The joint is jumping... in Broadstairs

A folk festival in a quiet seaside resort in Kent? It doesn't sound promising, but it works. By Robert Maycock
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The Independent Culture
BEING MOONED by a line of women through a restaurant window was one of the extras. Broadstairs is already different enough from other summer festivals. Instead of planting itself in fields and tents, it takes over the town centre.

Every available space, indoors and out, buzzes with music, usually all at the same time. Highly organised it may be, but the impact is anarchic and the late-night street life has a joyous energy you would more readily find in Latin countries.

Or maybe in a more boisterous English past. The town itself is one key to the character of Folk Week. At the eastern edge of Kent, it has sea on three sides and feels more remote than it looks on the map. You don't go there on the way to anywhere else. It is a strange place to find a well-preserved and thriving resort, and the mixture of pleasure-seeking and geographical extremity gives its atmosphere a slightly unhinged quality which the crowds of musicians and their followers amplify.

The event is massive, and has escaped a high national profile because people come more on recommendation than PR. It lacks the budget for a daily diet of international stars. What it does have is a concentration of performers that are making a name on the traditional music circuit, and a large number of pubs within staggering distance. Lunchtimes and evenings see around 20 events going on at once. Apart from the pub gigs, there are a couple of bigger venues, a bandstand, and street corners and promenades galore.

English and Celtic music have the biggest share of time, plus a bewildering range of Morris dancers, from the effete to the downright violent. When all the evening shows are running late and the audiences spill out onto the road, word of strong acts gets around fast - on Thursday, the hot (free) ticket was Hot Rats, up-tempo fiddle with sax and bass.

Diversity, however, is becoming the rule. Cajun and Zydeco were this year's growth area, and the experiment was world and cross-cultural music, with Shiva Nova invited back for next year. Workshops fed the mix as a constant reminder of the eclectic sources that have been the making of the English tradition. You may know in the abstract that "Morris" comes from "Moorish", but when you see an Irish drum successfully usurp the role of an Indian tabla, you sense new links directly.

Late on Friday night, a wild torchlit procession of all the loudest percussion and the scariest costumes went crashing down the narrow main street to the sea, with a healthy lack of respect for sleeping townspeople, most of whom were packed onto the pavements anyway. It snaked into the distance with the air of marching on London to depose a royal or two. Or, with thunderous Japanese drummers taking the lead, a multinational. Whoever said this was museum culture?

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