SWIRLING northwesterly winds hit Qatar around mid-day on Friday, filling the air with clouds of gritty dust. Not the sort of weather in which anyone would head for the outdoors, as a rule. But last Friday was different. It was Dunestock.
Despite the weather more than 3,000 people turned up on Friday, laden with cool boxes and chairs, settled down in the arena before the stage, and prepared to enjoy themselves. The giant, crescent-shaped dune was soon covered with excited youngsters clambering to the top, plus hundreds of people who found the steep slopes a more comfortable place from which to enjoy the music than the rocky desert floor.
Launched by the Doha Players only four years ago, as a fund-raiser for the new seats and carpeting required for the theatre, Dunestock has now become an eagerly-awaited annual event that looks here to stay.
Named after the legendary American rock music festival Woodstock, Dunestock was the inspiration of British resident Andy Baldwin, who took on the mammoth task of organising the rock festival. A stage was set up opposite one of the largest of the singing dunes near Mesaieed, and local musicians and bands were invited to perform for free.
It was an instant success. This year Andy has handed over the organisation to a small nucleus of Players members which has shouldered the huge amount of planning needed for such an event.
“Three years of exhausting work was enough,” he says, “but I’ve handed over to a great team and I know this year’s Dunestock will be just as good as in other years. Many of last year’s performers are here again, plus some fantastic new groups.”
GForce Blues Band kicked the show off with a bang. Originally formed specially for Dunestock by Andy Baldwin, the line-up may vary but the music is as good as ever and soon had the crowds converging on the stage.
Among the regular favourites given a warm welcome were The Husbands, a four-member group from Mesaieed playing regular gigs in Doha, whose members hail from Norway, India and Sri Lanka. They claim that their wives allow them out one night a week to get together and play their danceable mix of rock ‘n’ roll and mix!
Mhairi and Peter Gibson – the Khajiji Kheltz — from the highlands and islands of Scotland were back again, with Mhairi on the bagpipes and husband Peter accompanying her on the guitar, together with a strong drums rhythm. Playing variations on traditional Scottish airs, this popular duo recently performed at the Chieftain’s Ball held by the Caledonian Society.
Long-term Doha resident Mel Thompson, who has made frequent appearances on the Doha Players stage as an actress, delighted her many fans with her unique style of tunes ranging from rock to pop. Singers Laura Gibson, Rachel Hartson and Jessica Hutton, members of the group Padlocks N Keys, were also making their second appearance at Dunestock and had a big following of enthusiasts who greeted every number with wild applause. The group performed several of the latest hits including Leona Lewis’s chart-topping Bleeding Love.
The 27 bands, groups and soloists appearing this year included a number making their debut at Dunestock. Singer Martin Marion from Canada played acoustic guitar and also harmonica. And a new group, The Gap, played their first live gig at Dunestock this year, with Morgan Adam on guitar, Peter Gibson on bass and Jopep Palomino on the drums, included Andy among the vocalists.
A charismatic singer from the Philippines, Johanne Kaye McCleod, who has performed in many groups world-wide, was appearing at Dunestock for the first time and was given a great reception by the music-lovers of many nations gathered amid the spectacular surroundings of the great dunes to enjoy the rock festival.
The 12-hour non-stop show continued late into the night, and as the sun set the dusty winds died down, the sky cleared and the moon and stars came out.
Chris Whitbread, one of the organisers along with Peter Phillips, Kerry Suek and Elaine Potter, told Gulf Times: “Inevitably the weather did deter some – when the sandstorm blew up I had people calling me anxiously to enquire whether the show was still going ahead. Of course it was! We’ve had at least 3,000 people here today and it’s clear that everyone’s had a great time. Last year we took over QR200,000, this year it’s a little less with QR135,000, but its still a fantastic amount to put towards the Doha Players theatre fund.”
Whitbread added that the show could not have been the success it was without the generous support from sponsors, including Byrne who provided scaffolding for the stage, plus other equipment and the toilets and Gulf Housing who among other items provided the water supply essential for such a large event.
Funds from the original Dunestock in March 2005 were tagged for the refurbishment of the 26-year-old theatre, but before that could happen the theatre itself was destroyed, just two weeks later, in the tragic attack by a suicide bomber. Now fund-raising is for a new theatre to house the Doha Players. Plans for this are going ahead. Stuart Walton, the chairman, told members recently that the concept design for the theatre was now with the Emiri Diwan for review.
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