As the first festival of Swanage’s 2023 season gets under way, they may start singing the blues in The Mowlem – but everyone seems remarkably happy about it.
During 22 years of the Swanage Blues Festival, with thousands of top quality gigs, not one has previously been played in the town’s highest profile entertainment venue.
The Mowlem is to collaborate with the Swanage Blues Festival for the first time in 2023
Popular bands to play at The Mowlem
But now four bands are to play at The Mowlem Showbar and Taproom on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th March 2023 and festival organiser Steve Darrington believes that with enough support from music lovers, he may be able to use the main theatre in the future.
Some of the most popular bands to have played at the Swanage Blues Festival in recent years will appear at the Showbar, including Blues Touch, the Robin Bibi Band, Vince Lee and the Big Combo and the Fabulous Duck Brothers.
The ever popular Robin Bibi Band will play at The Mowlem Showbar
Watch a great band with the best view of the bay
Paul Angel, the new chair of trustees at The Mowlem, said he was delighted that the theatre was finally able to collaborate with the twice yearly festival of blues music.
“The Mowlem has seen a lot of changes in the last couple of years and one of the most important has been to reconnect with the local community, including the amazing festivals that help make Swanage so special.
“The blues festival has such a strong presence in the town for two weekends every year and we’re really excited to be hosting four big acts in the Showbar for the first time, hopefully a partnership we can carry on in future years.
“We’re sure people will enjoy watching a great band with the town’s best view of the bay and a pint of local craft ale!
“This came to fruition through the hard work of the Showbar’s operations manager Thomas and bar supervisor James. They did a marvellous job, and we’re incredibly proud of what they achieved and our involvement in the blues festival this year and hopefully beyond.”
Helen Turner of Born Healer will play at Herston Camping this spring
Cost of wristband rises for first time in years
The 37th Swanage Blues Festival begins on Thursday 2nd March and the cost of a wristband to support the festival has just risen for the first time in more than 10 years, to £15 – but is still remarkable value for a weekend of 60 gigs at 15 venues featuring 30 of the best blues acts.
In a year when a number of festivals have already been cancelled or postponed, including the Dorset Steam Fair and the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, Steve Darrington is adamant that with whole-hearted support from Swanage, his much-loved music fest has a strong future.
Steve Darrington is the mastermind behind the Swanage Blues Festival
“I’m organising a party!”
“We have managed to keep the cost down to £10 since 2012, but as with everybody else, since Covid costs have increased enormously and attendances aren’t as high as they were, so it’s now £15.
“Amazing really, when you consider that many of the acts cost up to £15 for just one show in the clubs and theatres. Here in Swanage there are 35 different acts in one long weekend, playing 60 shows!
“I’m organising a party! Other festivals are done on a much bigger scale than mine, some of them building what amount to small towns with huge costs that have to be met. Swanage Blues takes place in existing businesses that just need to meet any additional costs such as extra staff.
“I personally find suitable blues acts for each venue, arrange accommodation and transport for the musicians, handle the marketing, publicity and design the website.
“The venues take advantage of thousands of visitors who come to Swanage to enjoy the music the town provides, each pay towards their chosen blues bands, host the musicians and are responsible for their own staffing and security.”
Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke will be on stage at The Centre
One of the UK’s top five blues festivals
“There’s little difference to each venue booking their own live music and hosting their own event as on any other given weekend – except they have access to some of the best blues bands in the country at a greatly reduced rate, over a weekend when visitors have come to listen to the blues.
“None of the venues charge an entrance fee. Wristbands are sold by each venue to help cover the costs of marketing, printing, other festival costs and so on.
“In 2021, the Swanage Blues Festivals were categorised as being in the top five of the UK’s blues festivals, so we have reached national acclaim!
“Extending the town’s tourism season for participating venues was one of the primary aims of Swanage Blues when it very first began back in 2002, and supporting local businesses still remains of paramount importance.
“It is great that The Mowlem has gone through some recent changes and are now taking part in the festival. The Showbar is a great venue and with enough support from festival goers we can consider the theatre itself next time.”
Thomas Heppell is one of the country’s fastest rising young Blues talents
Rising stars will feature at the festival
Wristbands can be bought at all of the music venues – the Centre, Conservative Club, Globe, Grand Hotel, Greyhound, The Legion, Red Lion, White Horse, White Swan, YHA and Showbar at The Mowlem, as well as at Fifi’s, Jenkins, Rainbow’s End, Swanage Information Centre, and Tea Breaks.
As always, new entertainers have been added to the official programme. Singer and guitarist Isobel Thatcher appears in a duo with her brother on saxophone at the Red Lion, and rising young blues star Thomas Heppell, who has been nominated for several awards in a national blues poll, entertains solo at the Black Swan and with his band at the YHA.
New bands include Born Healer, and the Jon Storey Band, who are based in Portugal. Vince Lee appears again with his Big Combo and also in his duo with double bassist Sophie Lord – some of their recent videos are achieving in excess of 500,000 views on YouTube.
George Hall features in the highly anticipated Million Dollar Bash gig
Celebrating the music of Bob Dylan
“I have always stressed that there is no star of the show at Swanage Blues, unless you count Swanage itself! Everybody is equal, everybody plays their part.
“If you were to ask which ones are my favourites, I would say that’s like asking a parent which of their children is favourite! They’re all special.
“Having said that, we do hear that Robbie McIntosh, guitarist with The Pretenders from 1982 to 1987 and with Paul McCartney and Wings from 1988 to 1994, is playing with his Dorset mates in The Million Dollar Bash at The Legion on Thursday 2nd March, our special run-up gig for those who come to the festival early.
“They’re celebrating the fine music of Bob Dylan and The Band in their own unique style, with some blues favourites thrown in – it is going to be a night to remember!”