CELEBRATE 25 years of folk at the annual Tredegar House Folk Festival during its weekend of international dance, music and song. Reporter SOPHIE BROWNSON discoverers why it has been so successful and how Gwent has embraced folk culture.

THIS weekend sees Tredegar House play host to the 25th annual Folk Festival. Folk fans from across the country and around the globe will gather at the historic site in Newport to celebrate folk culture through dance and music.

Hundreds of folk fans are expected to attend to see performances including Flook, Alaw, Vin Garbutt and Quicksilver, along with dance displays including Folklore Ensemble Gramnitsy from Belarus, and Matenik from the Czech Republic.

Honorary president of the festival, Labour MP for Newport West Paul Flynn has been a part of the festival for the past 15 years.

Mr Flynn said the success of the festival in its 25th year was down to its variety and ability to have something for everyone.

“It started off as a small festival but it has built up to something that has music, dance, colour and fun,” he said. “Every year there is two or three groups from abroad-particularly Eastern Europe and there are a huge number of local groups who do the folk dancing over the three days.

“I always look forward to it at the start of May and it has always gone from success to success.”

He added: “I don’t dance myself but I am an enthusiastic spectator.

“The festival has kept up the interest over the years and if the weather is good it is fun to have it outside, but if not then the marquees are there for indoor events.

“The festival always has something for everyone - I enjoy it all. We have dancers who come from Ireland and a group of Irish dancers from Newport. It is very much a folk event and people who get a thrill from dancing and singing attend.

“The event has a hard working committee who make it great and the festival is an important highlight of the life of Newport," he said. "It is an accessible event on the wonderful grounds of Tredegar House and Park and something to be very proud of.

“It is a great treasure to the city.”

Chairwoman of the festival and dancer Sue Oates of Newport, said it was amazing that the festival is celebrating 25 years.

“We have got lots of different things this year - we are trying to push the boat out,” she said.

“We have the Gurkha community coming along with a team from Belarus and the Czech Republic as well as dancers from all over the UK. We have such a variety of things this year and we are trying to make t a family event that is good for everyone.

“I used to dance there years ago and from that I became more involved with the running of it and we have seen it grow and grow and grow. A lot of that is thanks to Art Council Wales and Newport council who have helped the festival financially.”

Ms Oates said that the success of the festival comes from the hard working committee made up of volunteers.

This year the festival will push the Campaign for Real Ale, with around 26 plus real ales on offer throughout the course of the event.

“We have joined the Campaign for Real Ale,” Ms Oates said. “Most folk festival people like it and the different varieties and the overseas teams find it a real eye opener. We will be serving it in one of the barns.”

This will be Ms Oates ninth year as chairwoman of the festival and she expects to see hundreds at this year’s festival, weather permitting.

“It is nice that a lot of people come from all over - not just Newport," she said. “We have had people from America come over to take part. It is hard to say how many people will come this year - if we get some sun it will be a lot but we have provisions for the wet weather.

“The festival brings a lot of culture to Newport and it is the variety of what we bring hat make it successful. Its folk dance but there is also so many different styles and we have international dance as well as the bands and singers from Ireland, Wales and England.

“I always look forward to the dancing-especially the international teams as they all come over off their own steam and pay their own fares. I think it is amazing that it has been going on for so long and it is nice to see families and young people embrace culture.”

The Newport Folk Club which has been around since 1962 is committed to encouraging and supporting folk performers and musicians in the area.

Chairman of Newport Folk Club Terry Parsons said that around 60 members of the club will be attending the festival.

“Members have been going for 25 years to the festival,” he said. “Over the past 12 months we have seen membership increase and I think it is because of the venue at High Cross which is comfortable and well lit.

“I have been at the club for 15 years and I think that the dancing and the music is more accessible than other types of music. Folk is the basis of modern pop music.

“I think the community singing and the concerts are very very good and I think it is the bringing together of so many people that makes the Tredegar House Folk festival so great.”

Honorary vice-president of the festival Stephen Lyons is very proud of the entertainment the festival has provided over the past 25 years despite the fact the festival is organised solely by volunteers.

Mr Lyons who has been involved with the festival since it first started 25 years ago believes it is special because it was create by folk enthusiasts.

“It is created by folk enthusiasts who want to share it with the public for free,” he said. “We present 16 hours free to the public with over 20 different dance groups and over 300 dancers from places across the UK and groups from Belarus and the Czech Republic.”

He said that the idea came when the council asked if some dancers could provide entertainment help it out in 1988 and it grew from there

“We unite all of the community dance groups - all of the people who do it for free for love and we unite them in a huge showcase,” he added. “Our goal is to educate the public and present folk in an accessible way and that is what we have been doing for 25 years.”

Organised by the Tredegar House Folk Festival committee, information and ticket prices can be found on their website www.tredegarhousefestival.org.uk or through the Riverfront online booking service on their website www.newport.gov.uk/theriverfront