There are music festivals... and then there is the Irregular Folks Summer Session. Cool, cultured, fun and just a little bit bonkers, this offbeat and eccentric celebration of music and the arts is a highlight of the year – and it could not be more different to the scores of commercial events which pack the summer calendar.

Forget bland charts acts, sound-alike indie bands and pop veterans who should have long ago thrown in the towel, and instead imagine engaging performances of genuinely interesting music covering everything from electronica to alt-rock, jazzy r’n’b and acoustic folk – though of a suitably quirky variety.

And that’s not even the half of it.

Since being set up by Oxford music-lover Verity ‘Vez’ Hoper five years ago, Irregular Folks has played host to a bewilderingly diverse range of acts. And it is this annual al fresco Summer Session where it all comes together – this time as a two-day feast of music, comedy, learning, art and engaging oddness, which takes place at the TOAD distillery in Oxford’s South Park.

“Irregular Folks is all about people – albeit ‘irregular’ people – rather than just music,” she says.

“It’s for people who don’t follow the normal path, but do something a bit different.

“In terms of music, it is experimental pop, alternative-indie, alt-folk and Indian classical music. It’s certainly not all about folk music.”

Its increasingly eclectic line-up is split into two: a ticketed day of music and a free Lazy Sunday Film Day.

Saturday’s line-up features Bas Jan, an all-female alt-chamber-pop-punk project from Serafina Steer; jazz and r’n’b-influenced double bass player Bellatrix, spoken word artist, writer and dreamy saxophonist Alabaster de Plume and electronic soundscape master Tony Njoku.

Also expect to see Jon Ouin, a former member of Oxford folk-pop heroes Stornoway, who makes his solo live debut along with former May Bird ALICE. Then there is Despicable Zee, Sephine Llo and former Candyskins vocalist and guitarist Nick Cope – who takes a break from his regular programme of children’s shows to perform for a more mature bunch of fans as this bravely child-free, adult-only (ages 16 and over) festival.

The Oxford Times:

The line-up, which also eschews the standard concept of headlining – giving everyone equal billing – is hosted by acclaimed comedian Paul foot.

A second Odditorium stage, done out like a Victorian parlour, will allow punters to expand their minds in an entirely legal sense, by engaging in a programme of talks and discussions, curated by spoken word artist and musician Dr David Bramwell – perhaps best known for his SONY silver award-winning BBC Radio 3 programmes The Haunted Moustache, and his Sing-Along-A-Wickerman live performances.

Elsewhere there are sessions of ‘drunken drawing’ under the direction of artist and master of the inebriated etching Simon Mandator, plus Tina T’urner’s Steamy Bingo, and sessions in making music from carved carrots, courtesy of Riverford Organic Farmers’ Jake Swinhoe.

“Programming a festival like this is like mining for gold,” says Vez. “It takes time and nerves of steel, but the reward is utterly buzz-inducing.

“This year’s line up is going to take people in so many directions. There’s electronic music from artists such as Tony Njoku and Bellatrix, and alt-pop-classical-alt-folk Sephine Llo. But not being able to pigeonhole artists is part of the criteria, though that does make it difficult to describe. There are lots of ‘alts’ , though, from alt-rock to alt-jazz.

“It is amazing to be able to provide a platform for artists like A L I C E and Jon Ouin, who both used to be in other bands, to try a new project out with our awesome audiences.

“This will be their first ever live solo performance and is part of the weekend’s spirit of creative adventure. Then there are the strange talks in the Odditorium, carrot recorder making, short films, carefully selected food stalls, and having my comedy hero Paul Foot host Saturday’s events.”

The Oxford Times:

Vez is also looking forward to a ‘lazy Sunday’ of cinema. “I’ve always felt that the massive Bedouin tent we use would be just perfect for film watching and now, there you go, another dream has become a reality,” she laughs.

Previous sessions have taken place in pub gardens and even a nature reserve on the meadows. This year, however, Vez believes the festival has found its perfect home.

“I’m so excited about moving this to TOAD,” she says. “A while back I’d heard about the genius idea that the ex-council buildings at the top of South Park had been taken over by am artisan spirit distillery. I wasted no time in scouting this out, and what a find!

“The Oxford Artisan Distillery – TOAD – couldn’t be more perfect for the Irregular Folks vibe. They are great people with sustainable ethics and have a wonderfully eccentric venue.

“I think this could be our best setting yet.

“Their dream of setting up a distillery came true, and thanks to them being up for letting Irregular Folks Summer Session descend on them for the weekend, this new Irregular Folks dream of a more central, quirky venue is also now a reality.

“Oxford really does feel like a place of amazing possibility to me, and all I can say is, Irregular Folks is my personal proof of this.

“The concept of staging an event like this, with exceptionally talented artists in a high production value setting at a low ticket price is not the best business decision, but remains at the core of Irregular Folks.

“Sheer passion and hard graft come together to make this event happen against all odds. I feel it’s important to have stuff in our lives that’s easily affordable, and encourages us to take a chance on something new.

“Thank goodness there’s the Arts Council and PRS for Music who, through their funding opportunities, have enabled me to do this mini-festival properly, experimenting with new settings, programming inspiring artists regardless of how big their profiles are, and working with best practise production values.

“I couldn’t do this without their support. It’s tough work that lasts year round but, my goodness, it’s rewarding!”

  • Irregular Folks takes place at The Oxford Artisan Distillery, Cheney Lane, South Park, Oxford, on Saturday and Sunday. Go to irregularfolks.co.uk
  • The Oxford Times: