As Steyning Festival chairman Christine Aubrey says, revolution isn’t a word that you often see in the same sentence as Steyning.
But Revolution is proving a fertile and fun theme for this year’s events, 148 of them which run from Saturday, May 26-Saturday, June 9.
As a museum exhibition during the festival will show, there was a time in 1835 when a quarter of the population in Steyning rose up in support of the poor. And We’re Revolting on Tuesday, June 5 at 8pm sees the Kaleidoscope Singers offer a programme of historical and revolutionary music in the Church of St Andrew & St Cuthman.
“We have had themes in the past, and the themes tend to choose themselves in a way. It came about because I went to the exhibition at the V&A last year called You Say You Want A Revolution, really about the 1968 period, the music and the fashions, and of course, this year is now the 50th anniversary of all that was happening in 1968.
“As we were going into the exhibition, there was a poster on the wall with the dictionary definitions of the word revolution, and you can also use the word as meaning going round and round. We are going to have lots of things that are circular at the festival. We have got bicycles and maypole dancing and all sorts of things.
“And in our big community parade which starts the whole festival off on the first Saturday, we have got lots of children from the schools and various community groups taking part with lots of ideas about revolution. We just decided to use the word to hang a few things on.”
As Christine says, it all adds up to a big festival for a small place: “And it is entirely run by volunteers. It is very much a community thing. We try to get some big names in, and we have done that again this year, but we always have a lot of community events happening. We have all the usual music and talks, but we always like to have a few different things as well. We have got the ukulele jam where we fill the big top with ukulele players.
“I reckon we started organising it all about 18 months ago. That’s why we do it every other year. We just couldn’t do it every year. I have been working on it full time for months now.
“The big innovation we had last year was we had the big festival big top, a big marquee where lots of things take place, and people really loved it in there.
“It has become a hub. We have a café and a bar there open most of the time. It has become a real focus for the festival and has been a major addition.
“And this year we have innovated again. Last year we had to run two big generators and carry water from the Steyning Centre, but this time we have managed to get some grant money and we have installed electricity and water to the site. We have got that as a permanent fixture all the year round. The big top is only there for the festival, but it now means that there are water and electricity available for other things at other times. I am really proud of that as a legacy of the festival.
“We have got five trustees that run the festival and then we have got a wider group of about 25 people who are like the core team and then another wider group of up to about 70 people that do specific things for the festival. There is a huge number of people that help with the festival.”
Amongst the big names this year are Barry Cryer, Robert Webb, John Torode of Masterchef, Herbie Flowers, Julia Donaldson, Sir Malcolm Rifkin, Dame Floella Benjamin and Simon Nye.
For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2