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How the Cambridge Club Festival was dreamt up in a cafe

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Over lunch in Cambridge’s famous Fitzbillies café, three friends came up with an idea that they thought their mums would enjoy – an evening of gin and Prosecco tasting.

No one realised that five years later this event would spawn a three-day musical extravaganza attracting superstars Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, as well as 1980s favourites Level 42, to headline a unique feel-good festival for Cambridge.

William Young, managing director of S&C Productions at Childerley. Picture: Keith Heppell. (53508279)
William Young, managing director of S&C Productions at Childerley. Picture: Keith Heppell. (53508279)

And the Cambridge Independent can announce this week that it is the official media partner for the Cambridge Club Festival on June 10-12, 2022 – which means we will be bringing you exclusive insight, interviews, competitions and all the latest announcements in the build-up to it all.

When they had their fateful café meeting, William Young, Sam Mellor and Frazer Robinson had already launched an urban music festival, Strawberries and Creem, built from running student club nights in Cambridge, which had started to become seriously successful.

Cambridge Club Festival. (53470681)
Cambridge Club Festival. (53470681)

Their parents were proud of what they had achieved but were less keen on the music, so the group wanted to create something that would be more appealing to the over 30s.

Will, MD of S&C Productions, says: “We had an idea that they would like a gin and Prosecco tasting day and set up a Facebook event to see if there was any interest in the idea. The next morning we were amazed to find out thousands had already signed up. It was obvious we had found a gap in
the market...”

At that moment, the seeds of the Cambridge Club Festival were sown.

Cambridge Club Festival: Diana Ross. (52886923)
Cambridge Club Festival: Diana Ross. (52886923)

“We had been running Strawberries and Creem for three or four years. And our parents had come along for the first couple of years but they quickly realised that, you know, they didn’t want to watch Big Narstie on stage,” says Will.

“They were always very supportive and it dawned on us that we had a ready-made site that we could use so Frazer and I launched a Facebook event that we called Cambridge’s Gin Festival, because we knew that was something our parents would enjoy. When we woke up in the morning it had about 5,000 prospective attendees.”

Cambridge Club Festival. (53470683)
Cambridge Club Festival. (53470683)

Frazer adds: “We thought, wow, there’s something in this. This was in March and within a week we had about 30,000 people attending and then we set the date to June and basically had a couple of weeks to come up with an actual concept to make these events happen. Within two weeks, we came up with the Cambridge Club brand and switched over the event’s name
on Facebook.”

From there the first Cambridge Club Festival took off. It was still a boutique local festival but was designed to appeal to people who wanted to dance all night and enjoy a feel-good atmosphere. Frazer headlined the first ever Cambridge Club Festival, closing the show with his DJ set.

“We decided to run it straight after the Strawberries and Creem Festival so we just had 12 hours to clean up the site and turn the whole thing around. But, amazingly, it went really well and people loved it,” he says.

Lionel Richie will be headlining the Cambridge Club Festival. (52886913)
Lionel Richie will be headlining the Cambridge Club Festival. (52886913)

From this homegrown event in 2017, the Cambridge Club Festival has become a slick national festival. Centred around an ancient orchard, this year’s event in September featured Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Queen of British soul Beverley Knight, ’70s styled pop, rock and soul creators Young Gun Silver Fox – and the return of the Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club.

Audiences also enjoyed singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti’s soothing tones while dance-pop favourite Sophie Ellis-Bextor stepped out of her Kitchen Disco for a blend of Noughties anthems and up-tempo magic. Also on the bill was R’n’B and soul supremo Trevor Nelson, disco’s funkiest dance group Heatwave, and the enigmatic The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir. All-time favourites ABBA Disco Wonderland will keep crowds swaying long after the sun goes down at the inaugural ‘Party Time Continuum: After Dark’ stage.

It’s a line-up not reflected in other festivals which are often based around big names, such as at Reading and Leeds. As far as the founders are aware, no one else specialises in feel-good 80s and 90s music, disco, funk and dance.

Cambridge Club Festival. (53469067)
Cambridge Club Festival. (53469067)

Will says: “We wanted this to be a festival for friends and family, with lovely food and drink and for it to be about dancing and good vibes.”

That means there is a glamping site, where all the effort is taken out of camping and where campers can enjoy after hours music and shows.

They have also invited along some of the best street food producers in Cambridge, so visitors can enjoy everything from wood-fired pizza and hoisin duck wraps, to freshly made crêpes and warm chocolate chip cookies.

Cambridge Club Festival: Sara Cox (52886956)
Cambridge Club Festival: Sara Cox (52886956)

There will be an area for live talks, podcasts and comedy as well as children’s entertainment at the Imagination Station.

This year the headliners will be global superstars Diana Ross and Lionel Richie – as previously reported – along with the newly-announced Friday night headliners and 80s favourites Level 42 (see panel, right).

They will be joined by Corinne Bailey Rae, Gabrielle, and Sara Cox, who makes a triumphant return with a nostalgia party like no other – in her stomping Just Can’t Get Enough 80s show.

Friends of the festival Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club, Trevor Nelson, and Uncle Funk’s Disco Inferno are back to get everyone dancing.

Cambridge Club Festival. (53470686)
Cambridge Club Festival. (53470686)

Sam says: “If you want to come and dance for a whole weekend and really kind of let loose and have a weekend where you’ll be smiling the whole time in a comfortable, stylish setting, this is the festival for you.

“This is the the first chance to see Diana Ross in the UK in years and because it is an outdoor festival it feels very safe.

“The main feedback we get is how lovely the vibe is, which I think is unique.”

As official partner for the festival, the Cambridge Independent will keep you up to date with all the upcoming acts to be announced.

Cambridge Club Festival. (53469230)
Cambridge Club Festival. (53469230)

We will have exclusive interviews and a full guide to the whole weekend.

Weekend tickets start at just £155 – covering entry on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a return shuttle bus to/from the site.

Day tickets start from £60, and VIP packages (including the private bar area and viewing platform) are available.

There is camping on site, with a limited number of pre-pitched packages available (including glamping), plus the option of self-pitch tents too.

Visit thecambridgeclub.co to book.

Level 42 announced as Friday night headliners

Led by singer/bass guitarist Mark King, pop/jazz funk icons Level 42 have been announced as the headline act on Friday, June 10 at the 2022 Cambridge Club Festival.

The band – known for timeless hits such as Something about You, Lessons in Love, Running in the Family and Leaving Me Now – will join an impressive roster of artists already announced for the event, including Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and Nile Rodgers & Chic.

Level 42. Picture: Tina Korhonen (53635789)
Level 42. Picture: Tina Korhonen (53635789)

As 80s dance-rock royalty with more than 31 million records sold, Level 42 will close the opening night of the festival, blazing the trail for others to follow over the weekend. The family-friendly festival is returning to Childerley Orchard in Cambridgeshire, near Cambridge city centre, on June 10-12, following its successful launch this summer.

When he spoke to the Cambridge Independent in September, Mark King – known as one of the finest bass players in the world – made it clear that he is well aware of what the audience who come to the band’s shows want
to hear.

“I know very well that the fans that do come and see us want to hear the hits that we’ve got,” he said, “and fortunately we were able to bank a lot of good hits through the 1980s and early 90s, so there’s more than enough to choose from.

“The thing I have to juggle with is which ones to leave out, because you can’t play them all.”

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