Ah Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, one the world’s great seats of learning; birthplace of two kings of England, home to almost a hundred Nobel laureates and a thriving independent music scene.
We caught up with Simon Bailey, organiser of Ritual Union Festival, which will take over five venues on Oxford’s Cowley Road on 19th October to find out more about the city’s musical delights.
What makes Oxford a special place for music/bands?
Oxford boasts a fine lineage of amazing talent over the years that is the envy of other larger cities. Throw that in to the mix of a culturally diverse audience, some brilliant venues and the always buzzing Cowley Road, it’s hard for bands to not love this place when they come here.
Is there a scene or a sound that you would describe as being specific or special to the city?
Not really no. There’s a bunch of great bands and artists around but they’re all super diverse which is testament to the diversity of the city I think. It’s great that we don’t just have a bunch of artists around that all sound the same. There’s lots of smaller scenes which all tend to come together to create one big scene. It’s quite a happy little melting pot.
Give us a quick local history lesson – who are some of your favourite Oxford bands of the past?
So many… here’s a few in semi-chronological order….. Radiohead, Ride, Swervedriver, Supergrass, Young Knives, Foals, Glass Animals, Low Island, Willie J Healey…. looking forward to seeing who carries that lineage on in the years ahead….
And who should we be looking out for right now?
In recent years, Low Island, Willie J Healey & Rhys Lewis have been flying the flag proudly for Oxford with great aplomb…. beyond that Max Blansjaar is really exciting, especially considering he is just 16 years old…. Theo is really great, Premium Leisure, Self Help, Lacuna Common and Be Good all have a chance of really breaking through in the next 12 months… in fact we’re working on a Ritual Union showcase event in London in the new year to try and help push some of these artists out to a wider audience…
Where are your favourite places to see live music in the city?
There are loads of great spaces like the basement at Modern Art, The Library, O2 Academy, The Port Mahon but the two that hold the most special place in my heart are the now defunct Cellar, which is sorely missed since it’s closed and The Bullingdon. Some of my all-time favourite Oxford shows have happened in those venues and I have many happy memories in both of them which will stay with me for a long, long time.
We’ve seen venues across the country under threat from developers, noise complaints and rising costs – has the music scene in Oxford been impacted? What has the reaction been locally?
We certainly have. We lost The Cellar recently which was such a great space for bringing exciting new artists in to the city for their first shows. I miss it dearly and really feel for the Hopkins family who had run it for over 35 years.
Aside from the bands who are some of the local music heroes working to keep music thriving in Oxford?
There are loads, from all the amazing venue managers, who work super hard to make sure we have the best spaces for artists to play, to the brilliant team at Truck Store, especially manager Carl, who support the scene here locally and we couldn’t do without. Then there’s Ronan at Nightshift Magazine, a certified Oxford legend and Stewart at Oxfordshire Music Scene Magazine who both work really hard to keep everyone in the know alongside Tim at Oxford Mail. Some ace photographers (Jason & Helen), the team at BBC Introducing (Katy, Dave, Liz & Chris) for always bigging up new artists alongside Laurie at BBC Oxford. Some brilliant promoters like Divine Schism and finally, some brilliant sound engineers and technical staff who make it all happen on the day… shout out to Jimmy, Martin, Allan and all the others! It takes a lot of creative talent to make a scene tick and its not all down to the promoters. It’s nice to have the chance to recognise all the other brilliant people that are involved from time to time.
Interview by Paul Maps
Cover image by Sidharth Bhatia via Unsplash