Our vis­it to Kite fes­ti­val, set in gen­tle coun­try­side close to Oxford, was pret­ty much based on the fact that Grace Jones was set to head­line on the Sat­ur­day night – not that there weren’t plen­ty of oth­er attrac­tive propo­si­tions through­out this new music and ideas event. Chat­ting to peo­ple around the site it appears we weren’t alone in being there for Grace – one lady had dri­ven down from Edin­burgh to see her.

Things all looked good as we arrived. Kite is set in the ver­dant grounds of a beau­ti­ful Pal­la­di­an house and the weath­er behaved beau­ti­ful­ly with the sun cast­ing a flat­ter­ing glow and colour­ful fes­ti­val flags flut­ter­ing in the breeze. A mean­der through the site to famil­iarise our­selves took – well – only a few min­utes or so. A hand­ful of stages mixed with Black­well’s book­shop, a record shop, lots of vintage‑y clothes and a small but var­ied col­lec­tion of food out­lets. Oh, and a big Heav­en­ly stage for sev­er­al of the zeit­geisty label’s artists, includ­ing Con­fi­dence Man.

We eased into Sat­ur­day by head­ing into the ‘big tent’ – called The Forum – for the first dis­cus­sion of a pro­gramme curat­ed by Tor­toise. David Olu­so­ga and William Dal­rym­ple dis­cussed the ever chang­ing role of his­to­ry and his­to­ri­ans, with Emi­ly Benn pre­sid­ing. This proved to be a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sion which real­ly could have run on and on, had it been allowed. The talk inevitably cov­ered colo­nial­ism and its effects… and the issue of his­to­ri­ans and their increas­ing­ly politi­cised role. The Forum tent (dou­bling as the evening’s main stage) was an ade­quate size for some of the talks that took place but oth­er ‘talk tents’ were too small and too open to the ele­ments, with the inevitable sound bleed that hap­pens when things are a lit­tle squished on a small site. We were unable to get even close to the tent where Ai Wei­Wei was appearing. 

The Pod was the loca­tion for a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sion called “How to make a hit pod­cast”, with Jamie Bartlett – cre­ator of the thrilling Miss­ing Cryp­to Queen – and Alexi Mostrous of Sweet Bob­by fame, which I’m lis­ten­ing to this week, inspired by this talk – result! Both have cre­at­ed pod­casts which deal with var­i­ous scams but they were at Kite to talk about how to struc­ture a pod­cast and tell its sto­ry suc­cess­ful­ly; they also explored how to cre­ate cliffhang­ers and dis­cussed the ways they dealt with prob­lems that pod­casts can run into, such as how to present mate­r­i­al in an orig­i­nal and fresh way. 

Oth­er talks I attend­ed were Jarvis Cock­er who loped onto the stage with a black rub­bish sack, the con­tain­er for a mot­ley col­lec­tion of items: ephemera from dif­fer­ent parts of his life, which he pro­ceed­ed to elab­o­rate on. It was a gen­tle and humor­ous event. Lat­er, Delia Smith put cook­ing aside to talk about her new book, ini­tial­ly refused by six pub­lish­ers, which deals with a more spir­i­tu­al side of life. 

There were small stages with music through­out the day but the main music pro­gramme got into gear in the evening. The Forum tent cleared the day’s seat­ing in order to host four artists and their bands. Good to see that Kite has – whether inten­tion­al­ly or oth­er­wise – redressed the issue of those much crit­i­cised male-heavy fes­ti­val line­ups to host what we referred to as Four Feisty Females. Mavis Sta­ples, all of 82, lead the pro­ceed­ings with a hit-heavy run of songs such as If You’re Ready. She was cheered by all, as much for her spir­it as for her music. Some dread­ed tech­ni­cal glitch­es hit her set at the mid­way point – well, it was a new fes­ti­val, and although the audi­ence game­ly took over singing, the out­age went on for too long and slight­ly spoiled the flow.

St Eti­enne were next up and got cheers for their old mate­r­i­al such as Only Love Can Break Your Heart, He’s On The Phone and Noth­ing Can Stop Us. Sarah Crack­nell – who inci­den­tal­ly released a solo album in 2015 called Red Kite (and yes, she does live local­ly) – also suf­fered from tech­ni­cal issues as her vocals were too low in the mix and con­se­quent­ly the set lost some of its force. 

Self Esteem has been wow­ing stages at fes­ti­vals and gigs ever since her lat­est album Pri­ori­tise Plea­sure came out and her pow­er­ful stage per­for­mance and the chore­og­ra­phy with her three back­ing singers is riv­et­ing. Her anthemic mate­r­i­al sends out a per­son­al and pow­er­ful mes­sage. How­ev­er her set was cut short due to the tech­ni­cal issues and she was vis­i­bly dis­tressed. She man­aged to recov­er and played a fab­u­lous set which includ­ed mate­r­i­al from the lat­est album, includ­ing How Can I Help You and I Do This All The Time.

I last saw Grace Jones at Fes­ti­val No 6 in 2015 and it was quite evi­dent that age is not dim­ming this for­mi­da­ble woman one bit. She sashayed onto the stage for Nigh­club­bing, wear­ing a dra­mat­ic gold mask, and spent the entire set strut­ting her stuff, main­ly in a pair of tot­ter­ing­ly high heels paired with a black corset. She played a prop­er fes­ti­val set, rolling out many of the big hits like Demo­li­tion Man and La Vie en Rose. She looked gen­uine­ly pleased to see the audi­ence and at one point came down into the pho­tog­ra­pher’s pit on the shoul­ders of a stage crew mem­ber to grab at any hands that came her way. And she’s still hula hoop­ing through Slave To The Rhythm.

This is not an easy year to launch a fes­ti­val – it’s a sat­u­rat­ed mar­ket (see the recent Guardian arti­cle here for just some of the prob­lems faced)… and even some estab­lished fes­ti­val names have tak­en longer than usu­al to sell out. 

How­ev­er we thought Kite was a real treat – a gen­tle, well run, friend­ly event and a thought­ful and intel­li­gent line­up. Both the music and ideas pro­grammes had an extreme­ly high cal­i­bre of artists. There were a few teething prob­lems which hope­ful­ly will be ironed out for next year. We’ll cer­tain­ly plan to return.

KITE fes­ti­val

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