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5 Minutes With Leigh Folk Festival’s Mick Davison

This year, we’re delighted to be sponsoring Leigh Folk Festival as it brings four days of music, culture, and community to our coastal neighbourhood. So, we took 5 minutes to talk to Chairman of the UK’s largest free folk festival Mick Davison about the event’s origins, how to best enjoy the festival, and what really counts as folk music.

Hi Mick! Could you tell us a bit about what you do?

I’ve been involved with Leigh Folk Festival since the beginning – just as an artist. Then, years back, I was persuaded by the then Chairman to come and sit on the committee so that I could take over from him when he retired.

I did that for five years before stepping down and staying on the committee – and now I’m Chairman again!

Leigh Folk Festival is a huge event these days – how did it start?

So, it started way back in 1982 – and it’s actually down to Mick Jagger (or Sir Mick Jagger, I should say). He kept pushing the government for a National Music Day, which kind of naturally evolved into a music festival held in Southend.

There was already a classical music festival in Southend at the time, so we moved to the old town of Leigh, and that’s how Leigh Folk Festival was born. In those days it was very small with lots of local bands, and over the years it’s developed into – as far as we’re aware – the largest free folk festival in the country. We’ve got more mud than Glastonbury, but we keep it on the other side of the water!

It’s nearly entirely organised by volunteers, which is kind of remarkable when you consider the size, right?

We’re an official charity. Leigh Folk Festival is totally run by volunteers and virtually all of it is free. However, it has become so big over the last few years that we are now employing outside people to help us run the event.

Donations from the public, raffles, grants, and ticketed events throughout the year keep us going. We also realised as we got bigger that we needed sponsors like Ruark Audio, which is relatively new for us.

Do people travel from far and wide to see the festival each year?

They do – and some of the bands come quite some distance. Quite often they say, ‘Why haven’t we heard of this before?!’, but the truth is we don’t want to publicise it too much to avoid it getting bigger than we can manage!

We’ve had bands play Glastonbury on the Saturday and then join us in Leigh for the Sunday, absolutely amazed by the whole thing.

Despite having ‘folk’ in the name, the festival is quite diverse in terms of what’s on offer with different styles of music, arts and crafts, spoken word, and comedy. How did that evolve?

There’s been a constant argument from more traditional types that it’s no longer a folk festival. I disagree with them. We are a folk festival, but we have a diverse range of music now.

You could argue that the modern equivalent to traditional folk music is rap. It’s the music of the people, particularly the young people. It’s the music of the folk.

What even is, what is folk music? What is a folk festival apart from a festival for the folk? We have all types of folk turning up, grandparents, great grandparents, kids in prams, mums and dads. To me, that’s a folk festival.

Arts and crafts are just genetically part of the folk scene, so that came about very naturally, while one of our committee members is very into spoken word. We’ve done Maypole dancing, face painting, belly dancing, all sorts.

What parts of the festival would you recommend to a complete newbie?

Where do you start? I’d definitely recommend going to the open mic in the church because it’s simply such a fantastic venue (and they do beautiful homemade cakes). If you’ve never been before, the mistake to make is getting stuck in one spot. You need to wander to get a real feel for it.

I suppose I should also say come on Sunday to the opening concert on the main stage, which is when my band is playing!

Leigh Folk Festival is taking place on 22nd-25th June 2023, at Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. More information is available at

Listen to our Leigh Folk Festival playlist.