WHITBY FOLK WEEK
We originally bought our tickets in 2020. They were carried forward to 2021, and then again to 2022. So we were delighted to set off for Whitby this year with our rations of Eccles cakes and Lancashire cheese. We picked up our wristbands and the programme of 499 events, and started to draw up a plan for the week. There are difficult decisions to be made - there are clashes every day! I doubt that any two people share exactly the same experience. Whatever your interest, Whitby has something to offer you, either as a participant or a spectator. And there are some sessions that you are unlikely to find anywhere else – the Christmas carols led by Ian Russell and a string and brass orchestra, for instance, where singers queue with the determination of shoppers seeking bargains in the Boxing Day sales.
Folk Week takes over every theatre and concert room in Whitby. The venues are clustered into two groups, in West Cliff at the top of the town, and around the Coliseum down by the harbour. All too often, a concert at the bottom of the town is followed by one at the top. It can be an energetic week! Workshops start at 10 o’clock. I attended tin whistle class every morning with the ever-patient May Cheadle, while Freda relaxed with tai chi. Then came a talk - we learned such a lot during the week! On Sunday, Martin Graebe, with his wife Shan, told us about the life of Alfred Williams and the songs he collected along the Upper Thames. Sara Grey talked - and sang - with Trish Hearne about Ozark Ballads and Songs on Monday. She must have worked harder than anyone that week. She was still singing when we saw her on Friday with Lorie Lichtenwalner.
On Tuesday, John Bowden talked with great enthusiasm about the Canadian song collector Edith Fowke. Long ago, I had the honour of walking Edith Fowke home in Whitby one night! She was very slight and it was a very windy night. As we walked away from the Spa Theatre, I was worried that she might be blown over the cliff like a leaf. She stopped, turned to me and asked, “Would you mind if I held your arm?” And so, arm in arm, we walked back to her hotel. We try to attend the Roy Palmer Memorial Lecture every year, as we were close friends of Roy and his wife Pat. This year, Julia Bishop entertained us, asking, “What shall we do with Folk Song Music?” And Martin and Shan Graebe educated us a little more on Thursday, telling us about the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould and his song collecting in Cornwall.
Whitby offers such a wide variety of performers, and we seized our opportunities. I found the interplay between Maclaine Colston on hammered dulcimer and Saul Rose on melodeon irresistible. Freda was impressed by Alice Jones and Bryony Griffith. “Frank Kidson had Yorkshire roots,” Alice told us, and then wondered, “Can you still have roots if you are dead?” “Probably more so,” replied Bryony, with the sharpest response of the week.
Among the many special events during the week, the Spa Theatre presented Morai with “Framed; The Alice Wheeldon Story”. In a barely-believable account, Alice Wheeldon of Derby was convicted in 1917 of conspiring to murder the Prime Minister David Lloyd George. This is the moving story of the family’s fight for justice. Later, we saw Morai in concert, and the members popped up in other groups too. Jo Freya joined her sister Fi in Token Women. We somehow gained admission to the Youth Ceilidh, where they were playing with their usual exuberance. Their lovely caller, Michelle Holding, insisted that we joined in.
We were impressed by the sets, the costumes and the performances of the star-studded production of Peter Bellamy’s folk-opera The Transports. I remember the night that Freda came home from a Peter Bellamy concert clutching the double LP, on which Peter had written, “Thank you, Freda, for making my night.” We also enjoyed the mighty sound of the “The Melsons”, the voices of the Wilsons and the Melrose Quartet combined.
Friday sees the Workshop Showcase, where people perform the pieces they have learned during the week. And a noisy procession snakes through the town, led by the heather garland prepared earlier in the day. Our final concert finished in great style with the Melrose Quartet. Whitby seemed very quiet on Saturday morning as we went shopping for curd tarts and plum bread, loaded the car and set off home. But we had already bought our tickets for next year.Visit the website