day period.

The aim of the community event is for folk musicians and dancers from the town's large pool of local talent to perform alongside nationally and internationally-known figures. Visitors will be entertained by dozens of musicians and dancers ranging from traditional and contemporary folk music through to blues, Celtic, English and Scottish dance groups, country dancing, Morris dancers, African dancers, international folk dance, jive and line-dancing.

Wide appeal
Paul Collier, the music organiser for the festival, explains: 'The weekend has always attracted an audience much wider than regular festival-goers and folk fans and the aim is to keep the festival accessible to all by staging a diverse and colourful range of events in public spaces,
with no admission charge.

'Watch out for performances from BBC Folk Awards nominees Faustus,
the much-fancied Smoke Fairies, and US bluegrass/country star Rachel Harrington. Alongside these headliners will be local heroes Phil Burdett, the Owl Service, Goldmaster All Stars, Wills Fargo and the Famous Potatoes, as well as many more. More leftfield highlights will include the pairing of free jazz saxophonist Trevor Watts with Steeleye Span fiddler Peter Knight and an intriguing collaboration between Welsh-Iranian folk singer Roshi and the cult electronica of Isnaj Dui.'

Increasing popularity
The Leigh Folk Festival was started in June 1992 as a local response to National Music Day, which involved a multitude of musical events around the UK, including everything from street-corner buskers to the Glastonbury Festival. The event held in Leigh proved so successful that it has been repeated every year since and it has now grown greatly in size, scope and popularity.

Paul adds: 'Last year's festival was an event to rival many of the commercial folk festivals happening around the UK during the summer, but without the typical £80-£100 ticket price tag, and is surely now the premier free folk festival in the country. What's more, with this open-door policy and the highly successful programme of workshops, it probably does more to inform and educate the public on the folk arts and traditions of these islands than many higher profile initiatives. The thing that sets it apart is it's open to everyone, including people that wouldn't necessarily pay to go to larger festivals. It's got a national reputation.'

Paul Collier - Festival organiser

Where do you live?
I live in Leigh on Sea - I was born
and bred here.

How did you get involved with the festival?
I have been involved with organising the festival for four years, but I've been involved as a performer for 18 years. I'm a drummer in a band called the Famous Potatoes which is celebrating its 30th anniversary
this year.

What are organisers hoping to achieve through the Leigh
Folk Festival?
We want it to appeal to as many people as possible, so we have a big programme which enables us to be diverse and try to offer something for everyone.

If you have never been to a music festival, why should you
come to the Leigh Folk Festival?
It isn't like Glastonbury. Don't expect muddy fields and chemical toilets. It's based around the town with lots of spontaneous things happening. It's a great local event and it adds a lot of atmosphere to the town. People are beginning to realise it's also putting the town on the map.

What are you looking forward to most at this year's event?
A concert we are holding at Leighton Church with saxophone player Trevor Watts and fiddler Peter Knight. I saw them do a show on London's South Bank and it was terrific. It will work beautifully in the church.

And the one event not to be missed?
A band called Faustus. They have a national reputation and are part of the young folk movement. They were nominated for one of the BBC Folk Awards this year.

Fact File

• The Leigh Folk Festival is believed to be the largest free folk festival in the country

• More than 70 bands and 30 dance groups will perform at the 2009 festival

• It costs in the region of £6,000 to £7,000 to stage the event

• The music organisers receive around 10 to 20 applications from bands
keen to perform at the festival every week

• There were up to 10,000 visitors
to last year's festival

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