The Festival Begins: A Very Special Reception

It’s important that the festival helping create new artistic work in the city.

Those were the words of festival organiser Charlie Hislop at the VIP reception.

On Tuesday, patrons, sponsors, and event hosts gathered together in the Pod of the Solent University Spark Building to celebrate the start of this year’s schedule, the open space uni hallways and seating spaces providing a wonderful backdrop. And it was indeed the perfect place to meet – Solent hosts events every month, lectures on various subjects that anyone can attend; we were well provided for by our experienced hosts.

Proceedings were opened by Edinburgh Fringe stalwart Mervyn Stutter, who will be playing Charles Dibdin in Jane Austen & The Waterman. He sang for us, his voice echoing around the building and, well, if you haven’t got your tickets yet, let me tell you – you want to be there on Sunday 22nd to see him perform with Downton Abbey’s Cathy Sara!

In his welcome speech, Charlie emphasised our festival’s mission, saying it was about Southampton, the place, and the people. We can showcase talent in the city and promote those already on their artistic journey; there are many opportunities for writers to contribute. ‘I’m really proud of what we’re doing at the festival,’ he said, ‘and we couldn’t do it without all of you’. That includes everyone who comes to our events and has supported us so far. We have a programme of cutting-edge events, many that deal with difficult issues, such as Hannah Silva’s Schlock!, RIDE!, Touch Network, and Eric Ngalle Charles. The programme reflects our ambition to build the festival into a key event in the city’s cultural calendar, raise the profile of the city, offer solid partnerships and sponsorship opportunities.

The festival reflects the creative life of the city, the community venues such as The Art House, open mic events, and cultural centres like the Nuffield Theatre, who host year-round programmes. We’re also using our platform, sharing it with others to raise awareness, promote causes and charities to the wider community; this year, with our charty partner, Dementia Friendly Southampton we’re raising awareness of Dementia.

Mike Wilkinson, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Solent University, spoke of the vibrancy of our city’s talent and the ways the university is furthering their students’ creativity, through projects like the recently released On The Water anthology. The English department has 94% student satisfaction in the league tables.

The chair of Cultural Southampton, Brad Roynan, commented on our schedule and the city as a whole, saying, ‘There is the opportunity here to see a lot of new things… it is a very strong programme. The festival consortium is happy to be supporting it’. Alexandra Baker of Dementia Friendly Southampton told us that there are now 6,000 people in the city registered as a Dementia Friend. The charity wants to make it 10,000.

Commissioned poet Damian O’Vitch entertained us with comedic up-to-the-minute poetry. Fellow commissioned poet Matt L T Smith presented a poignant piece on the festival theme of Changing Times, a spoken word piece about his Dad’s employment by a local tobacco factory and the affect it had on the family both in terms of health and as a domestic unit. We were even joined by Issa Loyaan Farrah, just back from Voice FM, who gained more than a few murmurs of artistic appreciation when he performed Hip Hop.

On the subject of tickets I can tell you the following: The Touch Network event is selling out fast, so too are the free tickets to the Ford Transition event. Get them while you can.

As for our evening, it was full of wit, awe inspiring talent – that’s no exaggeration – and, yes, wine.

By Charlie Place. Photos of Charlie Hislop; the audience: Chandler Divers. Photo of Mike Wilkinson: Hollie Ward.

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