Belper Arts Festival opens with dazzling weekend and record crowds

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The Belper Arts Festival exploded into life over the Bank Holiday weekend with a stunning sold-out concert, expanded arts trail and an emotional awards presentation.

The sixth annual event opened at St Peter’s Church with a thrilling concert by soprano Margaret Keys, her guests Bel Canto male chorus and the Fishpond Choir conducted by Dana De Waal.

Margaret arrived in Belper between dates in Ireland and Jersey with Russell Watson, and offered up a sneak preview of work from her new album The Gift Of Music.

She closed the evening with Danny Boy before receiving a standing ovation for her performance of Bring Him Home, and a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone backed by the two groups which had earlier taken the audience on a globe-trotting musical tour.

The evening also saw the presentation of the first two Andy Potter Community Arts Awards.

Festival organiser George Gunby said: “Andy Potter was a champion of community arts and an inspiration to many individuals and groups. It is appropriate that we give the awards in his name.”

The awards went to Amanda Penman for her work on Artsbeat magazine and Captive Audience Community Theatre for their work with young people in Belper.

On Sunday and Monday, the glorious sunshine brought a record number of visitors into town for the Belper Arts Trail, with more than 130 artists exhibiting their work in 50 venues and 70 musical performers appearing across ten stages.

Trail organiser Suzanne Parnell said: “It’s been a terrific trail. The artists are certainly happy with the number of visitors. We tried to have something for everybody and I think we have pulled it off.”

In a festival first, the podcast Derbyshire Artsword streamed interviews with artists live online.

Interviewer Fliss Goldsmith said: “It was great to be able to talk artists and show people live what was going on.”

The festival runs until June 3. For full programme details, visit www.belperartsfestival.org.