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50th Towersey Festival

28 Aug 14 - 06:33 AM (#3654420)
Subject: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Dazbo at Work

Let me first off say that I have been to 10 Towersey festivals on the trot now since my first in 2005 and have thoroughly enjoyed them. However, this time (the 50th Anniversary Festival) was an enormous disappointment.

Firstly, let me say what I enjoyed: The Bootleg Beatles were really entertaining (despite the neon sign flashing in my head repeatedly telling me "they are not The Beatles"); Richard Thompson – until you see him live, on his own, it's so easy to forget just how brilliant he is on the guitar – if only half the singer/songwriters around today could play the guitar half as well as he does; a new band to me The Urban Folk Quartet – fantastic musicians and entertainers; John Kirkpatrick; Roy Bailey.

Those were my highlights, few and far between over five nights and four days. Apart from them the artists on the guest list were a lacklustre group but even that is not what made this festival such a disappointment. The whole festival was massively (and dangerously) overcrowded.

We'd got there at about 12:30 on Thursday, three and a half hours after the campsite opened, and it was already pretty full. We found a decent enough space with room for the car and tent and put the tent up. Within an hour or so of finishing putting the tent up our tent was surrounded by other tents and campervans with awnings – so close that our tent pegs were virtually under the neighbouring tents. Too close and presenting a fire hazard. I believe that tents should have at least 3m gaps between them but no one was enforcing this or even, as far as I could see, monitoring it. By late afternoon they were struggling to fit new arrivals in (and as far as I could see no one had excessively large tents or gazebos).

I don't think I've ever been to a festival where every single venue we tried to get in was so packed you could only stand at the back and try to glimpse the stage over other peoples' heads and shoulders. In "Venue 65". The big dance/concert venue on site 2, The Bootleg Beatles concert had a least one person being lead out by their friends as they were having a panic attack at the crush. The Richard Thompson concert was even more crowded but the straw that broke the camel's back was the Chipolatas' concert. Here, what in reality should have been an afternoon show just for families was put on at 8pm. The Chipolatas used up half the floor and the other half with families sitting down on it and people standing, with no room to move, around the edges. People with young families were having to fight their way through the crowd to get out and my wife, sat with our daughter, had a big, fat man fall on her as he was trying to get out of the venue. If no one got badly injured in any of the concerts at this venue I'm surprised

The main concert tent was similarly crowded although due to the seating there was not the crushing risk but there were people sitting or lying in the gangways preventing people (including wheelchair users and push chairs mind) easy access or egress.

So what was wrong? Firstly, they just sold way to many tickets for both the size of the campsites and the venue capacities – walking around it was impossible to find any venue that had any room in it.

Secondly, and most importantly, there was no proper crowd control at any venue. At Venue 65 for instance the stewards let anybody in who had a wrist band on with no regard to the venue capacity. People were allowed to take in their camp chair to sit on in the venue but the MC (for example) at the Richard Thompson gig was trying to move the crown into the area they were sitting as he obviously thought it was just empty space. There was no control over the exits from the venue people were just allowed to stand there packed in like sardines not allowing anyone in or out. When the Richard Thompson gig finished it took me more that 10 minutes to exit the venue (despite only being about 15 metres from the exit) due not just to the crowds standing at the exit but people trying to get in for the next gig and the area outside the exits full of people standing around drinking (or lying on the floor drunk). God know what would have happened if there'd been a fire or other emergency – I'm sure there would have been deaths. The same could have happened at the ceilidh tent or the main concert tent – there was no attempt made to keep the exits and gangways clear.

I know it's easy to put the blame on the stewards but I'm sure it's not their fault – they're only volunteers helping out and seemingly had no training in what to do. When, after the Chipolata's gig I was trying to find someone to complain to I was just pointed to the feedback form (as many others were). All I can take from this is that there was no "professional" from the organisers managing the stewards or they had just abrogated their responsibilities and left the poor steward to their own, untrained, devices.

I can't see how, if the council's Health and Safety inspectors had paid a visit to the festival it wouldn't have immediately been shut down.

In case you're wondering I did complete a feedback form (not as comprehensively as this but with a lot more anger) and did leave my name and email address so I look forward to hearing from them. In a telling moment during the Urban Folk Quartet gig the lead singer asked the crowd if they were enjoying the festival - he seemed quite taken aback at the very muted positive response from the crowd.

In the meantime I think I can safely say that this was my last Towersey – which makes me very sad indeed.

28 Aug 14 - 06:57 AM (#3654424)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Hesk

I agree with you that the Richard Thompson venue was dangerously overcrowded, but more because of the lack of ambient light than anything else. I did manage to get from the bar to the further side with full drinks in less than a couple of minutes, but it was unpleasantly difficult, nevertheless.
The 50th anniversary of Topic records was also full to overflowing, but ,at least, it was daytime.
The Church was also full for the Melrose Quartet, but the steward did not allow any more in.
Generally, I thought the festival was well organised, but agree that too many tickets had been sold for the size of the site. As this is the last one at this location, perhaps next year will address these issues.

28 Aug 14 - 07:35 AM (#3654428)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Hamish

Odd. I thought Venue 65 wasn't that bad for the RT gig. Much less crowded than, for instance, Bellowhead a couple of years back. I arrived for the start of his gig and had no trouble getting a pretty good vantage point. Had to turn loads of people away from the beginners' ukulele workshop though (and they did!) And my experiences of the Big Club and Ceilidh Tent were certainly no more crowded than previous years.

Sort of agree about the lacklustre line-up - on paper at least. However as always it's the ones you don't know ahead of tie that often turn up unexpected highlights: Jossienne Clarke and Ben Walker, whose Fotheringaye was my moment of the whole festival*; Will McNicol; Elliot Morris.

*Also, her version of Who Knows Where the Time Goes was even better than RT's.

In short: I loved it. As always.

28 Aug 14 - 09:51 AM (#3654466)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Dazbo At Work

Hi Hesk, sorry I can't agree with you on the organisation front. I hadn't included, due to space, the problems my wife had with the Children's festival and how disorganised that was. Also, many of my friends and myself were upset to find there were no timetabled sessions to play at - an integral part of any folk festival I would have said

Hamish, I saw Bellowhead in that venue too and I'm certain there was less of a crush (and more importantly the exits were kept clear so people could get in and out). We were at the beginners uke workshop which we all enjoyed, thanks Hamish. Can't stop strumming Bad Moon Rising now :- )

28 Aug 14 - 10:10 AM (#3654474)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Leadfingers

I was a regular attendee in the later sixties , but I dont think I ever had a full weekend after Mrs Casey Music took over , though I have been a Sunday visitor for the Pub Barn sing , and then a wander round the main site .
Last year I wen to have a look at the trade fair , and was asked EIGHT POUNDS just to enter the site . That was my last Towersey .

28 Aug 14 - 10:40 AM (#3654490)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Dazbo at work

yes Leadfingers, I've thought the same about the entrance to the show ground - a lot of money just to see a bit of street entertainment and the opportunity to buy overpriced food and drink.

28 Aug 14 - 12:31 PM (#3654560)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,3rd time attendee

Wow. I visited the festival for the 3rd time this year and have to say had a completely different experience to many of those I've just read above.

I think the only time we didn't get a seat in The Big Club was during the Roy Bailey show on Monday ... but was aware that the tent did fill up pretty quickly for some performances.

We did turn up late for the Chipolatas show, and had a job getting in, but for us, that seemed to be down to the fact that there were a lot of people bringing in chairs - but I guess we should have anticipated the crowd and just got their earlier.

Walking around the camp site, we did notice the size of many of the tents, with many people linking huge tents and gazebos together to create mini complexes. Back when I first starting going to festivals 30 years ago, if there were 2 of us, we took a 2-man-tent that you could barely sit up in ... but today it seems most people want something they can stand up in and have a good stretch.

I read in the local papers that the festival is moving to another site next year, and gather this will address some of those issues about access and how people come and go through the different areas as the festival has clearly outgrown the present site(s).

I also read that they had "over 8,000 people" attend.

We've been to a few festivals this summer, and had some really mixed experiences. We thought Towersey was great, and we saw some really good musicians who we wouldn't have normally have seen.

We're looking forward to seeing what they have to offer next year for sure, and hope they retain the lovely, chilled atmosphere at the new site!

28 Aug 14 - 02:38 PM (#3654633)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Mr Red

for reasons not connected with the Festival I should have not enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a lift as far as I was concerned.

1) Debs Newbold all on her own did "Romeo & Juliet" and made it her own. I knew she would be good, but "WOW". Me & Bill Shake have an uneasy relationship, but this transcended all of that. The Church was full. We arrived at 19:10 for 8pm! And sat at the front.
2) The Burlesdon Village Band were on fire. On Thursday. But if you don't dance that is academic. So are 3) & 4):
3) Mrs Midnight played Pachabel's Cannon for the closing polka. Their dance was superb but Pachabel was the icing on the cake.
4) Cock & Bull in their original (as near as poss) line-up. Superb. And they did Horse's Brawle - more icing.
5) Yoof was well behaved, and loved their dancing. And were well prepared to engage with old fogies. Fogies who didn't dis them that is.
6) The volumes at venues was acceptable and in the concert tent people seemed to SHUT UP and listen. Both contrary to my experience (and more recently confirmed to me) at Shrewsbury.
7) Roy Bailey was well on form. He will be there next year if he is still with us, he says. But just in case I have seen him recently. I sat on the grass, stage right. There was room.
8) The big session was well attended and the session in the 3 Horseshoes was a more cosy true session.

of course the dance floor was full most of the time, because the dances were superb. It attracts the dancers. It could do with a bigger floor, but then it will fill up just the same.

If you wanted perfection you will always be disappointed. I didn't, I wasn't. The place to complain is with the suggestion form they provided in the information tent.

28 Aug 14 - 04:22 PM (#3654675)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival

If you're over 60 you should only have been charged £3.00 to go on the showground!

28 Aug 14 - 09:22 PM (#3654781)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Dave Hunt

Totally agree about the Chipolatas gig....dangerously overcrowded, with no attempt made to keep exits clear, seemed to be 'pack in as many as we can' not the way to do it! Those on the lower levels of the tiered seats at the back were in many cases prevented from seeing the show by inconsiderate people standing in front of them. The show itself was brilliant, and outside at the end, following the wonderful procession and dance by Great Western with flaming torches, a firework was set off containing the ashes of my old friend and working mate the late , very lamented , Ritchie Taylor....brillaint....even if I did end up with bits in my hair...goodbye old pal...

29 Aug 14 - 03:56 AM (#3654831)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Chris

The Wilson Family were fantastic(not seen them for years)John K. and Roy Bailey brilliant as usual. We thoroughly enjoyed the festival this year.

30 Aug 14 - 12:22 AM (#3655118)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival

The website says they are moving to another venue.

30 Aug 14 - 05:10 AM (#3655155)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Leadfingers

Anonymous GUEST - I Queried the price with relation to my age and was told it was £ 8 - It MAY have changed for this year , but that is twelve months too late !

30 Aug 14 - 06:09 AM (#3655170)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Hesk

Leadfingers- it was definitely cheaper for oldies 12 months ago.
They were, probably, carping about the exact cut off, 60 or 65.
In comparison to a day, concert, or weekend ticket it is a small fee. The arena has, pretty much, non stop entertainment all day. The entrance fee also discourages random casual visitors, although at £4.00 a pint they are better off elsewhere!

30 Aug 14 - 12:52 PM (#3655280)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Leadfingers

OK Hesk - I was only seventy one at last years Towersey , and they wont see me there again at their rip off prices !

31 Aug 14 - 06:36 PM (#3655668)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: GUEST,Pearlyadder

Hi Dazbo At Work. I'd like to wade in on your comment about the Children's festival. As a volunteer who works closely with the children's festival organisers during the festival, I can attest to the fact that the Children's festival is very, very far from disorganised.

We have an excellent and largely very experienced stewarding team and they all share the same vision for the children's festival as the organisers. We always aim to safely get as many children into the events as we can and minimise disappointments. Of course some events are going to be limited numbers and we sometimes have to turn children away. Children's safety is always a primary concern.

While we acknowledge that we can't get it 100% right for every child 100% of the time, we ALWAYS strive to get as close to 100% as we can.

If your wife was having issues with things in the children's festival, she would have been very welcome to fill in a feedback form. All of these are read by the children's festival organisers and replied to if contact details are left. Changes have previously been introduced to the way things are done, based on feedback we receive from the forms.

Alternatively, she could have spoken to either myself or the two organisers (there was always at least one of us on site and available all weekend) and we would have done our utmost to help her resolve any problems she was having.

31 Oct 14 - 06:35 AM (#3673264)
Subject: RE: 50th Towersey Festival
From: Steve in Sidmouth

There is an article in the latest "Set and Turn Single" folk dance magazine about the move to Thame. It also mentions a certain book, copies of which are now available.....(but not "freely" available)

I missed Towersey this year - maybe I'll try the new venue in 2015!

An article in the Thame Gazette apparently stated the festival contributed £275,000 to local projects over 50 years, and concluded that Towersey "will be poorer for the move in every way".

I hope the superb ceilidh tent dance floor will be at Thame in 2015.

I welcome the comments about overcrowding - some venues are simply absurd in terms of dancers per square metre. At folk dances I help to organise we set a door limit so as to permit good dancing space for those who do buy tickets. some guidance on numbers per square metre is here:

folk dancers per square metre

comments welcome.