Towersey is a little village with big ideas which nurtures the scene it showcases

Towersey Village festival 2009 review

published: Tue 8th Sep 2009

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Thursday 27th to Monday 31st August 2009
Towersey, Thame, Oxon, OX9 3QU, England MAP
adult £88, concessions £78, youth (12-17yrs) £58, child (5-11yrs) £44
last updated: Tue 4th Aug 2009

Based in the playing field of this little Oxfordshire village and featuring venues such as St Catherine's Church, the Village Hall and the Three Horseshoes pub one might wonder how Towersey Village Festival attracted excess of 10,000 visitors over a blustery late summer bank holiday. They can't all have come for a ride in Radio 2 DJ and local boy Ken Bruce's double decker bus.

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Judging by the number of pewter tankards on show they may have come for the beer but the real pull of Towersey is the wealth of traditional music, dance and song which has kept the event growing since three tents went up in Dennis Manner's garden in 1965. Dennis founded the Towersey Morris Side who officially open the event in the yard of the Three Horseshoes on Friday and it is to him that this year's festival is dedicated following his passing earlier this year. Perhaps he was happy with the proceedings which occurred in his honour for the event went off spookily well.

Standing at the bar in the Showground beer tent or walking through the campsite it is apparent that this festival is actually a conference of performers. The drunken singers can actually sing, and sing beautifully, movingly or powerfully at a turn. All day the sound of the squeezebox, violin, bodhran and whistle are heard from small groups sat about on the grass or under their gazebos. Bells shake from the Morris Dancers dressed, and sometimes blacked, up whether they are on stage at the new Market Square or not. After dark the dancefloor movers take over from the showground shakers in the bar whilst in the Ceilidh tent the dancing started early and finishes late. You get the feeling that the headline acts on in the Festival Dance House or at the Concert Tent are sometimes of secondary interest to jamming and dancing with friends old and new.

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That is not to say that this Towersey does not have some pretty decent acts this year, The Imagined Village, and newly reformed Edward II both appear after success at Beautiful Days the previous weekend. There are shows from Heidi Talbot, Jim Moray, Shooglenifty and a superb concert by the The Waterson Family. One act stands out from the others this year, an Australian choir known as The Spooky Men's Chorale. Their innocuous looking Friday night concert results in unprecedented interest for a Sing like a Bloke workshop on Saturday lunchtime, tent busting attendance for the afternoon Concert and a show stealing support to Shooglenifty that night.

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Their conquest continues apace on Monday, there is a Spooky flashmob on the showground following their second lunchtime workshop. They feature as “backing” group in Festival patron and folk-daddy Roy Bailey’s regular afternoon concert. When the Festival climaxes with a lantern procession on Monday night, their wrench logo is strongly represented and the chant of "We are the Spooky Men, we dream of mastodons" is ever present. The finale is given over to the choir as hundreds join in with 'Down to the River to Pray'. Roy Bailey found the Spookies at an Australian Folk Festival and invited them to Blighty, but they were not the only offshore act in attendance. The French based The Breizh Brothers provided a vigorous late session in the Dance House on Friday night and an equally energetic workshop Saturday afternoon. Likewise the The Mighty Zulu Nation put on a stomping show and workshop combination.

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The Festival management are obviously open to new ideas and innovations. For the first time this year the showground swapped a seated arena for three smaller stages; the Market Square, Rope Circle and Ledge. This results in more shows and greater variety for the day visitors who are not allowed beyond the Showground. The shows are all entertaining from Morris demonstrations to suitcase circus and comedy chamber music. There are more benches so those who wish to sit and sup and can do so it proper beer garden style. Although limited in number there is a good selection of food stalls to cater for a range of tastes from chips to crepes via curries all at normal festival prices.

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The market has the familiar assortment of hats, shawls, ethnic and fairy stuff. There are a few more unusual stalls; a gleaming Airstream caravan has been converted into a recording studio and broadcast centre. A climbing wall attracts constant business. A regular favourite is the herb stall, this year placed centrally in the market, with a wide choice of standards like mint and basil and together with more exotic selections – my pick was the Balm of Gilead. By Monday the sun is out and the beer flowing. The showground is packed, well entertained, watered and fed.

Children and Young People play a big part in the Festival. The children work towards the Grand Family Ceilidh, the young people present the Shooting Roots Museum of Folk both on Monday afternoon. The two groups have dedicated space within the Festival. The Children's Festival occupies a compound behind the showground where parents can leave their over 5s in safe hands to sing, play, drum or craft away in well supervised safety. Many of the children know one another from previous years so by the time they have outgrown the Children's Festival and moved onto the Shooting Roots Hive based on the camping site they have established peer groups.

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Shooting Roots develops the young people's musical and performance interests and presents a vibrant view of the folk scene to them. Over the weekend they evolve a Museum of Folk which features song, bands, dance and theatre and attracts a good sized audience to the Ceilidh tent to see some of the stars of tomorrow. Whether performing as part of the Towzer band in the Family Ceilidh or dancing a Morris for the Museum the delight and enthusiasm comes across as these youngsters are deservedly at the centre of this Festival’s attention. From its conception back in the 60s the Festival has been for the benefit of Towersey village and traditional arts. The playing fields which are the core of the site were purchased with money generated by the event which continues to fund local projects and building maintenance overseen by the village’s Festival Committee. Through the Friends of Towersey Festival £10000 was distributed in the last year to musicians in need of assistance to fund instruments and tuition.

This little village with big ideas has a festival which nurtures the scene it showcases, gives back to the community it is based in and deals with the waste it creates. There is 'Another Lovelier World' in Oxfordshire for a few days in August which welcomes young, old and those in between.

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review by: Ian Wright

photos by: Ian Wright

Thursday 27th to Monday 31st August 2009
Towersey, Thame, Oxon, OX9 3QU, England MAP
adult £88, concessions £78, youth (12-17yrs) £58, child (5-11yrs) £44
last updated: Tue 4th Aug 2009


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