Published: 17:02, 20 September 2021
Thousands of fans descended on Rochester to enjoy three nights of music with the much anticipated return of the Castle Concerts.
It's been a long wait for promoters AGMP, which took over organisation of the event from Medway Council but were forced to cancel twice due to the pandemic.
But last Thursday the moment finally arrived as Medway band The Ovines took to the stage at Rochester Castle to kick off proceedings on the first night of the concerts.
By the time the Libertines took to the stage that night, a euphoric atmosphere had engulfed the castle gardens, with a near-capacity crowd of 3,950 fans enjoying a typically riotous set.
The following nights headlined by Soul II Soul and UB40 brought sell-out crowds of 4,500, according to AGMP, which by the end of the weekend were able to celebrate a successful return.
AGMP founder Adrian Gibson, who comes from Gillingham, said it had been great to bring the concerts back.
"After wrapping up three amazing concerts at Rochester Castle AGMP are thrilled to have delivered the highest level of musical performances from the line-up's on each night," he said. "It was fantastic to see so many smiley, happy people at the shows, in the most beautiful of settings and the sun shone for us for three days which made the atmosphere even better."
"We have already received fantastic reviews for the concerts in the national and local press and the bands all loved performing on our stage in the spectacular setting. Friday and Saturday nights were sell-outs and the Libertines on Thursday came very close. As a local Medway boy, I felt great pride in being able to finally put these shows on after such a long wait."
The shows weren't without teething problems, however, and there were complaints from fans over the length of queues for the bar – caused by last-minute staff shortages – and the fact people weren't allowed to take chairs into the venue.
Adrian acknowledged the issues and said AGMP would look to improve next year.
He added: "After an incredibly difficult 18 months for the whole events and hospitality industry, simply being able to stage the concerts was a massive challenge and of course there were things that we will endeavour to do better next time.
"One key issue for the industry at the moment is finding and securing staff for key roles due to so many cancelling shifts at the last minute due to Covid and the company worst affected by this at the Castle Concerts was our contracted bar company, Bar Serve, who lost 20% of their workforce at the very last minute which unfortunately caused the queues for bar service which is a huge regret for us as the organisers."
AGMP pointed out that its website had stated – since February 2020 – that portable chairs would not be permitted on the site.
They had also provided free carer tickets, a disabled viewing platform and four disabled toilets for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues.
Nevertheless, some such as Kim Sheppard of Bogarde Drive, Wainscott, felt the issues had marred the experience, although she acknowledged: "All the acts that were on were brilliant."
"I went for two nights – Friday and Saturday," she said. "The fact we couldn't take a chair in was ridiculous. At least two of my friends couldn't go – one was pregnant and the other one was not so healthy.
"The atmosphere was good – I think because people had waited for so long and this was the third attempt to put it on. But people were also raging because of the queues for the bar. There was bar directly under the castle and the queue went back to the entrance of the castle gardens. My friend stayed in the queue for over an hour to get three drinks – that's ridiculous.
"Some people were taking it out on the stewards but it wasn't their fault. It's the poor organisation.
But she added: "You've got to make the most of it. You've finally got there so you're going to enjoy the evening, but it does detract from your enjoyment the fact you've got to queue up."
Rochester councillor Stuart Tranter later tweeted: "The Castle Concerts, once inside, were well run in my experience. Excellent sound, and good facilities. But there are many things outside, such as ramps, signs and communications which need a rethink for the future. I'm on it..."