Damian Thantrey

The Lichfield Festival has become a regular feature on the city map each July and the 2018 event promises another round of music, dance, theatre and art. But what does it take to stage something on this scale?


Damian Thantrey

As final preparations take place for the festival next month, guest artistic director Damian Thantrey took time out to discuss the challenges, opportunities and highlights of being the driving force behind the celebration of the arts.

“Like planning anything, you start with a handful of what you hope are strong ideas, put them at the centre and work your way out, while keeping a very close eye on your budget!” he said.

“I was mindful that, as ‘caretaker’ for the year, I wanted to make sure that I gave the festival back in at least as good condition as I received it.

“There are definitely some new things, but I hope I have stayed true to the festival’s traditions.”

Damian, who grew up in Burton-on-Trent, said it wasn’t easy to pick a highlight from this year’s line-up of artists.

“Everything on the programme is there because I would go it to myself,” he explained.

“If you twisted my arm, I would say that the events with our six artists in residence will be special – I’ve worked with them all in some capacity and they are all superb and compelling performers.

“And in the run-up to the festival, I was wowed by Liza Pulman and her sensational song-fest about the legendary Barbra Streisand. Also, BBC Folk Singer of the Year, Kris Drever will close the festival for us – an amazing musician and singer-songwriter to kick back and enjoy at the end of the week.

“For the younger audience – and my ‘wild card’ choice for grown-ups – I would say Hansel and Gretel which will be a dark and exciting mix of music, puppetry and story-telling, with words and poetry by the wonderful Simon Armitage.

Katya and Neil Jones

“Finally, I have to mention our opening cathedral night and a new show by Neil and Katya Jones, stars of Strictly Come Dancing, created especially for us. When else do you get to hang a metaphorical glitterball in one of the country’s most stunning buildings?”

This year’s Lichfield Festival, which runs from July 4 to 14, celebrates #ExtraordinaryWomen with a series of events inspired by the centenary of votes for women.

But Damian said it was more of an organic move towards a specific area.

“I didn’t set out to weave a theme into the festival,” he said. “But it was hard to ignore such an important anniversary as women’s suffrage.

“However, rather than looking solely at the heroic efforts of the Pankhursts, Emily Davies and many others, I wanted to celebrate extraordinary women in all their guises. So, alongside that centenary, we honour ground-breaking women from the worlds of jazz, theatre, science, literature, composition, religion and Hollywood, as well as works written specifically for a woman’s voice.”

Internationally-acclaimed singer, Jessica Walker, is one of the Festival’s Artists in Residence and a focal point in the #ExtraordinaryWomen series.

Her new cabaret Soldiers, Sirens and Suffragettes with pianist Joseph Atkins takes place at the city’s McKenzie’s Restaurant. She also performs her acclaimed one-woman show Pat Kirkwood is Angry and A Century of Popular Song, in which Jessica and Joseph conjure up the unique atmosphere of each decade from the Victorian music hall to the Swinging 60s.

But what really makes the Lichfield Festival special? Damian explained: “There is a pride and passion about this festival that is astonishing.

“The commitment shown by the office team, chairman, board, the cathedral and other venue partners, our sponsors, supporters and volunteers, is what makes the festival thrive.

“That support for the arts is reflected by the huge pool of talent with strong links to Lichfield and the surrounding area.

“As a Burton boy myself, one of the things I wanted to do was to celebrate that too, and so I’m delighted that major talents with local connections are coming this year – Lucy Crowe, from Marchington, is one of the world’s most sought-after sopranos, singing regularly at the Met and Covent Garden and working with Sir Simon Rattle, the CBSO are coming and their CEO, Lichfield-born Stephen Maddock, will also talk about running one of the world’s great orchestras.

“Another Lichfield local Patrick Craig returns with The Cardinall’s Musick, having sung over 1000 concerts across the world with renowned group The Tallis Scholars.

“And there are others too – so please come and join us and celebrate this #ExtraordinaryCity with its very #ExtraordinaryFestival this July.”

For more information on the Lichfield Festival visit www.lichfieldfestival.org or phone 01543 412121.


Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.