The idea was always to have an eclectic jazz festival
In 1978, I moved to Marsden with Mikron, the theatre company I had founded a few years before. I really wanted to create work and tour nationally, outside London, and being based in Marsden we had the opportunity to develop a unique theatre company that would tour by narrowboat in the summer and by road the rest of the year.
Newcomers were not very welcome in those days, especially arty types! But we soon got busy locally trying to save the Mechanics Hall. There were talks of tearing it down to build a major road going through the village. It took 10 years, but we managed to get a Village Hall Restoration fund and to re-open it in 1991. I wanted to bring the arts into the building, on a regular basis, and I also started thinking of an annual event to highlight Marsden and show what an amazing village it is. Huddersfield already had a contemporary music festival, Holmfirth had folk – so I settled for jazz!
So we started, in October 1992, with gigs at the Mechanics, in pubs and outdoors. Not everyone was keen the first few years, but when they realised what a great day out it was – and that it was bringing money in – they came on board.
Audiences went up every year, with more and more pubs and clubs as venues, more events on the street – from outside the Mechanics to the bridge – and even a band on a boat and one on a train.
The idea was always to have an eclectic jazz festival, with many styles of music, going from marching band and trad to world and avant-garde.
In 1978 Marsden was a moribund village. In 1998, half the shops were still empty. Today, when people visit for the Jazz Festival or Cuckoo’s Day, they can see a vibrant village with a functioning community – it’s not just a tourist attraction, despite all the filming that goes on.
The presence of Mikron and the Jazz Festival have been influential in transforming the village and attracting a large number of new residents with an artistic bent, but what’s worked really well is that all the communities here meet and talk.