CHICHESTER: Priory Park Festival looks to the future

The Feeling frontman in Chichester, Dan Gillespie Sells           Pic by Judy Totton
The Feeling frontman in Chichester, Dan Gillespie Sells Pic by Judy Totton

The organiser of this year’s new Priory Park Festival in Chichester is already thinking about the performers for next year after a successful first outing as part of the 2016 Festival of Chichester.

Film and television producer and director Robin Bextor said he was delighted with the way the people of Chichester got behind the three-day event which included Paul Jones and The Manfreds, Seth Lakeman, Sussex band The Feeling, Courtney Pine and his own daughter, Sophie Ellis Bextor in the line-up.

Robin admitted there are a few things he might well tweak, but for a first event, it was a big success.

“We have been absolutely thrilled by the reaction. There has been so much going on in the news that I was just delighted seeing so many people turn up, everyone having a great time and the music just being so terrific.

“We knew we had a great line-up of musicians, but the lovely thing is they all came off the stage vowing to come back, John Otway, Sophie, The Feeling… they all absolutely loved it. The Feeling are a Sussex band through and through, and they are determined to be back.

“It was obviously our first time at that venue, and I was thrilled that the local residents didn’t feel we were the cuckoo in the nest ruining their park.

“Right from the word go, I wanted to get them involved in it all, and the lovely thing was that afterwards, I went to a Friends of Priory Park meeting and they passed a vote of thanks for what we did.”

For next year, Robin might well look at timings, whether it is worth starting so early on the Saturday and the Sunday – though rain on the Sunday did hamper things a little this year:

“Also some of the spoken-word events in the Guildhall were not terribly popular. (Music producer) Glyn Johns had a standing ovation and had pretty much a full hall. But Simon Fanshawe had just a handful of people.

“But I wanted to have those spoken-word events to give extra texture to the event. Maybe we will use things in different ways. Sophie went into the Guildhall and said she would love to do an acoustic set in there…

“I would also like to get more involved in what is going on with the rest of the Festival of Chichester, so that other elements of the festival could come and perform in some way.

“I think we could act as a focus so that people could get like a pot-pourri of the rest of the festival. I know that the young bands we had from Chichester were really well received. They brought a different audience to it.”

As for attendances overall, Robin said he was satisfied. They held 300 tickets back each day for walk-ups, but these weren’t taken up in the event: “But the Saturday night was packed for The Feeling, and the Sunday afternoon was the same for Sophie. I think maybe people paced themselves and weren’t there throughout.

“For the Sunday evening (Courtney Pine), numbers dropped off again after Sophie. But generally, I would say that we were two-thirds of where we wanted to be. But really for the first year, we just wanted to be secure and to make sure that everything went smoothly. We could have had another thousand in there, and next year, we will push for that. But I was pleased to be so well supported from the word go. Our advance sales were very encouraging, enough to make it happen. And it will happen again. We are determined. We just might do some things differently…”