SPRING is here, the sun is out, and if you listen hard enough you might just be able to hear the distant sound of Morris bells, fiddles and banjos.
The festival season gets underway tomorrow with the start of Oxford’s Folk Weekend – and it looks like a cracker.

Boasting Eliza Carthy as headliner, it also features sets by False Lights, The Furrow Collective, Jackie Oates, Topette, Sam Carter, Ross Couper & Tom Oakes, Banter, Boldwood, Black Feathers, Mary Bateman and more. There are also dances and ceilidhs, family events, pub sessions, workshops – and an awful lot of cake.

Now in its seventh year – it has been going for as long as its predecessor, the Oxford Folk festival, from which it evolved.
Fun takes place at venues scattered throughout the city centre and Jericho.

The heart of the action is once again the Wesley Memorial Church. Dances and shows also take place at the Quaker Meeting House, St Barnabas Church in Jericho and the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s Bookshop. There will be craft stalls, workshops and family fun at the Oxford Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre in St Ebbe’s and events at the Bodleian’s Weston Library and the Westgate Central Library. 

Pub sessions take place in The St Aldate’s Tavern, Royal Blenheim, The Chequers, The Grapes and The Crown.

“We are really looking forward to it,” says festival director Cat Kelly, while taking a break from making the final arrangements for the weekend. “We are amazingly organised this year – and have loads of new stuff going on.”

And who is she particularly looking forward to? “Eliza for me will be a personal highlight. She a favourite of mine being a fiddle player too.

“Then there is the Elfen trio who sing in Welsh and are hypnotically lovely and The Furrow Collective who play melancholic and atmospheric music.

“We also have Ross Couper & Tom Oakes, who hail from Shetland and Devon, respectively; Anglo-French band Topette; BBC Folk Award winners Jim Moray and Sam Carter playing heavier folk-rock in False Lights; and our own Jackie Oates who will be performing fresh material from her new album.

“There will be dances and ceilidhs and, for the first time, there will be a craft fair in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre, which will go on at the same time as the workshops and sessions.”

In a year of firsts, music will also take place at two libraries – the Weston in Broad Street, and the Central Library at the Westgate as well as Blackwell’s bookshop.

It is the sessions at the Weston Library which have Cat particularly excited. “They will be using historic presses to print out the words to old ‘broadside ballads’ from their collection which are all on the theme of love.”

She goes on: “The weekend has all become a lot more interactive, involving people from the city and county. I am always getting approached by people saying ‘what can I do to involved’

“It has taken a lot of hard work to get to this level,” she adds.
So to the folk novice, what would she recommend as a gentle introduction? “The ceilidhs should be everyone’s first port of call,” she says. “They are brilliant fun and everyone absolutely loves them. And there’s a caller there to tell you exactly what to do. It’s not like the country dancing you might have done at school, it’s about having a laugh. There’s nothing to worry about – people would look less stupid at a ceilidh than throwing shapes in a night club!”

She goes on: “On Sunday we have a dance with Boldwood, who are very different and play old tunes that others don’t play that much. They bring old tunes back to life.

“If people are not sure whether they are into folk or not, they should also check out False Lights at the Wesley Mem tomorrow – it’s great electric folk-rock.”

Many of the events are free, whether in pubs and libraries or out on the streets, where 44 morris dancing sides will turn the centre into an open air traditional dance venue. Dancers come from around the country for the first major folk festival of the year.

Cat says it’s a special weekend with a flavour all its own. “Oxford is a great community festival,” she says. “It’s about getting together and having good fun, with music, dancing, beer, cake and meeting people; that’s at the very heart of it.

“It’s for people who like what they do and get together to do what they love.”

Folk Weekend Oxford: Today to Sunday at venues around the city centre. See folkweekend oxford.co.uk



  • Hands Up for Singing: children from Oxfordshire schools perform folk songs with Makaton signing.
  • False Lights: Dark, amped-up folk-rock with support from local trio The Skeptics. This could well be a weekend highlight.


  • Eliza Carthy: Folk fiddler Eliza makes her Folk Weekend debut with a headline set at the Wesley Memorial Church. The daughter of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, Eliza is folk royalty with an MBE for services to folk music, 10 solo albums and armfuls of collaborations.
  • Jackie Oates: A set by festival patron Jackie is always a highlight of the Folk Weekend. The Wallingford-based singer performs with Jack Rutter.
  • Topette!!: The Anglo-French acoustic dance band are an uninhibited bunch of musical adventurers playing self-penned and traditional music from anywhere with a winning mix of bonhomie and grit.


  • Furrow Collective: Holders of the Best Group accolade in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners, the band of Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, Rachel Newton and Lucy Farrell inject magic into traditional songs – with banjo, fiddles and harp.
  • Elfen: Soulful singing accompanied by fiddle, harp and accordion – and all in Welsh.
  • Boldwood: Discover old songs you’ve probably never heard before, served up as a soundtrack to a bouncy Sunday afternoon dance at St Barnabas Church
  • Broadside ballads: Head to the Weston Library to hear Giles Bergel talk about some of the ballads kept in the Bodleian archives, and to sing a few of them with Cat Kelly and local community choirs. To add to the authenticity, copies of the ballads will be printed on an historic press.