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Ruth Archer What's happened to Sidmouth? (230* d) RE: What's happened to Sidmouth? 04 Mar 11

Hi Chris,

It's interesting to hear your perspective, and thanks for the feedback. As I'm sure you are aware, Sidmouth has many constituent audiences, and many people who see themselves as stakeholders in the festival. While we have to make certain decisions for economic reasons, we also try to provide a festival which caters for all of these audiences, and must programme a range of much-loved favourites while at the same time providing new and innovative programming. I will try to deal with your points individually:

"Looking at this year's programme, it appears to have been hijacked by the current 'let's develop new audiences / appeal to the yoof of today' trendies. Talk about 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' or 'biting the hand that feeds you' ... "

Well, I'm not entirely sure where that idea comes from, but I'd be interested for you to provide some examples. Yes, we do things like Motown Ceilidh and Silent Disco, but Sidmouth has always had a silly streak which seemed to be one of its strengths. However, we also have Ham headliners such as Kate Rusby, Show of Hands, The Spooky Men's Chorale, Dougie MacLean, the reunion of Home Service, Roy Bailey and Tony Benn's The Writing on the Wall, Karine Polwart, Peggy Seeger...I'm not really sure how these artists equate to trying to pander to "yoof" or "today's trendies".

In the Bulverton we have a programme that has tried to provide some of the international focus and flavour that the festival has become known for: hence Nidi d'Arac and Anxo Lorenzo. These are fantastic artists with international reputations. The Yiddish Twist Orchestra and Moishe's Bagel are great examples of what happens to international music when it comes to Britain and takes on new influences and styles.

"Sidmouth, because of its scale and popularity has always had to meet the needs of very diverse audiences, seperated either by age, musical interests, dance vs concerts etc etc. It was 'by and large' over the years a successful formula."

I would agree, and we are certainly trying to maintain that variety and appeal to a whole range of audiences with the current programme.

"But now, the social dance programme and the ceilidh programme has been basically 'axed' with only two 'named' bands being booked to perform - Random and Steamchicken."

This is simply not true. If anything, we have taken on board the difficulties with Social Dance in recent years and have gone very much for a "back to basics" programme that features some of the most popular bands and callers: Colin Hume, Mike Courtold, Lynne Render, Barrie Bullimore, Bill & Barbara Kinsman, Momentum, Meg, Molly & Bill, Folkus Pocus and the English Contra Dance Band. There will also be a new programme of afternoon tea dances in the Blackmore Marquee.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that only two ceilidh bands have been booked (are you on our mailing list? Maybe you should be, as the new leaflet with a lot of this information has just been sent out). So far we have announced Tiger Moth, the Simon Care All Stars, Steamchicken, Glorysrokes, The Old Swan Band, The Watch, Hekety, Random, Rod Stradling's Phoenix Band, and there are several more to come. The number of ceilidhs will remain what it has been in recent years - which is actually more like 29, with two per day at the Anchor, one each evening at Blackmore, plus the LNEs.

"Also, there has been a creeping mentality of 'bulk buying' artists to obviously strike economically favourable deals. But I am afraid that this just leads to a stagnant artistic programme. In 2010 there was the usual Blue Murder, Watersons, CBS, Tamms and Coope AND Spiers and Boden, Bellowhead, S&B Celidh etc etc .... I am afraid that the belief that people want to watch the same people wearing different hats is born from someone of little creativity driven by money and not by artistic direction."

Well, just to clarify slightly with regard to last year: we did not book The Watersons, nor Spiers and Boden as a concert band. The S&B ceilidh was offered to me, and as it had not been done anywhere else before, I accepted. It was a popular event which had about 850 attenders.

With your wider point I would also take some exception. Yes, we do book offshoots of different groups and bands. Yes, it is cost-effective to do so. But with over 600 individual events (not counting the family festival), I try to ensure that there is a balance maintained within the programme and that such things do not become dominant. You seem to want us to bring all the individual artists down to Devon for one day and then send them on their way, but this is not particularly sensible in terms of costs to the festival - keep in mind we are still getting the festival back on to sound financial footing and paying off a debt of 60k that accrued from 2005 - 2008. My job is to create an interesting and diverse programme while sticking to very stringent financial controls. We have turned the festival around financially in the last 2 years, but it's an uncertain financial climate out there, and we still need to be cautious.

Having said that, programming offshoots of bands, or artists to appear in several contexts, is hardly a new or even recent idea. Many people like the opportunity to see their favourite artists several times during the festival in different combinations. One thing I do not do, which did happen pre-2009, is book many artists for the entire week. Most artists come in for 2 - 3 days, which helps to maintain the variety of the programme over the whole week.

"I love Jim Mory but I don't want to see/hear him providing Mowtown, Tribute music, silent disco etc at Sidmouth 2011 he's too good a creative musician for that."

Well, Jim Moray wants to do these things, and he's very good at them. He's doing the folk quiz again this year, too. We have had his band for the last two years, so there have been good opportunities to see him in his more usual incarnation; one of the great things about Sidmouth is that it gives artists the chance to do things they can't do anywhere else, and the audience a chance to see their favourite artists in new and different contexts.

I hope this has addressed your concerns. The only thing I would add is that ticket sales have been steadily growing, so it would seem that many of our stakeholders are very happy with the direction we are going in and the programming we're providing. Perhaps we'll see you in August.

Best wishes,

Joan Crump
Artistic Director

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