The Culture Club

Looking back, and looking forward to 2017.

When you’re planning to put on a first-class event, there are generally two principal challenges. First, can you bring together everything that’s needed to make it a success – and when you’ve done that, can you be sure that anyone’s going to turn up?

The forecast for the day of the Charlbury Beer Festival was appalling: and as the team made the final preparations on the site, on the Friday after the EU referendum, there were plenty of long faces and clenched teeth as we contemplated the storms that lay ahead.

I was especially nervous because I was responsible for the Culture Club tent, and I was afraid of letting down our line-up of brilliant speakers and other performers if no one turned up.

I needn’t have worried. Even before the gates opened at midday on Saturday 25 June, queues of keen beer-drinkers were defying the weather – and soon afterwards the Culture Club tent was full of families eager to see an enchanting performance of songs by the choirs of Charlbury Primary School, led by Jennie Grierson. It was an inspiring way to start the day … ‘One world, one people, living together in harmony,’ they sang. ‘One world, one people, one family.’ 

After that the Culture tent was busy all day, even if sometimes the rain was so heavy that the speakers and other guests threatened to be drowned out (or even drowned). After the choir, artist and cartographer Jane Tomlinson was in conversation with Nick Millea of the Bodleian Library’s map department – Professor Simon Horobin of Oxford University talked about his book How English became English: A Short History of a Global Language – and this was followed by a ‘From our own correspondent’ session with journalists Kieran Cooke, Mark Gregory, Harriet O’Brien and Ali Ross. Senegalese musician Jali Fily Cissokho led a kora workshop, talking about the importance of his musical tradition in his country and demonstrating the kora’s diverse styles, and afterwards there was a ‘Meet the cidermaker’ session with Christine Elliott. Charlbury Youth Theatre rounded off the programme with an exuberant performance, ‘Shakespeare or bust’.

Inevitably the poor weather had an adverse effect on the number of people attending, but we still raised a five-figure sum for good causes locally and in the developing world. We’re also well ahead of the game for next year’s event, which will take place on Saturday 24 June 2017. Put the date in your diaries!

Edward Fenton (Curator, The Culture Club)