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Big Whistle Festival Farewell… for now at least

After considerable deliberation with their partner organisation, The Met, Bury, the Big Whistle Festival organisers have announced their decision that the festival will no longer be held at that venue and agreed that there will be no Big Whistle Festival in 2020. This may not be the end of the road for the event, however. Any further announcements will be made through the Big Whistle website.

Phil Brown, a noted whistle player, BBC Radio broadcaster and part of the team behind Big Whistle Music, had the original concept for a festival based around whistle players. His was the driving force and he steered the festival over many years. The relationship with The Met, in the Lancashire town of Bury, was a good one, both for Phil and for The Met’s broader association with folk music. Phil is keen to credit the positive support from The Met over the years, rather than dwell on any change of strategy or lessening of commitment to the festival from the venue. He said: “It is with regret that we have seen the last Big Whistle Festival at The Met in Bury due to a change in circumstances. The venue has provided a stable home for the event for well over a decade and served some unforgettable moments for our loyal audient members. Working with festival co-director David Agnew and the front of house and technical crew has been an absolute pleasure. Their loyalty, skill and commitment are second to none.”

It was a simple concept – put the whistle centre stage. Although the whistle always featured, it didn’t restrict the choice of guests. That sense of mission to promote the whistle, combined with Phil’s passion, led the festival to introduce artists to Bury Met audiences who might otherwise have not been seen in the town. The reality, as Phil demonstrated, is that the whistle features in the instrumental palette of a huge range of musicians. Groups ranging from Flook and Lunasa to Cherish The Ladies all appeared at the Big Whistle Weekend. Key individual players, such as Mike McGoldrick, acted as both catalysts and collaborators and the lure of the concept led to artists from Ireland and Scotland, such as Julie Fowlis and John McSherry, making their own pilgrimage to the event.

A final comment from Phil is appropriate: “Over 14 years the Big Whistle Festival has welcomed countless bands and musicians from across the world who shared their love for the humblest of instruments with our festival. The event embraced the creative potential of the whistle in all forms, providing access for beginners - with provision for players from numerous traditions of all levels. The maker has always been a central focus, and we welcomed a host of craftsmen and women who always took a high profile during the weekend. Our programme ranged from the traditional to the contemporary, with intimate acoustic gatherings to full on groove laden show stopping finales. It was all about the whistle... and a whole lot more.”