VOCALISTS’ remarkable range and powerful tones set the bar extremely high on the first day of the 105th Swindon Music Festival.

Around 50 adults competed in nine classes yesterday in the first round of the annual challenge.

They were among 1,000 local amateur and expert singers and musicians poised to show off their virtuosity at the nine-day musical extravaganza and one of the town’s largest cultural events.

Many former competitors have gone on to successful careers, including film star Diana Dors who competed under her real name of Diana Fluck in 1938, Sarah Covey, who was crowned vocal and supreme champion in 2006 and 2008 and went on to appear in London’s West End in We Will Rock You, and jazz superstar Jamie Cullum who entered in 1988.

Swindon Music Festival secretary Yvonne Walker was immensely impressed by the standard set by the very first contenders.

“We have had over 1,000 entries this year and about we have 50 people competing today and we had such a high level of entries that we had to find another four and a half hours for performances,” she said. “The vocals today are already of a very high standard and it has been quite impressive. It will be one of our biggest festivals to date.”

The festival was set up in 1909 as a one-night choir festival at the Mechanics Institute. It was the brainchild of R G Cripps who wanted to launch a festival in his home town after enjoying an eisteddfod. The first festival had only six entries and the 104th event had 600. From choirs, vocal solos and duets to pianoforte, strings, woodwind, guitar and masters of the keyboards, all styles, genres and field will be showcased at the festival which will culminate in a Supreme Championship on Saturday, March 29.

This year the judges include Christopher Field, a singer, double bass player and composer, who sang at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 in Westminster Abbey.

Ken Kite, of Swindon Music Festival, described the pageant as a fundamental part of Swindon tradition. “The interest for the festival builds up every year and there are more classes,” he said. “ It’s so diverse, we have instruments as well as singing. It is a really important event in Swindon.

“The musicianship within Swindon is tremendous and the standard this year is impressive. What we have heard is quite remarkable. There are so many people committed to putting on the festival every year.”

Instrumental Championships will be held on Wednesday, March 26 followed by the Junior Vocal Championship on Friday 28 and the Senior Vocal Championship and Supreme Championship on Saturday, March 29, all at 6.30pm.