I travelled up early on Friday, which gave some time to wander around Durham in the afternoon before the festival started. Although having the venues spread about around the city rather than all together in one student union or campus, meant you got to see a bit more of the city then you have with some of the previous festivals.
Explored the park by the station when I arrived, which strangely felt like I'd fallen into a real life surreal prisoner-esq drama, as I tried to find my way out of it again only to find all the paths led to fences and every time a turned a corner there were these 3 women with prams and their personal trainer charging at me. Eventually escaped and went to hide at the top of a tall tower. Helpfully they had one in the cathedral, which has the added bonus of pretty amazing views.
Eventually I went to find the festival office to dump stuff a collect tickets. Working on the principle that I had an A-Z and the receipt said where the festival office was, I didn't worry too much about finding it in advance. However, knowing the place is called Alington House was not actually that much help when it wasn't marked on the map. Went and asked in the student union, but they hadn't heard of it either, and had to look it up to find out what road it was on (having alredy given me another map of the university without it on).
However, once I'd found it, the festival got off to a really good start with the Friday ceilidh with 422 and Martyn Harvey being as mad as ever. It did get a bit packed towards the end, and dances like cornish 6-hand got a bit interesting when the sets where all pretty much touching. It wasn't helped by the number of tables at one end of the room, which could have made the dance floor considerably larger by not being there. However, the organisers obviously realised this as they weren't for the Saturday night dances.
The disco ceilidh, which followed 422 was an interesting idea, but not being a big fan of discos it would have been nice to have had an alternative to decamp to. That said the bar did prove a useful escape from the attack of the likes of Abba, so I just about managed to survive without my ears bleeding too much.
The late night dancing was a bit of a disappointment, being practically non-existent due to the size of the rooms set aside for it. Once the musicians were in there, it was pretty much full, so a session was all that was really practical. They did manage to take over one of the sleeping venues for a bit of dancing for about 30 mins on the Friday, but even that wasn't huge and Pete Grasby was doing his usual trick of completely taking over and annoying everyone. That said, short of magicing up a bigger venue out of nowhere, there was probably no alternative.
The workshops were generally all very good (the ones I went to at least), but generally had too many people in them and not enough room. Space wasn't so much of an issue for High Spen's rapper workshop, but as they went down the teach each set individually route (as most rapper workshops do) and there wasn't enough of them to go around, it did leave a lot of standing around waiting for an opportunity to grab one of them to show you the next bit of their dance. Gave up on getting into the Folk Waltzing workshop when I couldn't really get through the door, as it was so crammed. The clog workshop on the other hand had a huge venue, so there was loads of space to move around so you could all see what was going on.
The Saturday evening concert had to be one of the highlights of the festival. Fidola brought an amazing combination of English and Swedish folk. The Young 'Uns had amazing voices that worked together really well. However, unsurprisingly it was Eliza Carthy that stole the show. It was also probably the best chosen venue of the whole festival, as the acoustics of the church were amazing. It was like sitting inside a loudspeaker.
The contra was a little disappointing by IVFDF standards, although it was both a good band (Vertical Expression) and good caller (Adam Hughes). In previous years, there has often been a ceilidh running alongside the contra, so that the people there are people there have been people who have deliberately chosen to be at a contra and even the beginners are expecting something a little different. As a result some of the walk throughs fell apart a bit and at least one of the dances had to be abandoned. It also didn't help that the caller couldn't be heard from the other end of the hall very well, a problem that both Martyn Harvey and Gordon Potts also had in that venue. That said, at least, as Adam's an experienced caller he was able to adapt to the circumstances and pull it all back together into a decent contra.
Whapweasel were as good as ever, but did also suffer from the issues of the caller not being heard from the bottom end of the hall.
On the Sunday the Finnish workshop was interesting, but also suffered from the space issues. There was also a problem with the CD player so it didn't start until quite late. The workshop leader, who I got the impression hadn't done many before, coped quite well given the circumstances. However, she did spend a bit too long going around the sets individually making sure everyone was getting things exactly right, when I suspect it would have been better to just give people an idea of what should be happening and go for breadth of dances rather than depth. The leader for the Greek workshop, who was clearly a bit more experienced, had the same space issues, but managed to adapt by have concentric circles of dances and getting people to swap around, so everyone had a chance to watch what her feet were going.
One of the most unfortunate things of the whole festival, was that they had to have 2 survivors ceilidhs as the central venues were too small. Admittedly, there wasn't much that could be done about this, but it did mean you didn't get almost everyone in one place for the general flopping and seeing if you could muster up enough energy for an extra dance or so as you said goodbye to everyone. I opted for the scratch band ceilidh, as the relaxed combination of scratch band and anyone who wants to have a go at calling always seems appropriate for the end of IVFDF.
A lot of the familiar faces that are at IVFDF every year seemed to be missing this year, which was a shame, but there were still loads of people to catch up with. It just seemed a little weird that, for a festival I've been going to for a number of years, most of the people I was socialising with were people I've only got to know during the past year or people I'd just met.
All in all a good festival.