I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist this title. It has, after all, been the chant of this festival for as long as my memory recalls. As I am sure you have guessed, it has less to do with broad, rich weaving together of cultures and craftsmanship, and rather more to do with the 9% cider we drink every year in the same bookshop-come-micropub.
A friend visited the festival last year from my job in Bath. She referred to Bath as ‘sleepy’ and my father nearly choked on his pomegranate-topped angel delight (the summit of exotocism in these parts, don’t knock ‘til you’ve tried). He marvelled aloud how she could think it sleepier than this cliff-edge town. An end of the road, end of the earth kind of place. To prove him right, which I always hate to do, that evening I went to see five traditional musicians playing together in a room above a local pub. There were four people in the audience, myself included.
That said, I sit now at the local bandstand and it is heaving. Foaming at the mouth for more violin-based Ska music.
We leave the proper folk to the hemp-wearing, self-taught tye-dye artists who camp out in our local school fields and fork out £15 for a ticket to the ceilidh dance masterclasses. Meanwhile, the locals gather with plastic pint glasses to watch the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. People aren’t dancing so much as skipping (we’ve gotten into the spirit of folk that much at least) to a tinny rendition of Teenage Kicks by the Undertones. The flooring around the bandstand is wooden, I assume for the benefit of the down-from-Oxford tap dancers, but by evening time it is occupied by topless babies and teenagers in crop tops prancing across it, propelling themselves forth from the spring it provides underfoot. “Double…please” is shouted across the masses. I continue to be enamoured by the increasingly ambitious covers, we’re onto Mr Brightside now, and the best friend’s-ex boyfriend’s-aunty’s-sister who has taken to throwing herself across the wooden floor; so much so that I am not even distracted by the wheelchair and its occupant who momentarily freefall down the slope of grass in the foreground.
So that is testament indeed to the music and the appreciation of it by the locals.
And then of course there’s Wagonwheel and Dirty Old Town and every other conceivable folk song that I’ve heard by semi-attractive bands of men with dodgy double-bass players. And if one ignores the alarming age decline of the Morris Dancers (I know, I know, Morris Dancing and Incest. Life’s two big Nos. But someone needs to step in, and soon.) and the undeniably sinister hobby-horses shrouding drunk old men (who, coincidentally, are also increasingly precarious on their feet), then it’s ridiculous and it’s home.
Someone once told me that seaside babies can, point to the sea from anywhere on the planet. Point I did. Pointed out that the sea is in pretty much any direction if you’re willing to travel far enough. The truth is, I know about three quarters of a sea shanty, and that’s pretty good going for Thanet. We don’t sense if the tide is low; but we will, apparently, dance like lunatics to ‘You are my Sunshine’ when a Ukulele Orchestra imports it into town.
The folk genre is broad, very broad. It lollops in gradients unrecognisable from one end to the other. So traditional, popular, Woody Guthrie or Bright Eyes – drink up, Get Folked.
Words Sarah Harrington
Images Bunny Shepherd