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In conversation with Chris Saunders

This month I talk to Chris Saunders about the 2nd “Gis-Fest” music festival he is organising at Gislingham Village Hall on Saturday 24th June.

JN: How did the original idea for a Music Festival come about?

Chris: Back in 2015, the GVHC proposed to organise some kind of event to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the building and opening of the Village Hall … possibly a music event?

A Committee member suggested talking to me since I knew some of the local musicians and bands in and around the village … I was asked if I knew any bands that would play and, if so, how much they would charge?

I gave it some thought and decided that as it was an “anniversary”, music from the decades since 1955 would be a nice theme. However, I realised that to hire decent bands would cost a fair bit of money … even a single band could be upwards of £300.

For the last ten or more years, I had been organising and playing jam/open-mic. nights, at The Six Bells in the village, and a few other pubs in the area … and had built-up a good network of local talent (and I mean talent!) who would turn-up to play/sing. They were a great success, and the sessions at The Six Bells, once a month, were absolutely rammed … you couldn’t move for musicians and punters. Brilliant nights!

So, I decided to contact all of the musicians and singers in the village and from some of the bands I had played in/with, and create a “Super-Group” who could perform, plus back other performers who wanted to join in, any style of music? (and … do it for free!).

The response was a resounding “yes” from everyone!

So, I explained my idea to the VHC, and offered to organise the musical side of it, whilst the VHC sorted the bar, barbecue and “publicity”.

The VHC were brilliant, and trusted me implicitly, and we arranged the event for September 12th 2015. But then began the process of deciding “what were we actually going to do???”

It started with a brainstorming session which generated a list of almost three hundred songs … these we had to learn in rough form, and then try to see which worked and which … well, did not.

We soon realised what a massive undertaking this was … we had to create a new band from scratch (a few of us had played together before), which consisted of over twenty musicians and singers; learn three hundred songs, having worked-out the lyrics and music, and try to play them; decide which to keep, and then polish to a standard suitable to perform in front of friends and the public (albeit non-paying).

In addition, I asked The Gislingham Jubilee Singers to perform, plus some younger musicians from the village, and our very own Ukulele Band.

The hard work and dedication of everyone paid-off and Gislingham was witness to an afternoon and evening of stunning musical performances of the highest standard!

JN: How did “your” band The Zillionaires start out?

Chris: It was actually off the back of that first concert, the core band continued under the name of The Zillionaires and have played some gigs together.

JN: Who does the band consist of?

Chris: Leanne Faulkner and Rob Morris on vocals, Chris Towndrow on piano/keyboards (and vocals), Richard Atkins on drums, Andrew Freeman on bass and me on guitar.

JN: Where did the ridiculous name “Gis-Fest” come from?

Chris: It was either during the evening, or whilst we were packing the gear away afterwards that the name Gis-Fest was first used – during “discussions” about “the next one!”. I won’t divulge who coined the phrase … but he knows who he is! (and his initials are SC).

JN: Tell us about “Gis-Fest 2017”

Chris: We were asked again whether we would be willing to do “something” this year in support of The Village Hall? I consulted with original performers, and received another resounding “yes please”.
We did discuss doing “something different”, but we decided to plump for the simpler option of putting-on another music evening.

JN: Have you started rehearsing yet, or are you going to “wing it” on the night?

Chris: Rehearsals are under way, and we now have a full line-up of performers, all of whom were involved in the original 60th celebrations – and we have a new bass player now, Andrew Freeman?

But, we did “wing it” at times during the first one, and even played a couple of songs we had never done before … I am sure there is a risk of this happening again!

In addition, we are pleased to confirm that Red Glass will be “opening” the event playing their mix of classic and more modern rock … ironic that the youngest musicians will be playing “old rock” whilst we oldies will be playing more modern stuff. We have always tried to include younger village members in local music events.

The evening will feature various performers, and a mix of styles from jazz, 60’s music, through rock and pop to some operatic music (which anyone who remembers 2015 will know was a highlight of the evening). But the basic premise is good music to dance to!

JN: Will The Zillionaires perform pretty much throughout the entire evening?

Chris: The band will vary throughout the evening, and the singers will be on and off stage as required … the only difficulty with this is “losing” members to the bar when they should be getting ready to perform … something we (mostly) managed to overcome last time! … but the Zillionaires will form the core group.

The Zillionaires

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