Brecon Jazz Festival’s future at risk again

Orchard, the media and events company that has been running the Brecon Jazz Festival since 2012, has announced that it is pulling out. The reasons are financial: despite support from the Arts Council of Wales and from regional and local government, Orchard have been, in effect, subsidising the festival all along.

Orchard director Pablo Janczur said: “It’s unfortunate that we have to end Orchard’s involvement in Brecon Jazz as we’ve had a great four years and attracted some glowing accolades for our work on the festival. But the reality is that despite great support from the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh and local government, Orchard as a business has effectively subsidised the event on an annual basis since 2012, and we are not prepared to sustain that any longer. I think we gave it a really good shot, and I genuinely hope someone out there can take it on, because it has a great reputation internationally, provides a terrific platform for Welsh Jazz talent, and is a real boost to the mid Wales economy.”

Gregory Porter at Brecon this year (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Gregory Porter at Brecon this year (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Despite attracting some big names at the more commercial end of jazz tastes – including Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula and Jools Holland – and visitors filling the streets of the picturesque Mid Wales market town, the crux of the matter is bums on seats – paying bums on seats, that is.

Janczur again: “People see many thousands of visitors on Brecon’s streets and the pub tills ringing on festival weekend each year and think the event is in rude health. But the reality is they are not swelling the festival coffers, even though we bear a lot of their costs.

“To bring in the big names that jazz lovers desire, relies on ticket sales, and the Brecon venues are just not set up to enable enough of those sales to happen. Despite the valued public sector support we have received from the start, Orchard has not been able to take a management fee each year, and so we have effectively subsidised the event for four years. As Wales’ leading independent promoter and communications group, we simply can’t sustain those losses.”

Brecon at jazz festival time - visitors fill the streets but they don't buy enough tickets

Brecon at jazz festival time – visitors fill the streets but they don’t buy enough tickets

Brecon Jazz Festival started in 1983 and its fortunes have waxed and waned ever since. In 2009 it was bailed out by the Hay Festival who built it up again until Orchard took it over. The press release from Orchard is the only thing you will find on Brecon Jazz Festival’s website now.

I’m sure we are all hoping a shining jazz knight is about to breast the Beacons, but as Orchard joins the list of those who have tried and failed, that knight had better have some armour-plated new ideas together with some pretty big saddlebags of cash.



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4 replies

  1. I’m not an expert in festival promotion, but the difference between the UK festivals and those in Germany, for instance, isn’t so much bums on seats, but the massive sponsorship (particularly from the german car industry) available and the state and national media coverage. I mean just look at this list: http://jazzfests.net/countries/?country=de

    • I agree absolutely, Mike. The lack of bums on seats was a factor Orchard identified, but, other than for the really commercial jazz performers who can follow the popular music model (high ticket prices, etc), I think that train has left the station. More specialised jazz in this country cannot rely on ticket sales for such a large percentage of its income. It should be following the classical music model and trying to attract much more private financial support as well as campaigning for more “establishment” recognition and so a bigger slice of the public funding pie.
      The festivals that will survive and want to present a range of jazz, both popular and specialised, know this and approach their balance sheets accordingly, I believe.
      It’s a good subject for discussion!

  2. I played at Brecon in August as part is a guitar weekend at the Guildhall. All the gigs were sold out or close to capacity. Streets looked busy.
    However, when Blow the Fuse programmed the jazz stage for the Stoke Newington Festival from late 90s we were working on a shoestring as promoters. The festival was attracting up to 40,000 people on Church Street toward the end of its life BUT many local cafes and pubs were not contributing anything toward the costs. We formed the Emma Peel Fan Club and played a gig at Stokey Town Hall every Xmas to subsidise the jazz stage! All good fun but relying on masses of goodwill and contributions from a small section of the population.
    I can understand Orchard’s position, agree with sponsorship comments but who? What a shame.

  3. I’ve just moved to Brecon and I’m very disappointed to see the news. I’ve attended Brecon Jazz a few times before. I know a little of the history of how it started, essentially as a community project I think. Time to go back to basics?

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