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You are in: Somerset > Entertainment and Leisure > Art, Films and Television > Frome Festival gears up for its eighth year

Wide angle shot of the Frome Festival

World Food Feast at the Frome Festival

Frome Festival gears up for its eighth year

This year's event boasts 150 acts over a fortnight and is regarded as one of the country's best festivals. Organiser Martin Dimery talks about how the event developed.

Frome Festival 2008

The event runs from 4 til 13 July and highlights include:

Paul Merton

Ken Dodd

Courtney Pine


Bath Philharmonia

The Frome Festival began in 2000. Having helped set up a festival in Frome in the early 90's, I was curious as to how it might develop.

My previous attempt was called the ECOS Festival and centred around a Greek style amphitheatre comprising a henge of stones from quarries in each of the EU countries. The amphitheatre was constructed on the Frome College site, and the first ECOS (European Community of Stones) Festival took place over a two week period in July 1992.

Nearly 100 students from European Countries stayed in Frome and participated in a wide range of arts events. The piece de resistance of the festival was a four night performance of The Who's rock opera "Tommy", which drew capacity crowds.

Despite this success, sustaining ECOS proved difficult. It was entirely dependent on volunteer labour and some of the local authorities were reluctant to support the event financially. ECOS Festivals ran for five years, before the momentum was lost, and the venue was handed over to the neighbouring Merlin Theatre, for occasional summer events. The amphitheatre has since been beautifully landscaped and is well worth a visit.

The Frome Festival was conceived with broader intentions by Martin Bax, a mayor of Frome and actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre Theatre Companies. Martin was not tied to utilising one venue and wisely encouraged all of Frome's arts institutions to become involved.

Wholehearted approval

Frome, for a town of less than 25,000 people, is remarkably well furnished with arts venues and performance spaces: The Merlin Theatre accommodates 240 and has been established as an important touring destination for many top drama and dance companies since the 1970's.

The Memorial Theatre was build in the 1920's and is a traditional proscenium arch venue, which has been through mixed fortunes, before being taken over as a charitable trust in the 1990's. Since then, it has flourished as a variety theatre, hosting an impressive programme of big names.

Then, in 1998, the town council invested heavily in converting a derelict, former farm produce warehouse adjoining the central car park, into a multi purpose market and concert hall. The Cheese and Grain Hall is now one of the most eminent music venues in the West of England, with a standing capacity of 800.

Close up of Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra set to perform in Frome

Martin Bax and his committee managed to persuade the above venues, the Black Swan Art Gallery, various church halls, and more latterly, the beautifully restored Rook Lane Chapel, to commit to participating in the Frome Festival. The result has been phenomenal. The festival has grown so big and so well established that Martin Bax, having earned an MBE, stepped down as (unpaid) director with the Frome Festival being listed in the country's top five festivals by the Times newspaper.

The Frome Festival Board of Directors was determined to sustain momentum after Martin stood down, even though they are dependent almost entirely on volunteer staff.

I was invited to take over as creative director, last October and the volume of requests from established performers and artists brought home to me the magnitude of the job and also the esteem with which the festival is held by the artistic community.
It was certainly not a problem persuading performers to take part in the festival. Each of the main venues engages in contracting many of their own events, some through external promoters.

One promoter, Jan Ayres from Bristol, is providing most of the high profile events at the Cheese and Grain Hall, including 10cc and Seth Lakeman. The Memorial Theatre is promoting Ken Dodd for the festival, while the festival is promoting Paul Merton's Impro Chums in the same theatre.

As in the last two years, Paul Merton has adopted the Frome Festival as a favoured event and his show sold out within hours of going on sale.

Over 150 events will take place between 4 and 13 July, including exhibitions, workshops, literature events, tours and talks. The festival has a very good track record for presenting high quality classical and world music and this year Julian Lloyd Webber, pianist Maria Angel Garcia and Indian vocalist Sheila Chandra are amongst the high profile events.

The festival also extends outside the town: the Great Hall at Longleat will host a fabulous gala concert entitled "Façade" which is a musical setting by William Walton to the writings of Edith Sitwell and family. Music will be provided by the Bath Philharmonia under conductor Jason Thornton and will feature the internationally renowned soloist Isabel Buchanan.

There is no doubt that the Frome Festival has sustained the momentum necessary to continue into the future, but as I've discovered, good will, generosity of local sponsors, and the wholehearted approval of the local community are essential.

last updated: 04/07/2008 at 09:07
created: 03/07/2008

You are in: Somerset > Entertainment and Leisure > Art, Films and Television > Frome Festival gears up for its eighth year

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