Harpin’ By The Sea was dreamt up by Stuart McKay, James Aldcroft and Richard Taylor in 2010. It was a spin-off from the Brighton Harmonica Collective and the concept was simple. They wanted to organise workshops and an evening show for local harmonica enthusiasts, to celebrate their favourite musical instrument. There had always been a large number of harmonica players around the City of Brighton & Hove; they just needed to pick a time of year when not much else was happening and everyone could get together.
Drawing on their collective events management, music workshop, training and tour operating experience, a plan quickly took shape. But what should they call the new project? Harpin’ By The Sea seemed an apt and fun choice. And so the first ever HBTS took place on Saturday 5th February 2011at the Brunswick music and arts bar in Hove. It was a resounding success and there were immediate requests to do it all over again. Inadvertently, a whole new musical era had been heralded in.
The production team set about planning HBTS2 and, with one or two refinements, another sell-out programme was delivered. And once again there were requests to repeat the event on an annual basis. It was at this point that James decided to redirect his creative and paternal energies towards his burgeoning family and work commitments, leaving Stuart and Richard at the helm.
Resolved to giving it all another go, Stuart and Richard considered ways to further develop the programme. Richard suggested inviting a special guest from the international harmonica world to lead a masterclass and headline the 2013 evening show. Having attended the Hohner harmonica festival in Trossingen, Stuart contacted Steve Baker and popped the question. Steve generously agreed to the offer, flying in from Hamburg for the event, and setting a whole new benchmark for HBTS. This formula has become the signature of HBTS productions.
By 2014, it was clear that HBTS was a much anticipated annual fixture and more innovation was needed. Richard and Stuart agreed that future events should be themed. The concept was to select a specific style of harmonica music and match this with a guest artist who could demonstrate the specialism. And what better way to set the agenda, than the magic of Chicago blues harmonica? This time Aki Kumar flew in from San Jose, bringing with him his humour, charm and growing reputation as a highly skilled exponent of the Little Walter style.
Since 2014, HBTS has enjoyed continued success and sell-out crowds in the company of many top line performers. Joe Filisko, Son of Dave, Lee Sankey and Lonesome Dave Ferguson have all graced the HBTS stage. You can review our past events in the Archive pages on this site. Today HBTS is a pillar in the international harmonica calendar; it has even featured in a Radio 4 documentary and on the Paul Jones Radio 2 blues show.
On behalf of everyone involved in its production, we hope you enjoy this year’s HBTS event, and look forward to celebrating the harmonica with you for many years to come.