Looking back over the past 15 years, the local music scene has definitely gone from strength to strength. But how have things changed? In my opinion the town has continued to embellish its growing reputation as a music and arts destination and that can be seen from an attendance perspective at our summer community festivals such as Tunbridge Wells Fringe Festival, Unfest, Local & Live, The Mela and The Puppetry Festival to name just a few.
With Local & Live moving its main stage to Calverley Grounds in 2014 from The Pantiles certainly helped numbers swell as the event now offers more space and certainly attracts more families and children than ever before. It has also become apparent that more national and international commercial music and arts festivals have now emerged as regular calendar events across the borough.
In the last few years we have seen the emergence of new festivals including Pub In The Park, which comes to Dunorlan Park every July boasting an international roster of global music pop stars, as well as the esteemed country & folk themed Black Deer Festival which comes to Eridge Park in late June.
Despite the limitations of the pandemic over the last two years it is encouraging to see a strong resurgence in the number of pubs staging open mic evenings which is a fantastic thing for musicians, singers and landlords alike. Obviously the size of this can massively vary from one man and his dog to a packed full house, but it is a vital platform for anyone wanting to take that next step from singing in their bedroom or strumming away on your guitar to four walls! It is fair to say that many (probably thousands actually) of professional musicians across the globe started out at an open mic evening including I imagine some of the world’s very best.
The number of pubs, bars, cafés, and concert halls hosting live music has fluctuated over the years but in the last three or four years it is back on the increase – and more often than not you can now find regular live music being played at Even Flow Cafe, Salomons, The Black Horse Pub, St John’s Yard, The Beau Nash Tavern, The Royal Oak Pub, Vittle & Swig, The Bedford Pub, The Spa Hotel, Grub & Liquor, The King William Pub, The Bull Inn, Cassidy’s, Geography Wine Bar, The Masonic Hall and many more.
We are also very fortunate to have three great arts venues in Trinity Theatre, The Assembly Hall and The Forum. All three venues have continually hosted live music with great success. The Forum is of course an iconic venue, a central hub for local bands and it also has the pulling power to attract acts from all over the world. It punches well above its weight and it is all down to the dedication and passion from Jason Dormon and The Forum team.
The Grey Lady Music Lounge on The Pantiles has been going for around 16 years now and continues to host live music on average four times a week championing local singer-songwriters acts in addition to local covers bands spanning a multitude of genres. The Pantiles Jazz series has been going for over 25 years and is more popular than ever, running over a four-month period over the summer on Thursday nights. I have certainly noticed an increase in numbers over the past 15 years and it is wonderful to see The Pantiles absolutely buzzing! The Tunbridge Wells Classical Festival continues to go from strength to strength and The King Charles The Martyr Church is an established venue for world class recitals and concerts.
Some recent exciting success stories include the emergence of Slaves, a local punk/rock band who have gone on to hit the big time, signing to a major label and now performing all over the world. Other acts who have cut their teeth on the local scene and have gone on to achieve nationwide success include Will Joseph Cook, The Orange Circus, Elle Watson, Katie Kittermaster, The Noble Jacks, Mike Wilton, Tom Williams, Dan Clews and many more.
But as strong as the scene is, it is also incredibly fragile, without support and investment it has no guaranteed future. I hope it will continue for as long as possible, it is truly an asset to our wonderful town.