Music royalty

SO’s resident music guru Paul Dunton is excited about a new music festival coming to Tonbridge in September, featuring famous names including Nik Kershaw, Jethro Tull, Heaven 17, The Feeling and Feeder. Read on to find out more about The Walled Garden Music Festival.


This September, a fantastic new music festival is coming to Tonbridge. The Walled Garden Music Festival is the brainchild of music promoter Mel Fordham and takes place on the idyllic lawns of Tonbridge Castle, which is set to provide a fantastic setting.

The family-friendly festival runs over two separate weekends, September 9-10 and 16-17, and the music lineup is absolutely superb, featuring a host of world-class acts including Feeder, The Feeling, Jethro Tull, Levellers, Bjorn Again, Starsailor, Nik Kershaw, Ian Prowse, Mostly Autumn, Lifesigns, Miles Hunt and many more.

Mel is also a keen supporter of local music and I’m delighted to announce that four acts from the Local & Live Festival roster have been awarded the coveted opening support slots. They include The Ackerleys, Two Weeks In Nashville, Steffan James and my own group, The Paul Dunton Orchestra.

This is an incredible opportunity for all of the local acts to play on the same stage alongside a host of iconic artists and I know for a fact that we are all absolutely stoked to be invited to perform. It’s not an understatement to say that we really cannot wait!

The festival will have a varied range of food and drink concessions on site, but will also allow festival goers to bring in their own picnics, a move that will certainly prove popular given today’s current financial climate. I recently sat down with Mel to find out a little more about the history of the Walled Garden Festival and what people can expect from this year’s event at Tonbridge Castle…


So Mel, can tell us a little more about the history of The Walled Garden Music Festival?

We have previously staged the event within the Walled Garden (hence the name!) at Brightling Park in Battle, which was a lovely venue. However with a capacity of 1,200, I always felt the Festival had no room to expand and develop further at that location. After several editions of the Festival at Brightling, we began to look at other options to move the event. In 2020 Covid and lockdown forced us into hibernation, and put the brakes on our plans. As we moved into 2021-2022 things were improving slightly for live music events, however with the onset of the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, we felt it just wasn’t the right time to plan a new move and launch for the festival. As 2023 approached I had been looking for something a bit larger and Tonbridge Castle has been on my radar for some time. It is a beautiful venue and really ticks many boxes in terms of its prominent location, nearby railway station, larger capacity, easy access, good parking and hotels. I was delighted to secure the venue for the two weekends this coming September and we now plan to run it as an annual event.


What can festivalgoers expect from the first weekend of September 9 AND 10?

In previous years we had always adopted a very mixed-genre approach to each day at the festival, which worked well to a degree, but we noticed that audiences would fluctuate too much. There would be times where the crowd was really sizable and engaged, but then at other times it would drop off.

So, going forward, we will now have a themed genre each day. September 9 will be our ‘Folk Rock’ day which will be headlined by The Levellers and it promises to be fantastic! We have an amazing run of acts leading up to The Levellers’ full band set including Ian Prowse, The Travelling Band, Miles Hunt, The Heartland Roots Band and an opening set from local group The Ackerleys which will be a great way to kick things off.

The following day, Saturday September 10, is ‘Prog Rock’ day, which will be headlined by Jethro Tull – a real feather in the cap for us! We are thrilled to have such an iconic act top the bill, particularly as they are currently busy touring Europe and are only doing three UK dates, one of which is for us and then they continue their tour across the pond to USA and Brazil!

To have Mostly Autumn on the same bill as JT is also brilliant, they are such an amazing live band and have a great following. Continuing the prog rock theme will be Lifesigns, a truly brilliant act led by John Young. They will be playing tracks from their current album ‘Altitude’ which is a fantastic record. The superb Bruce Soord from ‘Pineapple Thief’ will also be on the lineup alongside the excellent ‘Kyros’ both of which will go down a storm with the audience. The Saturday will be opened by Two Weeks in Nashville who are one of Local & Live’s finest up-and-coming bands, so there is a lot to look forward to.


And now can you tell us about what’s in store for the second Walled Garden weekender?

The following Saturday has a 90s and noughties feel about it with Feeder headlining. We are also delighted to have The Feeling and Starsailor on the bill to add a Britpop flavour to the lineup. We are big fans of Talk In Code, who produce amazing indie music and David Ford who is a mesmerising musician and plays an array of instruments – both are great additions to the bill. Deeply talented local singer-songwriter Steffan James will be opening proceedings at 2pm.

Then the Sunday has a 70s and 80s flavour to it and will be headlined by Bjorn Again who will bring the festival to a climactic finish with everyone singing and dancing along to Abba’s greatest songs.  The whole Sunday is incredibly strong, with Nik Kershaw, Heaven 17 and Dire Straits Legacy on the lineup. The latter of which features many members who have performed and recorded with the original Dire Straights which is amazing. And of course, your very own Paul Dunton Orchestra will get things underway at 2pm!


Where does your passion for stage live events come from?

I simply love music. It’s my favourite passion. I don’t play an instrument myself but I greatly admire people who do and as a result, create interesting music. Originally I was inspired by music that I grew up listening to – particularly at school where I discovered so many bands and different styles through my friends. That love for discovering new and old music has stayed with me ever since. I have a varied record collection featuring music from the 60s to the present day, which I continue to add to all the time. My main career has been as a racehorse photographer and over the years it has enabled me to meet many people in the music industry as thankfully my photos were often in high demand. Those connections have also given me opportunities to work with lots of renowned musicians. I had a shared horse-ownership with former Genesis manager Tony Stratton-Smith and got to know Chris Wright, co-founder of Chrysalis Records, so my photography definitely opened some doors for me in terms of contacts. It also gave me the impetus to begin exploring the idea of putting on live music. The two most important things for me are getting the right venue and the right acts. I want people to really enjoy our event and come away from The Walled Garden Festival absolutely blown away.

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