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The 1979 Festival


The second Wetherby Arts Festival was held in snowy March. Almost on cue, the snow came down. The leisurely four-mile Festival ramble took place in a whitened countryside. Worse still, the Sealed Knot’s staging of the “Attempted Sack of Wetherby” on the Ings made do with a skirmish in the Market Place. It ended up with Roundheads throwing snowballs at the Royalists. Just as well, as they’d forgotten to bring the gunpowder.


Battle in the Market Place

But snow was not all that went wrong. On the first night, the capacity audience in the High School was told by the Festival Chairman, Rev Jonathan Bailey, that Stéphane Grappelli was in Jersey. They’d rung his agent and the 71 year-old violinist promised to arrive the following Sunday. The audience understood. There was ‘a great mood of bonhomie’.


Stéphane Grappelli

When the slightly-built, silver-haired, French fiddle player eventually took to the stage, the audience was transfixed. Hanging on every word of Grappelli’s broken English, speaking to them of his partnership with the legendary Django Reinhardt, playing Tiger Rag, and As Time Goes By from Casablanca, the school hall was transformed into a Parisian club, just as when his jazz was first conceived.


There was much that went right. The 3-legged Beer Race, where candidates had to drink a ½ pint in every one of the 11 pubs was won in 17½ minutes.

3-Legged Race. Paul Osborn and Keith Blake of Clifford Drama Group

The Short Story Competition attracted a good number of entries. Jane Bolton won with a story entitled Miss Said.  Salad Days by the Musical Theatre Group was big success, as was space-aged Aliens, written by a local teacher and based on a cross between Shakespeare’s Tempest and the 1956 Forbidden Planet. This was produced years ahead of Return to the Forbidden Planet (1989) which became a West End hit. The Wetherby Musical Theatre are performing it this year, 2017.


Colin Gaden, Clive Bentley, Susan Ware, Andrew Fox: the Salad Days cast


The 30 or so events included late night films in the ‘Crypt Youth Club’, poetry, plays, choirs, the Elysian Singers and chamber music. Visiting musicians included the cellist Elizabeth Rimmer, daughter of the Festival’s Musical Adviser, who was studying at Chetham’s School in Manchester.


The Elysian Singers


So, all was not lost. The snow receded. The Sealed Knot returned in May and did things royally, celebrating a battle of November 1642, one of the earliest skirmishes of the Civil War. And Wetherby felt a better place for its skirmish into the Arts.

Art Loan Scheme with Stephen Maude