Musicport Festival celebrates its 21st anniversary

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A popular Yorkshire coast festival continues to strike a chord with music fans – so much so that Musicport – in Whitby – is celebrating its 21st anniversary next month (October).

Whitby probably isn’t the most obvious place to locate a celebration of music from diverse cultures from around the world but festival founders and organisers Jim and Sue McLaughlin see the event’s location as one of the reasons for its survival.

Jim said: “Whitby has a seafaring and welcoming tradition. People have sailed from here to all corners of the globe and so, despite our geographic isolation within Yorkshire, there are historic connections to many other cultures.

“One of our initial aims in developing the festival was to give young people in the area the chance to experience other cultures and traditions particularly as most would have to leave Whitby and move to more multi-cultural towns and cities to gain further educational opportunities.

“It was also originally started at the time of year to help extend the tourist season which, 21 years ago, dropped off dramatically by October.”

Now, 21 years in, and still using Whitby Pavilion as the main venue, the festival (a not-for-profit community business and supported by Arts Council Lottery funding) is still changing and developing.

Sue said: "We really feel for the many festivals who've been forced to cancel their plans once again this year, so we feel very fortunate and excited that, as far as anyone can say at present, we can press on with getting Musicport 2021 under way!"

“We tend to use every available space in the building but this year, to make people feel more comfortable and safe in an indoor venue, we have reduced the number of stages within the building.

“In doing so have created a new DJ club space in the downstairs hall called The Perfumed Garden on Sea, a concept imported by our DJ team from Beat-Herder Festival where The Perfumed Garden has been a popular fixture for many years. We will still have our popular fringe venue Bob’s Blundabus parked just outside the main doors.”

One of the strengths of the festival - which takes place between 22-24 October - is its size with audiences limited to 1,100 at any one time, though this is reduced to 850 this year.

Jim said: “The festival is really friendly and we do feel that it is one big family, and because of that people are happy to come on their own.

“There is, unusually, a higher proportion of women in our audience than at most festivals. We try to capture the feel of an outdoor festival with stalls all around the edge of the main hall and food vans in the outdoor area.

“Obviously, we are very aware of the effects on people’s confidence of gathering indoors in a pandemic but we also know we will take all the precautions we can to keep the audience, staff, artists and volunteers safe.

“We know many people are keen to gather and listen to great live music and that during the winter months outdoor events will be limited. I think people love the fact that we often throw in a few surprises in the line-up, but it is the quality of the acts that people really seem to love - having attracted acts over the years such as The Buena Vista Social Club, Hugh Masekela, Toumani Diabate, Courtney Pine, Richard Hawley, Labi Siffre, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Los De Abajo.

This year’s line-up is spearheaded by:

Muzsikàs - The Hungarian band famed for its soundtrack to The English Patient.

Les Négresses Vertes – Dubbed “the French Pogues”, a barn-storming live act.

Monsieur Doumani from Cyprus - Songlines Magazine Award’s Best Group winners 2019.

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita - fresh from a triumphant appearance at The Proms.

Graham Fellows - Father Earth, a film presentation by the actor/comedian.

And with more local acts such as indie heroes Bull - the York band recently signed to EMI - Newcastle’s The Baghdaddies, and a host of other UK based acts that rarely venture this far north or east, it promises to be a weekend of diverse music, dance and workshops all overlooking the sand and sea.

Sue added: “We believe that the mix of local, regional, national and international acts who all use the common language of music is a healing force in a troubled world.

“We have had some memorable moments such as an act arriving from the refugee camps in Western Sahara who had never seen the sea before - they all stood in their colourful robes on the cliff edge in a freezing gale just entranced by the waves.

“Then we had the whole audience line up to shake hands with The Buena Vista Social club as they left the building, it must have taken an hour!”

Acts appearing on each day include:



 Monsieur Doumani (Cyprus), Les Triaboliques, Mariachi Las Adelitas (UK/Mexico), Paul Armfield, The Baghdaddies.



Les Negresses Vertes (France), The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Dizraeli, Cleveland Watkiss, Graham Fellows, Justin Adams & Mauro Durante (UK/Italy) Honeyfeet, She’Koyokh, Count Skylarkin (DJ Derek Set)



Muzsikas (Hungary), Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (Wales/ Senegal), Le Vent Du Nord (Canada), Mary Coughlan, Tankus The Henge, Himmerland (Denmark) The Ciderhouse Rebellion, Joshua Burnell Band, Bull, Three Poets.

New bookings for the festival include Manchester’s crowd-pleasing ethio-trad, folk-hop band Honeyfeet led by BBC Folk Singer Of The Year 2019 Ríoghnach Connolly,  York’s finest BULL recently signed to EMI & just returned from Reading Festival where they made waves on BBC Introducing Stage and Festival favourites from Newcastle, The Baghdaddies

Poets include Liverpool’s Rebecca Riley (aka 1CoolPoet), Northumberland’s Harry Gallagher and Foyle Young Poet Of Year, Megan Pattie.

Published on 06 September 2021 by Ben Robinson

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