Festivals By Month: 30 festivals happening in May
1) Cheltenham Jazz Festival
* April 26 – May 1
Price: various, some free
21st year of the event that swiftly established itself in the – admittedly small – top division of UK jazz fests. Line up details are by no means complete as we go to press, but follow the Cheltenham formula of mixing attention-grabbing headliners with seriously interesting, lesser appreciated fare. The Necks, for example, that cult troupe of two decades’ standing, wherein piano, drums and bass explore jazz, krautrock and native Australian trance traditions. Grammy Awards are hardly the most reliable of talent raters, but if you pick 22 you must surely have something go for you. Veteran pianist/composer and former Miles Davis bandmate, Chick Corea, assuredly does. Dee Dee Bridgwater has three herself, Polar Bear leader Seb Rochford has a new trio, Meshell Ndegeocello is an ace of bass, and Robert Cray’s BB King-recalling blues playing is second only to his vastly underrated soul voice. The Jamie Cullum-curated fest also justly prides itself on being an accessible entry point for the jazz curious, with free events in the none-more-relaxed environs of Montpellier Gardens, not to mention all the kid-centric events in the Take Five Family Tent.
2) Bristol Walk Fest
The programme’s release online at the end of March defeats our press time, but previous years suggest we should expect more than 150 routes in and around the city, the better to make good on an “aim to get as many people moving and exploring the city as possible”. Rambler Routes, expert-led health walks and history-centric events are all likely to feature.
3) Bristol Gin Festival
If the last couple of years have been a positive boon for gin impresarios, it would appear that world events are conspiring to boost the popularity of the juniper-sourced snifter still further. You’ll find more than 100 varieties to sample here, alongside cocktails, masterclasses, live music and mucho swaying.
4) Bristol Foodies Festival
The Downs, Bristol
Price: £20 w/e
With Bristol now firmly established as one of the UK’s premier gourmet go-tos, expect more interest than ever in this annual foodular nosh-up. Michelin-starred Josh Eggleton and Simon Holstone are back to show their wares, ‘Ladette to Lady’ sleb chef Rosemary Shrager is in the house – or, more likely, tent – and Great British Bake Off winners are promised, too. Plus vintage tea tent, live music, street food, kids’ cookery theatre, chilli eating comp, etc. See feature on page XX.
5) Bath Festival
* May 19-28
Price: various, some free
The city’s new flagship event, essentially a merger of the venerable old music festival established in 1948 and its younger literary sister. Thus, a big old bunch of predominantly classical, jazz, world and folk music, plus debates, fiction writers, science, history, politics and poetry. Party in the City, Bath’s biggest night of free music, will be present and correct on opening night: streets, parks and regular venues given over to a multitude of styles and performers, staring in the abbey with over 100 school kids blending song and stories in Wild Voices. Other highlights include personification of Bath, Mary Berry, Adam Rutherford on the human genome, a seriously fine looking gathering of Dylanologists (David Hepworth, Sid Griffin, Dorian Lynskey, etc), the Bath Phil soundtracking Psycho, Margaret Drabble and Fay Weldon in conversation, US jazz ace Madeleine Peyroux, absolutely tons more, including academics and journalists debating Trump’s first 100 days in office (Nb. tickets bought at cardholder’s risk – no refunds will be issued if the world ends before 100 days are complete)
(Credit Marina Chavez)
6) Vegfest, Bristol
15th outing for Europe’s biggest vegan festival, where the musical line-up includes the likes of Robin S, Danny Rampling, Rozalla, Dub Pistols, The Scribes and ZionRuts. The heart of the event, of course, lays in all the ways we human folk can get by without bothering our animal friends for their skin, meat, milk, etc, with attendees invited to pick the figurative bones out of talks loosely grouped beneath a banner reading Benefits of the Vegan Philosophy, as well as browse through 180 stalls, loads of food, juice bars, cookery demos, etc.
7) Bath Fringe Festival
May 26-June 11
Price: various, many free
If Bath festivals have historically had rather a top-down feel, the great and good deciding what’s good for the masses, then this is the honourable and longstanding exception, borne annually out of the brains of open meeting attendees and the tireless work of the organising committee. Programme is under wraps as we write, but you can expect a city-wide celebration of music, comedy, theatre, kids’ events, the standalone Fringe Arts Bath and, best of all, the huge street party that is Bedlam Fair on the middle weekend, wherein huge crowds bring roads to a standstill as they bear witness to all manner of the most imaginative street performers.
8) Chippenham Folk Festival
Price: £99 early bird w/e
Trad fest on the trad scene, running as it is for the 46th time. Very much a people-driven affair – in a way you’d imagine should please Chip-born Jeremy Corbyn – there’s a focus on recruiting next generation folk lovers, with daytime on Festival Friday strongly geared towards tuition for local schoolchildren in song, dance, playing instruments and story-telling. The social dance and ceilidhs figure strongly in the 200+ events, while the main bill has drawn the likes of Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, Louise Jordan, and the Exmouth Shanty Men.
9) Lechlade Festival
Big news this year is the new dance tent, while among the 80+ performers come Dr Feelgood, uke-wielding Plucking Different and tribbers such as Abba Arrival and not entirely imaginatively named Not The Rolling Stones. It’s really much more about the joining in than it is the music, with workshops on everything form hula-hooping to belly dancing, paper aeroplane making to booiaka dancing.
10) Shindig Weekender
* May 26-28
Price: £99 w/e
Fourth outing for Shindig and, happily, the tiresome ‘secret location’ gimmick has been dropped. Still, we’re never less than respectful in matters of difference at B247, so look away now if it’s at all conceivable your fun may be compromised by knowing it’s all going down at… Gilcombe Farm. Of infinitely greater import, the first wave of line up announcements suggest Ghetto Funk Records are recreating all that was good and influential in 1980s Chicago and New York, with confirmed appearances by Sugarhill Gang, Melle Mel & Scorpio’s Furious 5, and Todd Terry. Beaty local faves The Heavy are also signed up, while younger attendees are directed towards Kids Kingdom: “A fortress of fun devoted to the younger folk with workshops, climbing nets, storytelling, singing, dancing plus an indoor cinema and an amazing Circus to end the day.”
11) Wells Comedy Festival
The fun size city is worth a weekend break any old time of the year, but never more so than when staging their properly heavyweight laughterthon, where this year’s programme includes appearances from Bridget Christie, Joe Lycett, Sara Pascoe, Stewart Lee, Nish Kumar, Simon Munnery, Paul Foot and Milton Jones.
12) Dot to Dot
Price: £12 early bird
12th outing of the festival in which attendees strap on a wristband to gain access to a welter of venues, hoping not to encounter capacity issues as they criss-cross the three participating cities: Manchester, Nottingham and, for our purposes, Bristol. Only the first wave of acts had been announced as the guide went to press, including : Sundara Karma, Amber Run, The Growlers, Louis Berry, Honeyblood, Pinegrove, Cherry Glazerr, Tom Grennan and Picture This.
13) Love Saves The Day
* May 27-28
Price: £75 w/e
Was it really only 2012 when Love Saves The Day took its bow as a one-day gathering in Castle Park? Now back in Eastville Park for a third time, it’s one of the hottest dance- and beats-centric tickets in the country, drawing 300 acts from across the globe to its multifarious stages. Headlining this year are Swedish aces Little Dragon and New Zealand dub bringers Fat Freddy’s Drop, but the gauge of quality is all in the depth of the undercard: properly peerless Kate Tempest, Cloud 9, Jamie Jones, Shy FX, Crazy P, Mura Masa, Andrew Weatherall, AJ Tracey, Nadia Rose, Eva Lazarus, Sherwood & Pinch, tons more. Environment-wise, you’re in a world of hidden discotheques, an immersive theatre venue, inflatable church, a roller disco and another flame-grilling stage from the Glastonbury-schooled Arcadia team, the Arcadia Afterburner. See feature on page XX.
14) Brighton Festival
* May 6-28
Price: various, many free
They know how to pick their pick their guest directors at Brighton Festival. Last year it was American avant ace, Laurie Anderson; this time around it’s poet, playwright and rapper-par-eloquence, Kate Tempest. Over half a million are expected to gather near the pebbly shoreline over the three weeks of the fest, wherein the guest director’s interests and passions will be explored in a wide-ranging programme spanning music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate from a wide range of national and international companies and artists. Tempest herself is set for a busy old time, including performing at a festival-opening gig of music and spoken word, a poetry evening alongside the likes of fellow Picador poets Hollie McNish and Glyn Maxwell, and live orchestration of her ace latest album, Let Them Eat Chaos, produced in collaboration with Oscar-nominee Mica Levi. Jeremy Hardy, Shirley Collins, Rich Hall, Adam Buxton and Meow Meow are among the hundreds of other performers set to, well, perform.
(Credit Tabatha Fireman)
15) The Cursus Cider & Music Festival
Sixpenny Handley, Dorset
Price: £55 w/e
Like it says, cider and music. “There are not any other distractions like fun-fairs, trading villages or fancy art installations,” sniff the organisers. “If you get hungry we do have some great food supplied by the Made In Dorset team with their big catering bus.” Capacity is 400, line up is 30ish strong across a couple of stages, playing the kind of stuff you’d expect on the Skanking Delights Stage and the Fuelled By Cider Bar.
16) Dart Music Festival
20th outing for this free festival in a lovely old town. Expect more than 100 performances across more than 20 pubs, churches, squares, even a Tudor fort. All musical styles served, from rock to classical, bhangra to shanties, big band to choral.
17) Soul Weekender
Butlins, Minehead, Somerset
Price: £72 w/e
Headlined by Thelma ‘For The Last Time, I Am Not Related To Her’ Houston, best known for her chart-topping cover of Don’t Leave Me This Way. Also featuring Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Heatwave, The Real Thing, Junior Giscombe and a smattering of tribbers.
18) The Great Escape
Price: £60 w/e
Music industry spin-off of the Brighton Festival, with 3,500 delegates converging to pontificate on the crisis in music journalism, clubs’ drug policy in the wake of the battle for Fabric, and a royalties conference subtitled ‘Where’s my fucking money?’. And then there’s the little matter of more than 450 up and coming acts playing 30+ venues, plus headline draws such as Slaves.
19) Seven Seas Festival
Baiter Park, Poole
One of the larger free events on the calendar, 30,000 people are expected to have a squizz at this sea-centric affair promising international food, music, expert talks, etc, all based on the oceans of the world. Thus, an ice rink in the Arctic region, yoga and pan-Asian cuisine in the Indian Ocean site, and so forth.
20) Bearded Theory
Catton Hall, Derbyshire
Price: £105 w/e
‘Famed’ for its annual attempt to break the world record for the largest convening of people wearing fancy dress beards, this place scooped Best Family Festival at the 2016 UK Festival Awards. No mean feat in these increasingly child-accommodating times. Music-wise you’re looking at a bill including Slaves, Seasick Steve, New Model Army and Madness.
21) Hay Festival
* May 25-June 4
While there’s never been a bad time to get behind “the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking”, the ethos behind this celebration of the cerebral has seldom felt so important. Though the programme isn’t released until long after we’ve gone to press, you can bank on a gathering of top line authors, comedians, filmmakers, politicians and musicians the calibre of such 2016 offerings as Gordon Brown, Yanis Varoufakis, Sarah Churchwell, Roger McGough, Alain de Botton, Caitlin Moran, David ‘Not That One’ Mitchell, George Monbiot, David Gilmour, Evelyn Glennie, and David Aaronovitch.Nb. Concurrently run sister festival, the similar-but-more-debatey HowTheLightGetsIn, is taking a fallow year this year.
(Credit Marsha Arnold)
22) Knockengorroch World Ceilidh
Carsphairn, Dumfries & Galloway
Price: £115 w/e
Celtic, world and roots fest where, besides an awful lot of communal dancing, you’ll find musical acts including Max Romeo, Molotov Jukebox and The Baghdaddies.
23) Camping Be Cider Seaside
Burton Bradstock, Dorset
Price: £40 w/e
Campfire-centric sampling of fine cider near the glorious Jurassic coast, with low-key musical line up and big time friendliness. Bands include Captain Accident, Quinns Quinney, Ulysses, The Southern Companion and Bite The Buffalo.
Price: £82 w/e
Not quite on the scale of its cheekily near-namesake, but for an event of its type still something to behold: more than 160 acts across seven stages, among them Four Fighters, Kins of Leon, Mercury, and the Bootleg Beatles.
25) Raw Power Weekender
Price: £60 w/e
Wall-to-wall leftfield Dome destroyers convene for a weekend of the most splendid underground noise, headed by Faust and Loop. On the undercard you’ll find veteran jazzsludgenoisers Bilge Pump, Evil Blizzard, Experimental Sonic Machines, Mums, Kavus, Shitwife, Sly & The Family Drone, Casual Nun, lots more.
26) Salisbury International Arts Festival
May 26 – June 10
Price: various, some free
Last year in post for festival director, Toby Smith, and his penchant for theming the event via the points of compass concludes by facing west. Specifically, the arts and culture of bilingual Canadian province Québec. Thus, an appearance by frenetic Québécois folkers, Le Vent du Nord. Not an awful lot more Canuck-shaped ents book at press time, to be honest, with other confirmed acts including Clare Teal’s Ella tribute, the return of Ballet Black, comedians Rich Hall and Simon Evans, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the cathedral.
27) Common People
Southampton & Oxford
Price: £45.50 w/e earlybird
With a sold out 2016 under its twin city-embracing belt, Rob da Bank’s Common People returns for a dance-centric third instalment with Pete Tong, Sean Paul, Wild Beasts, Tom Odell, British Sea Power, Amy MacDonald, Goldie, Joy Orbison, etc.
Melford Hall, Suffolk
Price: £35 w/e
Once again, this splendid 16th century pile hosts the most distinctly variable of curate’s eggs. On the downside, the confirmed bill at press time continues a tradition of apparently drawing acts from Music’s Most Objectionable list, with the two confirmed acts being Toploader and Wheatus. On the considerable upside, the whole shebang was established by friends in memory of Lee Dunford (who died from Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006) and raises money for The Willow Foundation, providing special days for terminally ill young adults aged between 16-40.
29) Liverpool Sound City
Price: £35-50 daily
Be very careful to triple-check who’s headlining which night for this one. Turn up one day and everything leads up to the only European performance of John Cale and guests presenting the Velvet Underground & Nico. Turn up another, it’s the fucking Kooks. The Human League, A Certain Ratio, Peaches, Cabbage and Anne Dudley also appear at the tenth running of this largely discerningly programmed event, as much industry conference as regular music festival, featuring a bunch of expert speakers, panels, workshops, and multifarious other methods of wisdom passing.
30) Primavera Sound
May 31-June 4
Price: 80€ day tickets
Easy accessible via Bedminster International, glorious Barcelona sees itself taken over by one of the finest festivals on the planet. While an ever-increasing number of rivals can match its promise of sand and sunshine, few can come even close to rivalling its line up. Cast your eye down the vastly lengthy cast list for 2017 and among the many and varied highlights you’ll find Run The Jewels, Van Morrison, Kate Tempest, Aphex Twin, Arcade Fire, Slayer, Bon Iver, Grace Jones, Swans, Magnetic Fields, Metronomy, Saint Etienne, Shellac, Sleaford Mods, and Flying Lotus.