the forty-sixth Towersey is 'another lovelier world'

Towersey Village Festival 2010 review

published: Wed 8th Sep 2010

around the festival site (Morris sides)

Thursday 26th to Monday 30th August 2010
Towersey, Thame, Oxon, OX9 3QU, England MAP
£104 adult weekend ticket (Camping £18 extra)
last updated: Thu 5th Aug 2010

It takes Herculean efforts from the volunteer stewards shunting, pushing and cajoling heavily laden vehicles through badly churned mud to get thousands of Festivalgoers into the three camping sites on Thursday, but once their tents, yurts, caravans and motorhomes are safely parked and pitched the magic begins as the 'Lovelier World' of Towersey Village Festival comes alive. Accordions, fiddles, guitars and tankards are fetched and sessions struck up across the Festival site. Many have come for these jams, the concerts and performances just an added extra. Later in the Beer Tent the atmosphere buzzes as people enjoy a good drink of Westons cider or Wadsworth real ale. A jazz band or impromptu session provides the incidental music as friendships are renewed and new acquaintances made. Ahead is a four-day programme packed with dances, workshops, concerts and shows until on Monday night Towersey's unique procession of brilliant lanterns made by kids, young and old, brings the event to a close.

Dhol Foundation
A warehouse-sized marquee, the Festival Dance House, is the venue for the Festival's headlining performances. Save for half a dozen rows of tiered seating to the rear it's standing only, ideal for wild dancing and brash, bold concerts. Two acts fill the bill wonderfully. On Friday night Dhol Foundation showcase the Punjabi drum tradition, which they are clearly masters of. Irresistibly energetic, their IndoCeltic styled Bhangra sound is a great antidote to the lethargy of a rather soggy day. The crowd gratefully takes every opportunity to bounce; it pulsates rhythmically as hands wave, full of enthusiasm for this far from tedious "Boy band". Johnny Kalsi is a masterful showman known to many from his previous Towersey performance with Imagined Village and his personality shines through as the leader of this band. He is up-staged only by Kulwant Singh Bhamrah who, draped in gold, joins the band to whip the crowd into an even greater ecstatic frenzy. It was a storming, vivacious performance.

Likewise 'Folk's first pop band' the brilliant Bellowhead received an extremely warm welcome from a packed home crowd. Their great set includes several now familiar songs about prostitutes including 'Yarmouth Town' or 'New York Girls' which have become unlikely crowdpleasers over the summer. Mawkin's Dave Delarre deputising for Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar seems taken aback by the crowd's enthusiasm but soon finds his stride as squeezed onto the stage the big band have a great time. Jackets and jumpers come off and it's smiles all round. Hot, sweaty and superb, once again their Towersey show results in the Dance House's floor being hammered into the ground as thousands of feet stomp out the boozy beat.


Hot, sweaty and chaotic describes the Dance House's late night Ceilidhs well. Whether Jazz-Ceilidhing to Steamchicken Reggae-Ceilidhing to Toothless Mary or just having a great time to Whapweasel the young folks gleefully strip the willow and form themselves into double Sicilian circles at a moments notice from the Caller. It's a similar story in the Ceilidh tent where dances start at lunchtime and don't stop until its bedtime. The dances are less chaotic, probably because the dancers are less tipsy and well drilled but still a fine time is to be had.

More the sedate, intimate performances are held in the Concert Tent. Rows of stalled seating are occupied by an audience which is generally older and beardier than the Dance House's. It's an audience which appears to take queuing for a good seat as part of the fun. Friday's highlight is the macabre tour de force Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings. Jon and fellow revivalists Sam Sweeny, Rob Harbron, Dave Angel and Ric Foot play a dizzying array of instruments, some of them simultaneously. Among the strangest sounds of this set, and the weekend, comes from the two antique Edison wax cylinder gramophones on either side of the stage, their spinning cylinders producing the haunting sound of voices now beyond the grave. Songs like 'The Hounds of Love', 'Memories of Loves Refrain' and 'Doleful Dance of Death' are hypnotic, yet moving and utterly beautiful.

Jon Boden And The Remnant Kings

Festival Patron Roy Bailey's mirthful Monday concert is a wonderful balance of levity and gravity. In one song "Jesus betrays the poor with his words", whereas in another there are "Lots of great big bumblebees and caterpillars eating leaves". Roy has a great rapport with the audience who are keen to join in, or help out when called on. After fifty years on the stage dealing with heavyweight subjects, playing with the greats, he still takes requests from four year olds without even a second thought and prompts from the Red Book without loss of face. As ever there are special guests, this year Roy's joined on stage by his daughter, granddaughter and "uppity session musicians" Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson & Andy Cutting for a greatly enjoyable, deeply moral show.

Roy Bailey

Not to be outdone by the boys there are several outstanding performances in the Concert tent from folk's women. Equally unearthly and with much the same band as partner Jon Boden, Fay Hield's stirring Saturday afternoon show is very well received. Eliza Carthy gives only her third solo performance in eighteen years on Sunday afternoon, and it's amazing.

Eliza Carthy
Alternating between relative jollity and downright melancholy her songs cover familiar subjects of shopping, murder, drinking, night visits from the otherworld and all the little chickens in the garden. Even the knitters put down their work for her spine tingling 'The Grey Cock'. Jackie Oates' Monday night concert is similarly captivating. Jackie's subject matter tends towards the morbid, with gallows songs and heavy-petting visits from the dead. She aptly describes her tunes as "Landscape painting through sound", these are landscapes of cold northerly winds and hopeless desolation. Take a jacket, as her Sugacubes cover hints, they are probably a bit like Iceland which is no bad thing.

New for the Concert Tent this year is a Saturday night feature film. "Morris, A life with Bells On" a comic mockumentary film centred around Derecq Twist's thwarted attempt to perform the legendary threeple hammer damson dance. Despite a smattering of jokes about tractors, cider drinking and dancing in car parks it's disappointing and as technical problems halt the show many people leave before the restart.

Tyde (folk)
Over the four days there are many other great gigs in the Concert tent. Tyde's mellow farewell on Friday is beset as ever with technical problems, this time just guitar pickups and not an exploding PA. Québécois band Genticorum serve up French language psychedelic folk country songs about food, which are a real treat. Harmonica man Will Pound features in two terrific sets, both with a strong American feel. Playing alongside Andy Cutting with blues-folk great Martin Simpson on Saturday night he doesn't seem a bit phased. All the more impressive as they are on after the genuine American Bluesman Spider John Koerner on his first gigging visit to the UK in nearly thirty years.

Will Pound And Dan Walsh
With pal clawhammer Dan Walsh knocking out Bluegrass as Walsh and Pound on Sunday afternoon he is in his element. By contrast in Chris Woods and Andy Cutting the English tradition is fairly well personified. The instrumental Gaelic tradition is fantastically represented by Kan a band formed by members of current top ranked group Lau and old favourites Flook. Their Sunday night set attracts many interested ears in from the surrounding campsite to check out the epic sound they produce. Original horn section folkies Brass Monkey complete the bill with a grand final Concert on Monday night.

As well as appearing with Roy Bailey and Brass Monkey, Martin Carthy also took a big part in Sunday night's 'English Music Concert Party' Towersey's cosy Village Hall. Played acoustically in this confined space with the audience only inches from the artists the songs were in their natural habitat. With choruses like "Don't go in them lion's cage tonight, Mother, them lions is ferocious and they bite!" at such close range only those who nodded off didn't join in. Earlier on the Sunday in the otherwise abandoned 'den' Martin Carthy gave a fascinating talk on range of subjects including the Skiffle phenomenon and the after effects it's bubble bursting in the late 1950s had on his generation of great folk musicians just starting out in their careers.

around the festival site (1)
As the seniors gave their concert in the Village Hall over the road in the tranquil surrounds of St Catherine's Church 'In the Young Tradition' featured some the current crop of Young folk musicians. Aforementioned Walsh and Pound were even more impressive unplugged, Irish instrumentalists Cinnte divine, and Spinndrift heavenly. In the daytime the church is a great refuge, the delicious Tea and Cakes served by a gang of grey goddesses are the best value snacking of the Festival. It's well worth getting a cuppa and taking a pew to view some interesting images in an exhibition of photographs from previous year's festivals.

around the festival site (2)
Nearby to the Church and Village Hall Towersey's village pub the Three Horseshoes is open to all, no ticket required. Friday's official opening ceremony takes place in the pub's beer garden with songs from Village Voices and words from the Village Festival Committee's President and Chairperson as well as the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire. Joan Gleeson, one of the organisers of the first event, reminds us of the Festivals journey from Village Day to tightly run Festival. Once the words are over, in the car park the dancing begins.

around the festival site (Morris sides)
Home side Towersey Morris Men give the first of many hundreds of traditional dances to take place over the weekend. On Monday the car park is packed with blacked up, ghillie-suited Border dancers from sides such as Armaleggan contrasting with the bright white and bells of Cotswold sides like Capering Crew. They take turns to show off their styles and feats of synchronised athleticism to each other and a ring of spectators. The North-Western tradition's more martial style is under represented, but one side does turn up, boldly marching into the ring banging their big drum, dance then march off again. For those not too put off by the jangling bells or sinister make-up there's good beer and a great day's entertainment to be had at the pub.

Back on the main site every day from late morning to late night the Showground teems with day and season ticket holders. Last year the enclosed, seated Arena was replaced by an open plan arrangement with performance spaces in the Showground. This year a compromise has been found, the seats are back, but flanking the Market Square performance space. Here show after show delights a crowd comfortable, but not captive, in the banked seating. Both Goronwy Thom and Chippolatas have audiences laughing out loud as they juggle and joke their way through fantastic street clowning performances. Wyndebagge gives a marvellous comic history of pipe music 'Carry in Crumhorning' illustrated with yak horns, sackbuts and bone pipes. Frumptarn Guggenband's impressive drum and brass sound carries across the showground accompanied by claps and whoops from the audience as they enjoy the results of Barnsley meeting Bavaria. World's first and only formation shopping trolley dance team Granny Turismo cruise the Showground blasting out 80s hip hop from pimped-up Segway scooters. For the more traditionally minded Morris showcases from accomplished sides like Great Western, King Johns and Pig Dyke Molly are on throughout the weekend. As ever the Beer Tent is a hub with sessions, impromptu dances and singalongs filling the gaps between these shows.

around the festival site (2)
Traders line the perimeter of the showground. Foodwise there are some great eating options to choose from: The Rusty Pelican takes control of the Café tent this year with decent hot food and a great salad bar. Fans of the farinaceous can enjoy Pandemania's gorgeous wood oven baked pizzas, for pie eaters there's Pie Minister and last years favourite caterers Pura da Vida are back with their magic Mexican wraps and nachos. An unusual stall selling fine quality sheep and reindeer skins supplements the standard range of ethnic-y bits and pieces. The Village Hall fundraiser tombola and tat fair is popular as ever, with strong demand for old suitcases and musty clothes. The craft tent has a good selection of wares from provenders, potters and leatherworkers. Polished bouzoukis, hammered dulcimers, accordions and fiddles are on sale in the Music fair, many at jaw dropping prices.

Facilities are pretty good at Towersey. No tardises here, flushing ceramic toilets and urinals are the norm and hold up tolerably well to some intense use. There does seem to be a shortage on the campsites, a situation made worse by closures as the pooh wagons can't get through the mud to empty the units and then exacerbated by an overnight power failure stopping their pumps working and causing overflows. Not nice, but very quickly dealt with so only early risers faced a long cross-legged wait for their constitutional. Showers are provided and well used, with queue lengths not unreasonable.

around the festival site (2)
Widespread tankard use reduces the numbers of abandoned plastic cups littering the floor as seen at other events. Towersey Wombles work to keep the site nicely tidy with the help from a fantastic provision, and use, of recycling bins. Often a 'landfill only' wheelie bin will be nearly empty whereas the 'recycle with Towersey' next to it is full. A Green ethos has long been a strong current in Folk and here its always gone further than a bit of tidying up, it has become part of the Festival. Saturday's Ceilidh with Hekety invites people to dress up in their preloved charity shop best and features a hilarious wheelie bin dance from Morris side Great Western. The Kids project for the weekend is 'Flower Power' they paint and decorate a green power station in the centre of their dedicated space. On campsites there are full size skips for sorting rubbish into, which people actually use. Around eighty five percent of the waste produced on site is recycled, including the traders food waste, much of which is recycled as compost for the village allotments. Rainbow coloured low energy LED festoon lighting illuminates the Showground. Seventy plus cubic metres of chippings thrown down to keep the mud from clogging all movement on site are sourced and chipped locally. Towersey sets a great example to kids, grown ups and other festivals.

An anonymous line scribbled on the Den's Wordwall sums it up nicely, "In a world like this beauty hides itself in the strangest of places, Towersey is one of those places." Here there is an authentic, distinctly folkie kind of beauty. Not kitsch, seldom glossy, colourful sometimes and full of contrasts. Extravagantly costumed Morris dancers, Edison wax cylinder gramophones, Ken Bruce's Red Bus, Red Kites patrolling crisp blue skies, polished maple mandolas, painted dancing dolls or decorated pewter tankards, all show character in spades.

Musically the beauty is in part enigmatic, esoteric. With many hundreds of acts over the five days on a dozen different stages those special moments of magic can be well hidden. They can either be sought out or waited on; either way good fortune and receptivity are required. GPS will locate this Oxfordshire village but not find the Festival. It happens in the campsites and along the roads, it's on the showground in the Church, at the Pub and in the Village Hall. The Dance House, Concert and Ceilidh tents provide the main attractions but this August Bank Holiday weekend it's the people who make the forty-sixth Towersey 'Another Lovelier World'.

around the festival site (Morris sides)
review by: Ian Wright

photos by: James Creaser

Thursday 26th to Monday 30th August 2010
Towersey, Thame, Oxon, OX9 3QU, England MAP
£104 adult weekend ticket (Camping £18 extra)
last updated: Thu 5th Aug 2010

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