There’s nothing like a prom to get you feeling patriotic, even in Brexit-negotiation Britain. However, I’m for a decidedly less OTT Union Jack waving affair, and prefer to sing ‘Rule Britannia’ in the bath than in company after one to many glasses of champers. Less formal than attending one of their world class opera productions, the Peto Prom, the Midsummer Prom and the Final Fling at the annual Iford Arts festival in Wiltshire welcomes a much broader demographic of music lovers, many of whom have been returning for these relaxed summer picnic events year after year.
It looked rather like this year’s crowd had been waiting for their fix of Midsummer Jazz since last year in fact, for an orderly, jovial queue had already formed by the opening gates time of 6pm. Guests armed with camping tables, chairs, rugs and an impressive assortment of equipment, were keen to nab a good spot, although quite frankly there isn’t a bad one when you wander around the Grade I listed Harold Peto Garden, with its abundant, fertile borders, higgedly-piggeldy paths, and miniature Italiante and Japanese areas all ready to be discovered and temporarily made the backdrop of about as spectacular a picnic setting as you’re likely to come across.
Whilst fun at Iford is guaranteed, the balmy weather was an added bonus, after all no-one (save a Glastonbury-goer) can enjoy a soggy sandwich or getting one’s heels or brand new trainers covered in mud. We selected a place on the lawn opposite the first act of the evening, Johns and Nowak, an English acoustic duo inspired by the American folk tradition, and whose soothing sounds proved a relaxing way to settle into the infectious Iford atmosphere and a joyful event celebrating the best of the UK’s jazz and blues scene. The Abbey Hotel Bath’s pop-up bar, offering lashings of Pimms, cocktails and fizz ensured the evening went with a swing in more ways than one and guests tucked into their hampers before lapping up the rest of the evening’s entertainment.
Replacing the originally billed Hailey Tuck, who was called away to record in LA, Michael Buble-style Alexander Stewart, whose repertoire includes classic jazz numbers alongside more recent pop hits, performed two upbeat sets in the cloisters, a venue I have only seen during Opera at Iford’s inventive in-the-round productions (this year La bohème and Barber of Seville). Further adding to the party vibe, Tipitina, a unique New Orleans, blues, boogie and gospel-inspired group led by vocalist Debbie Jones, performed in the open Casita area of the garden; hand-clapping, foot tapping songs from their début album I wish I was In New Orleans that really got the party started, along with an inspired cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’. I’m no expert on blues, but I knew they were good. An evening of quality performers in a magical corner of England, no wonder these events always sell out.
Midsummer Prom took place on Saturday 8th July. Iford Arts 2017 closes with Final Fling on Saturday 5th August. Currently sold out, please call the box office on 01225 868 124 to be added to the waiting list for returns or visit the website for more information. Images by the author.