2016 Highlights




Gillingham, Dorset, 2017

30 June to 9 July

The GillFest artists

An Evening with Rick Wakeman

Rick was born Richard Christopher Wakeman in Perivale, West London on 18 May 1949, the only child of Cyril and Mildred Wakeman. Cyril played piano and encouraged Rick to take lessons and enter music competitions. Rick learned to play the church organ and by the age of 14 was a member of Atlantic Blues, a local group that had secured a year's residency at a mental health rehab club in Neasden.

In 1968, Rick began studying piano, clarinet and orchestration at the Royal College of Music planning a career in classical recital. He was soon distracted from study by the lure of performing in clubs and as a session musician and in 1969 he left the RCM to play keyboards for a range of recording artists.

During the early 70s Rick was a regular in the studios with David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Al Stewart. He played piano on Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Cat Steven’s “Morning has broken” and popularised the Mellotron which he played on “Space Oddity” for a fee of £9! His reputation for arranging keyboard accompaniment in quick time led to him being referred to as “One Take Wakeman”.

In 1969, Rick played with The Strawbs on “Dragonfly”, the first album released with the Wakeman name on the credits. The next year he joined the band full-time, went on to tour and made further recordings. Melody maker described him as “tomorrow’s superstar”

In 1971, amidst growing differences with the Strawbs, Rick was faced with the choice of joining either David Bowie’s backing band, “The Spiders from Mars” or the prog rock band “Yes”. He chose “Yes”. His first album with the band was “Fragile” released later that year, the successful single “Roundabout” taken from it. Rick’s unique playing of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards was central to this commercial success, elevating him to rock star.

During his time with Yes, Rick began his solo career with his first album, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, released in January 1973 reaching No 7 in the UK album chart. “Yessongs”, was released in May and included his solo, "Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII". Other works followed; “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”. “Journey” entered the UK chart at No 1. and went on to sell 13 million copies worldwide.

Following David Bowie’s death in January 2016, Rick performed piano versions of "Life on Mars" and "Space Oddity" with proceeds donated to Macmillan Cancer Support. The recording was so popular that Rick was inspired to put together a full album of solo piano tracks featuring a mix of classical and pop.

In late 2016, Rick toured extensively in North America with Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson as Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (ARW). The tour was billed “An Evening of YES Music & More”. The tour continued during Spring 2017 in the UK and Japan.

Pam Ayres

Pam Ayres always wanted to be a writer.   The youngest of a family of six children, Pam was born in Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire, during the long cold winter of 1947.   After leaving school Pam joined the civil service as a clerical assistant, a job in which she soon lost interest, and which prompted her to join the Women’s Royal Air Force.   It was while Pam was in the WRAF that she developed her love of singing and acting.

On leaving the WRAF Pam set out to achieve her ambition of becoming an entertainer.   By this time her poems had become a hobby, written and performed for the local folk club in Oxfordshire, to where she had returned to live and work as a secretary.   In 1974, a friend arranged for her to go to the local radio station, BBC Radio Oxford, to read one of her poems.  Pam’s first broadcast for Radio Oxford, in 1974, was selected for BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Week, and subsequently repeated on the 1974 Pick of the Year programme, by which time Radio Oxford had asked Pam to return and recite some more of her poems.

In 1975, after much prodding from friends, Pam decided to audition for TV’s Opportunity Knocks.   Since then Pam has appeared on many major TV shows in the UK, has had her own TV series, and filmed Christmas TV Specials in Hong Kong and Canada. Pam appeared on the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1977, to celebrate HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.   In October 1996, Pam performed part of her stage show at a Royal Gala Charity Reception at St. James’ Palace, attended by HM The Queen, and she entertained HM The Queen again, in the somewhat less august premises of the Sandringham WI in January 2004.   Subsequently, Pam was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2004.

Since 1975 Pam Ayres has sold many millions of books, record albums, CDs, and DVDs.   She is one of the few authors who has had books in the Sunday Times bestseller charts in almost every decade since the 1970s. She is the author of several best-selling poetry collections, including The Works, With These Hands, Surgically Enhanced and You Made Me Late Again!. Many of her poems are in school textbooks around the world including the UK, USA, China, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, South Africa, Ireland and Singapore.

Pam was recently commissioned by the BBC to write a poem to celebrate Team GB’s success at the Rio Olympics


The Manfreds

The '60s group Manfred Mann is considered one of the finest bands of that era. Their numerous hits were R&B based with an undercurrent of jazz - an unusual but winning combination. After the Beatles and The Animals, they were the first UK band to have a US No.1. Their records have a timeless quality and some 55 years on, The Manfreds, with original front man, Paul Jones, will perform many of their hits, including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, 5-4-3-2-1 and Pretty Flamingo.

Paul Jones, on vocals and harmonica, is well-known for his Monday evening Radio 2 blues show, as a West End and Broadway actor as well as fronting The Blues Band.

Tom McGuinness, playing guitar and vocals, teamed up with Paul in Manfred Mann in the early '60s and went on to form McGuinness Flint with Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle.

Rob Townsend on drums, like the other Manfreds, was drawn into music by a love of jazz but Rob's career took a dramatic turn when he joined Family, one of Britain's most creative and original bands. After seven albums and four hit singles, Family broke up, but Rob threw himself into session work and in the '80s became the regular Manfred man on the tubs.

Mike Hugg, Keyboards. In 1962, Mike hired Manfred Mann to play with him in a jazz combo. Later they formed The Mann Hugg Quartet, playing modern jazz but the blues began to dominate. The band became The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, EMI signed them up in 1963 and gave them a new name: Manfred Mann. The rest is history!

Marcus Cliffe: Born in Leeds in 1962, Marcus started playing bass in high school, then went on to Leeds College of Music to study Jazz.  In the ensuing years he has worked with numerous artistes including Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton.

Simon Currie on sax has enjoyed success for more than 20 years, playing with the jazz greats such as Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Lane and George Shering.

Gary Ryan

Gary Ryan is one of the world’s leading exponents of the guitar and has performed to international critical acclaim for over twenty years, winning praise for his formidable technique, outstanding musicianship and entertainingly diverse programmes.

In 2013 he became the first guitarist since John Williams in 1983 to be awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Music in recognition of his contribution to the instrument (and only the fourth guitarist ever to receive this honour, other recipients being Andrés Segovia and Julian Bream).

Gary studied from the age of 8 at the Guildhall School of Music Junior Department, later winning a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1991 he graduated with first class honours and a host of awards, including the Julian Bream Prize for guitar and the Dorothy Grinstead Prize for an outstanding all-round student (he is also an accomplished pianist).

Gary made his London recital debut for the Park Lane Group Young Artists Series at the Purcell Room in 1994 receiving critical acclaim. In 1996, at the age of 27, he was appointed a Professor of Guitar at the Royal College of Music, rising to become Assistant Head of Strings in 2009. Widely respected as an adjudicator and juror, Gary has been invited onto the jury for many instrumental competitions and festivals throughout Europe, including for the BBC Young Musician of the Year.

His celebrated guitar compositions (regularly broadcast on Classic FM) have broadened the instrument’s appeal by combining traditional classical guitar technique with more contemporary guitar styles and a rich variety of musical influences from around the world. His solo work, Benga Beat, was premièred to great acclaim in 2011.

Gary Ryan’s compositions include: Scenes from The Wild West, Scenes from Brazil, City Scenes, Songs from Erin, Easy and Intermediate Scenes for Guitar for solo guitar.

Gary Ryan’s guitars are cedar-top lattice-braced instruments made by the English luthier Stephen Hill (based in La Herradura, Spain). In 2012 Ryan had a series of instruments made in his name by Hill to celebrate the 10th anniversary of performing on Stephen Hill guitars.

Cara Dillon

Born in Dungiven in 1975, surrounded and infused with the rich cultural heritage of her native County Derry, Cara Dillon has risen to become one of the finest exponents of traditional Irish song anywhere in the world. Possessing a rare and unique voice that has been lauded since her very beginnings winning the All Ireland singing trophy aged only 14. Together with her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman, she has successfully steered an eclectic musical path defying the typical pigeonholes that hinder most artists in her genre.

Celebrated for entwining traditional and contemporary elements she has earned both commercial success and astonishing critical acclaim. Recent years have seen her return wholeheartedly to her Irish roots creating fresh interpretations of traditional standards with stunning results. Her reach is truly global with fans to be found all over the world with her clear, Northern Irish voice even seducing giants such as Disney who, in 2010, asked her to sing the title song to the animated movie “Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue”.

Cara has won countless awards and accolades including “Album of The Year” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, The Meteor Music Award for “Best Irish Female”, and Tatler’s “Woman of The Year in Music” and has appeared in prestigious concert halls and at festivals the world over. Always looking to introduce her voice and music to new listeners, Cara’s topped the charts with dance remixes, guest appearances and, more recently, presented her songs with full orchestral backing bringing her music to an entirely new audience.    

Whether she's singing her native traditional songs of lost love and emigration, or original compositions, you will be hard pressed to find a more emotive and captivating performer. Cara Dillon is at the very top of her field and one has the feeling she'll remain there for a very long time.

"What may well be the world’s most beautiful female voice" - Mojo Magazine

Ben Waters Band

Ben Waters is widely acknowledged as one of Europe’s most exciting piano players. Born and bred in Dorset he began playing piano at school and by 17 he was doing gigs in pubs, his rock “n” roll style strongly influenced by Fats Domino. Ben’s live shows have been compared to those of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. This is hard hitting music at its best, perfected over twenty years working with the Rolling Stones, Ray Davies, Chuck Berry, Jools Holland and many others. Ben has just received the coveted Boisdale Best  Boogie Woogie Piano Player Award.

The Ben Waters Band is a very fluid affair!  It can number anything from 1 to 51 and often includes various well-known players from around the world of music. For this year’s GillFest performance Ben’s band will be an eight piece including regulars Tom Waters, Richard Hymas, Adam Davy, Chris Rand and Ady Milward.

Tom Waters: Sax. Ben’s son, Tom is now an accomplished saxophone player in his own right; a chip off the old block.

Adam Davy: Sax. Adam has worked in the studio, film and theatre. At 15 he was cited by Sir John Dankworth as being a saxophonist with “a powerful, driving, sonorous, expressive tone”.

Richard Hymas: Bass Guitar. Richard has played in the band for 10 years. During that time he and Ben have written many songs and their tracks have been recorded by artists all over the world.

Ady Milward: Drums. Ady and Ben have played together for over 25 years and is highly in demand as a session drummer. He has worked with many people including Billy Bragg, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Robbie McIntosh, Jools Holland, and The Barrelhouse Blues Orchestra.

Chris Rand: Sax. Chris grew up in Dorset moving to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music. Chris quickly became one of the UK’s top saxophone side men playing and recording throughout the world with many of UK’s top Jazz and Blues artists.

Gillingham Imperial Silver Band

The Gillingham Imperial Silver Band plays a variety of music ranging from classical and military to film themes, traditional marches, rock and pop. It began as a Jazz Band supporting local charities and hospitals, but in 1928 developed into the high class and very respected town band that we have today, with its present title ‘Gillingham Imperial Silver Band’. The band has continually played a role in the community, participating in civic events, fetes, carnivals, concerts, church services, carolling and contests. Contesting has featured as a major activity and the band has on four occasions qualified to play in the national finals. In the past smaller churches did not have organs and had, instead, gallery bands, employing any instrumentalists and instruments that were available.

The first real bands in England appeared in the early 19th century. In rural Dorset, these remained on a small scale, each village having its own Band. Many past members have gone on to become music teachers and professional musicians. This includes five ex members of the band playing together in the Devon and Dorset Regimental Military Band.

The music library is one of the band’s greatest assets, with over 1,500 individual sets of music, this gives the band the diversity and flexibility to play at any kind of event. Contained within the

library are pieces ranging from classical works, to modern pop and rock music. Collected over many years, it’s hard to find an event that the band can’t perform for.

Opera to Broadway Night

An evening of popular songs and arias: Mozart to the 20th Century.

Caroline D'Cruz was one of the first intake of musicians at Chethams School of Music when it became a specialist music school. She then studied with David Parkhouse and Hubert Dawkes at the Royal College of Music. Caroline is the Company Manager and a répétiteur at Dorset Opera and regularly accompanies singers in the South West and London. She is the pianist for Absolutely Opera with whom she has played on several cruises to places as far afield as Japan, Singapore, The Falkland Islands and St Petersburg.

Caroline is also the musical director of Milborne Port Opera, a group specialising in the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan.

Andrew Armstrong: Born and educated in Llandovery, Andrew started singing in the Chapel choir before moving to the operatic stage. He now lives in Dorset, and has performed extensively in concert and recital as well as opera. Operatic roles have included Frank (Die Fledermaus), Zaretsky (Eugene Onegin), Pere Germont, Baron Douphol  (La Traviata), Sciarrone (Tosca), Simone (Gianni Schicchi), Baron Gil (Susanna's Secret), Schaunard (La Boheme), Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas), and most of the Gilbert and Sullivan baritones.

Arabella Heaton trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and then at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on the postgraduate opera course. She made her debut at Grange Park Opera singing Barbarina in Figaro's Wedding which she also sang for Pimlico Opera.

She has sung with various other opera companies including Opera Live: Cosi Fan Tutte (Dorabella), Third Theatre: Carmen (Micaela), Armonico Consort: The Magic Flute (Papagena). She sang Polly Peacham for Pimlico Opera in a production of The Threepenny Opera in conjunction with Downview Prison, later reprising the role at Winchester Prison where she has also run workshops.

She has given concerts throughout England and now sings regularly with Musica da Camera and as part of the ensemble, Fabulous Duets.                                                  

Arabella lives in north Dorset with her husband Tim and teaches singing at Sherborne Girls.

Arabella Heaton

Andrew Armstrong

Caroline D'Cruz


Cuckooland was formed in early 2014 and consists of Dave Harrington, Guitar/Vocals, Harry Skinner Guitar/Vocals, Rob Marshall Bass Guitar and Biff Smith Drums. A special guest tonight will be Ian Gahan (Hambledon Estate Agents MD) on guitar.

The band members have a rich musical past having been signed to major record labels, toured internationally in the USA, Japan, New Zealand, Bahamas and throughout Europe and appeared on stage with such luminaries as David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, Steamhammer,  Peter Green's Splinter Group, Rumer as well as appearing on bills with Robert Cray, Ray Charles, Mojo Buford, The Blues Band and many others.

Cuckooland play blues and rock and roll. Expect anything from Albert King and Chuck Berry, through Cream, The Doors and Free, to The Stones and The Beatles.

Big Brass Ska

Big Brass Ska is a new and exciting band which was formed in January 2016.

Based in Gillingham, Big Brass Ska is made up of nine players from different musical backgrounds; rock and roll, punk, Ska and traditional Brass Band.

A four piece brass section gives an extra power level to achieve the fantastic Ska sound.

Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterised by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat.

Big Brass Ska plays music by Madness, The Specials, The Beat, Bad Manners, Jimmy Cliff, Paolo Nuntini, Reel Big Fish, Desmond Decker and many more. It's great dance music. Skankin!

​​Finn Panton - guitar. Richard Dorran - Bass. Mark Colton - vocals.

David Swift - Keyboards​. Neil Harris - Drums​. Nigel Perrin – sax.

Michelle Hudson – trumpet. Martin Perrin – Trombone.​ Pete Bell -sax

Find out more at www. big-brass-ska.co.uk

Loose Connections

Loose Connections is a versatile local “covers” band that has been performing since the mid-80s at clubs, pubs, weddings, corporate functions and many outdoor events in the south-west. They started as a rock band but soon realised that playing what the audience wanted was far more important and enjoyable than having a set play list. As part of their act they encourage the audience to shout out songs.

“If we can, we will play them - but remember the older the better!”

The line-up Scott Strowger -  guitar, Steve Edgington- drums, Phil Williams- Piano, Jimmy McCoy- vocals and bass.

Julie Dunn

Jazz Night with Julie Dunn accompanied by John Horler, piano, Alec Dankworth, double bass and Ben Waghorn on saxes/flute.

Julie's repertoire covers mainstream and French-flavoured latin jazz, blues and contemporary with a hint of gospel and funk thrown in for good measure. Born in London, but now living in the South West, Julie has been singing from an early age, her performing style embracing the lush melodies of the jazz standards songbook.

John Horler is a highly-respected pianist and composer who has earned a formidable reputation on the British jazz scene over many years. He started studying at the Royal Academy of Music at the precocious age of sixteen.

John has worked with Pete King, Tommy Whittle, Tony Coe and the late great Ronnie Ross. For many years, John was pianist to Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine.

Ben Waghorn has been playing in jazz bands since the age of fourteen.  He was a member of NYJO from 1991 to 1995 and has recorded for film, TV and radio as well as session work for the likes of Kasabian, Portishead, Goldfrapp, John Matthius, Sonia, Sinita and Luke Goss.  

Alec Dankworth is an award-winning jazz bassist and composer who, in addition to leading several groups of his own, has worked with an amazing list of artists including Van Morrison, Stephanne Grappelli, Abdullah Ibrahim, and The Dave Brubeck Quartet. He is known for his energetic stage presence, versatility of style and some of the most imaginative bass solos around!

Castle Cary Choir

Castle Cary Choir

Following their highly acclaimed performance supporting G4 at the Octagon theatre in 2016, one of 'the best community choirs in Somerset’ will be making their first appearance at GillFest with a program which includes a wide variety of music, from sacred to popular and folk to musical theatre.

See www.castlecarychoir.org