A brief history of Somerstock and the Somerton Music & Arts Festival

The Festival was born from an idea by John Mitchell (Manager of Lloyds Bank at the time) at a meeting of the Somerton Business & Trade Association in 1986, and from there a first meeting was held in the Red Lion Hotel with Anne Doman (who is now our Honorary President) chairing the meeting and the then Somerton Business & Trade Association secretary Liz Laker (who is now Honorary Vice President) taking the minutes and so an organising committee was set up under the chairmanship of Anne Doman.


We get the impression from reading that first programme of just 36 pages, that it had involved much more work than anyone had imagined (nothing much changes there, then!) The first event was held in 1988 and lasted from Friday until the following Thursday in mid-June, and included a Market Fair every day except Sunday (when there was a Family Entertainment day), a small Art Exhibition and a talk by the author Robin Bush. The main musical events were Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames and The Strawbs. In 1989, the chairmanship passed to Jon Sackett, who is another of our Directors, and Ian Laker joined the committee, and took over as chairman in 1990.

Robin Bush

These first years saw a shorter Festival, being restricted to 4 or 5 days, but still with a similar format and for the first time including a Somerton Walk led by Alan Locke, a Superbrain Quiz, musical contribution from Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, and a cabaret show featuring Fred Wedlock. From then the Festival settled into its regular second week in July spot (actually, starting on the Friday before the second Saturday of the month), running for 8 or 9 days.

rsz_kenny_ball           rsz_fred_wedlock

             Kenny Ball                                              Fred Wedlock

In 1994, in order to encourage prior purchase of tickets, after a couple of sell-out events in the previous year, the 10% discount voucher was introduced, which has since evolved into the Early Bird ticket. In 1999 for the first time the programme cover had a photograph instead of the plain cover of before. In 2007 for the first time, many of the photographs of artistes were in colour, much to the chagrin of some of our advertisers who wanted colour adverts, so in 2008 the first all-colour Festival Programme was produced.

Of course, in the early days, the Red Lion ballroom was the major venue for big events, but unfortunately that closed after most of the acts for 1995 had been arranged, so there was a bit of a scramble for venues! The following year a marquee was set up at the Somerton Hotel but that ran into problems in 2000. So it was back to smaller venues – mostly skittle alleys and function rooms in the local pubs – until the bold decision was taken to put a marquee at the Somerton Sports Club in 2006 – expensive, but it’s turned out well! Some of the most popular acts to be seen in the marquee in recent years have been The Firebirds, The Great Pretender A Tribute to Queen, Jet Harris with Billie Davis, Complete Madness, Hermans Hermits and Chas and Dave to name a few

rsz_sat_21st_july_cabaret_firebirds     rsz_1tues_17th_queen     rsz_jet_harris

rsz_18th_july_complete_madness     rsz_fri_july_20th_hermans_hermits


St Michael and All Angels parish church has been the host to many events over the years. Apart from the Summer Celebration, usually the first Sunday of Festival, we’ve seen Welsh choirs (including two of the most famous – Cwmbach Male Choir and Treorchy Male Choir, various classical events including the York Waits and Sorrentino String Quartet and of course our own Somerton Festival Band, which was started with a donation from the Festival in 1995.

rsz_sat14th_july_choir        rsz_tre_choir

   Cwmbach Male Choir                                           Treorchy Male Choir

Looking back at advertisers in the programme reveals several notable things. Firstly, in 1988 we had 40 advertisers from local businesses – probably wondering if they’d spent money wisely! Nowadays, we have many more advertisers in a programme. Secondly can be seen some of the businesses which sadly are no longer with us – Watts Radio, Somerton Book Centre, Longmires and Somerton Service Garage to name a few. Thirdly, there are three businesses that have advertised in every one of the first twenty five programmes – Bridges Holland Accountants, AH & RA Holland Motor Engineers and MJ Carpets – there’s loyalty for you!

There are so many people over the years that have contributed to the success of the Festival – the initial idea from the Somerton Business and Trade Association, the many local businesses who have advertised in the programme and sponsored events, the (literally) hundreds of committee members and helpers who have given their time freely for absolutely no reward, and a special thanks to Ian Laker of the London Cigarette Card Co who kindly allowed the use the shop as a ticket office from 1991 to 2010 and Neil Taylor of Overt Locke from 2011 to the present day. Finally, though, thanks go to you – the people of Somerton and the surrounding area – who have supported the Festival for all these years.

Previous Souvenir Programme covers with the chairman for that year

1988     Annie Doman                           1989     Jon Sackett                           1990     Jon Sackett

rsz_prog_1988         rsz_prog_1989         rsz_prog_1990

1991     Ian Laker                                    1992     Ian Laker                                 1993     Andy Lawrence

rsz_prog_1991           rsz_prog_1992(1)           rsz_prog_1993

1994     Dick Edwards                        1995     Dick Edwards                               1996     Ian Laker

rsz_prog_1994           rsz_prog_1995           rsz_prog_1996

1997     Dick Edwards                          1998     Elizabeth Laker                      1999     Elizabeth Laker

rsz_prog_1997           rsz_prog_1998           rsz_prog_1999

2000     Mary Bennett                         2001     Colleen Wolski                       2002     Colleen Wolski

rsz_prog_2000           rsz_prog_2001           rsz_prog_2002

    2003     Colleen Wolski                        2004     Colleen Wolski                      2005     Colleen Wolski

rsz_prog_2003           rsz_prog_2004           rsz_prog_2005

2006     Colleen Wolski                        2007     Colleen Wolski                        2008     Colleen Wolski

rsz_2prog_2006           rsz_prog_2007           rsz_prog_2008

2009     Colleen Wolski                        2010     Colleen Wolski                         2011     Mike Mitchell

rsz_prog_2009           rsz_1prog_2010           rsz_prog_2011

2012     Mike Mitchell                 2013     Ray Jones                         2014     Alex Stannett

rsz_2012           rsz_2013           rsz_2014

2015     Alex Stannett                 2016     Alex Stannett                  2017 Alex Stannett

rsz_2015           rsz_2016         

2018     Alex Stannett                  2019     Cliff Bassett                    2021      Cliff Bassett