Bury St Edmunds Festival preview

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor Norwich isn’t the only place in festival mood in May – Bury St Edmunds is gearing up too. Trevor Heaton reports.


Lining up something for everyone is the aim of arts festivals everywhere - and in Bury it's something they achieve with seeming ease.

When you have a line-up which can bring together orchestras, puppet shows, stand-up comedy, jazz, family fun, art exhibitions, and punch-the-air Seventies, Eighties and Rat Pack tribute nights, then you have a real crowd-pleaser on your hands.

Bury Festival, which runs from May 12-28, is the 21st to be held in this historic Suffolk town so organisers have had plenty of time to fine-tune the line-ups to give the people what they want.

After humble beginnings as a Weekend of Words and Music in the early Eighties, the festival has grown and grown into a 17-day feast of entertainment.

Things get off to spectacular (and free) style with the Band of the Grenadiers Guards Beating Retreat on Angel Hill from 6.30pm on Friday May 12. The Guards are celebrating their own special anniversary this year - their 350th.

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Then from 7pm - also free - step over the road to Abbey Gardens to enjoy a feelgood feast of South African dance grooves with Mbawula, backed by a 300-strong choir.

Music on a more intimate scale in the vaults of the Angel Hotel (linked forever with Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers) from 7.30pm with a jazz dinner with Colin Watling on saxophones and John Turvill on keyboards (the first of several at the venue; 01284 753926 for details).

Saturday May 13 events begin at 11am at the Corn Exchange with a super (and very silly) treat for children aged four and over and their families. Utter Nonsense tells the story of wacky inventor Uncle Henry who sets on a strange journey where he meets a rich duck and a handsome slug among other characters! Tickets £3 child, £1 accompanying adult.

Two more family treats from noon: at Abbey Gardens there's free street theatre (don't miss the amazing giant pig!) while at lovely Ickworth House it's the start of a two-day Georgian Weekend (normal admission applies: 01284 735961).

The National Trust property also sees a concert by the Brodksy Quartet (7.30pm, £15) with music from Beethoven, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Sally Beamish. Meanwhile, over at Bury Corn Exchange (7.30pm, £10) it's the award-winning Unity Brass Band.

May 14 highlights include a great night of stand-up at the Corn Exchange from 8pm in the reliable hands of the Fat Cat Comedy Club. The superb Mitch Benn is headlining, so expect plenty of his spot-on musical parodies. Also on the bill is Micky Flanagan, Ninia Benjamin and MC Patrick Monohan (£10, available on the door only).

The Cathedral Choir is in concert at St Edmundsbury Cathedral (6pm, £6), while at St Mary's Church (a few yards from the cathedral) you can see two excellent musicians in concert - Wayne Marshall (organ/piano) and cellist Natalie Clein. The programme for their 8pm concert will take in music from Saint-Saëns to Piazzolla (£15/£10/£6).

Monday May 15 sees jazz with the Luke Annesley Quartet (Corn Exchange, 1pm, £6), while in the evening Simunye features I Fagiolini and Sdasa Chorale, blending spine-tingling South Africa harmonies with classical themes (St Edmund's Church, 7.30pm, £15/£10).

The following day features one of the festival highlights - an appearance by classical guitar legend John Williams at St Mary's Church (7.30pm), following on from his visit to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival three days earlier.

He'll be playing works by Scarlatti, Albeniz, self-penned pieces and music from his South American-inspired CD El Diablo Suelto (£18/£13/£8).

Earlier (1pm) the same venue hosts prize-winning piano duo Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa (£6).

Wednesday May 17 sees the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in concert at St Edmundsbury Cathedral (7.30pm). Their programme includes Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, work by Liszt and Kodaly plus one of the best-loved classical pieces of them all - Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. Tickets are £26, £17 and £10. There's also a 1pm concert on that day featuring trombone quartet Bones Apart (Unitarian Meeting House, £6).

The following day that fine musician Clio Gould will be leading string soloists from the Royal Academy of Music for a lunchtime concert in St Edmundsbury Cathedral (£6), while over at Cornhill Walk Shopping Centre (8pm), excellent jazz singer Tina May is in concert with music made famous by the likes of Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan (£10).

More jazz the following day - but something rather different! The Sitcom Sextet specialise in their own arrangements of favourite theme tunes from film and television comedies from the Sixties and Seventies. This great fun gig is at the Corn Exchange (1pm, £6).

And the Apollo Saxophone Quartet is at Garland Street Baptist Church (7.30pm) with a wide variety of music (£12).

Saturday May 20 sees three very different events. At Rougham Airfield the Suffolk Kite Festival brings some of the UK's top teams to demonstrate this ancient pastime with examples from the bizarre to the huge (10am, £5, concs £3, on the gate). Then at the Unitarian Meeting House the 10-piece Prime Brass present a programme spanning five centuries (7.30pm, £12), while at 8pm at the Corn Exchange there's one of the great “one-off” ensembles you're ever likely to see - The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. The seven-piece outfit promise a tuneful and funny trawl through everything from Tea for Two to Teenage Kicks and the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly! Tickets are £12.

Sunday May 21 sees the second day of the Suffolk Kite Festival, while organist Malcolm Archer will entertain at St Edmundsbury cathedral (6pm, £8). At 8pm in the Corn Exchange there's a chance to see one of the world's best flamenco guitarists in action - Juan Martin with his Quinteto Fabuloso, plus dancers (£12).

Monday May 22 brings a lunchtime treat for lovers of jazz piano with David Newton and his trio at the Corn Exchange (1pm, £6), while at the Unitarian Meeting House (7.30pm), it's Mad Songs and Englishmen, with the Brook Street Band (£12).

The following day it's the Haydn Lute Trio (1pm, £6) and Recordion (7.30pm, £10), both at Unitarian Meeting House, while at the Corn Exchange (8pm) it's one of British jazz's leading lights, Andy Sheppard with his new quartet (£12).

Wednesday May 24 sees another lunchtime concert, this time roots music with Oli Wilson Dickson and Dylan Fowler (Corn Exchange, £6) followed in the evening in the Cathedral with the return of the Britten Sinfonia, featuring violinists Jacqueline Shave and Pekka Kuusisto (£23/£15/£9). At Ickworth House on the same day there's a real treat: a guided tour of the extensive picture collections - followed by a cream tea (£18, booking: 01284 735961).

May 25 has mandolin player Alison Stephens providing the lunchtime music (Unitarian Meeting House, £6), while jazz singer Clare Teal brings her quartet to the Corn Exchange at 8pm (£15).

The festival's final three nights feature three great concerts in the Abbey Gardens (tickets for each are £15, under-12s £8). On Friday May 26, it's Seventies Night with music from the Glambusters, plus tons of funky disco hits; the next night we shift to the Eighties, with tribute acts Bleach (the music of Blondie) and Wham!Duran, with Toyah Willcox rounding off the night; while the festival finale on Sunday May 26 sees West End stars make a Salute to the Rat Pack with the swinging sounds of Messrs Sinatra, Martin and David Jr - followed by a firework display.

PS And look out for a busy programme of walks and art displays too - plus a visit to Abbey Gardens (May 13 and 14) from that superb Norfolk-based storyteller Hugh Lupton.

t Tickets and information from the festival box office on 01284 769505. Full details on www.buryfestival.co.uk

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