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Stroud Sacred Music Festival

The Sacred Music festival returns to Stroud. We cover the highlights and the history of this event.
Stroud Sacred Music Festival

by Robin Layfield

AHEAD OF THIS YEAR'S SACRED MUSIC FESTIVAL I CAUGHT up with Reverend Simon Howell for a chat about the history of the event and a preview of the line up.

About the Stroud Sacred Music Festival.

“Well, actually Girish Patel and I started this music festival in 2015 — so this is the ninth one — and when we first started, it was just an idea, a small idea, but for some reason, it really works.

“I was looking to do something like this because I am a pioneer minister. And what that means is that you go to places and you reimagine what it could be like.

“I came to Stroud knowing that I'd love it, because I have lived in many vibrantly spiritual places, and that's why I wanted to come here, really.

“I thought well this is the town centre church. How can we serve the town?

“I'm a musician by training. I understand music, I understand the art. My first degree was in music and I thought that what we really need is a festival whereby those of diverse spiritualities that were in the town could express themselves — and then I would be able to say that this beautiful building that we have been gifted with wasn't just a religious club.

Rev Simon Howell

“It was a way of serving the town and the best way that I could think of at that moment. I talked to Girish and we came up with the idea of doing a Sacred Music festival and inviting local people to come and share their spirituality through music and I was quite surprised because we put it together very quickly that first time and it totally worked.

The word “Sacred” speaks to people of “Oh, what does that really mean?”

“I have been to the Sacred Music festival in Fez, in Morocco and there are other ones around the world. There's one in New Orleans for example.

“We wanted Stroud to become a part of that movement and then we could just look at what the movement is doing and then emulate that here.

“The dream really is for it to be an act of peace and Girish and I both say that we feel that in dialogue across religion — or spiritualities — that it tends to dry up quite quickly because people say ‘I believe this’ and someone else says ‘I believe that’ and then another person says ‘I believe the other’ and then where do you go from there?

“Whereas with the Arts, the opposite thing happens. It just flows together and everyone listens much more to other people's perspectives. And to taste the depth of another person's or another world religion, to taste the mystical depth of it.

“Not only is it one of the most beautiful things you can think of. When it's done well through the arts but it also deepens your own faith because you have to think.

“People say ‘Oh, Inter-faith, does that dilute everything?‘ No — it makes you think deeper into your own faith and how your faith can be an act of peace in this world.

Of course, in Stroud, it makes total sense

“So we had a band called the Ragababas which doesn't play so much anymore but at it's height it was a 14-piece local band that included Christian, Jewish, Earth-based pagans and a lot of Hindus.

“We wrote songs, or we bought songs and shared them and then worked them together as a band, so that they really sat well with everybody and then we would perform them. We did that to start with and that's still a big part of what we do.”


“At 7.30pm on Friday evening, we've got the BBC Gospel of the Year finalists, called Get Gospel and they sing a capella, with a piano but largely a capella gospel with beautiful harmonies and beat boxing.

“They go from heartfelt spirituals to foot stomping gospel through to a capella Stormzy numbers.

Get Gospel singers have performed individually with some incredible artists, such as Stevie Wonder, Gorillaz, Candi Staton, Gareth Malone, Jocelyn Brown, Foals and Pharrell Williams among many others.
Get Gospel: Outstanding London Gospel Choir
Joyful choir with a stunning repertoire spanning classic and contemporary gospel tunes and original versions of pop songs.

Saturday Morning

The Chant Space

We now have the Chant Space — a three hour chant space on Saturday morning this year. That's from 10 till one in the church and it starts with a Taizé, which is a mystical tradition and then goes into earth-based spirituality and then the final one is Kirtan, so using the Kirtan which is an ancient Indian devotional method.

“It goes from one hour straight but it doesn't stop, so the chanting from one flows into the next.

“Before then at 9 o'clock, we have children's sacred singing of all traditions with Jo McAndrews.”

Morning Singing for Families and Children
Learn an array of sunny, uplifting songs suitable for all ages, with popular choir leader Jo McAndrews. No experience necessary.

Saturday evening

“This year we have Soumik Datta - he is a West Bengali musician, one of the finest exponents of Sarod. Vogue magazine called him one of the biggest new musical talents in the country and he — probably because of his background — has assembled a group of people called The Green Room Collective, who all have migrant connections in their stories.

“The story they tell in their show, if you like, is a story of hope coming out of a very bleak positions of loss and longing, and living in one place but yearning for another.

“This has led to us giving the festival the title: Finding Home in Two Worlds.

“But also Soumik's trio, who are World Class, are finishing the evening playing themselves. They are called Borderlands — for the very reason that we've just been talking about. And it's an astonishing evening that starts at 7.30pm and goes on until 9.30pm.

With all those musicians, this is value for money beyond belief.

The Green Room Collective
​ Héctor Manchego ​– spoken word Héctor Manchego (He/Him) is an interdisciplinary Venezuelan artist based in London, working in writing, photography, videography, and performance. His work…

Stroud Sacred Music Festival looks set to be a moving and emotionally charged weekend of uplifting and beautiful music, for more information please visit the website.

Stroud Sacred Music Festival
Stroud Sacred Music Festival

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