Saturday, 31 July 2021

Music to my ears

WHEN I describe my job to strangers it often seems to them that I live in some sort of a toy shop.

WHEN I describe my job to strangers it often seems to them that I live in some sort of a toy shop.

The conversation goes something along the lines of, “What, you get to see shows all over the place, choose the best ones and then sit and watch them one after the other? That’s work?”

Well, I can’t pretend that being artistic director of the Henley Festival is quite like working at the coal face or in the trenches, but sugar-coated though the job sounds, neither is the toy shop image wholly correct.

Yes, in any one year I do get to see well over 200 acts, shows or performances, but not all of them are pure burnished gold. I could tell you about last night for instance….

But one thing is inescapable. Over the years, and thanks entirely to the Henley Festival, I have had the opportunity to work with some of my all-time heroes in music and entertainment and that can’t be a bad thing. To have grown up admiring performers musicians, comedians, writers, artists and so on and then to be in a position to welcome them as they arrive at the gates of the Henley Festival enclosure…. as you can imagine, there’s quite a buzz.

Of course, none of that would count if my own pleasures and passions didn’t somehow translate into a festival that thousands and thousands of other people want and that, of course, is what the job really amounts to.

This year truly promises some very special moments.

There’s always a buzz about announcing what the line-up at the festival is going to be and in recent times this has only been heightened by the speculation and comment that rattles around on Facebook and Twitter in advance. You should see some of the posts!

But following the announcement of our line-up at the end of February, rarely has there been such a feeling that each night of the festival should turn into a real gem.

“I’m afraid I’m just going to have to come every night this year” has been a phrase I’ve heard quite frequently.

And that brings me back to those moments to savour at the festival gates. The Beach Boys will be arriving, Jamie Cullum, Madness, Joanna Lumley and the enormous cast of our James Bond Gala, Paloma Faith….. in other words, the guys who invented one of the great sounds in rock ’n’ roll; one of the finest jazz musicians of his generation and one of the great live performers of any; the band that lit up 2012 with their performances at the diamond jubilee and the Olympics; one of our undisputed national treasures and one of the most exciting young artists of a brilliant crop.

Add these to the list of headliners who have trooped through our gates over the past few years and, as you can imagine, those gates are a good place to be at a certain time of the afternoon. But if it’s really great to meet one’s heroes, I truly hope that it’s the fact that we may also be meeting some of tomorrow’s stars each year that keeps the energy level at our gates consistently high.

The Henley Festival has always had that mix of the known and the unknown and, to be honest, the reason I went to last night’s dreaded affair was the hope that something magnificent and unknown might emerge.

It didn’t, but it could have done — and hopefully some of last year’s research is also about to pay dividends as yet more outrageous talents grace our magical event….

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