16 performers, three DJs and 12 hours of music in Lewes

Ben Ottewell joins the festival (pic by Sara Bowrey)Ben Ottewell joins the festival (pic by Sara Bowrey)
Ben Ottewell joins the festival (pic by Sara Bowrey)
The Hilltop Sessions festival will bring together 16 performers and three DJs on two stages over 12 hours on September 9 in the Lewes Phoenix Estate.

All profits from the festival will be donated to local foodbanks and youth music charity Starfish. For more information about the festival and for tickets, go to www.hilltopsessions.co.uk/festival

Hilltop Sessions is a series of monthly live gigs featuring a range of independent artists performing original material. The sessions are curated by Lewes-based artist and musician Maia Eden and her husband Oliver Dudok van Heel, a member of pop-up busking troupe The Magnificent Kevens. Maia and Oliver met while performing at a Street Party in 2017 and bonded over a love of music.

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Oliver said: “While we may have musical differences – guess who is the Springsteen and who the Joy Division fan – we are both passionate about the importance of music in our lives. It is like oxygen to us, and we created Hilltop Sessions with a simple goal: to make music happen by supporting independent musicians and bringing live music to Lewes.

“During lockdown, we became acutely aware of how the entertainment and catering industries were suffering from the impacts of the pandemic. We thought we might be able to play a small part in helping these by creating opportunities for artists to perform in local venues. Mitch Upton who at the time ran the Royal Oak kindly offered us his upstairs function room. Our first session was in July 2021, just after lockdown, when Squeeze’s Chris Difford performed and we have since had monthly Hilltop Sessions, with a break in August and January. Over the course of the past 18 sessions we have had 40 artists perform, with many more scheduled to appear. When Mitch left the Royal Oak we moved the Con Club where Pat and the members have given us a very warm welcome. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Phil Bodger, Ben Moseley and Edd Haydn, our sound gurus. We also curated the stage at Elderflower Fields festival in 2022 and the Phoenix Design Festival in 2021.”

The Hilltop Sessions festival was more like a distant dream than a concrete plan until Human Nature – who are looking to redevelop the Phoenix Estate – “asked us if we’d be interested in putting something together in The Shed, a couple of warehouses on Phoenix Place. The idea seemed both exciting and terrifying, but we decided to jump at the chance and said ‘Yes!’

“This will be a one-day festival, both inside the shed and outdoors. The site will open at 1pm with DJs and the live music will start at 2pm and will continue until 11.30 followed by a DJ set to finish off the day. There will be 18 artists and DJs over two stages: a large indoor Hilltop Stage where the main acts will perform and a smaller outdoor Sessions Stage where musicians who are starting out are given the opportunity to play short 15-30 minute sets. There will be bars, food and merchandise stalls so people can enjoy great music whether indoors or in the sunshine. It will be sunny!

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“The focus will be entirely on the music, and we are so happy with the quality of artists that have agreed to perform: Ben Ottewell from Gomez, folk-punk outfit The Great Malarkey, local favourites Sam Walker, The Dead Reds and Sennen Timcke, legendary techno DJ Mark Allen as well as the amazingly talented Baby Eleanor, Natsuma, Alice Gold and many more.

"Fundraising has always been an important part of our ethos, which is why we set up Hilltop Sessions as a CIC (Community Interest Company). Our very first session with Chris Difford was a fundraiser for the foodbanks and we have since raised over £7,000 supporting the foodbanks, Ukraine relief and Starfish Youth Music. It just makes sense for us to do what we can by doing what we love.

“We hope to raise as much money as possible for these very important causes while at the same time ensuring the festival is affordable. We believe £35 for 18 acts is good value and hope you’ll agree!”