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Brecon Jazz Calls in the Receivers

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It was with a heavy heart that I heard that the Brecon International Festival of Jazz Limited had called in the receivers

It was with a heavy heart that I heard that the Brecon International Festival of Jazz Limited had called in the receivers. Vaughan Jones, Insolvency Practitioner of BN Jackson Norton is to assist in the winding up of the affairs of the company. 

It is particularly ironic that this should happen at the end of a year in which the Festival celebrated it’s Silver Jubilee. In my coverage of the Festival’s Stroller Programme for this site I felt that the line up was stronger than for a number of years and that the 2008 Festival was a great artistic success.

Financially however things proved to be very different. Some of the worst weather in the Festival’s history reduced attendances drastically and had a knock on effect with regards to stall fees and merchandising.

John Payne, the chairman of the Festival Board also cited rising staff and administration costs plus escalating fees for street cleaning, security and policing. 

As councils and police forces become increasingly desperate for money in these troubled times they are then correspondingly keen to pass on the costs to event organisers and the paying public. Police costs alone were 36% up on last year-to control reduced crowd figures. These attitudes have enormous potential implications for the cultural life of the country as a whole. It won’t just be jazz that’s effected.

In a year in which the festival was dogged by bad luck the late withdrawal of the Castle Hotel as a venue led to unplanned marquee and site costs. The tragic death of pianist Esbjorn Svensson just two months before the festival resulted in the loss of a headlining act and an attendant loss of revenue.

Rumours had been rife for a couple of months that the Festival was having problems clearing the debts accrued during the summer. Today’s announcement therefore did not come as total surprise but it is still hard for jazz fans to take in what has happened.

Although I covered the 2007 and 2008 festivals as a journalist I had been to nearly every previous festival as a fan. I think I went 21years out of 25 in total and, if as seems likely, there is no event in 2009 it will leave a big hole in my life, musical and otherwise. Minor quibbles aside I’ve seen some fantastic music at Brecon over the years, met some great people and generally had a wonderful time. Brecon had a magic of it’s own in the way that the festival took over the whole town, especially in it’s early years. It was something unique that can never be replaced. I’ll miss it terribly.

The loss of the Festival will also be a tremendous blow to the local economy, it was estimated that the Festival brought £4m into the area this year.

The musicians on the burgeoning South Wales jazz scene will also feel the loss of the Festival very keenly. Brecon gave them the chance to play to large and appreciative audiences and to expand their fan base outside their immediate local area. The likes of the Root Doctors and the Heavy Quartet were Brecon institutions and musicians such as Dave Stapleton, Paula Gardiner, Gareth Roberts and the Jones O’ Connor Group will also be effected.

With the smaller, but still excellent Jazz In The Park Event in Pontypool being abandoned due to flooding this year I suspect that we may have to face the prospect of the South Wales jazz festival scene being completely decimated in 2009. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

However with the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Assembly both declaring themselves unable to assist Brecon I fear the worst, especially as First Minister Rhodri Morgan is supposed to be a jazz fan.

Debate will no doubt rage as to who is to blame for what has happened but the real losers will be the musicians, local traders and us the fans. I can’t imagine life without the annual pilgrimage to Brecon each August through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

I have some great memories and anecdotes from Brecon but this sombre moment is perhaps not the best time to recount them. Maybe we’ll have an occasional ?Brecon Moments? feature next year. If any of you reading this have memories of your own please contact us and share them with us.

Ian Mann