Best of British (Music Festivals)
I'm foreign, not very, but just enough to be charmed by the hum of excitement the British get at the first warm smelling breeze of summer. Suddenly there's sunscreen by the checkout at Boots, tennis matches signalling the approach of Wimbledon, people in their underwear in the park and tents and fold out chairs in the store windows heralding the onset of something the British really do well: the music festival.
Rock, jazz, classical, opera, dance, trance, hip hop, trip hop, you name it there's a UK festival for lovers of it. Potentially one involving camping, and if not, fold out chairs. These musical events come in all shapes and sizes, but there's an enthusiasm for all of them, and come rain, hail or mud, the terribly British determination to have a good time at all costs - what ever the weather's going to throw at us this year!.
Grab your outdoor gear and wellies, and the plastic cups and tipple of choice, and either your glowsticks or your opera glasses, and roll up to some of the UK's best music festival offerings.
Best Rock, Pop, or whatever the young whipper snappers want to call their music these days Festivals
Glastonbury is one of the biggest and the best known dots on the music festival calender. The biggest names in music, from this year and before that, play to exuberant crowds, who then stumble off towards the oceans of tents that spring up in the field next door: A marvellously muddy melody market. The Glade Festival is a breakaway from Glastonbury, its electronic moves and grooves turned pied piper and branched off, glow sticks and hedonists in tow, to make its own way in the world.
T in the Park is Scotland's Glastonbury. In festival terms it's a classic, it's been going since 1994! These days their crowds are 85,000 strong, and their line up features around 120 acts, including names like Blur, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Manic Street Preachers, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Nine Inch Nails.
Though Latitude Festival was only born in 2006, it's already a name some of your cooler grandparents might have heard of. They might also be able to tell you that it's held in July, in Henham Park, Suffolk. They might not be able to explain that this is a festival in the Euro style with large musical acts on large stages and arenas, but also comedy, poetry, cabaret, art, theatre and other more literary entertainments. But funky Nannas won't have heard of The Secret Garden Party: 'a nihilistic escape from the daily drudge of normality'. That roughly means they've built two hedonistic arenas in a huge landscaped garden by the side of a picturesque lake, and are expecting you to bring your creativity and ideas as well as your enthusiasm to this not-for-profit, non sponsored event. One stage is more dance-y and the other more chill-y and there are smaller artily decorated satellite stages if you want to hear something a bit more unusual.
End of the Road won Best New Festival in 2006. And it's still going, proving that its organisers have staying power as well as vision – their vision being to have a festival for real music lovers, featuring longer sets and a more about the music less about the party atmosphere – the décor is 'down the rabbit hole tastic'. The festival for festival lovers who've found themselves in charge of a brood is The Big Chill Festival. On the grounds of a castle, this is chill out heaven – like sitting in the sun in your own back yard playing your favourite records, but your backyard is in heaven and all your favourite bands are there with you.
The Isle of Wight hosts more festivals per capita than anywhere else in the UK. Which is saying something about the scenery, the space and the local attitude to a bit of extra noise. Bestival sticks out from the other festivals because of the way it looks – a lot of people come in fancy dress, and there are themed days. It's also a politically and environmentally astute event, aiming to be carbon neutral and fuelled by the local Women's Institute. The Isle of Skye Music Festival is known for an eclectic line up including folk, alternative, dance, pop and rock, with a muddle of traditional Celtic for good measure. The Wight isle also has its own jazz festival.
Best Alternative Music Festivals
Your Nan may have heard of Glastonbury and Reading, even if she thinks it's a literary fest, but she probably hasn't heard of the Green Man Festival, an eclectic and atmospheric cacophany of psychedelic folk, ethical world music and up and coming local bands, or Buddhafield, as different from the drug fuelled mud mess she thinks you're going to as possible, with its group yoga and meditation classes and talks from Buddhist teachers about how to be happy in today's world.
WOMAD is more than an alternative music festival, but still involves a lot of music. Crowds of around 80,000 are drawn to these nomadic festivals of 'World of Music Art and Dance' which have a higher purpose than most music festivals: WOMAD is dedicated to cross cultural education and the expansion of musical and inter-racial understanding and the elimination of racism.
For the best of folk, the Cambridge Folk Festival ticks all the folkie boxes in a charming setting, as well as the kind of random performances and audience involvement alternative festivals are known for. Think sing-a-longs, camping and the world's biggest folk artists.
Best British Jazz Festivals
The UK's largest jazz festival is the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, also said to be the UK's best: priding itself on bringing some of the freshest and most innovative jazz acts to its audience, which is gratifyingly varied due to the laid-back, unpretentious feel of the event. If Jamie Cullum's opinion is one to go by, it's the kind of festival "you just like hanging out at". Jazz and liquor are celebrated in tandem at the Royal Windsor Jazz and Beer Festival, and a questionable connection to the deep south, which in the UK is apparently the Isle of Wight, is claimed for the Isle of Wight Jazz Festival, which promises big names for people who only know a little about jazz, and cool names for people who know a bit more and are a little more difficult to impress. Events centre around the resort town of Ventor, in theatres, hotel bars and clubs, as well as a church.
Best British Classical Music Festivals
The Proms, culminating in the Last night of the Proms, in the Park, are one of the world's longest and best loved classical music events. Longest because the festival runs for eight weeks and around 100 concerts. It's also supposed to be democratic, translating to both reasonable ticket prices and a range of classical concerts including great cinema scores and comedy arrangements as well as obscure concertos and epic symphonies.
For a music festival with an eclectic juke box, the Bath International Music Festival hosts some of the moodiest jazz, innovative modern classical and electronic sounds, as well as the choral, chamber and orchestral recitals in the city's Georgian venues.
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