How Tony made a festival right in his own backyard

BIG FANS WILL LOVE OLLY – pop star Mr Murs will be performing at this year’s GuilFest

BIG FANS WILL LOVE OLLY – pop star Mr Murs will be performing at this year’s GuilFest

IT MAY be called GuilFest, it may be staged in Guildford, but the famous summer event has its roots firmly in Woking.

Founder and organiser Tony Scott is a former pupil of St John the Baptist School and would love his old home town to be the theme of a future event.

“As a Woking lad, I’m really pleased we’ve had Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton in the past, and we had Status Quo – and Rick Parfitt’s from Woking,” he says, with the enthusiasm that makes it easy to see how he’s turned a tiny one-day event into a must-have ticket on the UK festival circuit.

“I’d love to do a Woking-themed festival,” he adds. “Get Paul and Bruce back together for a one-off Jam revival, have Status Quo back – and get Eric Clapton as well.

“He comes from Ripley, which is basically Woking, so I’d have Eric headlining on the Friday, the Jam on Saturday and then a party to finish it off on Sunday with Status Quo.

“Seriously, though, Eric Clapton is the one act we’ve never had that I’d love to get in the future – I’m a big fan and he’s local so it would be ideal.”

There can be very few ‘name’ acts that haven’t featured on the bill since the festival started in 1992, with Peter ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely?’ Sarstedt and John ‘Really Free’ Otway as the main attractions.

Madness, The Stranglers, Blondie, Rolf Harris, Alice Cooper, Billy Bragg, Ian Dury, Jethro Tull, Brian Wilson, Happy Mondays, the Charlatans… the list of previous attractions goes on.

But it was a slow start. “We hit on the idea of starting a festival after a few drinks in the pub,” says Tony. “I run Abinger Marquee Hire so we had the tents and knew people who could provide the rest of the infrastructure.”

The first GuilFest had to be on a bank holiday as Guildford Borough Council didn’t want it to clash with Saturday shopping and Sunday was still considered a day of rest.

“So we did it on the August bank holiday,” recalls Tony. “And we had to start at midday and finish by 7pm because the next day was a working day.”

But 500 people came along and Tony says: “Everyone enjoyed it so we thought we’d do it again.

Then it just got bigger and bigger and it has grown to this three-day festival with camping and now has more than 200 acts and 40,000 in the audience.

“There were few festivals in the UK when we started – Glastonbury and Reading…only a handful. So we had people coming from all over the country. Because we were early we rode the wave of popularity. It would be difficult to get started now because there’s so much competition.”

And the reason for carrying on today remains the same as it was 20 years ago.

“We just want to put on a really good festival in our own backyard,” says Tony, who’s extremely proud of the event’s reputation for eclectic line-ups.

“There’s such a wide range of acts at GuilFest that anybody can come,” he says. “A 16-year-old punk could quite easily bump into their granny at the bar without even knowing each other was going.

“This year we’ve got legends like Bryan Ferry and Jools Holland but we’ve also got Olly Murs and Tulisa for young pop fans – plus there’s Skindred and Rolo Tomassi for those who like things a bit heavier, and Andy C and Sub Focus providing cutting-edge dance music.

“We’ve got comedy from Tim Minchin, a bit of nostalgia from the likes of ABC and Heaven 17, and guitar music from Ash and Dodgy. We’ve even got The Wurzels, although I’m not quite sure how they fit in.”

In the past festival-goers have even been able to enjoy the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a host of acts way down the bill but who have since gone on to great things.

The Darkness, David Gray and Jamie Cullum all played GuilFest before most people had heard of them, while James Blunt made his first festival appearance in Guildford – and then came back last year and headlined.

After attending and organising so many festivals, Tony still sees this year’s bill through the eyes of a fan.

“The one I’m really looking forward to is Chic with Nile Rodgers,” he enthuses. “He was the main producer for so many acts and one of the most respected musical entities in the world – he’s ‘Mr Disco’ basically.

“I just love festivals – my favourite is Glastonbury, although I went to Stonehenge when I was 15 in the mid 1970s and that’s what set me off. Here & Now were the main act.

“I went to Reading the same year and saw Bob Dylan at Blackbushe in 1978. That was huge and there were no big screens so everyone’s looking towards this pinprick in the distance and presuming it’s Dylan, but I got down the front and it was fantastic.”

Tony’s ambition of a festival ‘in our own backyard’ has long been fulfilled and he is confident GuilFest 2012 – at Stoke Park, Guildford from July 13 to 15 – will live up to its reputation. Tickets on www.guilfest.co.uk

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