Monday, 16 June 2014

Deal Festival 2014

So far this year there has been Sounds New, Wise Words, Rochester Sweeps (which I couldn’t get to) and we have Broadstairs Folk coming up.  All these festivals within a few short months of each other – it’s like a continuous onslaught of culture.

There is one Festival though that has been there quietly in the background all along.  One of the longest running festivals in East Kent, it has carved a path for all who would follow.  The Deal Festival is a true trailblazer, and it is about to enter its 34th year of celebrations.  

Whilst at the Sounds New Festival, I got chatting with one of the organisers, Willie Cooper just before Led Bib were about to take the stage.  She mentioned the Deal Festival, which she is heavily involved in the organization of, and asked if I would be willing to blog about it for her.  I jumped at the chance, and that is how it came about that a few weeks later I was slurping a mix berry smoothie in the Gulbenkian CafĂ©, chatting about all things related to the Deal Festival with Willie and the Chairman, Graham Harvey. 

As we talk, I get a full insight into the background of the Deal Festival, and why it is still going strong after such a long innings.  Both Willie and Graham display enthusiasm and pride in their Festival, words tripping over each other as they talk about the world exclusives that will be showcased throughout the week.
The Deal Festival has been running for 33 years and started life as a quaint series of formal evening concerts.  There have been a series of artistic directors that the Festival has known throughout the years, from David Matthews to Paul Edlin and Matthew Sharp.  These days the Festival is a high class, well-respected and diverse showcase of theatre and music, art and history, debate and poetry and also has a strong reputation for its educational programme involving both adults and school children.  John Wallace has just agreed to become an ambassador for the Festival and is heavily involved with the Bold As Brass project.   He also happens to have been the Principle Trumpeter for the Philharmonic Orchestra.  Other famous names that have lent their weight to the Festival include Germaine Greer and Dennis Norton.
There is music here for everybody, whether you love a genre or want to try out new things.  The Festival offers real, cultured live music from the world’s best.  There is dance and comedy and ownership by the local community who turn out in force to celebrate.  Local businesses say that the best two times of the year are Christmas and the Deal Festival with people visiting this little coastal mining town from all over the world.  Willie leans forward, her eyes shining as she explains to me that Deal has always been a centre of culture and has always had musicians living and working in the town.  There is a huge legacy from the mining brass band culture and this year the Festival is welcoming the best brass band in the world, The Cory Band, to its shores.  Young people in the area have already had the chance to rehearse with them and will play alongside them on Saturday 5th July at 7.30pm at the Nye Hall in the Duke of York’s School in nearby Dover. 
Graham stresses that the Festival is organic, ever changing, flexing to and often ahead of the times and the changing arts culture around us.  TheSouth East Artists Open Studio’s will be taking place at the same time and the Festival is working alongside them to ensure that the Festival is progressing, adapting and changing.  Graham gives me a wry smile and notes that the Deal Festival always pitches above its weight, given the resources available.  Willie nods in agreement.  “We have big ideas and somehow we always make them work.  We have good people so we have a good festival”. 

Planning takes place at least 18 months in advance, in addition to regular events throughout the year and the Deal Festival Summer Music School held in Dover and attended by 60-100 individuals over the course of a week from the 4th August.  
I ask Willie and Graham what their top three highlights of this years Festival are for them.  They both look a bit stumped for a moment, then Willie exclaims that The Cory Band have to be one for their world exclusive performance.  Graham points out Harry The Piano, the launch event of the Festival on the 27th June at 8pm in the Astor Community Theatre in Deal and the Aurora Orchestra closing the Festival on the 6th July in St George’s Church in Deal at 7.30pm.  This Jitterbug orchestra includes a world premier of the brand new Porgy and Bess piece.  Willie says she has to talk about David Rees Williams, a friend of hers and part of the David ReesWilliams Trio performing on the 3rd July at 7.30pm in the Astor Community Theatre in Deal.  This Canterbury based band have toured festivals and events throughout Europe, playing the best classical and jazz music the world has to offer.  She then throws a 5th into the mix; Gavin Esler’s series on World War I on the 29th June at 4.30pm at the Astor Community Theatre.  Gavin will be hosting a panel of eminent historians and academics looking at the lasting legacy of World War I. 
Graham notes that he just wants people to come away from the Festival having tried something new, found something to love and having enjoyed the experience.   He laughs and says that one thing you can say about the Deal Festival is that it is never the same thing twice.

Deal is the jewel in Kent’s Crown and the Festival proves that it can be more than just aesthetically pleasing.  Deal can be vibrant and artistic, a true centre of culture.

The Deal Festival is taking place from the 27th June to the 6th July with over 25 unique events to sample.  For a full programme and event booking information, please go the website 

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