This article explores site-specific heritage questions of the contemporary cultural practice of festivals of jazz – a key transatlantic music form – by bringing together three areas for discussion and development: questions of slavery heritage and legacy; the location, built environment and (touristic) offer of the historic city; and the contemporary British jazz festival, its programme and the senses or silences of (historical) situatedness in the festival package. Other artistic forms, cultural practices and festivals are involved in self-reflexive efforts to confront their own pasts; such are discussed as varying processes of the decolonisation of knowledge and culture. This provides the critical and cultural context for consideration of the jazz festival in the Georgian urban centre. Preliminary analysis of relevant jazz festivals’ programmes, commissions and concerts leads to interrogating the relationship – of silence, of place – between jazz in Britain, historic or heritage locations and venues, and the degree or lack of understanding of the transatlantic slave trade. The heritage centres clearly associated with the slave trade that also have significant (jazz) festivals referred to include Bristol, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, and Manchester.
signage to other jazz festivals, at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Montpellier Gardens (note elegant Georgian townhouses, right background)
[On the occasion of the centenary of public ownership of Stonehenge]
In 1985 I was squatting in the city of London. On 10 April I bought somewhere a copy of Michael Balfour’s book, Stonehenge and its Mysteries. I’d been at the festival the previous year, and found it a powerful, challenging and liberating experience. No doubt I wanted to know a bit more about the stones, and their history, ownership, meaning. It must have been one of the only books I actually bought round then, because I was living light at the time, of course.
In the book, which I still have, there are pasted on the inside front cover, below my name and place/date of publication, these two pieces of print media. One is from a London listings magazine, the other from a lamp post in the street. At the time I knew they represented the poles of opinion or value around heritage and identity, and thought of them as competing versions of Englishness.
With the so-called Battle of the Beanfield two months later—hundreds of travellers and festival-goers en route to the stones ambushed by a seemingly out-of-control English police force, violently attacked and homes destroyed—these opinions and values around heritage and identity were starkly politicised, though of course they had been about politics, land and life all along.