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The Milkmaid Songwriting Competition in 2024 saw applications from all over the UK hoping for the chance to share their song at one of the 4 heats in Bury St Edmunds.  40 songs were chosen to perform and these included songwriters travelling from beyond Glasgow, down to Poole.  The variety was broad and the standard extremely high.  Audience members who came to any one of the Heats were bowled over by the musicality, stage craft and poignant songs that met their ears.

As in previous years, there were 4 judges with differing tastes and opinions scoring on a pre-agreed grid.  This year there were 50 points available to award.  With 15 points each for Music and for Lyrics; 10 for Performance and 5 each for relevance to folk and for je ne sais quoi.  The aim was to give more of a breadth in scoring to see more easily which songs should go through to the final.  The judges will tell you that they needed every point and even used decimals when they met to make this important decision.

The heats were exquisite; the final even more so.  With songs telling of war heroes; political tensions; unwritten people from history; literary scholars; natural phenomena and human losses.  There were tingles running down the back, gasps of excitement and awe, with a few tears wiped surreptitiously away.  Ultimately the winners of the night were anybody within listening distance.  And yet the time came for the judges to skulk into a quiet place and argue out the winner and runner up.  Whilst the judges weighed and measured, the audience had the delight of Tony Phillips performing with Faradina Affifi and the bar was abandoned as everyone was raptured.

And so the time came to announce the winning songs.  Robin Torbitt took gold, with his song ‘Aurora’ about the yet unseen Northern Lights.  He gained a spot at the Bury Folk Festival and an envelope of cash.  Runner up was Samantha Penman who can be found under her performer name Retro Firefly.  Samantha’s song spoke of loss and comfort as the end is reached.  They will each be gracing the stage at the milkmaid in the coming seasons, as will some of the other entrance who we are keen to hear more from.

This the competition is concluded for another year, with entrants already planning to apply again next year.  If this is too long to wait, songwriters can find a warm and inspiring welcome at the Songwriting Club every fourth Thursday.  The Milkmaid offers club performances whilst the folk collective offers a roots night and a contemporary folk night all of which have the welcome and wonder of the songwriting competition.

We look forward to seeing friends new and constant at these events, and are grateful for the support, curiosity and commitment of the musicians and audience without whom it’s just an empty room with a whole lot of potential.  Keep bringing your passion and inspiration and we’ll keep raising the milkmaid banner.  Here’s to another year of writing and dreaming.  Here’s to a lot more je ne sais quoi. 


Holly Green, MC and judge at the 2024 competition.

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Andrew Cason


Eamonn Harvey


Chris Moorhouse


Elizabeth Miller


Chris Wilbraham


Helen Woodbridge


David Scotford


Julie Wigley


Sharron Clifton

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