Ralph McTell is a singer, musician and Ivor Novello Award- winning songwriter. He has performed at Sidmouth on numerous occasions and presented BBC radio’s coverage of the Festival in 1996.
1. What’s your earliest Sidmouth Folk Festival memory?
Arriving for my first outdoor Arena show (in 1984) and seeing how the festival affected and activated the whole town. I’ve always thought of Sidmouth as being about celebration, rather than just performances.
2. What’s your favourite moment during one of your own Sidmouth concerts?
The second time I played, I was with a backing band called Good Men In The Jungle, and that was quite memorable because we were flying by the seat of our pants! But every Sidmouth performance seems to have great moments and I always enjoy it.
3. Most memorable performances by other artists at Sidmouth?
Dave Swarbrick and Alastair Hulett performed an astonishing set in 1996. Also the sheer, majestic beauty of Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain – the music just flows out of them.
4. Any favourite Sidmouth memories away from the stages?
I have a sweet little memory of being in the Bedford Hotel as the all-day session was dying-out and the meeting of melodeon players took over a room out the back. I listened for about half an hour to some really jolly music and lovely playing on this quintessentially English folk instrument and it was just a magical little moment.
5. You’ve performed at festivals all over the world. What makes Sidmouth special?
I think if people are looking to be introduced to what turns us on about the music they should go to Sidmouth during the festival and see the all morris dancers, people playing fiddles on the beach – or the even the George Formby Appreciation Society plonking away on their ukuleles on the Esplanade! Sidmouth possesses a lovely light-heartedness alongside the earnestness and seriousness of the folk song performers on the stages – and it all gets beautifully interwoven somehow.
6. Have you ever danced at a Late Night Extra ceilidh?
Not down at Sidmouth but I have played the saw in a ceilidh band in Fulham Town Hall, and I’ve never laughed so much in my life! I’ve been to a few ceilidhs in my time. I remember watching people dancing in wellies in the mud at a folk festival after it had been raining all day. I love all that stuff!
7. Your old friend Richard Thompson is performing at Sidmouth this year for the first time. Any advice for the new boy?
I think Richard’s transcended any advice that anyone would dare offer because he’s almost Saint Richard now! He’s absolutely fantastic – an uncompromising performer of immense talent. So just do your stuff Richard and knock ‘em dead!
8. We hear there’s a new album on the way. Can you tell us anything about it?
In 1972 I made an album called Not Till Tomorrow with the producer Tony Visconti, which is still many people’s favourite record of mine from those early years. More recently I received an e-mail from Tony out of the blue, saying he was working with David Bowie in New York and he’d found a copy of ‘our album’ in a second-hand store and was listening to it on the train. We got back together again and we’ve recorded a new album. Tony chose which songs to record – some with an orchestra, some with strings and some with just a good rhythm section. I’m delighted with it.
9. What can the Sidmouth audience expect from your Ham show on Friday 2nd August?
At festivals I always acknowledge that there will be people who haven’t seen me before so I will do a medley of my greatest hit, some songs from way back, and there’ll be one brand new song and a newish one. Playing a festival is different to your own concerts. It’s always a challenge to keep people involved and interested who maybe doesn’t know your material, so I hope to rise to the occasion!
Ralph plays our second pre-festival concert at The Ham on Friday 2nd August 3pm. Last few tickets available here: