I SHOULD not exaggerate the challenges of being the Henley Festival’s artistic director. I don’t lose sleep over making life and death decisions as do many people in other walks of life, but I still take hugely seriously the many decisions that contribute to the enjoyment of thousands of people at the festival.
Smiles and plaudits are profoundly welcome come July, disappointment and complaints absolutely not. And every festival simply has to be better than the previous. You can only ever raise the bar.
One of my most safely guarded computer files is the detailed log of events, acts and art shows that I see year on year.
Looking back at 2013, I logged upwards of 250 events, gigs, festivals, and gallery shows that I attended in order to unearth the best possible options for this coming July. Venues visited ranged from the obvious — like the Edinburgh Festival — to more obscure, such as The Nest in Dalston.
Acts ranged from Coldplay to a production of Beauty and the Beast inexplicably filled from beginning to end with nudity. That’s not coming to the festival by the way.
Has this all paid off as far as far as the 2014 festival programme is concerned? Well the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but when asked by my colleagues to put together a list of the 10 things I was most looking forward to this July, 10 really wasn’t enough.
I was comfortably into the teens before I even began to slow down. But under pressure, here are the 10 I finally signed up to:
The Jacksons — well of course. It may not be The Jackson Five (as they’re sadly not available) but to have these guys at Henley? Almost surreal, but actually for real.
Jasper Carrott/Alistair McGowan — now that’s why I get out of bed in the morning — getting an exclusive like this. The first double act by two seriously top comedy names. What a treat.
Rick Wakeman — Rick is known either as an extraordinary musician from the “prog rock” era or one of TV’s very funny Grumpy Old Men. He does both in this brilliant one-man tour de force.
Milton Jones — more really funny comedy. I don’t often see acts more than once, as once is normally enough to know if they’ll work for the Henley audience, but I’ve seen Milton three times and am looking forward to the fourth.
Alastair Gibson — fabulous sculpture is always an important feature of the festival. Our headline on this front is the former Formula One technician who creates flights of fantasy out of the same carbon fibre materials.
Karito — a memorable piece of installation art by David Barratt only previously seen at the HQ of the United Nations in New York. Truly thought-provoking but also playful.
Les Goulus — simply the best of all Roving Eccentrica acts. They’re French, they’re totally off the wall and in Les Cupidons, unbelievably mischievous.
Daria van den Bercken — people come to Henley expecting style, class and elegance but also the unexpected. Daria van den Bercken’s nightly classical piano concerts on the lawn will have all of that.
The Mariachis — I can’t think of anything more joyous, but equally absurd as Mexico’s Mariachis (the guys who feature in those brilliant Doritos ads) spreading their fabulously hi-octane music.
The Confessional — one of the UK’s top street theatre companies — dot.comedy have created this especially for us.
I know that’s 10 already but I can’t go without mentioning Lords of Lightning, a truly spectacular piece of performance to accompany the nightly firework shows. It’s isn’t quite as dangerous as it looks — but then it looks VERY dangerous!
So, just a handful of things out of that initial hit list of 250. But if you think it’s now time to relax, don’t. I’ve seen 30 new shows since January with 2015 in mind...
The hunt goes on...
Artistic director of the 2014 Henley Festival STEWART COLLINS picks his favourite 10 acts from this year’s extravaganza.
Film: The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Starring: Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett