THE ECCENTRICITIES of Whitby Folk Festival captivated audiences once again last week, with impromptu jamming sessions and organised dances taking over the town.
The unmistakable “Folkies”, many with faces painted black and streamers hanging from their costumes, filled the town for a celebration of British heritage.
Poor weather disrupted some outdoor dances, but indoor events were busy as people shied away from the weather.
“We had a good week overall”, said organiser Barry Evans, who pointed out the pirate-themed ceilidh on Thursday evening as a personal highlight. He added: “It was a lovely night, well received, and everybody had fun.”
The symbol of Whitby Folk Festival is eight interlocking Yorkshire longswords. However, in recent years Rapper sword dancing, which originated in Northumberland, has grown in popularity and was widely on display.
While attendance numbers at the festival are currently remaining constant, Barry said that a lack of education is threatening the survival of this heritage. “Traditions in this country are very poorly represented,” he explained. I find it a shame that people at large know very little about our cultural heritage. There’s a total lack of education in it and we don’t take it seriously enough. But it’s our heritage and it’s what makes us who we are.”
One widely misunderstood tradition is that of wearing black face paint. Black-faced folk teams were even banned from dancing outside museums in Liverpool for fear it would offend racial minorities. However, Barry explained the costume’s true meaning: “It goes back into history. Where these dance traditions come from is agricultural areas and in winter work was thin on the ground. So what they used to do is go round the pubs collecting money for beer. The black faces was to make them anonymous, so they wouldn’t get a reputation as beggars.”
The next Whitby Folk Festival takes place 17 to 23 August 2013. For updates visit Whitby Folk Week Facebook page and the website www.whitbyfolk.co.uk.