25 years of Stompin’ On The Quomps

The bandstand lit up after dark in 2008

The bandstand lit up after dark in 2008 - Credit: Archant

The backbeat of this award-winning smooth jazz festival started in a Victorian bandstand in Christchurch. A quarter of a century later Stompin’ On The Quomps is one of the region’s most popular events

The view from the stage

The view from the stage - Credit: Archant

Who'd have thought that a Jazz Festival started on a whim in 1994 in the charming town of Christchurch would not only still be going 25 years later, but would regularly attract an audience of thousands.

But that's what the small team who stage the annual Stompin' On The Quomps have achieved. Along the way they have picked up tourism awards, Arts Council funding, business sponsorship and a prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service - the MBE for voluntary organisations.

I spoke to Stompin' co-founder, Adrian Dwyer to find out how this free jazz event started. The first thing you need to know is that it actually started as Stomping.

Back in the 1990s, when John Major was Prime Minister and the Conservatives were arguing over Europe, the late Suzette Sully was both Arts Officer for the town and manager of the Regent Centre Theatre. Suzette wanted to thank Christchurch Council for the support they were giving the local arts scene by staging a free concert, possibly on a boat on the River Stour. She approached Christchurch resident and musician Adrian Dwyer who suggested a concert on the bandstand on The Quomps, a flat area of park adjacent to the river. The event was, in Adrian Dwyer's words, "attended by a small crowd and a few dogs." But from such modest beginnings many successful events are grown.

Taverner's Big Band, seen here playing at Stompin' in 2008, they also played at the first event and

Taverner's Big Band, seen here playing at Stompin' in 2008, they also played at the first event and will be at this year's celebration - Credit: Archant

For the first few years Stomping was organised by the Regent Centre, with Adrian managing the music aspects of it. But changes to funding meant the Regent Centre withdrew and Adrian took over the event. He recruited David Hopkins and Eliot Walker to help, and crucially changed the name from Stomping to Stompin'.

The new independent group brought in Christchurch's Lighthouse Youth Centre and started to broaden the programme.

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They also brought in traders and a bar. The public liked what was happening and Stompin' rapidly grew into a popular summer event for the area.

This also meant that there was better access to funding to improve the technical aspects of staging it.

SUBB Zero, one of the local bands which will be playing on the bandstand

SUBB Zero, one of the local bands which will be playing on the bandstand - Credit: Archant

Stompin' was originally held on the bandstand, but this was quite cramped for larger bands. A few years ago finances were good enough to bring in a big stage with better sightlines and a proper PA system. With that in place, and support from Arts Council England, Stompin' has been able to attract bigger and better acts to come to Christchurch like the legendary James Brown sax player Pee Wee Ellis who headlined last year's event. The historic bandstand also underwent much needed restoration and so now Stompin' runs two stages, with the bandstand hosting emerging local talent whilst the bigger acts grace the main stage.

But why opt for smooth jazz? "There was a very successful Folk Festival on The Quomps", says Adrian, "but they ran into problems, chiefly caused by alcohol, and it closed." Christchurch Music Festival, he says, also uses the Quomps but they attract a very different crowd. "It would be so easy to mix the genres and lose the focus, like a Christchurch Regatta without any boats," he continues, referring to another popular event that ended. The 'smooth jazz' tag enables Stompin' to stage a wide range of variations all connected to a 100-year-old music tradition.

"Weather and fundraising are the two biggest challenges for us," says Adrian. "In 2012 we'd planned to move the event to June to avoid clashing with the London 2012 Olympics. But it was the wettest June for years. So we had to re-schedule it to September. That cost us £2,000 which is a lot for a small organisation."

There is a huge team of volunteers behind Stompin' and it takes at least a thousand people hours each year to stage the event. Driving this is a ten-strong committee which meets monthly. "It's all down to them really," says Adrian. "When it comes to fundraising we rely on donations on the day from the public. Christchurch Round Table has been brilliant at helping collect these and half goes to local charities."

Local businesses have also been very supportive, but Adrian is keen to point out that there is always room for more. "We're very grateful to our headline sponsor Cookes Furniture who, along with the Arts Council, has enabled us to bring in bigger and better names as well as add extra concerts at the Regent Centre." This year Stompin' is also staging its first concert at Christchurch Priory with the Gwilym Simcock Trio and violinist Thomas Gould. "With musicians of international repute like this, that's a big step forward for us," he declares.

After 25 years at the helm Adrian, who is also a keen sailor so it's an apt analogy, is stepping down. "It's time for new ideas," he says. "I'd like to see younger people get involved both organising and participating in music. It would also be great to get more engagement with restaurants in the town and extend the event, maybe turn it into a week-long festival."

Stompin' is ultimately all about the music and the good vibes that it brings to The Quomps. Over the years it's been a popular gig for many local bands with the likes of sax player Sarah Bolter, blues singer Zoe Schwarz, Dorset Youth Jazz Orchestra and the late-lamented Lemongrove, regularly entertaining the crowds at this free open-air event.

The programme has also evolved, allowing more local talent on the bandstand which this year features rising sax star Tom Waters (son of Boogie Woogie pianist Ben Waters) and the colourful reggae-jazz group SUBB Zero. Headlining the main stage are the driving Afro-Cuban sounds of Snowboy and The Latin Section who are bound to get people dancing. The day ends with the band that started it all back in 1994 - Taverner's Big Band - who will swing the night away with finger-clickin' classics from Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Benny Goodman.

"We aim to offer a bit of something for everyone," says Adrian, "blues, funk, swing, classic songs. Music that is easy to access. I always hope that people will leave saying, 'I don't like jazz but I love Stompin'." Here's to the next 25 years.

Let's go!

12pm: Kim Cypher Band (Main Stage )

1pm: The Tom Waters Band (Bandstand)

1.45pm: Nicola Farnon Trio (Main Stage)

3pm: SUBB Zero (Bandstand)

3.45pm: Zoe Schwarz Blues Commotion (Main Stage)

5pm: Rachel More Quartet (Bandstand)

5.45pm: Snowboy and The Latin Section (Main Stage)

7.15pm: Ben Dwyer Jazz Xperiment (Bandstand)

8pm: The Taverners Big Band, plus guest (Main Stage)

8.45pm: Mambossa (Bandstand)

9.30pm: The Taverners Big Band, plus guest (Main Stage). Ends 10.15pm

Stompin' on the Quomps is on Saturday 3 August 12 noon - 10.15pm . The Quomps is the green area bordered by Wick Lane, Queens Avenue and Quay Lane in Christchurch BH23 1BY. Stompin' is also promoting Jacqui Dankworth MBE and Charlie Wood at The Regent Centre, Christchurch on 25 July, and The Gwilym Simcock Trio and Thomas Gould at Christchurch Priory on 5 October. For full details visit stompin.org.

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