SWANAGE BLUES FESTIVALS - Twice A Year - The Big Blues Parties on the South Coast
* £10 Wristband / £2 Festival Programme (no increase since 2012) Join the mailing list- here - and you will be advised as soon as wristbands and programmes go on sale.
* 15 Indoor Venues
* 30 Top Class Acts
* 60 Great Gigs, Open Mic and Jam Sessions
Swanage Blues is a not for profit organisation.
Every March and October thousands of music lovers come to Swanage Blues Festivals, where over 100 musicians perform at 60 events in 15 indoor venues. There’s superb music, drinking, eating, dancing, fun and laughter across the town and beyond, starting on Thursday evening and going on till late Sunday evening.
Regular fans say they love the friendly atmosphere and the wide range of electric and acoustic music available in the pubs, restaurants and hotel bars. Aspiring performers can take part in the Electric Jam sessions, Open Mic sessions and Stan's Blues Jamboree too.
Swanage Blues Festivals are essentially Big Town Parties that depend on festival fans supporting the festival by buying wristbands, still only £10 since 2012, to show they appreciate the music and want the festivals to continue. Many of the acts usually charge £10 admission per gig, so only £10 for 1, 2, 3, or even all 4 days is a bargain!
The First Rule of Swanage Blues is "Don't stress out the organiser!"
The sole organiser of these amazing events is Steve Darrington, who used to be a touring musician until he had to stop touring due to ill health. "Nowadays I organise these festivals for us all to enjoy, and sometimes I get to play a little too." His website is www.stevedarrington.com
The first Swanage Blues Festival was in March 2001. It started off as a birthday party for local blues fan George Crane in a nightclub and rapidly expanded into a Swanage town event with pubs and restaurants joining in the fun. Primarily a ‘pub trail’ of the best kind, other types of venues do take part on occasions, and overall you will be taking part in a Big Town Blues Party! The March festivals have been so successful, additional festivals are now held in October as well.
Join the mailing list- here - and you will be advised as soon as wristbands and programmes go on sale.
You can pre-order wristbands and programmes online and they will be posted to you a month before the festival. Otherwise you can buy them at the festival when you arrive. Programmes sometimes run out, so it's best to order in advance to avoid disappointment. People on the mailing list are the first to know when they're on sale - and also hear about special offers and deals in advance - so if you're not already subscribed to the monthly newsletter, join today here.
Swanage Blues Festivals are essentially Big Town Parties that depend on festival fans buying wristbands, currently £10, to show they appreciate the music and want the festivals to continue. Many of the acts usually charge £10 admission per gig, so only £10 for 1, 2, 3, or even all 4 days is a bargain!
If people don't buy support wristbands, registered security staff will have to be employed at a high cost. Wristbands will increase from £10 to at least £35 just to cover these extra costs. When you buy a wristband for £10, you are ensuring the success of this festival and the future of these amazing events.
Purchase of wristbands is not compulsory although admission to each venue is at the discretion of the management and venues may require wristbands to be worn.
Swanage Blues is a trading name of Blues Roots, a not-for-profit limited company set up to ensure the future of these amazing events.
(with many thanks to The Mustangs for their continued support and superb performances at the White Horse for Swanage Blues Festivals)
Q: Steve, tell us a bit about your own background where it all started for you musically?
A: I can remember like it was yesterday. It was lunchtime, I was 15 in the changing rooms at school when an acoustic guitar and harmonica duo started playing. I’d never heard blues live before and it was like being smacked round the face. Suddenly I knew I could play harmonica like that – but better! For someone who was not musical, that was quite an experience.
The guy advised me to buy Sonny Boy Williamson’s imported single Bye Bye Bird with Help Me on the flipside. I practised for six months and got worse, a lot worse till I got better. Then it just clicked. Within six months I was playing harp in a duo and shortly after that was in an electric band teaching myself piano too.
Q: Who were/are your blues heroes and inspirations?
A: Sonny Boy without a doubt, closely followed by Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, who I met, and of course Muddy Waters, who I spent an evening with in the 1970s. But while still only 16, on 20 December 1965 a rather special band played at our end of term school dance: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers! That was the ‘Beano’ line-up including Eric Clapton, John McVie and Hughie Flint. I chatted with them, played Eric’s Les Paul and shared a chianti of wine with him too!. I didn’t realise how significant these guys were and thought: “If they can make a living out of music, so can !” Ah, the self-assured arrogance of youth! Years later I saw McVie when I supported Fleetwood Mac, and also played accordion on a McGuinness-Flint album, but so far haven’t met Mayall or Clapton again.
I was lucky to be in High Wycombe when Ron Watts ran the Blues Loft, so I got to see loads of top bands at my local and played in a trio in the 60s and Brewers Droop in the 70s with him, when we had Mark Knopfler on guitar for a while. (Hundred Watts: A Life in Music by Ron Watts, Amazon). I learnt a huge amount from working with Marty Wilde, Lonnie Donegan, Don Everly, Albert Lee, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup and many other stars of blues and country music too. There’s more at www.stevedarrington.com
Q: When and how did you come to establish the Swanage Festivals?
A: I came to Swanage in August 2000 for a short visit, fell in love with the place and stayed, playing keyboards in a hotel as ‘the entertainer’. Then I met a local blues fan whose birthday was only every four years because he was born on February 29. He wanted a special birthday party organised with a blues band, we settled on the local nightclub, the owner suggested we make it an all-day affair, local pubs asked if they could join in, and soon it was the first Swanage blues festival.
It brought a lot of fun, life and extra money into the town at a time when there was a big gap after New Year till Easter. I gained a sense of civic pride and wanted to thank Swanage for making me feel welcome, so decided to continue the festivals every March.
Q: How many do you run every year now, and what do you think the significant differences are?
A: I can disclose now how difficult it was in those early days to get financial support for what I was doing (still is!), and after a few years I was actually thousands in debt. At a time like that you either go down for good or up, so I gambled even more by putting on an additional festival in October as well as March. That changed things considerably, I seemed to get a bit more respect and support and enough coins in the collection buckets to break even, and I’ve continued with two a year since.
March is billed as a blues festival, October as blues and roots… they seem to attract different crowds.
Q: Why do you think the festivals have been such a success over the years?
A: Where else can you and get a whole weekend of top class blues music in 15 indoor venues with 30 bands doing 60 gigs for a tenner?! People tell me they love the multi-venue platform with a wide range of blues-based music played in venues that are mostly close to each other. They can mix and match with the music like they can the food, drink and accommodation – there’s something for every taste and the price makes it a ridiculously good bargain in a charming Dorset seaside town. Fans come from all over the world, checking the dates years in advance so they can incorporate a Swanage Blues Festival in their holidays.
Q: Which acts or events have been highlights for you over the years?
A: You never forget your first time! I’d not organised any event at all before the first one and that was an amazing experience. Over the years I’ve enjoyed the challenges, developed new skills and learnt how to balance up a lot of different people’s needs so as to satisfy hopefully nearly everybody. I can’t pick out any particular acts at all – there are no stars at Swanage Blues, every band is booked as the right band for the right venue, and people tell me that each festival is better than the last!
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to overcome when you are organising each festival?
A: Lack of Communication. It’s all very well to have mobile devices, computers, multiple email accounts and social networking, but many people don’t seem to manage their diary very well - and they’re getting worse! It takes me about three times more effort to get replies nowadays from when I started. Quite often I can’t get hold of people even when they want something from me! I’ve always said ‘Obstacle into Opportunity!’ but this does get me down.
A sad side too is having to reject so many bands that apply to play here. I’ve been the guy in the band who makes all the calls and sends out the packages to try to get gigs, so I do sympathise with them. But if you’ve got the choice between a band that’s just formed and a band like The Mustangs, who you gonna call?!
Q: Is performing still the biggest buzz for you each year?
A: I was a touring musician most of my life but as I’ve got older, I’ve had to revert to a wheelchair like I did till I was 15 (I caught polio as a child just before the vaccinations was available). Unfortunately most of the Swanage venues are not wheelchair friendly so I see very few of the acts nowadays. I can walk a bit but it’s difficult for me to get out and about. Playing music is great but I find being in crowds difficult because I’m unsteady and that takes the edge off the buzz of playing, sad to say. Plus I’m usually so shattered by the time the festival arrives, I don’t have the energy to play much. It’s a situation I’m working to improve.
Q: What is it about Swanage itself, do you think, that makes it such an ideal place to host the festivals?
A: Swanage is a charming seaside town with quirky venues, super scenery, friendly people and a wide range of places to eat, drink and sleep with very few rip-off prices. There’s a magic here that’s been attracting visual and performing artists of all kinds for many years. You know, I came here from Buckinghamshire for two days in August 2000 and I quite literally never went back! I’ve included a special feature in the printed programme on all the other Swanage festivals to encourage people to come here more often.
Q: What do you think the crucial differences are that it has to other blues festivals?
A: It’s a big party, the music is fun and varied, and it’s cheap!
Q: The festival had always been free, how did people respond when you introduced the £10 wristband policy last year?
A: The festival is still free really but people kindly buy at least one weekend wristband for £10 to help cover costs. The wristbands are only replacing the collection buckets, and they were discontinued due to changes in legislation and problems with insurance. Some people are really generous and buy more than one wristband to show they appreciate the quality of the festivals and want them to continue. Some people even buy them though they’re not coming this time, because they want there to be a next time!
Q: Which acts should we be looking out for this year?
A: Now that question is like asking a parent which child he prefers!
Q: Do you have any future plans and ambitions for the Swanage Festivals?
A: I’m sure that everybody involved wouldn’t like to lose the festivals, so I’m not taking any risks. Given the lack of money nowadays and the fact I’m the sole organiser, I’ll be glad if I can keep things ticking over until the economic situation improves.
There are some interesting developments, quite literally, on the cards that could result in some bigger venues coming on board eventually. But we’ll all just have to wait and see! Meanwhile, come on down to Swanage and Boogie By The Bay!
The Mustangs' website is www.themustangs.co.uk
Swanage Blues Festival started off as a ‘grown-up birthday party’ and is essentially a Pub Trail, rather crowded, noisy and whether it’s suitable for young children or not will have to be your decision in conjunction with the venues. Each venue is an individually run bar, club or restaurant, each with its own code of practice. The list of venues with some contact details can be seen at http://www.swanage-blues.org/venues.aspx
You are welcome to contact the venues and the Tourist Information Centre on 01929 422885 for further information.
Swanage Blues Festival started off as a ‘grown-up birthday party’ and is essentially a Pub Trail, rather crowded, noisy and whether it’s suitable for dogs or not will have to be your decision in conjunction with the venues. Each venue is an individually run bar, club or restaurant, each with its own code of practice. The list of venues with some contact details can be seen at http://www.swanage-blues.org/venues.aspx Personally I would not subject my dog to the loud noises and bustle of a packed pub with a band playing.
You are welcome to contact the venues and the Tourist Information Centre on 01929 422885 for further information.