Bath Voice News: a season of festivals beckons as spring opens up into summer in the city

By Harry Mottram: two major festivals are soon to take place in Bath – with a long list of events to suit all tastes. First up is the Bath Festival – that runs from Sunday 13th May and a few days later the Bath Fringe Festival starts.

Sat 13-Sun 21 May. Bath Festival. Various events with a theme of ‘Opening Up’ in its internationally renowned annual celebration of music and books. It starts today with a walking tour about the city’s Royal connections at 10am meeting outside the Bath Abbey and ends on the 21st with a talk at the Guildhall about around the World in 10 Cats. For more details of the many events visit

The Bath Festival 2023 focuses on the theme Opening Up for its internationally renowned annual celebration of music and books from 12 – 21 May.

May is the perfect time for us all to be venturing out, exploring the city and connecting with others. Bath will be overflowing with people sharing their stories, experiences and wisdom. Join in with the Poetry Open Mic, get your hands on the hottest reads pre-publication at one of the exclusive Proof Parties, dive deep into politics, art, history, nature and science or be transported into new worlds with visiting fiction writers. The vibrant music programme focuses on bringing a flavour of today’s exceptional rising talent. Alongside a series of rising classical music stars, you can also experience the individuality, personality and creative free spirit of Bath Festival Orchestra, in residency during the opening weekend.  The festival will include guided walks, events in historic building, gatherings in intimate settings and more. The festival hub this year takes over the Guildhall and will include Mr B’s Emporium pop-up bookshop and a café and bar.

Fri May 26 – Sun June 11. Bath Fringe Festival. Various events with a festival of all the arts in numerous venues. See

The Bath Fringe is a festival of all the arts, with few rules as to what should be in or out – it’s what people want to do, and what venues in Bath want to put on. It all happens for 2 long weeks & 3 weekends (17 days or thereabouts) in early summer, in the beautiful city of Bath.

The Fringe can be traced back to the Bath Festivals of Blues & Progressive Music of ’69 & ’70, but the connections to the current crew are a little tenuous, so let’s say the real start were the Walcot Festivals of the ’70s & ‘early 80s, mostly run by a community group called Bath Arts Workshop – the name still exists for the company that runs the Natural Theatre Company of Bath.

The Arts Workshop (some of the festivals were also under the banner of Comtek, what was then called Alternate or Intermediate Tech, and now Green or Off-Grid, all very contemporary still…) and in 2019 there was an exhibition, a book, and some events about those early festivals, co-created with The Museum of Bath at Work – this is what’s left of that project’s blog, the book is available from the museum or here. These events were inspirational, some of their perpetrators are now pillars of the alternative establishment locally and nationally; occasional Walcot Community events are a homage and acknowledgement of how important that all was and is to the Spirit of Festival and to Bath.

Around the end of the Walcot Festivals (things change, people get tired and move on…) it was recognised more widely that there was a great deal that people wanted to experience and celebrate that wasn’t covered by the classical music centred Bath Festival, and a Bath Fringe was set up with the support of the then city council in 1981, with dates related to those of the ‘main’ festival but an independent organisation (Bath Arts Association) and a lively interest in many more artforms. There was financial support, at least for staff, available under various Community Programme initiatives in arts and, ah, community events, but with political shifts and internal developments those resources dwindled over the next decade to the barest handful of events.

A group of local promoters and artists were unwilling to let the idea die, and constituted a new group in 1991 to promote a festival that same year. That group, Bath Fringe Ltd., is a cooperative, and still includes promoters, artists, performers, venue volunteers, and audience members. It was briefly, at council request, funded through Bath Festivals Trust, but the arrangement didn’t work out and the Fringe retained its full independence. Many of the bigger Fringe events have their own dedicated volunteer team and run their own affairs under the Fringe ‘banner’ and couldn’t be done any other way: see other material about FAB Fringe Visual Arts, Fringe Art Fair, Children’s Festival, Bedlam Fair street performance, etc. Local council support has always been part of the picture, although this has got more difficult now councils have less money and more call on it (we’ve not ourselves had any actual cash from the council for many years, though they have supported some things that have appeared in the programme); the festival has also always been equally dependent on sponsorship, outside grants, much volunteer work and local goodwill – this is good for us, it keeps us very connected with our audience and other parts of the community as well as national institutions.

Over the years the Fringe has investigated and developed artforms events and audiences that have in many cases become mainstream, others of which have been taken on and commercialised by other promoters and festivals. ‘Affordable Art’, Spoken Word, Digital Arts & Media, Standup Comedy, Cabaret, Physical Theatre, Circus Arts, Folk & World Music, Latin Dance, Jazz, and the serious presentation of major figures from Pop, Rock and Black Music have all been Fringe centrepieces, some of which have been maintained and others developed elsewhere. That’s part of how Fringes work, and in a good way it gives us space to try and develop new things, even if we have to work the difficult trick of walking away from commercially successful artists and artforms…

Past performers include:
Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer, Nola Rae, Jonathon Burrows Dance Company, Ken Campbell, Jeremy Hardy, Rich Hall, Mark Thomas, Julian Clary, Bill Bailey, Rory McLeod, Baka Beyond, James Fagan & Nancy Kerr, Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerr, Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, Martin Taylor, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Davy Graham, Robin Williamson, Mike Heron, The Tiger Lillies, Jeff Green, Billy Childish, The Wrigley Sisters, Chris Newman & Maire ni Chathasaigh, Peter Hammill, Jah Wobble, Ed Byrne, Mike Maran, Guy Masterton, Zion Train, DJ Yoda, John Shuttleworth, Andy Irvine, Dave Swarbrick, Jazz Jamaica, Lumiere & Son, Bob Downe, Forced Entertainment, Red Shift, The Cosmic Sausages, Steve Arguelles, Kate Rusby, Howard Marks, Mark Steel, John Hegley, Leon Rosselson, Peepolykus, Ridiculusmus, Alan Parker Urban Warrior, Simon Munnery, The Kosh, Lee Evans, Malcolm Hardee, Jim Moray, Tinariwen, Lo’Jo, Garth Merenghi, Marcos Valle, DJ Suv, Angela De Castro, Jamie Cullum, Beth Rowley, Get The Blessing, Tinariwen, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, DJ Derek, Rory Bremner, The Correspondents, Robyn Hitchcock, Georgie Fame, Sam Lee, Nina Conti, Andy Hamilton, Henning Wehn, Gas Giants, Cie. Cacahuete…