“What’s in a name?” said Shakespeare. Well, in the case of the Tandem Festival, quite a lot. As I arrive on a sunny Saturday morning, it’s difficult not to notice an astonishing number of bikes chained up at the festival entrance. A good portion of the crowd here seem to have arrived by bike, some even by Tandem. There are definitely more bikes than cars, which might be something of a first. On asking around, it seems that the festival organises cycle rides from Oxford Station to the site. It’s about 16 miles. Alternatively, you can get the train to Charlbury and then it’s a mere 3 miles further with some friendly yellow signs showing you the way. The roads are leafy, scenic and quiet, and it turns out that many locals have set out independently, meeting up with other folks along the way in a very friendly, Friday, post work migration. What a fantastic way to start a festival weekend.
I’m given a map when I arrive and decide that a wander is the best way to start. A worldy feel to the festival becomes immediately obvious. You hear different languages wherever you turn your ears, and there are different musical flavours too. When I arrive, Sinfonia Gaia are doing their thing. They are followed by Ethno England, who are a bunch of young musicians who met a week ago, coming from various parts of the world and each bringing a song to share. One week on, they’re doing a concert here. They’re a big crowd, and, when not performing or workshopping, they like to party. Whoever’s playing, and wherever they’re from, they’ll know the dance to do. They pop up at concerts throughout the weekend and stoke up the atmosphere wherever they appear.
Like a fair few festivals nowadays, Tandem is situated on a farm. But it definitely deserves mention for making a real effort to engender a festival friendly farm environment. There are no farmyard smells to worry about and you can lean against anything without finding yourself covered in grease. The Nightscapes venue has a day job as a barn but, with its myriad books suspended from the ceiling, it has more of the feel of an art installation this weekend. It is here that the party lasts the longest, or maybe time just passes differently here. When Kourelou play on Saturday, their set seems to last for hours, to the great delight of the Ethno England folks, who form a circle and dance the night away, Greek style. On the programme before Kourelou, we had Akervinda, who have a nordic folk feel; Lambrego, who are Brazilian and the Iyatra Quartet, who seem to take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.
Continuing my mooch, the Stone Barn is an ideal concert venue, especially considering the programme at Tandem, which favours quiet acoustic sophistication over styles more loud and banging. It’s cool in the sun and benefits from the acoustic virtue of not being a metal box. There’s a lot of talk about Catgod, who make a lot of new friends here on Saturday afternoon. And its a perfect location for Rachel Dadd, who plays late into the night on Saturday. It’s visceral music that seems to bypass your conscious mind, just the thing for a fried brain at the end of a festival day. Thinking about it though, you could apply that description to a lot of what you hear at Tandem.
Following my map further, I find a woodland. It’s a wood that could have been planted for hammock-ing and there are a few laid out here for folks to have a lie in. Elsewhere, you come across those who have just plonked themselves down with a book, for it’s very quiet in the wood, and it’s also a nice refuge from the sun. But the best thing about the wood is the bunch of Dutch people who have taken over one end. They are dressed as old ladies and are offering bingo to anyone who wants it. You can literally come here any time of the day or night and bingo will be on offer. They’re drawing in a good crowd too.
In keeping with the sustainability ethos at Tandem, the catering is vegetarian. You can get vegetarian pizzas, vegetarian jacket spuds or there’s a great caterer called Ladle who serves a thing called “Oozy Blue Cheese”, which is as addictive as any other blue product you might find in popular culture. Full of green stuff and poured over roast potatoes, it’s definitely more than the sum of it’s parts and if you eat enough, it might keep you off the composting toilets until home time.
Beyond the wood is the wellbeing area, which offers Reiki, Thai Massage, Acupuncture and more. It also contains the Zen Circle, where Yoga and Tai Chi classes take place. It's a good festival for those who like to participate, with workshops varying from Caipoeira to Brazilian singing and talks ranging from Bee Behaviour to Water Treatment. Each afternoon, there is a large circle of people singing Angolan songs and doing Caipoeira in the quarry area, where there’s also a fair amount of sitting in the shade not doing much. Next to them is a similarly large group, doing hula hooping. It’s between 80 and 90 degrees in the open, but that doesn’t stop them.
Moulettes headline the main stage on Saturday, and manage to pull of the neat trick of supplying the sophisticated musicality that is the norm here, whilst rocking harder than ’Quo at the same time. The evening continues in the same vein as folks head back to Nightscapes for Bossaphonik Dan, a DJ who exemplifies the spirit of the festival by being a bit dance, a bit world and a lot party. He plays into the wee small hours, about 3-ish as far as anyone can remember on Sunday morning.
A useful consequence of a late ending festival day is that the campsite is nice and quiet, so sleeping, even in the kind of heat we have here at Tandem, is easy, once you decide it’s time. It’s a useful thing as Tandem is a family friendly festival and there are lots of little ones present. Also, it’s well worth getting up early with such activities as Qi Gong, Afro Brazilian Doll Making, Feminism for Dads or my personal favourite, 80’s Disco Yoga with Hannah. You’re never at a loss for something to do at Tandem. It’s the kind a festival where a random wander round the next corner will always be rewarded with fine gems of music, culture, enlightenment or bingo.
And all that makes it well worth a visit next year.
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