WITH only a couple of months to go to Scarborough’s annual jazz festival, organiser Mike Gordon spoke to Dave Barry of the Evening News about his plans.
Q: It’s hard to believe this is the ninth festival Mike. Are you happy with the way it has developed?
A: Very happy. It’s been hard work – it seems to dominate the year – but the Spa team is great and my wife Marian gives invaluable help. The national acclaim we have received is hugely encouraging. We were the only northern festival to be shortlisted for the Parliamentary jazz awards this year which was a great honour. And the national press have said some very positive things. The Guardian, for example, has included it in this year’s top seven UK jazz festivals saying: “Classy and increasingly popular three-dayer with a wide range of contemporary talent”. We’ve also had more than our share of national radio coverage. Radio 2’s Loose Ends was recorded at an earlier festival. Radio 3’s prestigious Jazz Lineup programme was twice presented live at the Spa and broadcast some of our highlights nationally. And Radio 3 will be back this year to eavesdrop on some of our acts. And our local coverage from the Scarborough Evening News has been fantastic.
Q: What do you think has inspired the festival’s success?
A: Well, I have already mentioned the teamwork. And we are very lucky to have such a superb refurbished venue in such a wonderful setting and town. I have also tried to get variety, freshness and excitement into the programme.
Q: What are your guidelines when planning the programme?
A: I think Tom Ravenscroft in a recent New Statesman sums up my philosophy: ‘Music is rather brilliant at the moment and there is frankly more than one can possibly get through, so it can be frustrating when you see the same acts wherever you go; it’s a waste of all the talent out there’. To some degree, it isn’t about festival programmers putting on things you like, but about them having the courage to put on acts you might hate. Audiences don’t have to like everything they see over a weekend, but should be given the opportunity to discover something that’s fresh and unexpected. It’s that possibility of stumbling across your new favourite band that had disappeared a bit from the scene with too much emphasis on buzz bands of the day or nostalgic acts you feel the need to tick off as seen. Also, we look carefully at audience evaluations when trying to improve the weekend.
Q: How is the festival funded?
A: Undoubtedly Scarborough Council took a gamble with the first festival in 2003. An hour before the first act began we had sold 100 tickets. Three months before this year’s event we have already sold 450 weekend tickets. So I feel the gamble paid off. The festival is self-sufficient and makes a profit for the council – and it brings a lot of outsiders to the town who spend a fair amount of money. Unlike many festivals, we don’t rely on Arts Council or other external funding.
Q: Finally Mike, what will be the highlights of the festival for you?
A: That’s a hard one! I think the French bands – Jacques Loussier, Mina Agossi, Orchestre National de Jazz and the Hadouk Trio – will be very different and stimulating. I am particularly looking forward to some of the younger bands. The National Youth Jazz Orchestra is superb and our two northern bands, the Tommy Evans Orchestra and Matt Anderson’s band, belie any claim that quality UK jazz is only found in London. I think there is plenty in the programme for everyone to enjoy.