The rather magical Musicport Festival held in Whitby very deservedly won the FATEA Indoor Festival Award for 2013 and, with the official launch concert of the 2014 Musicport Festival approaching, it was time to catch up with Festival Director Jim McLaughlin to find out what he was conjuring up for the launch next month and the Festival itself later in the year. We spoke to him on his return from another Musicport initiative just down the North Yorkshire coast in Scarborough.
FATEA :You've just come back from the Musicport Day at the Coastival Festival in Scarborough - how did it go?
Jim: Well it all went rather splendidly - I was knocked out by The Lock In - the brilliant reincarnation of Time Gentlemen Please - as was everybody I talked to about it afterwards. Then, to round things off, Hase Waits from Hessle played a lovely set in the evening.
To describe what The Lock In does as a full stage show is so difficult but the way it marries two such seemingly disparate dance and music cultures so brilliantly and makes each relevant to the other is nothing short of genius - and it was created in Yorkshire which in our books makes it even more special! Coastival is a very wonderful collaboration of lots of great organisations working in the arts and it always helps us with ideas for the future too.
FATEA: Can you tell us about the artists appearing at the launch gig?
Jim: Yes we've got one of the greatest acts from Africa, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba coming to perform at Whitby Pavilion on Friday 14th March . Having been described by The Independent as " the greatest rock and roll band in the world " they are just one of the best live acts I have seen. They will undoubtedly have everyone up and dancing by the end of the night if not before. Bassekou is unquestionably the most innovative and exciting Malian musician to have emerged in recent years who pushes the boundaries of his ancient musical heritage, playing the traditional ngoni (the ancient fore-runner of the banjo) & bringing his music to audiences around the world. Their latest album was album of the year in several international charts and their involvement with Damon Albarn's Africa Express and Bassekou's performances with the likes of Paul McCartney, Bonny Rait & Bono has given them a great international profile so it's a real privilege to get them to a small port on the Yorkshire coast.
Supporting them on the night will be the very excellent home-grown but very internationally flavoured sounds of Me & My Friends who have appeared at the festival before and will be heading over from Leeds with their unique sunshine blend of folk and old-time roots reggae and ska which always engages an audience in a really positive way.
FATEA: Who are you particularly looking forward to seeing at this year's festival? Are there any big names still to announce?
Jim: I'm particularly looking forward to seeing our great team of staff and volunteers…. but also we are hoping to get The Lock In back again to do a slightly different show. Of the artists definitely booked (and we do have some headline acts still under negotiation) it's very hard to choose because I tend to book acts that I love anyway - if pressed I'm really looking forward to the magical harp & kora collaboration of Catrin Finch & Sekou Keita , to see Arthur Brown (and his Crazy World) returning to the town of his birth, the uniquely off the wall New Rope String Band, Leeds Klezmer band Tantz and Tunisian musicians Amine & Hamza who have long been on my wish list for the festival.
FATEA: Musicport often has special workshops and events involving local schoolchildren - is there anything planned this year?
Jim: Yes we have several ideas already including hopefully a project with The Lock In and another with a great Zimbabwean group but still very early days on these.
FATEA: As well as the main stage and theatre stage where the more established artists appear, the North Sea Stage on the lower floor of the Whitby Pavilion always has a great roster of up and coming musicians - can we expect the same this year?
Jim: Oh I definitely think that is as important as anything we do and we have already got a few on the bill playing on that stage such as Suzy Condrad who uses loop effects brilliantly alongside her guitar and ukulele to create a really unique musical landscape. I saw her supporting the guitar genius that is John Smith recently at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge - and in fact John Smith is coming to the festival too.
FATEA: One of the more unusual features about Musicport compared to lots of festivals is the showing of films over the weekend - what made you decide to do this?
Jim: I suppose we do it more because it often helps to give a context for the music being performed to have films that somehow relate to the music or cultures represented. Also with such a full-on event people often want a bit of down-time where they don't have to interact but can just absorb themselves in something.
FATEA: I think you said at last year's festival that Musicport is back at Whitby and will be staying there - what plans do you have for the future of the Festival?
Jim: To tell you the truth the last 2 or 3 years have been so challenging , both financially and organisationally, that our strategic planning has had to take a bit of a back seat. Now we are re-established back in Whitby (after our ill-fated foray to Bridlington) this year will be the time we can take stock, think laterally and develop a strategy that will help Musicport create even more of an impact in years to come with the festival, with our ongoing education work and in creating new projects.
As Jim mentioned the Musicport launch gig takes place on Friday 14 March at Whitby Pavilion and the Festival takes place this year on the weekend of 17-19 October 2014. Tickets for both can be obtained by ringing 01947 603475.
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