Swanage Blues Festivals take place out of season twice a year, bring joy to thousands of people and around £500,000 extra business to the area. But their future is uncertain and organiser Steve Darrington has a fight on his hands – again. He’s no stranger to that.
Disabled through Polio at age six, doctors said he was not expected to live. Even after a year in hospital they said he would never have an ordinary life due to the extent of his disabilities. “They might well have been right there,” he can smile now.
As a child, his swimming companion was Ian Dury, Eric Clapton played at his school dance, he chatted with film and TV stars, World War 2 fighter ace Douglas Bader, even the student Colonel Gaddafi, and wheeled himself round Berlin all before he was 18.
He taught himself piano and played with Lonnie Donegan, Marty Wilde, the Everly Brothers, Mark Knopfler and many US blues and country music stars, to festival crowds of 50,000, was a guest at Abba’s castle in Stockholm, and made 50 albums during his career.
Steve had to give up touring and came to Swanage for two days in 2000. He liked it so much he never went back to Buckinghamshire and has been organising the Blues Festivals ever since. The next festival on 5, 6, and 7 October will be the 18th and he should be looking forward to it, but all is not well.
“Don’t get me wrong, the venues do make a huge contribution but they are only small and can’t fully fund the costs of all the bands, advertising and all the other expenses. About 30% of festival costs have traditionally come from bucket collections but due to changes in legislation, insurance and health and safety matters, we’ve had to give up collecting from fans in pubs.
“So now I’ve got the headache of how to raise money to keep the festivals going. We can’t charge admission, not with all those entrances and exits. We thought about marquees but when can you guarantee decent weather? Anyway, people love the multi-venue choice and appeal of all our cosy little bars and restaurants.”
Steve hopes to solve the problem with the introduction of £10 weekend wristbands for the next Swanage Blues Festival on 5, 6, 7 October. “£10 isn’t a lot for 40 gigs by 30 acts in 15 indoor venues. It would cost £10 just to see some of the bands elsewhere and anyway, Swanage is a fantastic place for a festival – so much charm and choice of where to eat, drink and sleep and all at reasonable prices.”
So Steve is appealing for help from businesses that are willing to sell the £10 wristbands or to be sponsors for a festival or two.”Being in a wheelchair I just can’t do it all on my own, and it would be such a shame (and a financial disaster locally) if everything had to end” he said.
For information on how to sell wristbands, programmes or be a sponsor, contact Steve Darrington on 07445 261037 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Festival website: www.swanage-blues.org