Guilfest 2024


T-Rex - 'the music of March and Mickey'


By Tim Saunders

Staying up late to watch rock stars. The stuff of dreams.

That’s exactly what we do at Guilfest 2024 in Stoke Park, Guildford, which takes place on the last weekend of June. Arriving after lunch we watch the site fill up and by the time headline act The Stranglers (on the BBC Radio Surrey main stage) thrash out their first number, the venue is heaving. The band was founded in Guildford and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The Stranglers have enjoyed 40 top 40 UK singles hits including Golden Brown and Always The Sun. Henry (8) is sat on my shoulders for the duration, which is back breaking, but worth it because he’s really immersing himself in the music. “I like them Dad,” he gives me the thumbs up.

Beforehand we watch Nouvelle Vague and although we’re unfamiliar with some of their songs, we love the French vibe and energy. We sit captivated. It takes Henry a little while to settle into his new surroundings and eventually he forgets about his stomach… It’s rewarding to watch my whole family relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere while they sing, dance and clap along.

The energy of the Rock Choir conductors - stood in front of their massive ensemble of probably 100 singers - is contagious. It’s quite something to watch and a massive achievement to get so many people of all ages to perform so well. I can honestly say I’m not expecting to hear them sing Guns n’ Roses.

Returning on Sunday we catch Boyzlife with Boyzone’s Keith Duffy and Westlife’s Brian McFadden, who bring some Irish charm to proceedings. Soon after, From The Jam, who have great stage presence thanks to lead singer Russell Hastings and original Jam member bass guitarist Bruce Foxton, bash out hits including Town Called Malice and That’s Entertainment. They’ve a busy touring schedule – only recently returning from Dubai and New Zealand - so it’s a great privilege to see them.

The stages are well apart but even so it is surprising that the sound from each doesn’t clash especially when on stage two there’s T-Rex ‘the music of Marc and Mickey’ –goodness knows how the speakers cope with the decibals let alone the musicians. Get it on, Telegram Sam and Children of the Revolution are all delivered as if the great Marc Bolan is there singing them. For me this band has to be the best for the simple reason that all the members are so happy and it’s infectious. Charismatic frontman Jay Spargo is Marc Bolan and he oversees some enjoyable audience participation. Dave Major takes care of keyboards while guitarist Graham Oliver even throws his instrument up in the air to gasps from the audience. Drummer Paul Fenton (78) is an original member of Marc Bolan’s band. Some of Marc’s lyrics make me laugh including “I drive a Rolls Royce because it’s good for my voice!”

They’re a tough act to follow but headline act on the main stage Sam Ryder makes the best of it with Spaceman, some of his own songs and covers.

The organisation of Guilfest is impressive. This whole family friendly event runs extremely smoothly. It really does feel relaxed and welcoming. Music lovers flock here to soak up the atmosphere. Some dress for the occasion and it’s a people watcher’s paradise. On the Saturday one chap with an arty beard wears a red boiler suit, which must be hot in the 25 degrees Celsius heat. His girlfriend in her frizzy wig attracts attention in a colourful catsuit. The following day the man dons chequered trousers while the girl has a blonde wig.  

Basking in the sunshine we watch the bands set up, doing their sounds checks. “It has inspired me to perform on the stage,” says Heidi (11), who has already passed her Grade 1 and 2 piano exams with flying colours and is busy preparing for Grade 3.

Car parking is just a few minutes walk away. The weather is great. A variety of stalls grabs eldest daughter Harriett’s attention where she buys a cowgirl hat.

We leave feeling elated, having immersed ourselves in so much great music. What fun. Highly recommended.

This is the first time Guilfest has taken place for a decade and the strong visitor numbers should ensure that it once again becomes a firm fixture in the festival calendar.
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