A FESTIVAL celebrating the best of the blues is set to return to the Isle of Purbeck this year.
More commonly associated with the deep south of the US, the genre has established a firm link with the UK south west in the form of the Swanage Blues Festivals, in March and October.
The events see world-class musicians from around the globe descend on the town to provide weekends of top tunes and discussions of all things blues-based.
It all started in 2000, when keyboardist Stephen Darrington moved to Swanage.
Seeing town venues struggling through yet another recession, Steve approached local pubs and restaurants with the notion that if various venues would agree to collaborate and book blues music over one weekend, a ‘big town blues party’ may be had, encouraging visitors and helping town coffers at the quietest times of the year.
One blues weekend a year swiftly became two, extending the tourist season for those in hospitality.
Hugely popular with not only artists, organisers say a new wave of visitors has been introduced to Swanage through the blues, boosting bookings with local accommodation providers and keeping retail tills ringing throughout the town during both blues festivals every year.
“As an idea I came up with to try and help local establishments raise additional revenue when times were bad, Swanage Blues Festival has grown beyond my wildest imaginings,” Steve said.
“We have kept it local and on the same original format – each venue taking part runs their own events, I simply discuss what performers may suit them and get the bands booked in for them.”
He said new venues are always welcome, as in October 2022, when the Swanage Conservative Club came aboard, and at the festival in March, The Showbar at the Mowlem will be joining in too.
The success of the event, according to Steve, is down to many factors.
“While many of the visiting artists play to stadiums and large venues (with an equally large ticket price), Swanage offers something uniquely different and appealing to both musicians and music lovers alike,” he said.
“Artists gather, reconnecting with old friends, creating new collaborations and performing to fans, young and old.”
Venues and establishments involved can book national acts through Steve at a fraction of the usual booking cost, bringing some of the best blues acts in the country to Swanage to meet-up, enjoy a short ‘working holiday’ and perform.
“The more venues, the merrier,” Steve added. “Helping the local economy was always the idea behind bringing the blues to Swanage and optional ‘Blues Wristbands’ are available to show your support for the festival and cost just £15, which helps cover some of the costs involved.
“Each event is run by a tiny not-for-profit limited company. Entrance to most venues is permitted without a wristband, thus enabling everyone to attend.”
The 2023 festivals run from March 2-5 and from October 5-8. See www.swanage-blues.org.