Barney Stevenson

15. Core Team

The staff & volunteers who produce the Marsden Jazz Festival

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The staff & volunteers who produce the Marsden Jazz Festival

It takes an enormous number of volunteers to produce the Marsden Jazz Festival, many of whom have been with the festival since the start. Whilst for many years the festival was managed and produced by volunteers alone, it now requires year round staff to manage the vast array of tasks alongside the dedicated core of volunteers, particularly to manage the programming and finance elements.

June is the festival’s administrative officer, a role she loves. June’s introduction to the festival came when she moved to Marsden in 1999 and was shortly recruited to the catering section.

“It was a good way to meet people in the village and socialise. It was great fun in the catering team and we were fortunate to meet many of the large bands. One highlight was having our photo taken with Andy Sheppard”.

The festival had employed a part time administrator for a number of years before June took the role in 2007/8 and the role has grown to include the finance management, becoming a full time role.

“The role has changed over the years, there has been a continual drive to move towards greater professionalism with a dramatic increase in the size of the festival and the number of volunteers needed to manage it. The festival now has well over a hundred events, the majority of which are free.
I am very proud to have been a part of the team driving the direction of the festival and in particular, proud of how innovative the programme has become. It just seems to evolve, year on year. Last year we held a launch party for the first time, this year, an event in the tunnel at Standedge. We are still going strong after 25 years, despite a backdrop of cuts in funding for this type of programme. Now that is an achievement.”
What have been your highlights of the festival?
“The biggest highlights for me in being involved in the festival are in meeting the musicians and my interactions with the festival volunteers. I wasn’t knowledgeable about jazz in the beginning, but through my involvement I have had the opportunity of working with some incredibly enthusiastic and professional people, who are totally committed to producing a fabulous festival.”

Barney is the festival’s Artistic Director. His first introduction to the festival was through getting to know one of the trustees on the train commute to Manchester.
“I had been interested in jazz since my early teens and didn’t take much convincing!”.

One of the significant things Barney got involved in was the development of the performance space of the Marquee on the Bridge into more of a major stage area. He recalls that he could see the potential of holding bigger events there, that could be watched by quite large audiences along the river. Shortly after that, John Quail stepped down as Chair and Barney stood for election and was duly appointed as a festival trustee and Chair.

Barney really enjoyed his five years as Chair, particularly working closely with the then festival coordinator Taru Sinclair. She carried out the role with the enthusiasm and flair that seems to be a prerequisite for people involved in the festival. Taru and Barney had a very positive “can do” approach to the festival, sparking off each other, they built a solid relationship with the Arts Council and doubled the turnover of the festival within five years.

They proved great at finding funding for special projects, like ‘Mill and Moors’ and ‘The Marsden Menuscript’ and when Taru moved on from the post, Barney was very well placed to take over as Festival Producer.

From 2013 onwards, with encouragement from the Arts Council, the Festival Producer and committee increased their focus on networking, partnerships and collaboration. Involvement with organisations such as NORVOL Jazz (Northern Voluntary Jazz Promoters’ Network) quickly paid dividends and the festival benefitted from attracting international artists such as Ellery Eskelin. This led on to Barney joining the Jazz Promotion Network as a board member, alongside significant people from other jazz festivals around the UK, which continued to lead to bigger and better things.
“As a result of new partnerships, this year we are staging a triple bill event with Match&Fuse festival, featuring musicians from the UK, Belgium and France as well as workshops and a performance with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra”.

What changes have you seen since you have been involved with the festival?
“There have certainly been changes in terms of scale. It’s always been on a big scale for such a small village, but it just continues to get bigger in terms of the calibre of artists it attracts and the number of headline gigs. The diversity is ever increasing, in terms of musical diversity and ethnic / cultural diversity, as well as how the festival is promoted. For example it is now an online box office, which has been critical in its success for growth. Also it has continued its focus on young people, through workshops, the parade and family friendly gigs, such as ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’, specially commissioned for the festival in 2014, that has gone on to be performed at numerous other festivals around the country”.

So what does Barney have planned for the future?
“More in the way of partnerships and collaboration… like working with an artist in residence, further booking of international artists and more in the education sector”.

“A big focus will be on attracting sponsorship and becoming less reliant on grant income. We’re constantly brainstorming new ideas, like a spring youth jazz festival or a new commission. You will just have to wait and see!”.

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