Celebrating 25 Years of Artsreach

We’d like to wish Artsreach a very happy 25th birthday from all of here at the NRTF!

Throughout 2015 Dorset’s rural touring scheme marks its 25th birthday.

When Artsreach first launched in March 1990, just nine rural villages were signed up to host a live, professional performance in their community venue. Over the last 25 years, the scheme has grown gradually and now counts some sixty rural communities on its circuit, right across Dorset, with each venue run by a team of voluntary promoters. To date, Artsreach has brought a total of at least 3,300 professional live performances to the County, including international, national and local artists and spanning the genres of music, theatre, dance, children’s shows, comedy, cabaret and more.

Ian Scott, who is soon to retire as Director, reflected on the qualities of small scale and wide horizons that he hopes have always kept the scheme’s programming fresh and ‘hand made’ in feel.

You can see from the recent summer programme how unexpected elements of the programme can be. It was not that long ago that we received a call to say that the Landmark Trust had a special idea to celebrate its 50th anniversary – the installation of an Antony Gormley sculpture near the Clavell tower at Kimmeridge in Purbeck this May. The Trust had obtained funding to commission a celebratory choral piece to mark the occasion and we were lucky enough to be able to approach a local choir leader and her musicians and singers to work on this, alongside other musical contributions on the day from our friends associated with the South Dorset Ridgeway choir. We are, I suppose, mostly known for our winter indoor shows, usually in village halls, but have also recently enjoyed bringing outdoor theatre to the County, which provides an incredible range of atmospheric settings for live performance.”

Artsreach plans to celebrate with a special birthday event at The Exchange, Sturminster Newton on 24th September. Compered by poet Matt Harvey, audiences can expect appearances from members of klezmer band She’Koyokh, acclaimed Turkish vocalist Cigdem Aslan, singers from London based Bulgarian Voices and the agile string quartet Bowjangles. The event will unite friends and supporters of the scheme, both old and new, and will officially launch the new Artsreach Autumn Programme.

The collective achievement of volunteer promoters and top quality artists over the last twenty-five years has been extraordinary. As leading cultural analyst, Francois Matarasso recently said of rural touring:

audience and artists share a joyous experience, life enhancing and even, sometimes, life changing: regular marvels, indeed” Francois Matarasso, A Wider Horizon’

Mumbo Jumbo’s Rural Touring Story

Mumbo-Jumbo – Acoustic Close Harmony Multi-instrumentalist Singer/Songwriting Trio

Performers for Live & Local, Spot On Lancashire and Arts Out West (so far!)

By Oliver Carpenter

Some years ago I went with some friends to my first Shindig (Worcestershire) Rural Touring performance at our local village hall. It was a piece of comedy theatre and we had a ball. The village hall atmosphere, small and intimate setting and the quality of the performance was great, as was the sheer incongruity of 85 people crammed into a little village hall in the middle of nowhere to see some high quality professional theatre.

Having been a musician for twenty years I saw the possibility of taking our acoustic trio into village halls and tried to get onto the official circuit – unsuccessfully. So we started putting on our own gigs in village halls across Worcestershire in conjunction with local people to help us promote them and they were great fun and perfect for the band. We’d hire the hall, put on the bar, sell the tickets etc and now have half a dozen village halls we regularly play with more asking us to play at their village hall each year.

But we also wanted to get on the official Rural Touring network so we went on Live & Local’s Artist Development Programme (DART) and PANDA’s Rural Touring workshop scheme and those have really helped us move forward in the way we promote ourselves to the Schemes, and have evolved our specific village hall show.

As a close-harmony, singer-songwriting, piano-based trio somewhere to the left of blues and the right of folk, we really enjoy the intimate conversational vibe of the village hall environment. We can take the audience from poignant songs about old soldiers to funny songs about bald spots and back; we can go off in unexpected directions of music and humour to match the atmosphere or location; and we can carry the audience along with singing or kazooing along (everyone gets a kazoo in our RT show) with selected songs.

And in our short Rural Touring career to date there have been so many highlights;

– A bleak Monday night in Derbyshire where a roomful of people braved the weather to enjoy the show, and laughed and sang along to songs they had never heard before. Seventy-two people singing the chorus of Phil’s song ‘Rejoice in Life’ a capella as the rain tipped down outside. 

– A show in Lancashire where, before the show, we heard the local ukulele group rehearsed in the village hall so we invited them along to join in on a couple of songs (it sold some extra tickets and created a unique musical moment).

– A show in Shropshire, one of our own promoted village halls, where someone from the village brought the most amazing array of cakes for sale which became a bit of a theme for the night.

Would we encourage other people to get involved in the Rural Touring circuit – absolutely yes (so long as they don’t end up with any of our slots!). It is a marvellous arrangement where communities come together, performers get to share what they do, in odd shaped rooms. Locations take on the personality of the promoter, everyone is there to enjoy themselves and make the most of an opportunity which is slightly unlikely in terms of the location and the performer quality.

 We love Rural Touring – so bring it on, the more the merrier!!


 Mumbo-Jumbo were nominated in the British Blues Awards for Best Song/Songwriters.