Tag Archives: oxford

Music is for Everyone: Folk Weekend Oxford 2017

Folk Weekend Oxford (21-23 April 2017) is in its 6th year this year and although it is largely volunteer-run, it punches way above its weight with a packed three-day programme for all ages. I’ve been back stewarding this year and it was great seeing some familiar faces and meeting lots of other folk music enthusiasts of all ages. The festival, whose patrons are Jackie Oates and Bellowhead’s John Spiers, has a truly inclusive ethos, believes that the arts are for everyone and most of the venues are fully accessible. At the stewards briefing we also learned some basic Makaton signs to use, my favourite being the one for cake. Ready for a weekend of music and fun!

Oxford Canal fwo2017

After leaving my bags with my Airbnb hosts on Friday afternoon and a delicious wood-fired pizza at The Rusty Bicycle off Cowley Road, I did a tour of Oxford’s charity shops and then headed to Wesley Memorial Church for my first stewarding shift at the opening concert of the festival with melodeon player and singer Ollie King, acoustic folk band with a Russian twist, KARA, and Jim Moray, who reminded me again why folk music is so relevant in today’s complex world by helping us to reflect on and make sense of what’s happening around us.

Opening Ceremony fwo2017

Saturday was a packed day which started with a performance by the festival choir (picture above) led by director Cat Kelly (read an interview with her here) on the Ashmolean Museum forecourt. All day there were morris performances in the town squares and lots of opportunities to join in, be it in the many ceilidhs (you never need to bring a partner and can learn all dances on the spot) or Scandinavian ‘bals’ or by learning a new skill, like playing the spoons, or making folk-related crafts.

I was glad that I had opted for another concert on Saturday afternoon as I caught Jackie Oates and Megan Henwood (their new EP ‘Wings’ is beautiful) who performed a stunning set of songs and harmonised perfectly, accompanied by guitar (Megan) and fiddle (Jackie). Their performance was followed by well-known Sheffield-based Melrose Quartet (picture below) showcasing their latest album ‘Dominion’. I spent the evening at St Barnabas Church in the Jericho area of Oxford stewarding at a ceilidh with musical accompaniment ably provided by The Discussion Topic (including a full drumset!). It was a lovely, energetic crowd of all ages and we got to join in a bit as well in our breaks.

Melrose Quartet fwo2017

Somehow the time always goes by way too fast on festival weekends and I decided to do my best to slow it down by attending a song writing workshop with Somerset singer-songwriter Ange Hardy (picture below) on Sunday morning. We tried our hands at different ways of approaching song writing, first using nursery rhymes as a structural starting point, then letting ourselves be guided by the memories evoked by scent and finally working with a drawing or picture. The next talk by Mike Heaney was entitled ‘The Complete and Utter History of Morris (in 60 minutes)’ and it was fascinating to learn a bit more about its origins and different morris dancing traditions from around the country.

songwriting workshop fwo2017

In the afternoon I headed back to Jericho for another ceilidh and dropped into The Quaker Meeting House on the way back into town, which was also one of the festival venues and has a fabulous flower garden – a nice spot for a break in the sun. Just like at Grinagog two weeks ago, we were lucky with the weather all weekend and I do hope this trend continues in the next few months.

stewards fwo2017

If you live in Oxford or are planning a visit, make sure you check out and support Folk Arts Oxford, the non-profit behind the festival, as they put on community events all year round. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival!

 

Ceilidhs, Fiddles & Fun For All Ages: Folk Weekend Oxford 2015

One of my favourite locations for festivals is right in the heart of a city. Folk Weekend Oxford, which took place from 17-19 April 2015, did not only successfully tick this particular box. It also managed to put on a veritable smorgasbord of folky entertainment for all ages for a whole weekend again. And all this was achieved by more volunteer hours Cat and her hard-working team probably care to remember – well done! Having joined as a weekend steward once more this year, it was again a great experience – and the weather played along nicely too for a change.

Splat the Rat

Even though I had decided I would take more of a chilled approach this time and not squeeze too many sets in too many of the fabulous venues in over the three days, Friday night started out with a pretty busy event. I helped running the ceilidh in the beautiful St. Barnabas church in Jericho, one of my favourite areas in Oxford (including the Illyria pottery shop with resident kitty Lucie Maud). Alas, just around the time we were supposed to have our stewards briefing on Friday afternoon, there was a fire at the iconic Randolph Hotel in the city centre. It not only kept the fire brigade busy for most of the evening, but also meant the first main concert at the (a little ominously named) Old Fire Station sadly had to be cancelled. Our dance event, which was sold out last year too, went ahead though and attracted nearly 200 enthusiastic ceilidh dancers of all ages. We had a wonderful evening with lots of laughs and many of the first-timers excitedly asking when the next dance night was going to be on (as it happened, on the following night).

Oxford Canal

After a hearty breakfast at our B&B I headed back into town along the canal and its parade of lovely narrow boats, caught a short set but great set by Splat the Rat in the OFS gallery space and spent the rest of the morning leisurely browsing the many charity shops and bookshops before having a latte at one of my favourite cafes in town, Zappis Bike Cafe. I returned just in time for Welsh-born but now Oxford-based folk singer Tom Blackburn followed by The August List, a surprising and refreshing Americana addition to the largely trad folk line-up.

The August List

Oh and how could I forget the many Morris sides about town? With their colourful costumes and bells tinkling wherever they went, they added a bit of living folk tradition to the village fete on Gloucester Green and in the centre of Oxford and definitely got many a tourist’s camera clicking.

Morris dancers

I spent the evening at the cosy Wesley Memorial Church listening to the beautiful harmonies of local female duo Wednesdays Wolves, who were already a welcome addition to the festival last year. They were followed by Ninebarrow and Lady Maisery. Although I had intended to „stay awake“ for the always entertaining Hut People (think percussion extravaganza extraordinaire) who were on at the OFS just before 11pm, I ended up calling it a night around 10pm.

Wednesdays Wolves

On Sunday the weather wasn’t quite as sunny any more, which was just as well as I spent the afternoon in the best venue a music-loving literature-crazy festival goer could ask for: a bookshop! Blackwells impressive three-storey literary maze on Broad Street to be precise. It was the first time it was used as a festival venue and all afternoon visitors were pouring into the Norrington Room where, from 11am-4pm, FWO musicians took up residence. First up were Henry Webster and Dave Malkin (two of the folk trio Tandem) followed by trad trio Moore Moss Rutter. Young folk singer Penny Kempson was up next as well as quirky and humorous trio Susanna Starling & Friends.

Kelly Oliver

Up-and-coming folk singer Kelly Oliver also made an appearance, so did Ben Moss & Laurel Swift, whose performance included some solo clog dancing by Laurel on an old table top spontaneously provided by Blackwells staff. Yes, I did miss some of the bigger names, but knowing the UK folk circuit, I am bound to catch them live again one of these days. As far as I’m concerned, I had the most fabulous folk weekend again!

Ben Mross & Laurel Swift

If you need additional reasons for visiting Oxford, have a look at this archived post with tips for live music, charity shops, museums and visiting the “Headington Shark”. And in order to find out how the festival came into being and what makes it tick, check out my interview with Folk Weekend Oxford director Cat Kelly.

Meet the Festival Makers: Cat Kelly of Folk Weekend Oxford

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Oxford is one of my favourite cities in the UK (see my blog post with tips for live music, charity shops, museums, cafes and more) and every April it hosts a lovely, volunteer-run music festival called Oxford Folk Weekend. Its director, Cat Kelly, agreed to speak to us about her experience running a vibrant community festival.

Life is a Festival: Tell me a little bit about the relatively recent yet rather successful history of Oxford Folk Weekend. Has it always been run by a volunteer committee and what was your reason for starting it?

Cat: Yes FW has always been run by volunteers. It started back in 2011 when the Oxford Folk Festival cancelled suddenly, but it was quite an informal (and impromtu!) event, and our first ‘proper’ festival was in 2012. I’d had a phone call from the director of Oxford Folk Festival confirming that they weren’t going to run another event, and asking me whether I’d like to take over. I’ve been performing at festivals since my early 20s, as well as having been involved in Oxford Folk Festival for a few years, so I like to think I’ve got a fair idea of what’s needed to organise a festival from both sides of it!

Life is a Festival: People often ask me why I am so passionate about festivals and what makes them different from simply attending once-off events or concerts. In your opinion, what makes FWO unique in terms of programming and atmosphere and what role does the city of Oxford play as its very attractive “backdrop”? I personally always really enjoy the variety of ages and backgrounds, local and visiting musicians, non-musicians, morris dancers etc.

Cat: I think the difference about a festival is the atmosphere of the whole community coming together for the weekend – a festival is a big and diverse thing, so everyone can be doing their own thing, and finding the bits they they like, whilst still all feeling like you’re there together for one purpose. When we started FW we wanted to make a festival which really reflected and celebrated the place where it was held, and the city of Oxford is a big part of that. We involve the local community in a variety of different ways (e.g. crafts people, school children, volunteers, charities & good causes at the village fete, local artists, local community music groups etc) and we use interesting and different venues within Oxford. Over the years we have staged gigs in the punishment cells of Oxford Castle (and on top of the Mound!), in the central library, in the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, and this year we are putting on a series of concerts in Blackwells Bookshop.

Life is a Festival: Which brings us to the volunteers, including the organising committee, of course. I believe a festival is only ever as good as its volunteer crew and staff and (besides the line-up) it is often their friendliness and professional attitude which makes or breaks a festival. Do you agree?

Cat: Yes I do. The whole ethos of FW is welcoming and inclusive, and we really rely on our volunteers to be living that on the front line – they are often the first experience that someone has of the festival, and it’s a big responsibility to make sure that their first impression is a good one.

Life is a Festival: What were your favourite festivals moments (just pick a few!) in past years and what are you particularly looking forward to in 2015?

Cat: The gig on top of the Castle Mound in 2013 is one that has stuck in my mind – not least because I was taking 5 minutes out from being festival director and was sat with my daughter (who was 5 at the time) listening to the music in the sunshine. In fact, her involvement in the festival over the years has been one of my absolute favourite things about it – although it takes me away from her a lot of the time (particularly at this time of year!), she loves the festival and has usually planned out what she will be doing right throughout the weekend! This year she’s wanted to get involved in more of the organising, and spent Easter Saturday helping me to laminate backstage passes! What I’m really looking forward to about 2015 is once the festival has got going and all the organisational side of things is ticking along, I get to wander round town soaking up the atmosphere, meeting people who have come to the festival, and seeing what a great time everyone is having. I love it!

Thanks a mil to Cat Kelly for the interview and don’t miss Oxford Folk Weekend which is taking place from 17-19 April 2015.