Folk fans are flocking to Cromer in their thousands for the 15th annual Folk on the Pier festival.

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The event, which producer Scott Butler describes as “possibly the most important English folk-rock festival in the country”, will see some of the genre’s top names on stage at the pier’s pavilion theatre, with an extensive fringe programme of artists performing at venues around the resort.

Among big names heading for the north Norfolk coast are Fairport Convention, giants and founders of the folk-rock movement, who performed at the inaugural event.

Fairport’s bass player, Dave Pegg, once described Folk on the Pier as “the best gig on the North Sea,” and Mr Butler said its reputation was such that, for the first time in the festival’s history, the afternoon concerts had sold out as well as the evening performances.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “It takes a while to establish a festival but I think we’ve got there. It’s enabled me to ‘up’ my programming and we’ve got higher-profile artists all the way through. The festival is also unique in being on the end of a pier.”

Mr Butler estimated that as well as the 3,000 seats sold for concerts, the festival attracted unknown numbers of visitors who came to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy fringe performances.

It had turned what was once a quiet post-bank holiday period in Cromer into a busy pre-season three days, he said. He was pleased to see that one online accommodation bookings website had a strap across the top warning: “Cromer is particularly busy this weekend.”

And it was also a busy time for crew members with 18 acts – the most the theatre had to cope with in one weekend – whose equipment had to be taken from one end of the pier to the other, and back again afterwards.

Mr Butler hopes the indifferent weekend weather forecast will not deter music-lovers without tickets from visiting the town to enjoy fringe events, most of which are free apart from today’s noon gig in Cromer Church featuring Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, and Michael Chapman in the Cliftonville Hotel Ballroom at 5pm. Tickets for each are £6 on the door.

The festival opened yesterday afternoon with fringe events and two concerts, including radical acoustic band Seize the Day, and finishing with Show of Hands with Miranda Sykes, mixing rock, roots blues, country and traditional music on an array of instruments from slide guitar to fiddle, mandolin to South American cuatro.

Today’s pier theatre acts include Ashley Hutchings’ Rainbow Chasers, the 40-strong Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble and, bringing a touch of the Celtic cousin to the English folk theme, Breton band Sonerien Du.

Tomorrow is given over to Fairport Convention and its talented members with spin-off bands performing throughout the day.

■ For daily reviews from the festival see the What’s On section of this website

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