Bury Festival comes of age

The Bury Festival celebrates a major birthday this year. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to festival director Nick Wells about the treats in store for its 21st birthday.

By Andrew Clarke

The Bury Festival celebrates a major birthday this year. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to festival director Nick Wells about the treats in store for its 21st birthday.

The Bury St Edmunds Festival, one of the highlights of Suffolk's cultural calendar and one of the most accessible festivals in the country, is coming of age this year.

As an event that started life in the early eighties as an annual series of literary lunches, the Bury Festival is now celebrating its 21st anniversary as a fully fledged arts festival embracing a whole range varying art forms from classical music to comedy, theatre, jazz, rock and pop, dance and for the first time this year film. What started as a long weekend is now a 16 day arts celebration with something for all tastes and ages.

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This year The Bury Festival runs from Friday May 12 to Sunday May 28, and will continue its reputation for bringing world class performers to the heart of Suffolk. This year's Festival programme promises a stimulating mix of orchestral concerts, new music, open-air party nights, lunchtime jazz and folk, art, walks, and much more.

Festival manager Nick Wells said that he is incredibly proud that what started as an extremely small scale event has grown into one of East Anglia's best-loved arts events. But he added that they never rest on their laurels and are always looking for exciting new events to combine with Festival favourites.

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This year sees a new Bury St Edmunds Township Choir of up to 300 local children and adults performing South African songs with Mbawula on stage in the Abbey Gardens as part of the Opening Night (May 12) festivities.

Another first for this year's programme is the first Festival concert to be performed in the newly opened West Wing of Ickworth House with the Brodsky Quartet (May 13), plus a host of music premieres and composers' anniversaries.

Nick said: “I'm really excited about this year's Festival and think we have got an interesting, varied and an enjoyable line up of acts. It is brilliant to be having names like John Williams, Wayne Marshall, Toyah Wilcox, Clare Teal and Andy Sheppard coming to the Festival and the quality of the acts seems to be generating quite a lot of interest from all over the country.

“One other act getting quite a lot of interest is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and my email has been red hot with people wanting information about when and where they're playing.

“For me all the gigs are highlights and I am looking forward to every one in a different way, but I am quite interested by I Fagiolini's return to the Festival with a fascinating collaboration with a choir from South Africa. They mix vocal music from the 16th Century with the joy of South African music - an extraordinary mix.

“Two other events that stand out for me are firstly the Britten Sinfonia in their concert which not only features Bach's wonderful double violin concerto but also the UK premiere of a double violin concerto by British composer, George Newson and secondly, the Apollo Saxophone Quartet who are just brilliant and their performance includes the screening of some short silent films from the early 1900s with music written and performed live by the quartet.”

As always the Festival starts with Beating Retreat on Angel Hill with the Grenadier Guards providing the honours this year which will be followed by family entertainment from Blue Boat Theatre, with a giant pig and Bruce Airhead. Meanwhile on the following night (May 13) will be hosting Bull Circus in the Abbey Gardens.

This year's Festival highlights include gala concerts from the Britten Sinfonia (May 24) who will be performing the UK premiere of George Newson's concerto for two violins and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra who are returning by public demand with conductor Tamas Vasary (May 17).

Among the star names performing at the Festival this year are acclaimed guitarist John Williams (May 16), organist Wayne Marshall with award-winning cellist Natalie Clein (May 14), mandolin player Alison Stephens (May 25), and actress/pop star Toyah Willcox (May 27).

Jazz is always a quick ticket seller and there are a host of crowd-pleasers on the bill this year including the Andy Sheppard Quartet (May 23), singers Clare Teal (May 25) and Tina May (May 18), the award winning Dave Newton Trio (May 22), rising sax star Luke Annesley (May 15), TV themes from the Sitcom Sextet (May 19) and Phil Mason's New Orleans All-stars (May 26).

This year there is what Nick describes as fantastic fusions - performers who combine different traditions : Simunye combines early choral music specialists I Fagiolini and the SDASA Chorale from South Africa (May 15), and the Apollo Saxophone Quartet will be accompanying rare, silent films (May 19).

Among the ensembles that will be attracting audiences will be the unique sounds of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (May 20), flamenco guitar with the Juan Martin Quinteto Fabuloso & Flamenco Dance (May 21), the Piano 4 Hands duo (May 16), trombone quartet Bones Apart (May 17), and rare masterpieces from the Haydn Lute Trio (May 23).

But one of the unique aspects of the Bury Festival is that it knows how to have fun and invites the entire community to dress up and party outdoors in the town's Abbey Gardens for a 70s night with The Glambusters and The Funking Barstewards (May 26), an 80s night featuring Toyah and her band, with tribute bands Bleach and Wham!Duran (May 27), or join the stars from West End's Rat Pack Confidential as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior and co for a big band Festival Finale (May 28).

But it's not all new acts Festival favourites being asked back include the Royal Academy of Music String Soloists (May 18), Prime Brass (May 20), the Brook Street Band (May 22) and Evelyn Nallen with Recordion (May 23) - all back by popular demand.

In addition to all the big concerts there is an entire programme of daytime activities including weekday lunchtime concerts, Festival walks and tours, pre-event suppers, art exhibitions, a kite-flying festival, a flower and continental market, video window displays, touring theatre…..

Tickets for all Festival events go on sale to the general public from Monday February 27. The Festival website at www.buryfestival.co.uk has a new look making it easier to find out what's on and book online for the popular outdoor concerts series. Tickets for all events can also be bought through the Theatre Royal's online box office at www.theatreroyal.org.uk

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