INTERVIEW: Nigel Price (new Director, Swanage Jazz Festival)

Swanage
Photo Richard Webb/ Creative Commons

NIGEL PRICE has just been announced as the new Director of the Swanage Jazz Festival. He has also launched a kickstarter campaign to help the festival survive. Sebastian found out more about the background: 

LondonJazz News: With 2017 having been announced as the "28th and final Swanage Jazz Festival", your appointment means that it's going to continue? 

Nigel Price: Firstly, thanks for your time and running this for London Jazz News. We're going to need all the help we can get! This is indeed potentially great news if we can make it happen.

There was no announcement at the festival this year that it may survive, as the festival founder and director, Fred Lindop, didn't want to promise anything to anybody at that point.

The festival committee have called it a day, many citing advancing years and declining health.

They, and particularly Fred, have given a gift to this lovely little part of Dorset and I don't think any of them really wanted to see the curtain close. I sensed this and couldn't help but to throw a potential lifeline.

LJN: But you are faced with quite a challenge to keep it going...

NP: Let's make no bones about it: the festival will only be able to continue if we can raise the funds to make it happen. The fundamental issue is that the festival has reached the income limit that keeps it nestled just below the point at which VAT is applicable. There's not much excess and not really much left over from year to year. There was a small fund but legally the company was obliged to donate this to local children's charities as the current committee dissolved. Nobody with a beating heart could object to that. This means that there is, literally, no money available for any expansion, wage increases, upgraded creature comforts, catering, better staging, better lighting, etc. You name it, there's no money for it.

LJN: So how do you think you might solve that? By limiting it at no more than the size it is?

NP: It could of course contract but in my eyes that would be too defeatist and I just won't do it.

Bigger and better then? Ok. I'm in...

This does mean, though, that the rise in income will see the VAT being due so the festival has to expand by a considerable degree to soak up this bill, which I anticipate to be somewhere in the region of £19,000. And that needs to be addressed before any extra money is put into upgrading anything.

LJN: And what are the implications? 

NP: The upshot of this is inevitably going to be a hike in ticket prices.

The 2017 price was £85 for a weekend pass and numbers were limited to 940 to keep within the VAT limit. As soon as we creep over that limit we're in for a £17,000 bill so we simply have to add the VAT onto the tickets. That's makes £102 but then we need to find more funds for all of those issues I mentioned earlier so we're adding £10 onto a ticket, making the 2018 price £112. There's currently an "early bird" ticket option which is £5 less than that (£107) available at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/417602. If the festival goers baulk at this then we're dead in the water before we even start, but I'm hoping that the prospect of paying what amounts to less than an extra tenner a day isn't going to put people off, especially if they know that my plans will not only mean more comfort for them, but for the musicians they love to be paid more.

As I said, the festival has remained underpriced for a very long time and this rise has been a long time coming. I would be mortified if I were to hear that anybody was suspicious of the increase which is why I have described it here in so much detail.

I don't think it's right and fair to expect just the festival goers to foot the bill.

The festival brings an estimated half a million pounds worth of business into the town. I'd be really pleased if those who stand to benefit the most recognise not just the cultural value, but the financial advantage of hosting the jazz festival through its resulting influx of tourism. Hopefully they'll be able to see the link and then lend us a hand, if not give us a fiver...

LJN: And other ways to make it stack up financially?

NP: There are rewards of advertising space in the 2018 brochure for pledges of £100 so I'm hoping this will give incentive to exactly those of whom I speak.

I'm not trying to emotionally blackmail anybody! It just seems completely logical to me that the movers and shakers in the town would want to invest in their own futures.

We'll see what happens.

The target is set at £15,000 and if this does not reach its target by 1 November then 2017 really was the last one. There are about 11,000 people resident in Swanage and if they all chipped in a couple of quid we'd smash it!

LJN: What was the process - is there a board involved - or were you Fred L's favoured candidate - how were you appointed?

NP: I think a few people threw their hats into the ring and I guess I must have seemed the most enthusiastic! I was keen to show my willingness to help and I have made the journey down there a couple of times, had many constructive, good natured meetings , conducted a lot of research and built up a rapport with many of those directly involved with the festival. They are good people and all want to see a future for jazz in Swanage.

LJN: Are the dates already fixed for the next festival?

NP: Should it happen the festival will run on 13-15 July 2018.

LJN: Is your role "Artistic Director" (or what?) and who will you be working with?

NP: At this stage I haven't even considered official job descriptions. I am merely doing my best to secure the continuation of the festival in a very "nuts and bolts" kind of way. I am sure that roles will present themselves in the days and months that follow and I am watching the situation carefully. Whilst it would be an exciting prospect to be in charge of booking I'm not sure that I could handle being inundated by cohorts of tenacious, gig-hungry jazz musicians (just like me). Talk about the shoe being on the other foot! It has to be noted too that this isn't just a faceless festival. It's a huge existing social scene and many of the audience come back year upon year to see musicians that they have formed a bond with over decades. I will be sensitive to this.

There is a large trad jazz presence, too, which is something I've never really been involved with but I will put my heart and soul into maintaining a programme that people want to experience.

That said, I think it's also very important to encourage younger and more contemporary jazz into this scene. Fred has always made good provision for this, mainly in the Methodist Church, and that is definitely something I will be continuing.

When it comes to enlisting help, the distance between London and Swanage is an issue and it would make a lot of sense to source dynamic, diligent, well meaning personalities from the local area. I am sure that the right people will step forward and make themselves known, or indeed accept or decline an invitation when the time comes. I have my eye on one or two individuals and I think they probably know it...

Believe you me, I am already absolutely up to my eyeballs in this thing. I have always been somebody who likes to shock others with the sheer amount of work I'm capable of (don't let my wife hear that) but I have learned to recognise when I'm becoming overwhelmed. I'm pretty close to that now...

LJN: Is directing a festival something you wanted to do - or have you accepted the post because of specific things about this particular festival

NP: I have never really had the specific desire to run a festival. All I've ever really wanted to do is play the guitar, but it does seem to fit in with my nature. I suppose I've always been quite community orientated. I like to try and get the best out of people and I think I do have a disarming way of doing that. Perhaps it's because I'm very friendly but at the same time look like the sort of person you wouldn't really want to mess with! Ha ha! It's only funny because it's true...

LJN: Do you have particular venues that the festival uses that you like?

NP: Swanage is not a large town and I wouldn't say that you're spoilt for choice with regard to venues. I'll be honest, I've never found the location of the two large marquees to be particularly hospitable, being out on the brow of a fairly wind-blown hill but, having spent a fair amount of time scouting out the town, I accept that there really is nowhere else without getting too far away from Swanage itself. It'll be fine though with a bit more hospitality up there.

LJN: What sort of ambitions do you have - to make it similar to the way it was/or different - in what way?

NP: I want people who come to the festival in 2018 to feel like they're coming to a proper, professional event. I would love to have two really fantastic tents out on that hill, with comfy seating. I spoke to the guy who's supplying the staging, lighting and sound equipment and we very quickly found ourselves speaking of the limitations, particularly the height restrictions, of working in the current marquees. It's impossible to get a proper lighting rig or stage in a tent that's only about 12 feet high. That's (literally) the long and short of it.

It can feel a bit bleak up there and I want to supply a variety of hot food choices, all sourced from the town, as well as the bar (of course). I have heard from many that the noise of the bars where they're currently situated - actually within the music tents - are intrusive with their noise so to move them out and amalgamate them in the middle seems like a good plan. I'll put this bar in a third tent between the two stages which will also contain nice tables and comfy chairs, basically a "chill out zone" where anybody can sit and eat/drink/chat without having to brave whatever the Dorset weather decides it's going to throw at us!

I think Fred has been doing a fabulous job within the restrictions and the only changes I really want to see are these - ultimately for the audience to be more comfortable, the conditions on the hill to be more hospitable and the musicians paid a little more. It would be lovely to get the Mowlem Theatre involved as that in itself would allow me to consider larger acts. I'm in talks with them and if all goes well it could be very exciting!

LJN: If someone gave you an unlimited budget whom would you want to invite to the festival?

NP: Alan Barnes.

LJN: Where does the festival get its money from ?

NP: The festival is not run for profit. The lion's share of income is from ticket sales and advertising revenue from the brochure; there hasn't been any real incentive to increase this revenue to avoid straying into the VAT zone and the shortfall has been made up by sponsorship from the many pubs who host the jazz throughout the town. There have in the past been successful PRS and Arts Council applications which have been invaluable and shall again be pursued this year.

LJN:  What would success be for you in this new role?

NP: If I can somehow turn this desperate situation around and witness a busy, vibrant celebration of the music we love, down by the seaside in this pretty little town in July 2018 then I will allow myself to feel a little proud....

....who am I trying to kid? If I can pull this off I will weep like a baby...

LJN: Where do people find the Kickstarter? 

NP: Here's the link

The website is HERE
Twitter @swanagejazzfest

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2 comments:

  1. Thank you to Ian Crisp for spotting an error - which we have now fixed.

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