DUNCAN BARKES Return needed to what made festival great

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Is anyone surprised by the news that the Chichester Real Ale and Jazz Festival (CRAJF) is taking a break in 2012?

The silence from the organisers since the beginning of the year has been deafening and the rumour was that the team behind the event had run out of cash.

However, a statement released a few weeks ago reveals all is well and that the festival aims to return in 2013 after taking a year off.

This is great news for live music fans, but I hope the organisers use the time to reflect on what made the best years of CRAJF so brilliant, because I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the event has lost its mojo in recent years.

When I moved to Chichester I was thrilled to discover CRAJF. The 30 years, moving away from traditional jazz to feature some great names from rock and pop.

It is also worth noting the event organisers are volunteers from Chichester Priory Park Cricket and Hockey Club, and that over the years they have donated thousands of pounds to local charities, many of which benefit youngsters in the area.

But I fear that if they do not get it right next year then the festival may not survive. In the Chichester area we are spoilt for choice for live music events. Fontwell and Goodwood racecourses, the Blues on the Farm Festival, the Festival Theatre’s big summer musical and Bognor’s ROX Music and Arts Festival all compete for our time and money.

When I was working for the local radio station in Chichester I clearly remember the buzz and excitement generated when it was announced Status Quo were playing CRAJF. Tickets sold out within 24 hours. It is this calibre of act that is needed.

Other bands that people still talk about include Blondie, The Pretenders, Simple Minds, ABC and the Human League.

All these acts have a tremendous back catalogue of hits that people know and can sing along to, which to me has always been the essence of the event.

Some of last year’s talent simply could not deliver this.

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and Aswad are credible musicians, but I would wager that most people would struggle to name more than two hits from each.

Getting the right talent is vital to ensuring the future success of the event.

Katie Melua and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra are undeniably big stars, but they simply don’t work in the environment of a rammed-to-the rafters marquee where most people are swilling ale and in the mood to party.

I am a huge fan of this festival and hope it returns bigger and better than ever in 2013. But it needs to remember what made it great in the first place.

This means selecting acts that are both unashamedly populist and that will work in a party atmosphere. Get this right, don’t overprice the tickets, and the CRAJF will remain a fixture of the West Sussex social calendar for many years to come.

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I urge you to support it. I’m passionate about independent shops and businesses and Petworth has some corkers.

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I have purchased several titfers from this splendid establishment and I doff it at the good people of Petworth for coming up with such a superb initiative.

Follow Barkes on Twitter @DuncanBarkes or email duncanbarkes@hotmail.com