FolkEast in Suffolk is a celebration of folk like no other

stephen foster folkeast

FolkEast founders Becky and John Marshall-Potter joining Foz on air during one of his FolkEast broadcasts - Credit: Stephen Foster

Name as many countries as you can that have their own folk songs. That was a task I remember being set as part of a test in a music lesson at my old school - Copleston Secondary in Ipswich - in the mid-1970s.

In those days my knowledge of traditional music didn’t stretch much further than Ralph McTell, Lindisfarne and Steeleye Span but it didn’t take me long to broaden my horizons.

Early in my broadcasting career it was the likes of John Goodluck and Pete Jennings who were my direct link to what was happening on Suffolk’s acoustic music scene.

Much has happened in the intervening four decades but one constant is how much passion for folk music there is in my home county.

I have been blessed with an eclectic taste in music and that has held me in very good stead, particularly when it’s come to covering numerous music festivals.

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Thanks in no small part to the Ipswich-born music publicist Richard Wootton I have been able to forge a close association with many of those on the UK folk scene. From the late 1980s to the early 2000s I did radio interviews back stage at the world famous Cambridge Folk Festival.

Among the best known acts I interviewed in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall were singer Judy Collins, British blues great John Mayall and American blues star Keb Mo.

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There were dozens more but after 25 years the novelty of being on site had worn off and in any case Suffolk’s festival scene was starting to take off. To be honest, I felt the Cambridge Folk Festival had become too crowded and until then I hadn’t known what it felt like to be claustrophobic. Even the designated media area to the left of the main stage was getting mighty crowded.

So it was goodbye to Cambridge and very soon hello to FolkEast. What a god send that event has been to this region’s traditional music offer. Organisers Becky and John Marshall-Potter have built a celebration of folk like no other and could not have been more accommodating to people like me in the media.

They welcomed my involvement with open arms and very soon I was an emcee on the Sunrise stage introducing Sunday night headliners like Richard Thompson, Bellowhead, Jon Boden and Eliza Carthy as well as others on the bill including Irish band Beoga who had collaborated with Ed Sheeran on the massive hit Galway Girl, a record that Radio Two’s Steve Wright seems to play at every opportunity.

Away from the main stage at FolkEast I hosted Friday teatime outside broadcasts from just outside the busy Cobbold Arms. The late Philip Hope-Cobbold was always up for a chat. So too was the folk-loving owner of The Froize Inn David Grimwood along with any number of local musicians on site including the much-missed Mat Bayfield. I never got to hear Mat’s impersonation of me but I’m told by his widow Kelly it was very good! 

Every year during my special broadcasts from the grounds of Glemham Hall it was a case of so many visiting guests, so little time. My personal highlights on that score were live performances by Irish Mythen, FolkEast patrons The Young ‘Uns, Steve Tilston and the folk supergroup Daphne’s Flight.

daphne's flight folkeast

Folk supergroup Daphne’s Flight with Foz at a very wet FolkEast 2019 - Credit: Stephen Foster

I loved those outside broadcasts, even when technical issues threatened to spoil the party. Engineer David Butcher and his trusty right hand man David Whiting always kept the show on the road.

Due to my commitments at the two day SummerFest event on the Ipswich waterfront over the same weekend I can’t make FolkEast this year but I fully intend to be back there in 2022. I have nothing but admiration for Becky and John and their hardworking crew who help ensure Suffolk remains at the forefront of folk music.

So how did you get on with listing all those countries with their own folk songs? If you named every single nation in the world give yourself a big pat on the back. Music is everywhere and no matter what life throws at us, music will always will be part of life on earth. I’ll always be grateful to my music teacher John Cubitt for opening my eyes and ears to that.

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