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Issue 301 – Frome Festival ten years on

By his own admission, Martin Bax had “no idea how to run a festival” when he launched the Frome Festival in 2001. But he didn’t do a bad job! Ten years on and the Frome Festival has become one of the best festivals in the country, it has attracted international stars like Van Morrison and Paul Merton and is set for another fantastic year in 2010.

“It’s a true community festival with something for everyone,” explained Martin, chatting to Frome Times as the festival reaches a landmark tenth anniversary.
“As festival directer in the early years, I was especially proud to be able to offer such a wide range of events. There was something for everyone, whether your tastes were classical or contemporary music, modern jazz, film, walks and talks, books, writing, exhibitions or arts.
“And that is still its great attraction today.
“What other festival in the country offers you everything from Bath Philharmonia to a farmers’ market and from household names like Paul Merton to walks exploring underground tunnels? There is a fantastic variety and that’s why, I think, the festival has gained such a reputation. It was voted amongst the best five festivals in the country by The Times newspaper and Venue voted it the best festival in the country after Glastonbury.”
The festival has also attracted an impressive list of national and international stars.
“The roll call of famous people who have come to support the festival is extraordinary for the town of this size,” added Martin.
“In the first year we had Joe Pasquale, Frances de la Tour, Tim Piggott-Smith and Charles Dance and only ill health prevented Sir Nigel Hawthorne from performing. And that set the tone for future years.
“Since then, we’ve attracted Stephanie Cole, Edward Fox, Joanna David, Acker Bilk, Germaine Greer, Tony Benn, Van Morrison, Cara Dillon, author Dick King Smith, Barry Cryer, Timothy West, Adrian Edmondson and Paul Merton and that’s just off the top of my head!
“And, of course, Paul Merton is back again this year, along with Reginald D. Hunter.
“But I think the big names aren’t the real story. It’s all the other events that help to make the festival such a success.
“Frome is packed full of the most talented people – writers, artists, musicians, organisers – and the festival is a true celebration of those talents.”
So, looking back over the ten years of the festival, what were the highlights for Martin?
“Well, there are so many but one would have to be the World Food Feast. Just seeing thousands of people in Frome town centre in that first year was simply brilliant. It’s become a firm favourite of the festival and this year has become the ‘Frome Festival Feast’ and looks like it will be better than ever.
“Some of the other highlights for me would be seeing local talented musicians like Pee Wee Ellis performing to big crowds in their home town and the community projects like Noye’s Fludde in the first year which drew on the creative talents in local schools and the whole town to perform the Benjamin Britten opera.
“The Educational projects bringing in professional musicians from the Bath Philharmonia to work with youngsters from the local schools finishing with large scale performances is something I’m immensely proud of. One of the highlights of this work was the Cuckoo Tree, which was a brand new Children’s Opera commissioned specially for the Festival.
“The Summer School attracting choristers from far and wide continues to go from strength to strength performing the great choral masterpieces and then there are the large scale events like the Last Night of The Proms – which even included a flypast by spitfire aircrafts – and the Glen Miller Orchestra, bringing the very best entertainment to Frome.
“But probably the biggest thrill, for me, is simply that the festival has carried on. There is a fantastic team in place which has organised another extraordinary festival again this year and it’s just great that it’s in such good hands. It’s a true celebration of the talents in this town.”