Bringing back the festival

Curtis Stigers at St. Mary's Church

As perhaps one of the strangest years any of us have known in terms of work, leisure, and play draws to a close, this correspondent caught up with Rye Jazz and Blues Festival director Ian Bowden to learn about his plans, aspirations and hopes for 2022.

“As things have turned out I believe we wisely decided not to stage any major events over the Christmas period this year,” said Ian. “Instead we are focussing on hopefully making the 2022 event even more special while at the same time ensuring that we keep to what we believe is a tried and tested formula that has worked since the festival’s inception in 2011”

“Because of the loss of the 2020 event to the Covid lockdown, we are treating next year as our tenth anniversary event,” said Ian, with his customary enthusiasm and passion for all things in the world of jazz, blues, and his love for the unique town of Rye.

This prompted a brief stroll down memory lane as we delved into past highlights and Ian reminisced about what quickly became a labour of love for him and his army of enthusiastic volunteers.

“One of my key inspirations for a jazz festival based in the south of England was the now world-famous Montreux Festival founded by the legendary Claude Nobs in 1967” Ian explained.

When asked how many, if any, comparable ventures in terms of scale and aspiration there are in the UK – particularly bearing in mind the comparatively small size of Rye to other larger venues – Ian told us “Not many” but he is clearly undaunted by the contrast in the scale of Montreux and the larger-scale UK music gatherings such as Glastonbury, and was clearly pleased with the observation that the Rye festival “punches above its weight” alongside similar events!

From the beginning, Ian points out, the Rye festival has featured world-class jazz and blues acts with, quite possibly, the greatest all-time British rock and blues drummer Ginger Baker (co-founder with Eric Clapton of legendary power trio Cream in the 60’s rock explosion) appearing in its inaugural year in 2012.

In the years since its launch, iconic artistes such as, Sergio Mendes, Curtis Stigers, Beverley Knight, Madeleine Peyroux, Rick Wakeman, José Feliciano and Joan Armatrading have also performed for an enthusiastic festival audience.

Beverley Knight

To broaden the appeal of the festival as much as possible Ian has also secured performances at St Mary’s Church from a wider sphere of popular music greats such as KT Tunstall and Aled Jones – who in a Christmas performance actually duetted with the recording of his younger self on “Walking in The Air”!

On occasions the festival has expanded its footprint to other major local venues with such stars as Gregory Porter, Rumer and Paul Carrack all gracing the stage at the nearby alternative Rother venue the splendid art deco De La Warr Pavilion. Violinist Nigel Kennedy has also brought his unique interpretation of the classics to a Rye festival event.

There can be few bigger names in the jazz and blues world than the legendary American performer Dionne Warwick of “Walk on By,” “Heartbreaker” and “Anyone Who Has a Heart” fame who appeared in Bexhill in 2018.

However, as Ian is at pains to point out, the festival remains rooted in the historic surroundings of Rye where equally important to both the festival and its founder are the street performances that are a major feature around the streets and lanes of the town and alongside a number of the town’s pubs and restaurants throughout the four days of the event.

Alongside St Mary’s Church other prominent locations in the town throughout the festival are the Buttermarket and the courtyard of the iconic Kino cinema – which also provides important catering and public convenience facilities throughout the event – and the Ship Inn at the Strand.

Ian Bowden, whose passions include medieval history and a wide and eclectic range of music, has always recognised the importance of the close relationship between the jazz festival and the Rye Town Council. As such he is currently engaged in negotiating a major addition to the already impressive locations in the town while at the same time never losing sight of the potential for further Covid-19 disruptions.

Despite this he is extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of the bringing in an additional major stage at the Salts for 2022 and is optimistic about adding to the existing Arts Council funding for this.

For Sunday, August 28 there are also advanced plans for a “Mardi Gras” type of jazz parade meandering its way through the town New Orleans style with street performers, dancers which will also include the involvement of professional musicians, local and regional groups.

So, while most businesses and families are still taking stock of what lies ahead it is both encouraging and comforting to encounter Ian once more with his usual optimistic and engaging but, nonetheless, realistic approach to ensuring Rye remains at the forefront of such events.

The festival plans to make certain announcements in the new year and for more information, you can visit the festival’s website.

Jose Feliciano performing at St. Marys Church

Image Credits: Tony Ham .


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