Music man can't resist park life

PUBLISHED: 14:27 12 July 2001 | UPDATED: 10:20 03 March 2010

IN a fortnight's time Christchurch Park will open its gates to two nights of top entertainment. Promising to offer something for people of all ages, The Ipswich Spectacular will bring quality live music to an idyllic setting for what will hopefully be a couple of balmy summer evenings. Entertainment reporter JO MACDONALD met up with the event's promoter to find out more.

THE ORIGINAL plan was to stage a small concert in front of the mansion.

It was to be a simple, intimate affair bringing live music to an extravagant outdoor setting.

Little did promoter John Hessenthaler realise that by the time of the concert, the planned sedate affair would have been revised so dramatically he would be staging a two day musical spectacular in the Christchurch Park bowl.

"I had the idea for the first one in Ipswich four years ago," he explained, "and originally wanted to put on an open-air concert in front of the mansion, just a small one.

"However, because of the legalities and limitations of putting it on in front of the mansion the council made suggestions and pushed me into the bowl."

The concert, in 1999, saw two nights of top quality music as, courtesy of John, Ipswich was able to welcome Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The Dubliners to its shores. At that time it was called Picnic in the Park.

Last year it returned with Bjorn Again, Boney M and Bucks Fizz, playing for one night and The Hollies for the second.

This year the event, The Ipswich Spectacular, has evolved once more and sees a night of classical music being added to the line-up.

On Friday, July 27, Christchurch Park will once more play host to Bjorn Again, this time supported by The Manfreds and The Blues Band. The following night, accompanied by a fireworks finale, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Hooked on Classics.

John said: "I've never put on a classical concert on before. I'll admit I'm not into classical music myself.

"When John Cobbold announced that he was not going to continue Orchestrelle this year I thought it was natural to inaugurate it into my event, but at the same time give the orchestra situation a kick up the backside and make it more 'pop' to attract more people.

"Hooked on Classics is a celebration of the best selling album. It's an all action classical programme including classical favourites and classical renditions of pop songs."

"It's very, very different and this is the only UK show doing Hooked on Classics."

It's little surprise that John's concerts in Christchurch Park have changed so much when you glance back at his achievements since he gave up work as a surveyor and turned his attention to the music business.

Starting off with a mobile disco his business has grown in to a national promotions company that is now starting to spread its wings abroad.

"I've always been a frustrated musician," he said.

"I couldn't play music but I was really in to it. I started a mobile disco around Suffolk.

"Bookings weren't coming in quick enough so I decided to book a village hall or somewhere similar, and then advertised the night. People came out of the sticks to pay 50p or however much on the door.

"It just grew. It went from village halls, to town halls to the Corn Exchange to theatres to outdoor gigs.

"Bands started approaching me and I began to develop various aspects of running an entertainment business."

And John is proud that some of the artists he helped promote during their heyday are still among the many bands he works with today.

"I've been doing this since the 1970s," he said, "and some of the bands I was promoting first time round, I'm still promoting, like Showaddywaddy.

"And from doing it locally has led to putting on national tours, festivals and events abroad."

John is passionate about what he does and is proud that his accomplishments are a result of his own hard graft.

Getting good results out of his concerts, not just financially but through people's reactions, is enough to ensure he continues.

He said: "What I've always tried to do with these shows is something for everybody and do it without any help from the Arts Council – it's all me. That way if it's a success, it's my success and if it's a failure, it's my failure."

"I'm a commercial promoter and want to make money but you've got to look at things from a much broader perspective. There are plenty of other ways of getting satisfaction from doing these things."

Fingers are crossed that the weather is kind for the two concert nights but come rain or shine, John believes there is nothing as good as an open-

air summer concert.

He said "You can't take a picnic inside a theatre. On a nice summer night, with the sun going down in the background, a picnic and nice music – it's great."

n Bjorn Again will headline on July 27, supported by The Manfreds and The Blues Band. Hooked on Classics with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be on July 28.

Tickets cost £20 for each night (£12.50 for under 12s. Under 5s free) and can be bought at Central Box Office, Princes Street, Ipswich, on 01473 433100 or 01787 249152 or on-line at

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