28/08/12..Where cross-dressing, tie-dye & 'blacking up' is still acceptable -
YEAR after year, folk music fans make their way from all over the country, and from much further afield, to a tiny corner of Oxfordshire, near Thame, for the Towersey Village Festival.
This year, over the August Bank Holiday, Towersey held its 48th annual arts and music festival, welcoming a crowd of between 8-10,000 people. Among this year's big-draw names were The South (formerly 'The Beautiful South', Bellowhead and Kathryn Tickell as well as other well-known, popular and seasoned musicians, like the amazing, 'marching band-meets folk,' Brass Monkey, celebrating 30 years in the business.
Among Saturday's gems, under a beautiful sky of alternate grey thunderclouds and clear, blue spells of sunshine, down from the Treacle mines (so they said), The Seven Champions Molly Dancers, with their blacked up faces and garb of tattered, black strips, clog danced for the families gathered at the Market Square Showground. They were followed by the very scary, Beltane Border Morris in black, fishnet tights (and that included the men!). 'Boots and Banjos' from the nearby village of Haddenham, skilfully demonstrated the art of Appellation dancing, which apparently started in Britain, was exported to the United States and has since returned to its homeland.
In The Big Club tent, with its added attraction of a bar with several interesting ciders to chose from, popular 'Geordie', Jez Lowe, proved very popular, finishing with a highly amusing composition of his own, called: "The ex pitmen's Pot-holing Pub Quiz Team"
In a separate outdoor entertainment space, known as The Rope Circle, one of the most energetic, original and mad-cap acts ever seen at Towersey, 'Junk', really got the crowd 'bopping' and clapping, using a variety of percussion instruments made out of - well, junk. These included upside-down, blue water butts played as drums, a metre-length of white, plastic piping played like a didgeridoo and a series of different sized pipes, stuck in the ground and played by slapping a couple of old flip-flops over the open ends - a kind of junk yard, instrumental and vocal version of Stomp. Amazing!
In the evening, Reggae-met-folk accordian, when 'Edward ll' got the party going, following a truly original, Breton tradional-jazz fusion band that I for one shall be following up on, called 'Esquisse'.
Other highlights of the weekend included a hands-on art project by Aylesbury Youth Action, a series of performances by pupils from Lord Williams's School, and a just-married couple who, as longstanding Towersey Festival-goers, insisted they take their blessings at the festival!
While other large scale Bank Holiday events around the UK fell foul to the British weather (notably Creamfields in Cheshire), Towersey fared very well.
“Considering the summer we’ve had it went really well,” said Festival Co-Director Joe Heap. “It was mostly dry with only one or two showers, and the ground took it well. We were very lucky.”
The festival also survived a third appearance from BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Bellowhead on Friday night (Aug 24) as both previous Towersey shows by the 11-piece band resulted in damaged dance floors!
“Venue 65 was packed to the rafters, and the band and the audience tried their best, but the floor survived,” laughed Joe. “We made sure we extra secured the floor before their show. The dancing crowd did their darnedest, but thankfully it remained intact.”
The accompanying Towersey Real Ale and Cider Festival featured 27 real ales, ciders and perries with Summer Lightning voted Champion Ale by visitors. A 5% golden ale brewed in Wiltshire by Hopback Brewery, Summer Lightning was voted third in 2011’s festival. I'm not too sure about the new token system for drinks though. If you fancy another drink in the middle of a concert, you have to leave the venue, go back out into the show ground and by tokens from a kiosk. I guess it means you have to plan your drinking in advance - probably not a bad thing all-in-all.
Currently on-site and beginning the process of clearing the fields, Joe concluded: “I’d like to thank everyone who came and thanks too to an amazing crew – roll on our 49th and 50th festivals!”
The next Towersey Festival will, once again, take place over the August Bank Holiday - from Thursday 22 to Monday 26 August 2013. Tickets go on sale late autumn.
PHOTO: 'Junk' take a bow at Towersey 2012