A MEETING had been called to determine the interest in restarting the Monmouth Festival.
Once Europe’s largest free festival, the nine-day music extravaganza, which began 40 years ago, was the highlight of the Monmouth calendar, but the Covid pandemic closed it down and it is yet to restart.
Attracting stars such as Buster Bloodvessel and Doctor and the Medics, the festival has undergone a number of changes since its first incarnation of an 11-day free music festival.
Many festival-goers remember its heyday when it then was nine days of music-filled madness held in Agincourt Square.
However after the revamp of the Shire Hall - the building was used for storage and reception for the bands and the stage was on the cobbles - the festival was forced to locate to the Blestium Street car park and update itself with industry-accredited security, Heras security fencing and a whole lot more work to return the site overnight back into a car park.
In 2019, the festival organisers announced there would not be a main stage after attempts to move the venue to Chippenham failed.
Covid meant a three-year hiatus with the uncertainty of restrictions on large outdoor events during and post-pandemic preventing its resumption.
Now a special meeting is to be held at the Riverside on October 5 at 6.30pm to see if there is a way forward for the popular event to return.
Three challenges face those attending: Funding, volunteers and venue. It costs about £70k to put on the nine-day event, with around £20k on the stage and sound alone.
Other costs include security fencing and accredited security ‘minders’, band payments alone can total between £17-19k and other expenses include qualified first-aid cover, toilets and a marquee and containers for bands to wait in and store their equipment.
Raising money begins with the residue from the previous year which stands at just over £17k (according to Companies House), around £10k in grants from Monmouth Town Council and Monmouthshire County Council, licencing trade stands to sell alcohol and refreshments and the famous ‘bucket babes’ - festival volunteers who would walk the crowds asking for a donation to the upkeep of the festival.
Not as glamorous as it sounds, as one former bucket babe told the Beacon last week that if they had a £1 for every time they were told to get lost, they could stage the festival for “the next ten years”.
One of the downsides of locating from Agincourt Square was a loss of sponsorship from the Punch House, The Bull and Wetherspoons as there was no venue willing to contribute at the car park location.
But extra expense was incurred with fencing and security.
Another was that, as it is a car park, everything apart from the stage and sound booth had to be cleared away and rubbish removed ready for cars the next day. Then start again the next evening ready for that night’s entertainment - every night for nine nights.
Once you have the funds covered, you then need volunteers. This does not mean just for the nine-day duration, it means volunteers to fill the committee and sub-committees who work from October to July to organise hiring stage and sound, booking bands, traders and arranging everything ready for the start of the festival to make sure it runs as smoothly as it can.
Venue - spoiler alert - it will not ever go back to the Shire Hall due to the changes following the revamp of the listed building.
The car park was a satisfactory solution, bearing in mind the issues previously explained.
The proposal to move the whole venue to Chippenham has its own complexities: Additional Heras fencing around the whole site and the possibility of broken glass despite a ‘plastic-only’ event (security can only look in so many bags and coats). Junior football takes place on the smaller pitches on weekends.
So with revenue declining even before Covid, what chance is there for a return?
Volunteers is the first hurdle to overcome. Without people willing to begin organising in October, the festival will go nowhere.
A recent meeting between the present directors of the festival (it is a Ltd company) with town councillors Martin Sweeney, Steve Wadley and Tom Kirton showed signs of support.
Finance. Unless there is more financial support from festival-goers to support the guaranteed finance from traders and grants, the festival is doomed to spiral ever further downhill.
They can cope with euros in the buckets, but other foreign coins, including American (?) means that someone is getting a free ride.
The Beacon has heard that one family used to save up their change all year and turn up to the festival with their canvas chairs and fill the buckets with bag loads of loose change. One former committee member told the Beacon that this was the Monmouth spirit “in its finest form”.
The spectre of an entry fee will no doubt be raised at the meeting next month, however, given that the festival is run by a Limited Company (Monmouth Music Festival Ltd), it would mean a change to the Articles of Association and expense/ dangers in combating attempts to get in free to a music festival.
Festival directors warn that failure to find enough people interested to form a new committee and board may result in the winding up of the festival. Any and all interested parties are invited to attend. All ideas are welcome.