Gigs, interviews and a musician you didn't mess with at the Corn Exchange

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Foz narrating Peter And The Wolf at the Ipswich Corn Exchange in 2019. - Credit: Trianon Music Group

Broadcaster Stephen Foster tells of his many great experiences at the Ipswich Corn Exchange in his latest On Air in Suffolk column

The Ipswich Corn Exchange has played a huge part in my life. I have been lucky enough to compere dozens of concerts in the magnificent Grand Hall as well as hosting Ipswich Town celebration events and narrating a performance of Peter And The Wolf there.

The first time I set foot in the place was in the late 1970s when legendary disc jockey David Jacobs gave a talk on radio. I was full of admiration for him and at the end I left at the auditorium determined to make a career in broadcasting.

stephen foster Ipswich Corn Exchange

Foz at the Ipswich Corn Exchange during one of his Radio Orwell rock nights in the late 1980s - Credit: James Brown

Ten years later, by then an established presenter at Radio Orwell and Saxon Radio, I had the great pleasure of working with the Corn Exchange manager Roy Stephenson on a series of rock and blues nights starring names like Dr Feelgood, Wilko Johnson, The Blues Band, The Steve Gibbons Band, The Pirates, American blues man Joe Louis Walker and an all-local blues bill featuring The Mean Red Spiders, The Shaboogamoo Shufflers and The Boze Brothers.

Roy probably thought he’d seen it all in his time in the entertainment world but even he couldn’t hide his amazement at the size of The Blues Band’s rider. There was enough food and drink on there to feed the 5000.

I emcee’d all those shows and many more including an eventful night in the early 1990s when an angry Jack Bruce kicked a monitor speaker off the stage during a sound check. It didn’t get a whole lot better when at the end of the night his set over ran and promoter Richard Everitt suggested I go back on stage to ask Jack to bring the show to an end. I politely declined and as the house lights came on Jack played on and on, refusing to come off until his planned performance was over. You did not mess with Jack Bruce.

It was also at around this time that I was the host of Suffolk’s annual Rock And Pop contest. On one occasion as I was introducing leading Suffolk heavy metal band Chaser to the crowd I mistakenly stepped on a foot pedal which set off all the lighting effects they had prepared for the finale of their set. At that point I wasn’t the most popular man in the building but much to my relief the band won the competition and I was forgiven.

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Thankfully all went a lot better in 2008 when I co-hosted the 30 year anniversary of Ipswich Town winning the FA Cup. It was a pleasure working with former Anglia TV commentator Gerry Harrison. My earliest memories of watching football on TV was hearing his voice describing the action on the Sunday afternoon show Match Of The Week.

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When Fozzie Met Motty. Stephen Foster interviewing John Motson on stage at the Ipswich Corn Exchange in 2008. - Credit: Archant

At that event I linked up with none other than John Motson. We’d first met when he guested on my Headbangers’ Ball rock show in the 1980s. John has never made any secret of the fact that he’s a Town fan and always got a warm reception when his Match Of The Day duties brought him to Portman Road.

My most recent appearance behind a microphone in the Grand Hall was in the Spring of 2019 when I was narrator for a performance of Peter And The Wolf. To say I was out of my comfort zone was the understatement of the year.

I was invited by Professor Chris Green to take part in the Trianon Music Group’s Spring Concert. I’d always wanted to narrate the piece and readily accepted the offer. A few days later I had a second telephone conversion with Chris when I dropped the bombshell that I couldn’t read a note of music. I’m sure his jaw must have hit the floor. To his eternal credit he told me it wouldn’t be a problem and soon presented me with 72 pages of sheet music. For the next few weeks I listened over and over again to one of the many recordings of the Prokofiev masterpiece and took part in rehearsals with the orchestra.

On the big night I was as nervous as a kitten but I needn’t have been as all went very smoothly indeed. It was a real honour to be involved and I wouldn’t hesitate to do something similar again.

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