Tim Hughes discovers the wealth of talent lined up to play at one of Oxford's best-loved music events
There aren’t many places where, in just one night, one can hear the very best folk, rock, pop, country, metal and experimental psychedelia – all played by local artists.
That one can in Oxford is credit to the breadth of the city’s music scene and to one of our best-loved events: The Oxford Punt.
Taking place over the course of five hours next Wednesday, The Punt sees 20 bands and artists play five city centre venues – all for the price of a pair of pints.
The event – which is organised by Ronan Munro, editor of Oxford’s highly-respected monthly music magazine Nightshift – is now in its 17th year (though it has skipped a couple). Throughout that time, it has remained the single best opportunity local gig-goers have to see some of the year’s hottest new (and not so new) artists.
“We are much imitated, but never bettered,” laughs Ronan.
“It’s a great way to catch all those local bands you’ve wanted to see, in one bite-sized chunk, on one night. And it’s nice and cheap.”
Sets take place at The Purple Turtle, The Cellar, Wheatsheaf, White Rabbit and a new venue – Turl Street Kitchen. The Purple Turtle will host a stage of louder music dedicated to late soundman Tony Jezzard, who died last year, aged just 57 years. Tony was a popular fixture at the Punt.
Music comes from Hot Hooves, Girlpower, Beta Blocker & the Bodyclock, Komrad, Trophy Cabinet, Neon Violets, Flights of Helios, Swindlestock, Jordan O’Shea, Hannah Bruce, Rawz, Julia Meijer, Cooling Pearls, Balloon Ascents, Art Theefe, Huck and the Xander Band, Salvation Bill, Lee Riley, Kid Kin and Vienna Ditto.
The only qualifications to playing are that musicians have to be local and that they have not played the event previously – though the rules are bent for artists with fresh projects or for bands with new names and line-ups.
“You don’t have to be born and brought up here to play, but bands should have formed here, be based here or have members living here,” says Ronan. “I don’t trace people’s family tree back generations though. Similarly, I try to choose people who haven’t played it before, though Olly Thomas is playing his fourth Punt in a row. Like some kind of tax evader, he has been able to bend the rules by playing in different bands and under different names – first as Ute, Grinding Young, Limbo Kids and now as Salvation Bill.”
Many Punters, who have included Young Knives, Fixers, Jonquil, Stornoway and Yannis and Jack from Foals (in the form of their old band Elizabeth), have gone on to find national and international fame.
“You don’t know who is going to be the next Radiohead,” says Ronan. “The Punt is a good place to start. It’s good for bands to get their names known and for fans to discover something new.”
Ronan refused to be drawn on his personal favourites but admitted he was delighted to have finally landed Vienna Ditto. “I wanted them to play last year but they couldn’t do it, so they were first on the list this time. They will be a great band to finish on. They play sci-fi modern blues and have a lovely late-night vibe and seedy glamour.
Criminally good: Art Theefe
“Bands range from Hot Hooves, who are all local musical legends, through to Balloon Ascents, who are so young they are only just old enough to play.”
He admitted it was a logistical nightmare trying to organise the event, but continued to do so as a labour of love.
“I always say I’ll never do it again, and I said it again this year,” he laughed. “Even Oxford doesn’t produce 20 brilliant new bands every year. It’s also hard to find enough venues happy to have music on, and to get people to come out to listen to music. Let’s see how I feel after next week though.”
He added: “The whole idea is fun. It’s like going to a festival but being able to get the bus back home at the end of the night.”
The Purple Turtle
7pm: Hot Hooves
9pm: Beta Blocker And The Body Clock
7.30pm: The Trophy Cabinet
8.15pm: The Neon Violets
9pm: Flights Of Helios
Turl Street Kitchen
8pm: Jordan O’Shea
9pm: Hannah Bruce
11pm: Julia Meijer
8pm: The Cooling Pearls
9pm: Balloon Ascents
9.45pm: Art Theefe
10.30pm: Huck And The Xander Band
The White Rabbit
8.30pm: Salvation Bill
9.30pm: Lee Riley
10.30pm: Kid Kin
11.30pm: Vienna Ditto
Not all child's play: Kid Kin
The Punt takes place on Wednesday, from 7pm-midnight. All-venue passes cost just £8 from oxfordmusic.net. Single venue tickets for The Cellar, Purple Turtle or Wheatsheaf are a fiver. One can get into the Turl Street Kitchen and White Rabbit for free.
Here's our pick of some of this year's Oxford Punt highlights:
Polished performers: The Trophy Cabinet