Every year, the rehearsal process for the Bedales Rock Show begins with the same immortal words from guitar teacher and the brains behind the project, Neil Hornsby: ‘Let’s make this the best show ever!’ Over the years this has become a sort of mantra, breeding an internal competiveness within the students as the stakes are raised and they spend hours practising furiously, determined to surpass their own performances from the year before.
With each year has come a new level of professionalism and originality, not only through the increasingly flamboyant costumes, distinctive lighting designs and daring song choices, but also with the collective feeling of optimism and solidarity shared by everyone involved.
How it all began
The origins of the Bedales Rock Show date back to the summer of 2002, when a group of innovative Dunhurstians set up ‘The Dunhurst Guitar Concert’ that included performances from future Bedales stars Jamie Campbell Bower and Charlie Millar.
It was at the second Dunhurst concert in 2003 that Pete Townshend (watching his son Joseph perform) light-heartedly suggested to Neil Hornsby that if Neil could get permission to use the Bedales Olivier Theatre for a ‘Bedales Rock Show’, Pete would send The Who’s road crew to help.
In May 2004, Bob Pridden (The Who’s legendary sound engineer) and his team arrived at Bedales along with a ten tonne truck full of the very best sound equipment and thus, dreams became a reality and the ‘Bedales Rock Show’ was born.
The early years
In 2008, in the run up to Joseph Townshend’s final Rock Show, Neil put into action a plan that he had dreamt of since the very first show – to ask Pete Townshend to play. What followed were two incredible performances that marked the end of ‘Bedales Rock Show – The Early Years’ and saw a new era dawn…
2009 - present day…
Having an all-time great playing at your little school show could have been a double-edged sword – how could this ever be topped? Well, the answer came in 2009 as the heights of Pete Townshend’s performances the previous year led everyone to raise their game.
Choirs, string orchestras, brass and percussion sections were added to include more of the Bedales community in the show. Dance moves became strictly choreographed, changeovers between songs were organised with an almost military precision that would leave any Formula One pit crew proud, but most of all each performer practised and rehearsed like never before.
A mixture of old and new has always been a feature of the Rock Show set list: alongside students performing songs by such legendary and diverse artists as Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, AC/DC and Stevie Wonder, there has always been an abundance of home-grown song-writing talent, with acts such as Marika Hackman, Will Nott and The Grooves taking to the stage to perform their incredible compositions.
The Bedales Rock Show has become a remarkable demonstration of the extraordinary talent and versatility of Bedales students and a tribute to the unflinching dedication with which Neil Hornsby approaches the project every year. The overwhelming emotion radiating from the performers after the applause dies down at the end of each show confirms the enormous amount which the shows have come to mean to so many members of the Bedales community and the incredible place they hold within the heart of the school itself. Asked what the Rock Show means to him, Neil says, ‘Grey hairs, no sleep and the best time of the year.’