Another in the occasional marlborough.news series profiling MARLBOROUGH PEOPLE TODAY – taking our cue from the book published to mark the Millennium: ‘Marlborough People’. Susan Litherland meets the organiser of MantonFest.
What makes a music festival successful? An intriguing line-up, in a good location, with bonuses like tasty food vendors and toilets that don’t freak out the guests. The real beating heart of a music festival, though, is the people who make it happen. One of the organisers of our local festie – MantonFest, which this year takes place on July 1 – is Roger Grant.
“I love doing MantonFest. I can’t sing, dance or play an instrument but I can organise,” says Roger. “It can be stressful but it gets the adrenaline flowing. I’m talking to music agents and meeting people I would otherwise never have crossed paths with.”
This year, MantonFest stars Toyah Willcox and Creedence Clearwater Revived as well as many other talented bands from this area.
As editor of the village newsletter, member of the Village Hall Committee, village quiz master and general ‘go to guy’ for community events you’d be forgiven for thinking that Roger has spent his entire life in the village. Far from it. Sometimes you’ve got to travel the world and try many different things to find out who you are and where you belong.
Roger, 73, was born in Tenterden in Kent and grew up in Tunbridge Wells. After a brief attempt to train as a priest, he went to Bristol University to study history. He then worked in the Civil Service before taking a three-year short service commission in the army and travelling to Germany, Cyprus, and Kenya.
Quietly spoken with a chuckle in his voice, Roger portrays his life as series of accidents of fortune. He says: “It’s not been an easy life and I’ve had to live off my wits. I couldn’t settle down and a lot of things have gone wrong. I often didn’t know where the next penny was coming from and I never stuck around for family life, which made things difficult.”
After the army, Roger ran an English bar in Stockholm, Sweden, while he was working out what to do next. It was his grandmother who suggested he apply for a job with P&O Cruises and the next nine-and-a half-years were spent sailing the oceans while working in the bursar’s office.
As a great communicator and socialiser it suited him down to the ground. “It was like working in a hotel reception on water. It involved lots of meeting and greeting and I loved it. I saw exotic places, but usually only the ports, as I was busy doing things like running the currency exchange and organising trips for the customers.”
He arranged it so that his contract took him to Australia where, still with P&O, he cruised around the Antipodes and enjoyed himself on the party scene. After his second divorce he decided “there was nothing for me at home so I’ll give Australia a go”.
He started as a hotel night manager working his way up to general manager for a chain of “rather grubby hotels in the outback” in New South Wales.
Roger is the eldest of five siblings and thinks that his early wanderings were the result of being left to his own devices as a child: “I didn’t have a role model and nor did I have any specific goals except survival. My siblings all knew what they wanted to do – but I didn’t.”
“Still, it made me resilient. In Australia I arrived unemployed and holding a couple of bags and I had to sort myself out.”
In 1984 his father died so Roger returned to Britain. Whilst holidaying in Scotland with his fourth wife he saw a ‘battered’ old hotel for sale on the Scottish borders which he bought and later moved to a larger hotel in Dumfries until he decided to sell up and return to England.
Next he set up and ran a chain of children’s clothing shops in the Southampton area. “I hadn’t a clue what I was doing but I employed sailors’ wives to manage the shops and they were great.”
Then came the recession when suppliers refused to give credit and customers stopped spending, so Roger closed everything, and in 1992 moved back to Tunbridge Wells. The stress was such that his wife asked for a divorce and he needed to find a new way of earning a living.
Seeing an indoor go-kart track up for sale in Maidstone, he bought it – as you do! It was there he met his fifth wife, Denise, who was visiting the track on a night out with friends. However, it was in a rough area and his equipment kept getting stolen, so after six months he sold up.
His lack of fear at tackling new challenges makes Roger appear very spontaneous, although he asserts that he is cautious by nature, and does think things through before taking the plunge.
So – what did they decide to do next? He and Denise set up two Country Roast shops in Tenterden and in Tunbridge Wells where they cooked and sold roast meat in baps, homemade cakes and ice cream: “All my life I’d wanted a partner who would work with me, and in Denise I’d found the perfect one. When after two-and-a-half years the landlord wanted to sell both properties, we were glad to go as we stank of roast meat.”
During a brief stint working at a golf club while Denise worked for a travel firm, they took a boating holiday on the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and stopped for lunch at the Three Tuns pub in Great Bedwyn. They saw the village shop was for sale and bought it. “It was Denise’s idea – I really didn’t want to run another shop – but we stayed there for seven years until we retired.”
Meanwhile, Denise discovered Manton and fell in love with it so in 2009 they moved in: “I didn’t fancy village life again but she convinced me and now you couldn’t get me away from it.”
to raise money for the village hall, the first MantonFest was put on by Stuart Whant in the garden of the Outside Chance pub in 2010. It suffered from torrential rain.
The next year Stuart and Roger joined forces and, although the weather was not much better, they knew they had a formula. They asked Anne Morgan, and Linda Yeardley to join them, and this year also newcomer Becky Banning. Denise, he says, “does the accounts, coordinates things and bullies me to get things done right”.
MantonFest takes up a lot of Roger’s time now. The process starts in September when he contacts agents for lists of available acts and starts talking to sponsors, while Stuart deals with the musicians’ needs. By March the plan has come together and with the help of the committee plus Neil Goodwin and Marina Rae, the advertising, marketing, printing, and distribution of the free programme begins.
The festival takes place in Manton Grange water meadow, owned by Fred and Emma Goltz, who are firm supporters of the event. The battle is to keep tickets cheap so that it remains a family day out, while still attracting musicians that people want to see and hear. As it costs about £15,000 to put on, they must attract as much sponsorship and sell as many tickets as possible.
On the day MantonFest couldn’t survive without volunteers and needs stewards to do a couple of hours work for free entry. Please contact Roger on (01672) 516 235 or 07771 713 280 if you are willing to spare some time on Saturday, July 1. Tickets can be bought online at www.mantonfest.co.uk or at Sound Knowledge in Marlborough.
And if there are any sponsors out there for next year’s MantonFest he would be happy to speak to you!
So what next for Roger? He says he’s got no life plan other than to continue doing what he’s doing; “I’ve never been happier than I am now – I just want to live a bit longer.” The preciousness of life was brought home to him four years ago when he had a stomach tumour removed, luckily before it turned cancerous.
He indulges his other great passions – gardening, eating shellfish (“I used to share a jar of winkles with Granny while watching the wrestling on TV”), drinking wine and reading historical novels. He keeps abreast of politics (he was secretary of the Marlborough Conservative Association) and makes sure he sees his three children and two grandsons as often as he can.
If he needs a bit of cheering up he listens to an Elvis song or switches on an old black and white cowboy film.
After his life of wandering, Roger has found his happiness – in his wife Denise, his garden and the friendliness of the Manton community. “Because I travelled and worked so much I never had that feeling of belonging before – and it’s fantastic,” he grins.