It all started with one of those casual conversations in a pub - The Stags Head - on a wet Sunday afternoon in January 2012.
Within days the talk had become reality and a programme, together with a team of willing helpers, started to take shape with the vision of producing a festival which can grow and grow.
Masterminding it all is Mark Ringwood, creator of the Roots Around The World world music series and a man with all the contacts.
But right from the start, he was clear: this had to be a festival which also celebrated the skills and the good health of the community.
“It was never the intention just to parachute people in. We always wanted to get people together in the community. It had to be something that grew out of the community.”
The response has been excellent: “I live in the community in Emsworth and it is very supportive. I just felt this was a chance to create something that the community would enjoy. I wanted to make it as broad a church as possible for the first year and to touch as many people as possible. I have lived in lots of communities in the UK, but this is the most supportive I have come across. The people are proud to live here.
“The shopkeepers are great. There are a lot of independent shops and they all know that they need to make a living, but they do it in a very pleasant way.”
But isn’t it a risk to launch a festival in such a busy year and at a time of continuing economic gloom? Not really, says Mark. September is the right time, well away from the Jubilee and the Olympics. July would clash with the Chichester Festivities. May would clash with other things.
“September looks ideal.”
Also it’s a question of getting the right events for the right places. There is a bike shop in the community – and so you have a mountain biking event. There are bistros around – and so you launch events which combine music and dining.
You take advantage of what is there. It turns out that the Brookfield has got effectively a pros-arch stage in its function room – a great discovery for Mark who is keen to develop music events there outside the festival.
It’s also a question of drawing on local talents. Local theatre directors Julian Sluggett and Roger Redfarn are both enthusiastic supports. In fact, the enthusiasm has gone right across the community – a factor which certainly minimises the risk.
“We have had four individuals that have dug into our pockets to springboard the festival, and the aim is to break even or perhaps have a small residue for next year. We are not going to go down the road of stretching ourselves beyond our means. Everything is carefully planned and and checked.”
Insofar as it is possible, this is the country’s first “low-risk festival”, Mark laughs: “Our biggest cost has been the brochure. Everything else has been achieved through quiet and careful negotiations.”
And on the back of such planning, Mark is in the fortunate position that he doesn’t measure success in terms of ticket sales: “It is about audience enjoyment. It is about people having a good time.”
Events run from September 14 -30.
WemsFest may be the first ever cross-border arts festival in the UK, bringing together Westbourne, Southbourne, and Woodmancote in West Sussex, and Emsworth in Hampshire.
But it’s aspirations go much further afield than that.
Just six months after being just a glint in festival director Mark Ringwood’s eye, he’s now confirmed 40 events featuring musicians from as far afield as Chile, Gambia, Ireland, Israel, Moldavia, and Senegal.
But it’s not just about the arts.
Jazz, comedy, talks and walks, mini-festivals, cycle rides, a kite rally, a Hash run, exhibitions and several home-spun’ productions complete the programme.
“Legendary musician John Otway launches the festival with a concert on Friday, September 14 in Westbourne Club and from thereon the activity swings in all sorts of directions throughout the area,” Mark said.
Home-grown talent is in abundance throughout WemsFest starting with a children’s story-hunt organised by Peek-a-Boo Moves on Sept 15 moving through an illustrated lecture about the Lone Twin Boat Project (Sept 16), Julian Sluggett’s one-man show Notes from a Dishwasher (Sept 17 and 24) and Roger Redfarn’s celebration of all things English – Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Sept 18).
Also coming up are Barn Dance music from Wheels of the World (Sept 15), Christopher Beaumont (Sept 20), John Meriton (Sept 27), and The Chase, and Simon Mayor & The Mandolinquents ( both on Sept 29)
Local writer Wendy Metcalfe has a practical writing workshop in the Greenhouse Café (Sept 18), and special guest author Eileen Robertson is in conversation in the same venue (Sept 21).
Five Music & Supper Evenings bring an eclectic mix of musicians and cultures to WemsFest. At The Deck are the Celtic musicians Harriet Earis & Colman Connolly (Sept 16), Senegalese kora musician Seckou Keita & Gambia’s Binta Suso (Sept 19), and Israeli guitarist Estas Tonne (Sept 26). Libby’s Café, in Westbourne, hosts Fairport Convention fiddler Ric Sanders, and guitarist Vo Fletcher (Sept 20), and Chilean musician Mauricio Venegas and fellow Quimantu cohort Rachel Pantin (Sept 27).
Irish musicians Fidil are at St John’s Church in Westbourne (Sept 27) and blues musicians Johnny Mars & Julian Piper are in concert at Westbourne Club (Sept 28).
Three very different nights are scheduled for a specially erected marquee behind the White Horse pub in Westbourne. A Comedy Night features Juliet Myers, Wayne the Weird, Brian Damage & Krysstal (Sept 21), The Jazz Smugglers Octet play Gershwin & Friends (Sept 22) and The Brains of WemsFest Quiz (Sept 23).
Specially assembled as the WemsFest Celebrity String Ensemble are two violinists Oxana Dodon and Elena Davydova from Moldavia who, with members of the ensemble, perform works by Mozart, Bach, Wieniawski, and Ravel in St James’ Church (Sept 21).
Veteran actress June Whitfield is in an afternoon conversation with theatre director Roger Redfarn over tea and cake in Westbourne Parish Hall (Sept 23)
Those with energy to work off can take advantage of the Full Moon Mtb Ride of around 25 miles (Sept 29), the first ever WemsFest Hash (Sept 30), or the more sedate Family Bike Ride, Treasure Hunt, and Picnic (Sept 23), or guided walks around Westbourne (Sept 19), and Emsworth (Sept 25).
Box-office: Bookends, 7 High Street, Emsworth. 01243 373950, and www.wegottickets.com
Full details are in the WemsFest brochure, and will be on the website shortly www.wemsfest.com Offers of help to steward events are very welcome. Contact Mark Ringwood on 01243 373950 or [email protected]
Mark offers the following guide to the festival’s international artists who include:
Chile: Mauricio Venegas was a founder member of Incantation and then formed Quimantu. He claims to play any animal which is dead and apologises for his accent which comes from Chingford ! Mauricio is in concert along with fellow band member Rachel Pantin, following supper at Libby’s Café on September 27.
Gambia: Binta Suso is an acclaimed singer who will perform in an after-supper concert at The Deck on Wednesday 19 September with her brother Seckou Keita.
Ireland: On their first major UK tour this trio of traditional musicians, Fidil, appear at St. John the Baptist Church on September 27. Emsworth singer-songwriter and guitarist John Meriton is special guest.
Israel: Estas Tonne is a wandering free spirit whose guitar playing defies any description save that it is totally captivating and has won him fans literally all over the world. He plays an after-supper concert at The Deck on September 26.
Moldova: Oxana Dodon, and Elena Davydova are professional violinists supported by the University of Chichester and are special guests of the WemsFest Celebrity String Ensemble performing in St. James Church on September 21.
Senegal: The Kora is often referred to as the African harp. Seckou Keita is a master of this fascinating instrument and appears in a post-supper concert at The Deck on Wednesday 19 September.
USA: Johnny Mars is an exceptionally talented blues harmonica player and is accompanied by Julian Piper at Westbourne Club on September 28.