A one-man mission to bring classical music to Bognor Regis reaches a landmark anniversary.
February 7 offers a fifth birthday party for 60 Minutes of Classical Music at the Alexandra Theatre in The Regis Centre, the brainchild of Bognor jeweller Roger Clayden.
To mark the anniversary, the series will be offering its first-ever opera evening, featuring mezzo soprano Lisa Byres. Christopher Taylor (piano), Clive Dobbins (violin) and Roger himself on cello.
Immediately after the 60-minute opera concert there will be a 60-minute party in the Gallery with celebrated jazz saxophonist Bobby Wellins. (£5; under-25s, £2.50).
For Roger, it will be the happiest of occasions. As he says, it has been far from easy over the years, but he has struggled on, thanks to investing in the series himself through his own jewellery shop, Clayden & Co Jewellers, 14 The Arcade, Bognor Regis.
Over the past five years, 60 Minutes has sold 2,234 tickets and completed 63 concerts of 60 minutes. Every instrument of the orchestra has been represented. Voice has also been catered for, with soprano and tenor solo singers and the chorus from West Ham, London.
So far the series has cost nearly £17,000 to stage; money from ticket sales comes in at just under £10,000; Roger’s company has made good the shortfall – all part of Roger’s lifelong commitment to the musical cause.Roger played his first concert as an eight-year-old in 1968 in Worthing, performing on a trombone taller than he was
“During the 70s I played in the Esplanade Theatre in Bognor Regis and with the youth bands. I used also to play with West Chiltington Brass Band and the Chichester brass band.”
Roger then went into the army, performing with the Irish Guards Band - great days which took him around the world: “I was a boy of 17 when I joined. I had nothing, and we went touring the world. We went everywhere, and we went to scary places like Northern Ireland. That really was scary. They were out for us over there! It was bad. And then we went all the way around Germany.”
Coming out of the army, Roger started in the jewellery business in Bognor Regis, but musicianship has remained his passion. Hence the concert series, and he is proud of what the series has achieved: “No other seaside town in England has had the rich classical diversity that 60 Minutes has had in Bognor Regis. That is what makes the town special.”
But he freely admits it has been a struggle – though his stats look more than respectable. His lowest-ever attendance at a concert was around 16; his best has been around capacity at 70; his average is 37, thanks partly to around ten die-hards who will always support him.
The result is great feedback: “I had one woman come up to me who was so pleased about the series. She said she had recently moved to the area and could not believe that it had a classical series like this, and that it had really made Bognor for her.”
Roger’s aim is to keep plugging away, hoping to build audiences to the extent that he no longer has to subsidise the series personally. Key to this will be the development of his 60 Minute Orchestra, currently playing two concerts a year.
Also, it’s about building up the profile. As Roger says, it’s about loyalty. Pop fans will be thousands strong and disappear tomorrow: “With classical music, you have got incredible loyalty.”