The legendary Middlebar Singers have long been a fixture for many visiting the festival. We recently caught up with Tony Day from the group to find out a bit more…

What are the Middlebar Singers?

Anyone who comes to the upstairs room at The Anchor Inn to sing without an instrument during the Festival. Many of us have been doing this for ten, twenty or more years and so have become friends – but new friends are always welcome, and we add to our number most years.   

When did they start?

Back in the 1970s. In those days the Festival did not include the same breadth or number of events, but there were more pubs than now, where a lot of ad hoc music would take place. A few of us that just wanted to sing often found that we would be outnumbered by musicians, who tended to take over.  In 1979 we eventually found a bar at The Anchor with a sympathetic folkie landlord who let us use it on a regular basis – and it has continued every festival since.

What do they get up to throughout the year?

We hold a weekend Reunion at the Anchor in Sidmouth every February. It starts on Friday evening and we sing all day Saturday and then for three hours or so Sunday lunchtime. It’s been going since the 1980s and in the early years was a 24 hour non stop session – with no song to be sung more than once. Originally it was a challenge to prove we could, and to raise a lot of money for the Festival. Now it’s a chance to laugh, drink and sing together during the depths of winter.

Many of the people who sing in the Middle Bar can often be found in song sessions – or sometimes as paid guests – at various other folk  festivals during the year, or at their local folk club.  

During the Festival itself, whatever the weather, on Thursday at 3pm we process from the Anchor to the steps opposite The Bedford Hotel, to sing in the sea for a while. Why? Why not?  

Are there any rules?

The only real rule is that we haven’t had a musical instrument played in all the 45 years, and we want to keep it that way. There’s some “custom and practice” that helps the session to work for everybody. There’s a twig from a tree which is passed around the room – if you’ve got it, it’s your turn to sing next (if you want to).  We like respect, for singers and their songs, but other than that pretty much anything goes – though rousing chorus songs trend to go down best.

A collecting tin for the Festival goes around at least once an hour, with everyone invited to “Pop in a Pound” for the funds – not a lot to pay for a few hours fun?  

Where can we find them during Sidmouth Folk Festival?

Our original Middle Bar in the Anchor has long since been consumed as part of the restaurant, but we have been promised the upstairs room for as long as we want it. We sing every evening from 8 until closing time and every lunchtime from 12.30 until 3ish. We start on the first Thursday evening and continue until the final evening on Friday.      

Why should people join them?

If you enjoy singing – or just joining in the chorus – and don’t mind a bit of laughing and drinking thrown in, what’s to lose?  At its best the singing in the Middle Bar will bring tears to your eyes, (it might even do the same at its worst!)  We don’t take ourselves too seriously but, whilst not an “official” event, we’re all long time supporters of the Festival and down the years have raised many thousands of pounds for it. Come early to get a good seat!