July 1998: Festival an artistic success despite fears

Noise, vandalism, drug-taking, and traffic congestion – just some of the things nearby residents feared from the first Bridgnorth Contemporary Music Festival.

The weekend long rock festival at Aston Eyre, proved to much for some of the revellers.
The weekend long rock festival at Aston Eyre, proved to much for some of the revellers.

And what did they get? The two-day festival in the summer of 1998 was essentially trouble-free and was hailed by both organisers and authorities as a success at the time.

An artistic success, that is, as the turnout was disappointing and the event made a substantial loss (we'd tell you if we knew how substantial) despite kind weather.

Although the worst fears in advance were not borne out, there were still complaints on various grounds, and a rumbling aftermath.

Behind the event, held on the weekend of July 25 and 26, was Grass Roots Rhythm, based at Shropshire Youth Art Network's site in Shrewsbury.

This unhappy farmer blocked his field with trailers and barbed wire. A leaflet for the festival blows in the wind.

The location was a 30-acre countryside site at Brickyard Farm in the hamlet of Aston Eyre, near Bridgnorth, and in advance about 1,000 of the 5,000 tickets available (they cost £21) were sold. Along with those who turned up on the two days, attendance was put at 2,000, who were able to enjoy young local bands and some national acts.

One of the headliners was Danbert Nobacon, of the band Chumbawamba, who had earlier that year achieved notoriety by throwing an ice bucket over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the Brit Awards. Previously he was plain Nigel Hunter. (Nobacon, we mean).

His set had a decidedly mixed response, and a member of the Shropshire audience tried to throw water over him.

As the rather sparse crowds headed home, the initial feedback was positive.

The festival field early on the Sunday evening.

Bridgnorth District Council's arts development officer Su Barber described it as a very vibrant and diverse festival in a very safe environment.

"Overall it has been a success in terms of minimum response from the council," said corporate service officer Celia Bahrami.

Four people were arrested for drugs offences.

Constable Michael Poynton said: "Considering the amount of people that have been here over the weekend, we have had no major concerns."

Our reviewer Russell Griffin liked it as well.

Brodie entertain the 2,000 people who attended.

"The Grass Roots Rhythm festival showcased all that is good about musical talent in the county with many of the lesser known, unsigned bands pulling off top notch performances," he wrote.

"Younger bands like Immodium and more experienced festival rockers such as Credit To The Nation and Booyaka were by no means dwarfed by the presence of better known names on the festival circuit.

"Saturday’s headliners The Ozric Tentacles, one of the top festival bands in the country, impressed with their light show and unique brand psychedelic space age rock.

"But controversial Chumbawamba star Danbert Nobacon received jeers from a section of the crowd during his conceptual acoustic set. The bald-headed singer hit the headlines earlier this year when he threw water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the Brit Awards ceremony.

"But Nobacon received a dose of his own medicine at Aston Eyre when a member of the crowd attempted to throw water over him. His set was also marred by a rambling and, at times, incoherent narrative in between songs but Chumbawamba the band should be congratulated for its members turning up to watch and support the festival."

Rob Burnett from Shawbury spent the day as a volunteer at Aston Eyre preparing for the festival.

The festival also boasted an unplugged tent, with many diverse acts and an indoor tent with local bands like the Loose Houndrifters.

Among other attractions, it also reportedly saw a combine harvester being turned into a huge moving sculpture.

When it came to the post-festival inquest, not all was sweetness and light.

The backdrop was that locals had campaigned against it, but Bridgnorth District Council had not only given the go-ahead despite the bitter opposition, but agreed to underwrite its losses to the tune of £3,000.

The council's environmental health director, Wendy Ridley, told councillors that unofficial sound systems breached the licence by playing loud music into the early hours.

There were 13 phone complaints and 12 letters of complaint received during and after the festival.

"The event started off well but standards slipped and deteriorated from the Saturday evening onwards," she said.

Among the issues were poorly organised parking arrangements, animals allowed on site, lack of control over illegal entry... and it seems the portable loos weren't being emptied.

After considering things, councillors on Bridgnorth District Council's environmental health committee decided to begin proceedings against the organisers for allegedly breaching their public entertainment licence, but the decision was later overturned and no prosecution was brought.

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