Established in 2003, the festival, organised jointly by the Rotary Club of Towcester, Towcester & District Lions Club and Towcester Town Council, aims to showcase the musical talents of young people, community choirs and orchestras, and up-and-coming bands.
On a balmy evening in 2002, my wife, Loïs and I were in the South of France, staying at a house on the edge of Figanières. The village, well inland and not a tourist destination, was in the eastern part of Provence. We loved the place and had been coming here for several years, but that night, 21st June, seemed different somehow. Hearing a medley of music coming from the centre, we strolled towards the festivities to see what was happening.
It was amazing! The whole village was ablaze with lights and music. There were grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren, all happy to be part of this heart-warming community event. And music of every genre was everywhere. There were eighteen performing groups altogether. What an achievement for a village with a population around one-third of Towcester’s!
We got a glass of wine and a crêpe each, sat on a bench, and watched all those happy families. Loïs turned to me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this in Towcester?’ But that seemed impossible. In France, and other southern European countries, the state had promoted this Midsummer Night event, encouraging local musicians and artists to donate their services freely. And of course, local business clubs and tourist bureaus gave enthusiastic support. Yes, even villages had their own Bureau de Tourisme ‒ how different from the UK!
However, even though our climate couldn’t guarantee a fine night, there might just be a way to make something like this happen in Towcester…
In April 2003, I became Town Mayor and, together with Loïs and a few helpers, we began a race against time to put together a charity event, ‘Midsummer Music in Towcester’. As the English weather was likely to be unreliable, it was necessary to find undercover venues within reasonably close walking distance. Luckily, this was possible with cost-free permissions from St Lawrence Church, Sponne School, Safeway Stores, the Town Hall, the Methodist Church, the Community Centre, and the Catholic Church.
The money-making idea was to sell tickets that would give admission and if all went well, ticket receipts and programme sales would pay for the musicians and there would be a surplus for charity.
A small group joined me and Loïs to support the project. Prominent were Peter Stratton, whose sons organised the firework display ‒ and still do ‒ and Andrew Wilby of Towcester Bellringers. Helpful favours were called in too, particularly from the late Alan Jacobi of Unusual Rigging at Bugbroke, who provided crash barriers beside Watling Street on the Market Square ‒ and a helium-filled balloon lit by searchlight. The Air Cadets contributed marshals for the events.
The first event had talented performers from Sponne School, Towcester Studio Band, Tad Newton’s Jazz Friends, the evening’s keyboard star, Lincoln Noel (the longest serving of all the individual musicians), Towcester Choral Society, Fiore Musicale, amateur rock groups and several more. And many of these had to be paid.
So, Loïs and I and our helpers did leaflet drops around the town and nearby villages, waiting in vain for advance ticket sales through Colemans Stationers. Even on the final morning, desperate attempts were made to sell tickets on the Market Square. With almost no advance ticket sales secured, a financial black hole loomed.
As it happened, fate was kind. The evening of Saturday 21st June 2003 was windless, warm and dry, and starlit, putting everyone is a festive mood. And the people of the town showed up in droves. Smiling faces were everywhere; families and neighbours turned out in happy groups. When the tally was done the next day, around 1,500 tickets had been sold and after paying expenses, several thousand pounds were donated to the Save the Children fund.
Happily, the Midsummer Music Festival in Towcester has been held annually and promoted by successive town mayors, with the town’s innkeepers arranging musical events too.
During the pandemic, skilfully created virtual celebrations kept the tradition alive.
Don’t miss it!
Founder of Towcester Midsummer Music Festival and Former Town Mayor