If you think that with August the festival season also comes to an end, you’re way off the mark. In fact, since 2000, the seaside town of Whitby enjoys some sort of musical Indian summer with a three-day-long event, delighting the more refined sound appetites.
Musicport Festival, which, as anticipated, has reached its 20th anniversary, is going to enlighten the Yorkshire music calendar, next to the scenic Whitby Pavilion, throughout the third weekend of October. So, we reached its director and music programmer Jim McLaughlin to make “one of the best-kept secrets on the festival circuit” less secretive.
Can you give us a brief history of how Musicport came about?
My wife and I had a café/venue in Robin Hood’s Bay and had to move events from there to Whitby when the lease ended. We talked to Arts Council, and a one-off event for the Millennium was suggested and some funding secured. We managed to get a good range of artists, including Labi Siffre, E2K and bhangra band Sansaar, but had no plans to do it again. In the event, everyone who came asked what dates were for next year, and so it began…
What is your involvement in Musicport?
I have programmed since year one and am a director of the organisation.
What really sets Musicport apart from the UK’s other festivals?
Being indoors, being international yet really intimate and friendly, small-scale and inclusive. It is a festival where people find it really easy to come along on their own and not feel uncomfortable in any way.
Can you describe the process of curating artists – What works for Musicport and what doesn’t?
That is very difficult to describe, but it is to do with finding artists who our audience will be interested in the story of, as much as the music… it’s always a balance between comfort of the familiar and the challenge of the unknown…
Which acts have you been eager to book in the past and would like to see turn up in the future?
Mari Boine, Roberto Fonseca, Kaushiki Chakraborty, Mercedes Peon, Los De Abajo, and Mostar Sevdah Reunion are ones that I am keen to see return, but there are hundreds of acts I would like to see who haven’t been yet.
What is your favourite element of the festival?
The night before it starts, when all our brilliant team meet up for a meal.
What has been your favourite part of planning this festival?
Trying to incorporate new elements into a building that has restricted space is a challenge but something I really like doing.
We are used to considering summer as the official music festival season. So, happening in late-October, Musicport can be seen as a winter event. Why did you choose October to run the festival, and how has this decision helped or harmed its growth?
We chose October initially to extend the tourist season in Whitby, as the town used to be very quiet between September and March. That is no longer the case, but we still think it a good thing to be a lot of people’s last festival of the year, and one where they don’t have to worry about the weather…
What’s the relationship between Musicport and the local community? How does the festival interact with Whitby?
It is well-embedded in the life of the community, having worked with young people through workshops and an ongoing education programme from day one… it is great to see a new generation now becoming involved.
Brexit is influencing so many industries across the board that it’d be hard not to discuss it in relation to the music sector. How might this uncertainty impact on your festival in the next few years?
The impact is in that very uncertainty – it is difficult to make plans when one can’t confidently predict what will happen re visas, the economy, social changes… but, on the other hand, we believe our type of festival will be even more needed to ensure those cultural links are maintained.
Although festivals each try to carve out their own niche, there are also overlapping themes, genres and artists. How competitive are festivals over the same resources, and is collaboration encouraged to ensure a more level playing field?
Because we don’t compete with many other festivals, given the nature of it and the time of year, it’s very hard for us to say, but I think it important that there are links and shared thinking, particularly on a regional basis.
Outside of or including Musicport, what has been the best performance you have ever witnessed as a festivalgoer?
Almost impossible to say… I don’t get to many other festivals due to commitments here, but if forced to choose, it would be Los De Abajo, their first time at Musicport.
This year, Musicport is turning 20. What do you expect from/look forward to in the next 20 years?
We have some plans, including personal retirement, but they are dependent on how things change socio-politically and funding-wise, which, as we all know, is increasingly hard to predict. We do expect to announce one major new project at this year’s festival though!
Finally, in a few words, how would you introduce Musicport to a potential newcomer?
I’d say, here is an event where artists and audience are as one in their appreciation of what connects us all, and made greater by the proximity that a small venue in a beautiful location offers.
You can buy your ticket to the 20th edition of Musicport Festival following this LINK