Ipswich Music Day's 30th birthday - and I can't wait for next year's return

jade mayjean ipswich music day

Singer Jade Mayjean wowing the crowds at Ipswich Music Day in 2019. - Credit: Stephen Foster

This Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Ipswich Music Day, an event that has become one of Suffolk’s - no make that East Anglia’s - most popular events.

Sadly, for the second year running COVID-19 has put paid to the county town’s annual celebration of local music but all being well it will finally return in 2022.

Since its inception in 1991 Ipswich Music Day has become a huge part of my life. In those days it looked a whole lot different to the event it had become before the pandemic reared its very ugly head.

To its eternal credit Ipswich Borough Council got behind a government-backed initiative called National Music Day and set aside a couple of areas on Christchurch Park for a handful of local bands to perform. I recall both Buffalo Road and Caution Horses playing on structures which almost resembled stages.

The seeds were sown on that first Sunday of 1991 and the following year I was asked by Radio Two to produce and present a 20 minute programme highlighting how Ipswich was embracing National Music Day. 

In 1993 I persuaded my music-loving editor at BBC Suffolk - the late and much missed Ivan Howlett - that the radio station should have its own stage. I told him I would happily programme the acts as well as stage manage and emcee what was at first a very basic open-air stage. Little did I know then that it would go on to become the event most people think of now.

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I spent many years on the organising committee and suggested we rebrand it Ipswich Music Day. The concept of National Music Day had been a good one but within a few years very few places were still flying that particular flag.

Ipswich not only continued with the concept, it put money and expertise into providing council tax payers with a free music festival envied by a lot of other towns and cities to this very day.

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Once I came off the committee my goal was to make the BBC Radio Suffolk stage the best and most popular on the park. The joy of seeing so many people make a bee-line to our designated area and stay there for the whole afternoon and early evening will always stay with me.

Down the decades bands like Star Club, Soul Kitchen and most recently The Ashton Jones Project became Ipswich Music Day mainstays. I never tried to reinvent the wheel on our stage. I did my best to cover as many musical bases as possible and from time to time included nationally known names with local connections.

Chart acts like After The Fire, Dr Feelgood and The Look have been among the dozens of groups to have graced our stage and one year both John Illsley of Dire Straits and Steve Phillips from The Notting Hillbillies guested with Dedham-based blues man Andre De Moller.

Other magical moments have included Lacey Street Blues Band reforming for the occasion, the Buster James Band rocking the park and the young blues-rock trio Hot Tramp really coming of age in front of thousands of people.

Coronavirus permitting, I see no reason why the event can’t continue to go from strength to strength. The Ipswich music scene is one we can all be extremely proud of. From the swinging sixties onwards my home town has produced scores of great music acts and I’m proud to have given many of them the opportunity to play in front of an appreciative and large crowd in the stunning surroundings of Christchurch Park.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I have kept every single one of the souvenir programmes given out on the day.

I even have the one for the only year I wasn’t there. That was the time my employers at the time couldn’t reach agreement with the council for our usual involvement. It was an unbelievable situation. So many people have told me how the BBC stage had become an Ipswich Music Day mainstay.

I was furious and threw my toys out of the pram. When I look back, it was the beginning of the end of my long career with the BBC. That might sound a little far fetched but after well over 20 unbroken years at Ipswich Music Day it felt like a slap in the face.

Thankfully we did return the following year and I can’t tell how good that felt. Believe me there is no better feeling than being able to give local musicians a platform for their talents and then seeing thousands of people having so much fun watching them and listening to them. Long live Ipswich Music Day.

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