A look behind the scenes at Waterlooville Music Festival

Thirteen years ago a gale blew across Waterlooville that changed the course of local history.The town’s music festival was hours from its debut finale when cutting summer winds forced organisers to coax headliners Denmead Brass inside St George’s Church.

Tuesday, 16th April 2019, 3:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th April 2019, 4:44 pm
Crowds enjoy the Bollywood Experience at the Waterlooville Music Festival in 2011
Crowds enjoy the Bollywood Experience at the Waterlooville Music Festival in 2011

The big band was supposed to wow crowds al fresco — guiding them through classical numbers under sparkling evening sunshine with tipple on tap. But it wasn’t to be.

Instead, a contingency plan was triggered and they were whisked into a venue where they had never rehearsed, to deliver a set for a festival crowd they had never performed in front of.

What happened next was a pleasant surprise.

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Waterlooville Music Festival organisers Chris Gadd, Jane Rice-Oxley and Don Lloyd.

‘The wind was blowing so hard it would've blown the sound over Matalan in Wellington Retail Park,’ says Waterlooville Music Festival committee member Don Lloyd.

‘I didn't see how we could get a band in the church, but at 4pm we had to make a decision. We decided to move inside.

‘We shoehorned the band in and the acoustics were fantastic. It just worked.

‘It’s quite strange because sound bounces around in here, but the art is to balance it.

‘I was so struck when I heard it — when I saw the reaction behind me — and by default we had found the perfect set-up.’

The setting of that gig in 2006 was so successful it has been repeated every year since, under the billing of the Last Night of the Proms.

It will be conductor Don’s own 40-piece Meridian Winds that takes to the stage for the feat on Saturday, June 15 this year.

He is well acquainted with the passion of the 190-strong audience his band draws on the night, having led them multiple times as they have concluded the festival over the past decade.

'I turn around and there's a flag-waving, hooting, shouting, screaming audience behind me and the buzz is just tremendous,' he says.

'Everybody has a great time at the Last Night of the Proms because they get to sing all the traditional numbers, as well as a few pieces aimed at challenging the band and the audience.

'Some people call it jingoism, and they can call it what they will, but it goes down an absolute storm.

'A lot of people say they'd pay at least double the £12 ticket price and that, to me, shows what good value they're getting.'

It's not just classical tunes on Waterlooville Music Festival's roster.

Since its inception, organisers have made a point of on drawing on genre-spanning local talent alongside big-hitters bound to please the crowd.

When it returns from June 8 until June 16, the event will lay on staggered daily performances at St George's Church from 9.30am until 9.30pm.

But before they can go ahead, the venue must be transformed – a mammoth undertaking Don says current festival chairwoman Jane Rice-Oxley is 'mad' to have voluntarily coordinated for the past two years.

'Most of the church bits go and all the pews are put back,' she says.

'We then have chairs in four blocks, like a theatre, with a bar in one corner and a small village of merchandise in another.

'You can't make a church look totally different, but there is a very different feel.

'The congregation and their partners come in and help make it a community effort.'

When it was first introduced, the festival's committee comprised eight to 10 members with no experience just bright, burning enthusiasm in abundance.

In a bid to adapt the team has steadily grown as required but, importantly, Don says, the mission statement fuelling their efforts is a simple one that has stayed the same.

It's all about 'music from the community for the community'.

That do-good attitude is amplified by what the festival's organisers do with the proceeds.

'Money we make mainly goes back into the festival, but we keep an eye out for bands or musicians in the local area that we can help,' Jane says.

'Perhaps they can't pay for a studio to make a demo or maybe they need a new amplifier, either way we're here for their musical needs.

'This year we're supporting Flash Radio, who are in the process of getting a mast up so they can produce their shows from the heart of Waterlooville.'

Though St George's Church has proved its mettle in hosting the Waterlooville Music Festival on 13 occasions, organisers have been keen to stress it is not a spectacle limited to those with a faith.

In towing that line of inclusion for all, they have made inroads in smashing perceptions of what a church is and should be for visitors and the congregation alike.

'It's a deep thought, but it's something that really does occur,' Jane says.

'I think perhaps at first people were a little bit worried about coming into a church for concerts, but they found out what a super place it was, what lovely people we were and they came back for another year – and we were thrilled to see them.

'Even people who regularly come to the church perhaps feel a little uneasy that it's turned into a concert hall, but I'm hopeful many see how worthwhile it is and just how many people love coming along.

'It's a case of changing perceptions indoors and outdoors.'

Don continues: 'That's what the church is about, it's not just about Sundays.

It's for every day of the week, for the whole community and that's where the festival hits home.'

Go to stgeorgesnews.org/wmf.

Where to buy tickets

Tickets to the 2019 Waterlooville Music Festival are available online now, but those who prefer a physical ticket can, from Wednesday, May 1, buy from the following:

Northwood estate agents, St George’s Walk, Waterlooville. Open 9am until 6pm from Monday to Friday, and 9am until 3pm on Saturdays.

Keys News, Highfield Parade, Waterlooville. Open 6.30am until 6pm from Monday to Friday, 6am until 6.30pm on Saturdays, and 6am until midday on Sundays.

Thistle wool shop, London Road, Cowplain. Open 9am until 4pm from Monday to Saturday, with a late closure of 6pm on Thursdays. Closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.

To book tickets online, go to stgeorgesnews.org/wmf/boxoffice. Tickets from £6 to £10.