Burton Agnes Hall ready for jazz progression at festival

Simon Cunliffe-Lister chooses the acts for the festival while using his wife Olivia as a sounding board.
Simon Cunliffe-Lister chooses the acts for the festival while using his wife Olivia as a sounding board.

Over the last few years, the annual Jazz & Blues Festival in the grounds of Burton Agnes Hall has gone from strength to strength, having featured sets by the hugely talented likes of Oli Brown, Chantel McGregor and Stacey Kent. Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, hall owner Simon Cunliffe-Lister chats about his favourite aspects of festivals past…

Q. Hi Simon, how are things, and how has 2016 treated you so far?

Mr Cuncliffe-Lister will be performing with Ben Beattie at the festival.

Mr Cuncliffe-Lister will be performing with Ben Beattie at the festival.

A. It’s been a wonderful year that began with the birth of our fifth child, Sholto.

Q. How are things shaping up for this year’s Jazz & Blues Festival?

A. Fabulous. We’re on track for record ticket sales, with another cracking line-up of music.

Q. Which acts are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

A. The Saturday evening double-bill of sixties legend P.P. Arnold and great Jazz vocalist Elaine Delmar is going to be a real treat.

Elaine’s set of music by Cole Porter and Gershwin will fit perfectly with a sun-setting glass of wine. As for P.P. Arnold, her career crosses the paths of everyone, from Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones to Primal Scream; we’re honoured that she’ll be gracing our stage.

Q. I take it you’ll be performing, too…

A. Of course – a perk of the “job” organising your own festival! I’m with Ben Beattie on the Main Stage on Sunday afternoon. I’m also playing a Duke Ellington set inside the hall on Saturday afternoon. I’ve even been known to join local Rhythm ’n’ Blues band The Alligators late on a Saturday night.

Q. How long have you been playing the sax, and what do you enjoy the most about playing it?

A. I started at school, aged nine, so thirty years ago. Playing music is a wonderful world to escape into, and the sax is my “vehicle.”

Q. When and how did the idea to host a Jazz and Blues Festival in the hall’s grounds first come about?

A. I wanted to add a musical weekend to our calendar of events at the hall.

Opera seemed too formal, and a rave would have been too anti-social for our neighbours.

Jazz and Blues seemed just right for a relaxed, fun vibe, whilst respecting the beautiful setting.

Q. Had you had any previous experience of staging events of similar scope?

A. No – it was a leap into the unknown, but with the great team at Burton Agnes, along with the help of friends and family, we got there.

Q. Do you personally choose all of the acts on the bill, or is such a “job” delegated to someone else?

A. I choose. However, Olivia, my wife, is a great sounding board and companion whilst roaming jazz venues and the internet.

Q. Reflecting on festivals past, what have been the overall highlights for you so far?

A. Anytime that the performers have not only sounded great, but have also put on a fabulous show. Standout moments include Oli Brown soloing to grandmothers in the crowd, and the New York Brass Band appearing out of the woods. My most rewarding “personal moment” has to be looking out across smiling festival-goers whilst performing my closing set on the Main Stage, with the sun setting behind the hall.

Q. Given the popularity of the festival, have you considered hosting any other music festivals to cater for people with different musical tastes?

A. We don’t have anything planned, but we’re always open to new opportunities.

I play the piano for carol-singing at our Christmas Opening, and we have brass bands playing in the grounds during summer. A more intimate evening in the hall with a top performer on the grand piano appeals.

Q. For those people who have never attended the festival before, what else – beyond the actual music – do festival-goers get to enjoy?

A. The chance to escape from it all for three days in the majestic surroundings of one of England’s finest historic houses. We also have award-winning gardens, delicious food sourced from local produce, freshly tapped Wold Top Beer, chilled wines and ice cream… oh, and free hot showers if you’re camping!

Q. Whose idea was it to set-up acoustic sessions in the hall itself? I’ve got to say, the quality of the acoustics in there is second-to-none…

A. I agree; the acoustics are fabulous. Added to that, we have a wonderful grand piano there waiting to be played, so the decision was an easy one. One of the joys of attending a live event is seeing performers close up, witnessing the passion and skill with which they play. This we can offer in the Great Hall. I love looking up at the oil-painted ancestors looking down on us, wondering what they would make of it all.

Q. Which singers or bands do you enjoy listening to in your spare-time?

A. I listen to all sorts. As our children grow up, I’m losing control of the radio stations and music choices, but I take great pleasure in sharing music with them, which they embrace. For some reason, a Burt Bacharach CD has been well-played in the car.

I’ve found the Blues Brothers CD to be a good launchpad into the world of Blues and Jazz for them.

Q. Finally, how can people find out more about the festival?

A. Visit our website at www.burtonagnes.com or phone (01262) 490324 on a weekday between 9am and 5pm for more information.

l Burton Agnes Jazz & Blues Festival will take place over the weekend of 1 – 3 July.

l Copies of Steve’s first book, “Pulse,” can be ordered for £10 by sending a cheque (payable to Mr. S. Rudd) to 110 The Mount, Driffield, YO25 5JN. Visit www.steverudd.co.uk or www.valleypressuk.com/authors/steverudd for more information