Towersey Festival announces top names

Towersey

Hothouse Flowers, Seth Lakeman, Steve Harley, and The Unthanks are among the acts headlining the 55th Towersey Festival.

The annual four-day folk and roots festival takes place from 23-26 August 2019, in Thame, Oxfordshire, and also boasts appearances from folk rock legends Oysterband, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Two-Tone heroes The Selecter, and shanty singers Fisherman’s Friends.

Former buskers, Hothouse Flowers hit the international stage when Dublin hosted the Eurovision Song Content in 1988. Since performing as an ‘interval act’, they’ve forged a reputation as a blistering live band, combining rock, soul and folk.

Steve Harley emerged from the London acoustic scene in the early 1970s and set the charts alight. A contemporary of Bowie and T.Rex, his hits include summer anthem ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and the enduring ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’.

Five years from his last appearance at the festival, Seth Lakeman arrives in the wake of an acclaimed globe-trotting stint as part of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters. Expect to hear tracks from across the West Country musician’s career, including ninth album The Well Worn Path.

Remarkably, The Unthanks first ever live gig was at Towersey in 2004. Fifteen years on, and the Mercury Prize-nominated band have established themselves as one of contemporary music’s most inspiring, surprising and enquiring acts.

Also returning are Fisherman’s Friends. A huge success with audiences at 2018’s festival, the story of their incredible rise from Port Issac’s quayside to the UK album charts has now been turned into a film starring James Purefoy and Daniel Mays (in cinemas from 15 March 2019).

Others joining the line-up include Welsh/ African duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, winners of the fRoots Album of the Year 2018 Critics Poll; Show Of Hands’ guitarist Steve Knightley; BBC Scots Trad Music Award 2018’s Best Live Act, Elephant Sessions; and representing an exciting new generation of British singer-songwriters, troubadours Beans On Toast and Will Varley.

Towersey Festival Director Joe Heap said: “After an amazing 2018, we’ve really set out to capture what people love so much about the festival.

“As a result, 2019 is one of our most exciting and eclectic line-ups, with some of the biggest names in folk and roots music, from Seth and The Unthanks to shanty superstars Fisherman’s Friends, alongside major musicians from across the British Isles, Africa, and North America. There’s also the usual collection of names, such as Beans On Toast, who may be new to Towersey audiences, but who we know they’ll love.

“There’ll be loads of other surprises too,” enthuses Joe, who adds that further announcements are to follow shortly, including details of Saturday night’s headliner and more information about the festival’s celebration of the life and work of musician, tutor, activist and Towersey Patron Roy Bailey, who sadly passed away in November.

Situated in easy reach of London and Birmingham, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border, and established in 1965, Towersey is one of the UK’s longest running independent music festivals. Boasting nine venues, alongside an extensive music programme the festival also features over 30 hours of ceilidh, daily workshops, well-stocked bars, street food, spoken word, film screenings, roaming performers, an acclaimed programme of activities for children and younger festival-goers, and more.

Tickets for Towersey Festival, which runs from Friday 23 to Monday 26 August 2019 at Thame Showground in Oxfordshire, are available now (Tier 2) from £129 (adult), £120 (conc), £90 (youth), £65 (child). For further information, and to book, see: www.towerseyfestival.com

Dave Whetstone talks about returning to The Resolution

Dave Whetstone

“Why did I stop?” asks melodeon player Dave Whetstone, as he prepares to return to the stage for only the second time in twenty years. It’s a fair question.

Dave had been a key player in the 1970s folk/ dance scene, who’d been turned onto “the notion of a dance band” after his band, Hemlock, visited Towersey village’s vibrant folk club, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border. As a result, the band changed direction to become The Hemlock Cock And Bull Band, and then simply the Cock And Bull Band.

“When we first went [to Towersey’s folk club] Jean-Pierre [Rasle] was not playing the bagpipes and I didn’t have a melodeon. I didn’t know what a melodeon was! I sent off from one and got it in the post – that was around 1977/1978, and Jean-Pierre knew some chaps in France [with pipes], so we started playing tunes with Dennis [Manners] calling,” Dave recalls. “At that time there were the New Victory Band, The Old Swan Band, doing variations to the repertoire.”

Dave went on to The Albion Band/ The Albion Dance Band, formed the well-regarded Waz! with Maartin Allcock (Fairport) and Pete Zorn, and released a well-regarded solo album, The Resolution, in 1996, with Allcock, Zorn, Dave Lockwood and Simon Nicol.

Dave WhetstoneThe Resolution was surprisingly very well received,” reports Dave. “It got reviews in Q and various other magazines, it was very well received, and we did a few ceilidhs with that line-up, but not with Simon as he was so busy with Fairport Convention, so we got in another guitarist.”

But within a couple of years, despite mounting acclaim for Waz!, Dave simply felt it was time to move on.

“I can’t remember the exact sequence,” he says. “The Resolution came out and I did the trio thing (Waz!), which was a short lived thing, maybe a year or so getting work. I didn’t really enjoy it enough. I’d been doing music and tunes since the mid-70s with Jean-Pierre, music has always been with me, music courses through my veins, but I like to do other things – like riding a bike, family …

“There’s a difference between a musician and a performer and I considered myself a musician – with a small ‘m’; I don’t read music, I feel it – I’m not a performer, though some of the most enjoyment I’ve had from playing has been at ceilidhs.

“I haven’t done a great amount of music, but there’s been Cock And Bull and with Jean-Pierre with melodeon and bagpipes. I quite like the idea of singing, but that’s not me. I put a lot into it for a long time and it was all very interesting … but I didn’t want to pursue all that.

“Why did I hang up my melodeon? It felt like I’d lost interest in it, there was a feeling of being overly constrained by it.”

So he stopped.

“I make decisions like this. I’m not a hoarder – if things need to change, I’m not scared. I did the Albion Band for a time, and I knew that was not me and I stopped. I didn’t shirk from making the change. Either it fits or it doesn’t.”

He continued to play at home, in private – mandolin and guitar – but then in 2014, Towersey Festival, scene of many fondly remembered performances, invited the Cock And Bull Band to reunite as a one-off. The show was a huge success which Dave enjoyed, though didn’t feel the need to repeat. But the idea of performing The Resolution in full was something different. He pitched the possibility of a Resolution show to Towersey who were excited, so Dave called on Martin Brinsford (Brass Monkey, Old Swan Band) and Benji Kirkpartrick (Faustus, The Transports, Bellowhead) for assistance, who were also enthusiastic.

“I haven’t played out since Towersey 2014, and before that, not since 1998, since The Resolution. I play a lot more freely now … so I’m looking forward to playing now, in a more expansive way,” he says. “I like playing but playing is only part of it. I like it simple. With Martin and Benji, it’s something very specific, for a very specific thing, and that’s easy.”

As the trio to prepare to make their one and only performance at Towersey Festival on Friday 24 August 2018, Dave reports that things are “sounding good” and that the set-list, though focused on his solo album, will span his career.

After some thought, he picks a few of his personal highlights.

“The tune ‘The Resolution’, I s’pose it was intended to be, not square the circle, but something like that. It’s a waltz tune – I can go to it and it’s a very calming tune. I think they all do different things, but there is some kind of fulfilment with The Resolution.

“There are simple ones, ‘like Hotfoot 2’, which in on a row, no chords, it’s so simple you can go just on and one. It’s very deceptive … good for dancing.

“And there are more recent ones, like ‘Mind Your Manners’, which is a Morris jig I concocted for Towersey in 2014. It’s simple, efficient. I wrote it for Dennis [Manners]; it’s only ever been done once, so this will only be the second time.

“There are also some tunes that pre-date The Resolution, like from The Albion Dance Band’s Shuffle Off – ‘Frog Is For Jumping/ Beetle On The Wine’. They are tunes I concocted around 1983 and are the opening tunes on the album.

“I think they’re tunes that are played in sessions now. Brinsford said I had to play it, ‘… that’s one of your hits!’ They may have entered the repertoire now,” he says proudly.

As Dave prepares to take his leave, there’s just one question: why Towersey?

“Towersey is special … it always had a feel about it – there was something homely, safe about it,” he says. “Towersey always held a special place.”

Dave Freak

* Whetstone Brinsford Kirkpatrick play Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire, on Friday 24 August 2018. The festival runs from Friday 24 to Monday 27 August 2018 and also features appearances from Richard Thompson, The Proclaimers, The Shires, Big Country (Acoustic), Sharon Shannon, Fisherman’s Friends, Peter Knight and John Spiers, Roy Bailey, and The Pink Weasel Big Band (a one-off team-up of Tickled Pink and Whapwesel). For more information and tickets see: www.towerseyfestival.com

‘Donkey Riding/Buffalo Girls’ by the Hemlock Cock And Bull Band all those years ago:

Damien O’Kane talks to Dave Freak

Damien O'Kane 2

Hailing from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, banjo-playing singer and arranger Damien O’Kane certainly ruffled a few feathers with his recent solo album, Areas Of High Traffic. Featuring a selection of (as he rightly says) “great songs” they’re given a surprising sheen by O’Kane and his band, while the publicity images depict very urban, contemporary, scenes – all blurred traffic lights and graffiti. Very much rooted in the Celtic folk tradition it may musically be, but it doesn’t sound, or look, like your average folk album. Nonetheless, it’s deservedly wowed critics and listeners alike.

On stage since he was 13, performing with The O’Kane Family Band, Damien’s since gone on to partner with Shona Kilping and joined Flook (winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group in 2006 with them), before embarking on a solo career, teaming up with David Kosky, and forming a professional and personal relationship with Yorkshire songstress Kate Rusby.

Prior to autumn dates with Kate, O’Kane’ll be playing with her, as well as appearing solo, at Oxfordshire’s Towersey Festival 2016, in August.

Areas Of High Traffic had some incredible reviews, and was (of course) nominated for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award; any thoughts on why the album has made such an impact, and resonated with so many people?

Mmmmm. Sonically it is pretty different to most folk albums that came out last year, or at least the ones that I heard. I wanted a ‘big band’ sound for this album, with a kit and a more overall ‘modern’ sound to coat the fantastic traditional songs I’d chosen (bar one original song on the album). I have an eclectic taste in music having grown up listening to all sorts, from Techno/Dance Music right down to those classic Planxty albums or early Paul Brady material. I always wanted to try and marry the new with the old and I haven’t really had the courage until this album to do it. The album has more influences than just the aforementioned though. The other members of the band, Cormac Byrne on drums and percussion – Steven Iveson on electric guitar and Anthony Davis on keys/synths/pads and more, brought some of their musical experiences to the table and it resulted in a hugely enjoyable time in the studio. Together they cover blues, jazz, electronica and many more genres of traditional material. I brought all the material, all the chords and a shape for the songs, with a different sonic palette in mind for them and we all seemed to ‘pull on the same rope’, which was fantastic. I wanted an ambient, rocky, dancy feel to a lot of the material and I’m really chuffed how the album finished up.

I also think people are a lot more open minded to change these days. It is not such a shock anymore as there are so many interesting things going on in traditional music right now.

The theme of ‘family’ seems to link many of the songs, either in terms of subject or your decision to include – from ‘The Blacksmith’, which you remember hearing at an early age, to the more obvious ‘The Goddaughter’ and ‘Interlude For Mama’. Did you set out with that theme in mind when you were planning the album?

No, I didn’t set out with a ‘family’ theme, but I am hugely influenced and eternally grateful to my family who have supported and encouraged my music career from the very start. My folks introduced us (my three brothers, two sisters and I) to traditional music at a very early age and started sending us to classes. I have loved it since then. A huge number of children nowadays don’t even get the chance to play music and it is an ever declining ‘priority’ in schools from what I can see. That is a very sad thing. When I play music, Irish traditional music, I feel a huge sense of identity and family.

You’ve referred to the book Folk Singing in North Derry: Shamrock, Rose and Thistle as your “‘bible’ of folk songs” – when did you first come across the collection?

I first came across this book around 2008/2009 when I was introduced to a great collector of Irish traditional music and song, Jackie Devenney. Jackie hails from Coleraine in Co. Derry, like myself, and I was incredibly surprised to learn of Jackie and of the wealth of repertoire we boast in the north of Ireland. It is this material that excites me, songs with place names I recognise and places I played as a child. Shamrock, Rose and Thistle is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the songs but I feel attached to it as it was my first learning of all these homeland songs and I love to take the stories out and bring them to life.

What are some of the ‘interesting bits and bangy things’ that percussionist Cormac Byrne is credited as playing on the album?

Well, Cormac could make a pencil sharpener rhythmical! But he did some really interesting things on Areas Of High Traffic on triangles and weird shakers and washboards and other things that I didn’t even recognise! The most interesting bangy thing he used was a bucket! Yes a bucket. You can hear it on the second track ‘The Blacksmith’. It is literally a metal bucket turned upside down. Genius!

The album has a very distinctive urban look – graffiti and skyscrapers; what was the idea behind it? Was there a conscious decision to make it not look like ‘a folk album’?

There was definitely a conscious decision to make it look different. The music is very different to anything I’ve done before so I thought the look should be too. There’s hints of urban music influences throughout the album, it is overall a more mainstream sound and I wanted to depict that through the image as well. I am really not a fan of the ‘stand in a field with a guitar’ photo, which has almost become a stereotype of folk music, and it has always been, arguably more so now than ever, a lot more than this. The next generation are creating some incredible and new sounds with folk music and it’s a really great time to be a part of it. Folk music deserves as much press as any other genre of music but it is hugely difficult to compete with those big bands on big labels where copious amounts of money are spent on image, then comes the music!! So I guess the answer is yes, I didn’t want it to look like a stereotype. I wanted it to be more interesting and David Angel, the photographer for the album, is the king at being interesting. I gave him an idea and he brought it to life.

I understand that you’ve been working on a new album with guitarist David Kosky – will this be a direct follow-up to The Mystery Inch, or something different?

I can’t really say very much about this at the minute but I am indeed working on an album with David Kosky. But not just David! There is another key banjo player involved in the project who will be announced at some point over the net few months but there is a list of guests planned for the album I would never, ever have dreamt I would ever work with!

When do you think they’ll be another solo album to follow Areas Of High Traffic?

I am starting a new solo album in October and would like to have it finished before the end of the year. I waited so long between Summer Hill and Areas Of High Traffic, through no fault of my own, but I’d like to follow up with another. I had so much fun making Areas… and the other lads are excited to get going on another.

Any other plans, projects or collaborations coming up?

Actually, I’ve just finished Producing Kate Rusby’s new album. I have to say, and even though she’s my wife, this is a very, very exciting album and not one people will expect. It is called Life In A Paper Boat and will be released in October but I’m not telling you anymore! As for other plans/ projects/ collaborations coming up, they are all covered in the questions above! I need some time to spend with my family.

You’re appearing twice at Towersey Festival – have you played the festival before?

I think the last and only time I played at Towersey was back in 2007 when I was playing in a duo with piano accordion player extraordinaire, the brilliant Shona Kipling. I can just remember being quite nervous. At that point I wasn’t really used to playing at big festivals but I remember having a great time and having a few drinks after the gig! I’ve been back as a punter since and it’s one of those festivals that has a great festival atmosphere and there’s lots going on all day every day. I’m looking forward to this year where I get to perform with Kate Rusby on the Friday (26 Aug 2016) and my own band on the Saturday (27 Aug 2016).

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Artist’s website: damienokane.co.uk

In case it passed you by – ‘The Mystery Inch’:

Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making

New book celebrates half-century of much-loved Oxfordshire festival

The celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Towersey Festival continue with the publication of a new book.

Towersey 50Featuring 300 photographs, stories from festival-goers and interviews with many individuals who’ve shaped the much-loved annual event, Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making traces the festival’s history from its small-scale beginnings as a one day event in 1965, to its current position as one of the most significant and popular events in the annual folk festival diary.

Beginning with a brief history of the village, the book also includes newspaper reports and reviews, plus profiles of many of the key artists and acts who’ve entertained audiences, from Pam Ayres, Dave and Toni Arthur and the Cock And Bull Band, to Show Of Hands, Bellowhead, Eliza Carthy and Australia’s hairy Spooky Men’s Chorale. There are also contributions from regular attendees, who’ve grown up with, and been inspired by, the festival, turning annual attendance into a longstanding family tradition.

“The festival set out as a fundraising event to rescue the decaying Towersey Village Memorial Hall – a building that commemorated the 14 men who had lost their lives in the First World War,” writes author Derek Schofield. “In that first year (1965), it was a one-day village fete with morris dancing and a folk singing session in the pub barn. Its success can be measured by the money raised, the enjoyment of the day by the village residents and visitors, and by the fact that, in the following year, a three-day event was held.”

That second three-day event, attended by a few hundred people, has since spread over five days, and now attracts over 10,000 visitors to the Oxfordshire village. Discussing the festival’s appeal and longevity, Festival Patron Roy Bailey states: “Children play safely and many lifelong friendships have been developed here. People met here and got married here and generations of families return every year.”

Visiting the 1966 festival, the Thame Gazette asserted that Towersey was the ‘little village with the big ideas’. Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making shows those initial ideas have never lost their appeal.

Author Derek Schofield is a freelance writer and a former college manager. He edits the folk magazine, English Dance and Song, and has written on many aspects of the history of the folk music and dance revivals.

Derek Schofield’s Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making is published on 23 July 2014 by Mrs Casey Music Ltd, and is available priced £20 (plus £5 P&P) from: www.towerseyfestival.com. Copies can also be purchased at the 50th festival, which runs from Thursday 21 to Monday 25 August 2014, and includes performances from Richard Thompson, The Bootleg Beatles and Seth Lakeman, plus a celebration of 75 Years of Topic Records with Eliza Carthy and special guests.

Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making by Derek Schofield
Price: £20
Publisher: Mrs Casey Music Ltd
Publication Date: Wednesday 23 July 2014
Available: www.towerseyfestival.com
ISBN: 978-0-9547502-1-3