The hit Drunken Monkey Rock Festival, hatched by a clutch of volunteers in memory of their pal, has stumped up an amazing £31,000 for the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity in just five years. But Ian Downton would have been chuffed with another lasting legacy too.
The three day August 2-4 Worcestershire blast has also become a showcase for emerging young talent, with local schoolboy Cassius Croney tipped to wow the crowds at his festival debut this year.
“I’m so proud of what has been achieved in Ian’s name. He would have also been thrilled that it’s gifting big opportunities to young people,” says Ian’s mum Ann, who lost her music-loving son ten years ago, after a car accident.
“I like to think he smiles down on all those people having such a great time for such a marvellous cause.”
Welland 12-year-old guitarist Cass opens the Upton-upon-Severn Saturday fun with a coveted 30 minute slot on the Tower Stage, after being inspired by last year’s festival.
He will be sharing the spotlight with nearly 50 big name bands on two stages, including Ian Downton Stage headliners Worcestershire’s 3Sixty and Essex's Led Zeppelin tribute CODA.
Tower Stage boss, and Killers’ tribute Sam’s Town lead, Chris Harvey, who runs Pershore’s Tower Studios, offered Cass his big break after spotting his flair at last year’s festival. Cass was there with parents Nadine and Graham... and his SG Epiphone electric guitar that he played at every opportunity.
“Cass is hooked on his guitar and is absolutely ecstatic about actually being part of the festival,” says his marketing, communications and brand expert mum, whose soundproofed home office now doubles as a music studio.
Nadine and Graham, a JLR automotive engineer, love music and taking their children to gigs. Cass’s nine-year-old flute playing sister Neve has also just taken up the guitar.
Cass is super calm about his big stage debut, and plans to make his audience laugh as well as rock to his five song set that is already finger-perfect.
“I’m really excited but feeling pretty cool about it,” explains Cass, who names Metallica’s Kirk Hammett as his guitar hero. “I’ve admired him for quite a while now. He’s quite skillful when it comes to solos.”
With a wonderful resonance, Cass is a pupil at Hanley Castle High, Ian and best friend Phil Peel’s old school.
The pair had already been raising money for the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity (MAAC) with friendly football matches before the accident near Malvern.
When Ian, who ran his antique restoration and floor stripping business in Powick, died at 44, Phil and a group of friends arranged an all-day music fest in his memory at Upton’s Drum and Monkey pub.
Now on a 10.5 acre site, the event is on music lovers’ must list with annual donations to the charity rocketing to nearly £10,000 last year.
“The growth has been remarkable,” says Upton man, and organising committee chairman Steve Coyne, who joined the expanding band of volunteers after retiring as a project team boss five years ago.
“When you see all the happy, smiling faces - and the grins on those youngsters who get a festival debut are the widest - it’s so rewarding and then we get to hand over a big cheque to the MAAC.”
The pain was still too raw for Ian’s mum Ann, who lives in Upton with his step dad John, to go to the early festivals. But the mum of four, who has ten grandchildren and five great grandchildren, is a veteran gigger now.
John, who will be taking a bow on stage with the rest of the committee, goes to every single meeting and helps set up, and take down, the festival.
Ann spends every single Sunday at Malvern’s British Camp, handing out festival leaflets to the bikers who gather there. Ian loved his Triumph Thunderbird.
“It’s just my little bit to add to the amazing work that Phil and all of the volunteers do,” she says.
“Ian always had a big grin on his face and he would have loved the festival atmosphere... and seeing Cass make his debut.”
Cass, who’s looking for like-minded souls to form a band, already has his eye on the next big thing: “My big dream is to play the O2 arena.”
*Ian Downton Stage headliners are Worcestershire’s 3Sixty, Essex Led Zeppelin Tribute CODA and Cambridge’s Creedence Clearwater Review.
Tower Stage: Cheltenham’s Suicide Watch, Sam’s Town and Birmingham blues outfit Vincent Flatts.
Tickets are available from drunkenmonkeyrockfest.co.uk or wegottickets.com