Guid­ed into my park­ing space by a con­voy of friend­ly, and most­ly old­er, stew­ards, I’m struck by how well organ­ised Tow­ersey Fes­ti­val is. Although to be fair, they’ve had plen­ty of prac­tice, as this year marks Tow­ersey’s 50th Birth­day celebration.

Tow­ersey Fes­ti­val is an insti­tu­tion on the local cal­en­dar, with a ded­i­cat­ed and enthu­si­as­tic fan base, many of whom arrive ear­ly on the first morn­ing to claim their camp­ing spot. No sea of minia­ture pop up tents meets the eye here, this is seri­ous tent ter­ri­to­ry, with kitchen areas filled with equip­ment to rival Gor­don Ram­say, and mar­quees act­ing as the social hub for vast fam­i­ly get togethers.

My last Tow­ersey Fes­ti­val was three years ago, when I fell in love with Salt­fish Forty, 3 Daft Mon­keys, and the Mon­ster Ceilidh Band. I’m hop­ing to be sim­i­lar­ly entranced by some of the acts  today. The first rec­om­men­da­tion is for an upbeat young band called Rusty Shack­le, who are play­ing in the beer tent at lunchtime, and they cer­tain­ly feel like a sol­id out­fit with a good future ahead of them.

The Big Club Tent, which was recon­fig­ured a cou­ple of years ago, is a capa­cious seat­ed venue where late­com­ers can enjoy the music while bask­ing in the sun­shine out­side. The after­noon sees one of the fes­ti­val high­lights – a con­cert ded­i­cat­ed to Top­ic Records. Screens show a visu­al pot­ted his­to­ry of this ven­er­at­ed label. The first half of the con­cert pro­gress­es some­what akin to a relay race: a cou­ple of artists per­form a song, one artists leaves and anoth­er is intro­duced and so on, build­ing a thread between them.The place is filled to capac­i­ty and the audi­ence are clear­ly enrap­tured by the star billing of lumi­nar­ies such as Eliza Carthy and Mar­tin Carthy.

After half of the con­cert I’m urged to join friends enjoy­ing a Cajun cou­ple, Sheryl and Rus­sell Cour­mi­er. So we leave the fes­ti­val site and walk along the lane, arriv­ing at the pic­turesque vil­lage church, where the cou­ple are hold­ing a Q&A ses­sion inter­spersed with delight­ful tasters of their won­der­ful Cajun sound. They play Jam­bal­aya and their own com­po­si­tion, La Boutille, which prompts sev­er­al cou­ples to start danc­ing in the aisle.

St Catherine's Church / Towersey Folk Festival

Lat­er, back at the fes­ti­val site, evening approach­es and there is a pal­pa­ble fris­son in the air. Tow­ersey’s more dancey music venue, Venue 65, becomes the focus for the evening’s enter­tain­ment and cars begin to roll in for Seth Lake­man’s impend­ing appear­ance. Just a quick aside about Venue 65 – it’s prob­a­bly the most ‘work­able’ big tent I’ve seen at any fes­ti­val. At the back are a few rows of tiered seat­ing, there’s a prop­er bar at one side (with draft ciders and beers, not just bot­tles), a small out­side area, and a beau­ti­ful­ly lit stage. As there is no pho­tog­ra­phers pit, you can stand at the stage’s edge, and the soft floor has spring in it, per­fect for dancing.

The first evening’s act is Geor­gia Ruth, a soft­ly-spo­ken and mod­est young Welsh singer/songwriter and mul­ti instru­men­tal­ist from Aberys­t­wyth, who has jus­ti­fi­ably won prizes such as the Welsh Music Prize 2013. Her voice has a touch­ing clear puri­ty and when teamed with the harp stirs some­thing in the soul. There have been com­par­isons made between her and some of the 60s stars of folk. The song Map­ping reminds me of ear­ly Joni Mitchell in the phras­ing. Her com­po­si­tions such as Week of Pines are haunt­ing­ly beau­ti­ful and the sound of the harp ele­vates the songs.

Georgia Ruth at Towersey Festival

Seth Lake­man is a return­ing Tow­ersey per­former, and his entrance onto the stage is greet­ed with waves of affec­tion from the audi­ence. The band com­mence with The Couri­er, a strong and dra­mat­ic song from his lat­est album Word of Mouth. The song has the per­fect mea­sure of excite­ment with its rous­ing vio­lin, dra­ma, and trib­al drums set the tone of the evening. Already the audi­ence are start­ing to gath­er as one, and it’s not long before the floor starts to bounce beneath our feet, echo­ing the beat­ing of the drum. A few num­bers along, and a parade of glow­ing, colour-chang­ing bal­loons are brought in among the audi­ence, adding a touch of fes­ti­val drama.

Balloons at Towersey Festival

Seth is a con­sum­mate per­former, pol­ished, com­mu­nica­tive, with a superbly tal­ent­ed band, includ­ing Lis­bee Stain­ton who adds vocals, and Ben Nicholls (also from The Full Eng­lish), with a mag­nif­i­cent dou­ble bass. The set takes in more songs from his new album, such as Por­trait of my Wife (the album is a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of songs which Seth put togeth­er from sto­ries he had heard from locals of his native Corn­wall and Devon). Oth­er num­bers are from Tales from the Bar­rel House and there’s Take No Rogues from Free­dom Fields, his 2006 album. It is a bril­liant, daz­zling and exhil­a­rat­ing set and Seth ful­ly deserves the rap­tur­ous applause.

Seth Lakeman at Towersey Festival

I would love to see Lau in their entire­ty, instead of the intrigu­ing half-set that I hear after Seth’s set. Their del­i­cate mate­r­i­al needs to be enjoyed in a more peace­ful and con­tained envi­ron­ment – but as hap­pens at fes­ti­vals there is a crossover, so they remain on my ‘to see’ list

Overview: There is much to enjoy at Tow­ersey – the Ceilidh tent where you can learn all the steps, and which is in full flow for much of the day; thought­ful and mul­ti­far­i­ous chil­dren’s activ­i­ties, includ­ing a climb­ing wall; and the craft tent where pot­ters and jew­ellery mak­ers sell their work. Oh and the film ses­sions, my part­ner joined a small band of peo­ple who watched The Mooman, an engag­ing, charm­ing and inter­est­ing film about a dairy farmer.

The toi­let facil­i­ties are excel­lent, offer­ing prop­er flush toi­lets and run­ning water, as opposed to the increas­ing­ly usu­al hand gel option. My only crit­i­cisms is that there could be a few more food stalls, offer­ing slight­ly more unusu­al fare. And day vis­i­tors would be bet­ter pro­vid­ed with wrist­bands rather than extreme­ly easy-to-lose tick­ets, which con­stant­ly need show­ing to the stewards.

This is Tow­ersey’s last year at its cur­rent venue. It is a quirky and charm­ing site, split between the two venues, with the addi­tion of some local vil­lage stops. From next year the fes­ti­val will be sit­ed at Thame Show­ground where things will be more stream­lined, but one hopes, retain the quirk­i­ness that makes Tow­ersey such a plea­sure. So for now – Hap­py 50th Birth­day to Towersey.


WHO: Tow­ersey Fes­ti­val;
WHEN: August 21–25 August, 2014
WHERE: Oxfordshire
TICKETS: £40 for day, fes­ti­val plus camp­ing £135 approx

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