Brecon Jazz Festival's future in doubt

The Orchard Media and Events Group is ending its role as organiser of the Brecon Jazz Festival based on "financial considerations"

Orchard director Pablo Janczur (pictured right) said: “It’s unfortunate that we have to end Orchard’s involvement in Brecon Jazz as we’ve had a great four years and attracted some glowing accolades for our work on the festival. But the reality is that despite great support from the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh and local government, Orchard as a business has effectively subsidised the event on an annual basis since 2012, and we are not prepared to sustain that any longer. I think we gave it a really good shot, and I genuinely hope someone out there can take it on, because it has a great reputation internationally, provides a terrific platform for Welsh jazz talent, and is a real boost to the Mid Wales economy.”

The Arts Council of Wales appointed Orchard to run the Brecon Jazz Festival, which was also supported by the Welsh Government through its major event strategy, and local authorities. During the four years in which it organised the festival Orchard, a former UK Regional Promoter of the Year, brought major stars such as Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula and Jools Holland to Brecon.

Reviews of Brecon Jazz 2015 were positive. Jazz Journal's review, by Bob Weir, noted the festival’s ”high quality programme” and said “It is a pleasure to report that Orchard promoters have this important festival back on track after a few difficult years. The emphasis again is on attractions with strong appeal to jazz fans.”

Research from UK Music recently showed that music tourism provides a £95m injection into the Welsh economy each year. Orchard’s own market research revealed an income of some £1m to the local Brecon economy as a result of the festival, which last year marked its 30th anniversary. Orchard attracted sponsors such as Grolsch and set up a Sponsor Club which was well supported by local businesses.

However, this success has not translated into a viable income for Orchard. As Janczur states “People see many thousands of visitors on Brecon’s streets and the pub tills ringing on festival weekend each year and think the event is in rude health. But the reality is they are not swelling the festival coffers, even though we bear a lot of their costs. To bring in the big names that jazz lovers desire relies on ticket sales and the Brecon venues are just not set up to enable enough of those sales to happen. Despite the valued public sector support we have received from the start, Orchard has not been able to take a management fee each year, and so we have effectively subsidised the event for four years. As Wales’ leading independent promoter and communications group, we simply can’t sustain those losses.”

The future of the festival is unclear but the Arts Council of Wales suggests it is unlikely to take place in 2016. A spokesperson for the council said:

“We regret that Orchard no longer feels able to stage the Brecon Jazz Festival in 2016. With the Arts Council’s consistent support over many years, Orchard has promoted a dynamic programme of festival activity that has won new audiences for this iconic jazz event. In spite of this, the economics of promoting an internationally significant public event in the town has defeated Orchard’s best efforts to establish a viable and sustainable festival.

“Given Orchard’s decision, it is now very difficult to see how a festival can happen next year that offers the scale and quality of programme that Brecon Jazz audiences expect. The Arts Council invested £100,000 in the 2015 event and was the festival’s principal supporter. For a festival to thrive in the future, it is clear that other partners would need to join with the Arts Council in providing a level of investment that would enable a festival of this scale to happen. During these difficult economic times we accept that this is a big challenge. However, a gap year in 2016 would provide an opportunity to see if such a partnership is possible.” 

Bruce Lindsay

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