Stand by your band: Summer's here, and the time is right for dancing in the park. Rosie Millard on the rebirth of outdoor music with 'Bandstand La Bamba'

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The Independent Culture
Every child knows what the visual requirements of bandstands are: they must be outside, and slightly raised above ground level with a roof on top. But apart from Sunday concerts in Regent's Park, the days of actually hearing music from Britain's bandstands are a distant memory.

This summer, however, sees a bandstand renaissance: as the posters for Bandstand La Bamba boast, this is 'Music from all over the world on bandstands all over the South'. Outdoor venues originally designed for Victorian military huzzahs, are staging sounds from Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Brittany. It's an ingenious if somewhat incongruous match.

'I've always been fascinated by bandstands,' Bandstand La Bamba producer Bettany Hughes explains. 'I used to live in Brighton and walk past the Birdcage Bandstand on the promenade. I thought it was a tragedy that there was no music coming out of it.' The idea of rejuvenating these ready-made venues caught hold. 'I decided to book music which was totally different from the traditional bandstand sound,' Hughes says. 'I wanted to move away from the exclusively military association.'

So with pounds 5,000 of funding, a free festival of World Music was booked. It's a perfect choice. Much World Music is composed to be heard al fresco: apparently promoters are always complaining about being boxed into sweaty underground caverns. Here, then, was the ideal combination: outdoor music, a ready-made platform with properly arranged acoustics, and wide open spaces to pull in the crowds.

And to Eastbourne's three-tiered colonnade and Art Deco blue tiled roof, Brighton's filigreed steel cage and London's newly built stand in Gabriel's Wharf, the crowds have come, in their hundreds. 'Old people even brought their Zimmer frames down and danced in them,' says Ms Hughes, quickly stating that the audience has not been exclusively geriatric.

By using popular acts such as Zimbabwean band The Bhundu Boys, the 'image problem' of bandstands' perceived unhipness was, by and large, overcome. 'We have also programmed rather reflective, romantic music so that people can come and sit, and think in the fresh air, with great music around them.'

Local schools have provided support music with steel bands and Gamelan ensembles; people have travelled in to the free concerts from all along the South Coast, bringing deckchairs, rugs and picnics to make a day of it.

'People have seen the posters, and made special arrangements to come to the concerts,' Hughes says. 'But there have also been passers-by who have dropped in on hearing music in the bandstands. One woman came down to the Brighton concert and said it provided the happiest day of her year. She lives on the seafront, and had been very depressed when the music stopped eight years ago; when she heard it playing once again, she rushed down to listen.'

Next 'Bandstand La Bamba': The Budapest Cafe Orchestra, The Bandstand, Horsham Park, Horsham. 3pm Sun 24 Jul, free

(Photograph omitted)

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