Swanage Blues Festival charts its way through ‘uncertain times’

The Blues Festival is back in Swanage with a stomping line up of acts and hot on the heels of the news that it’s been nominated for Festival of the Year by the UK Blues Awards.

The event, celebrating 21 years, runs from Thursday 3rd to Sunday 6th March 2022, with the winner of the UK Blues Award announced in May 2022 – all at a time when the festival negotiates its way through the changing pub and venue scene.

Festival Prelude
Paul Dubbelman

A previous festival prelude at the Swanage Legion – (left to right) Steve Darrington, Niall Barnes, Robert Hokum, Bob Bones, Hugh Budden

British Rock’s diamond jubilee

Robert Hokum from Ealing Blues Festival is playing at The Legion on Thursday and Friday, celebrating 60 years of British rock music. He is bringing some of the Ealing festival artists with him, including singer-songwriter Tim Staffell, former bandmate of Queen’s Brian May, who is even depicted in the film Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bob Hokum’s Diamond Rocks gig celebrates 60 years since Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies started Britain’s first electric blues gigs at the Ealing Club in 1962 – otherwise known as The Birth of British Rock Music, where members of The Rolling Stones and Cream first met each other.

And regular Swanage festival attendee Mark Stasiuk of Bletchley Blues has scheduled the artists and will be soundman and compere at The Centre in Chapel Lane.

Paul Dubbelman

Festival creator and organiser Steve Darrington

“Marvellous concert venue”

Steve Darrington, festival organiser, said:

“The Centre is a marvellous concert venue with superb acoustics. Mark has come up with a programme of great acts he has already worked with who are pleased to join us for the event.”

But taking on venues such as The Centre and keeping them part of the ‘pub trail’ feel of the festival involves extra costs.

The original business model for the event was based on venues paying bands the same amount they would pay local bands anyway.

The Milkmen at the White Horse
Paul Dubbelman

The Milk Men at the White Horse, 10 pm Friday 4th March 2022

“We need more places taking part”

Steve added:

“Festival funds could then top up fees and go towards the other costs of running a festival. That was good enough to develop it from a birthday party, all those years ago at the start, into a pub trail of 23 venues, settling down at 18, up to a few years ago…

“But increasing tax, decreasing wet trade, changes in habits and 20 years on, some pubs’ business models are no longer compatible with live bands. So, we’re down to only 13 venues this time.

“We need more places taking part. There’s an open invitation to interested venues if they want to take part in any way.”

John McClean
Paul Dubbelman

John McClean and The Clan, 9 pm Friday 4th March 2022 at the White Swan and 2 pm Sunday 6th March 2022 at The Globe

“Uncertain times”

It looks likely future festivals will involve a big change from the ‘£10 covers all, voluntary support wristband’ to some places charging for a particular concert or concerts.

Steve explained:

“If it’s a hall, we then require additional people and expenses: door staff, stage and sound management, hall and PA hire, and other costs that existing businesses already cover. But these are still uncertain times so I’m looking for more stability before I take on too much risk.”

Mark Harrison
Paul Dubbelman

Mark Harrison will be performing at The Centre on Sunday 6th March 2022

Good music and more

In the meantime, this week’s 35th Swanage Blues Festival serves up plenty of good music, with a dazzling array of acts, as well as offering the opportunity to take part in jam sessions and open mics, not to mention inviting visitors to discover and enjoy the whole of Swanage and its surroundings.

Further information

For the full schedule of performers and venues visit the festival website.

Twenty one years and 35 festivals

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