Wondering what you should be listening to, and at which gigs and festivals? Tim Hughes asked a handful of industry insiders for their musical tips

  • Oli Steadman

Tigmus, Stornoway & Count Drachma

Musical highlight of 2016? Being invited to take Count Drachma to Festival No 6 in North Wales. By the time we’d arrived in North Wales in the pitch black and been driven over to the folk tent, it and the main stage were the only two things left standing. Almost the entire festival had been washed away by storms and half the artists had turned away in despair, unable to reach the site.

We stomped a mud-drenched hour-long set of upbeat Mbaqanga dance tunes from sunny South Africa to get the shivering masses warmed up, then partied on down to the beachfront and sang campfire songs through the night. Definitely my favourite festival in the UK.

Local act of the year? The Fusion Project. They started with a tiny living room gig in January for Oxford Sofar, and by October were headlining a sold-out concert in the Sheldonian Theatre. I was fortunate enough to be the one booking the show, and was blown away by the efforts and talents of this band. They are doing something totally different genre-wise and their approach to music is so positive and inclusive.

Favourite local festival? Common People. To be able to hear MAIIANS playing one of their final shows (for the time being) was really important. You could tell the local bookers were totally tuned in with the trends in Oxford at that point in the year. I’m looking forward to the second instalment in May.

Oxford Mail: Oli Steadman, right, with his brother and Count Drachma bandmate Rob, left

Brving the elements: Count Drachma

Favourite local venue? The Jericho Tavern has been through a lot of turmoil recently but it’s worked hard to pull through and recover its past form as a venue where bands love to play and people love to dance. My bookings platform Tigmus has been working closely with them to help make this happen, and it’s been a treat to see the hard work paying off as more and more gigs are totally sold out.

Willie & The Bandits was a highlight of the year there, as were the always-awesome Balkan Wanderers with the launch of their EP Citizens of Nowhere back in November. Here’s to another year of growth in 2017.

Musical tip for 2017? Locally I’m chuffed to see Catgod doing so well, as a brand new band with, at most, three gigs under their belt. They’ve already been tipped by Nightshift with a great review (check out their LP) and I can’t wait to see them play for Independent Venue Week at the end of this month with Cold Red Light and Hudson Scott – two other top tips for 2017. Outside of Oxford, James Beau Barclay was my favourite discovery of 2016, with his song Loving You Always.

Ambition? I was in South Africa over Christmas topping up some Maskandi guitar techniques, and I’m hoping to finally finish that Count Drachma album.

New trend or fashion? Artists are booking their own shows more often and with greater success, as technology simplifies the gig-booking process, into something ever more transparent and fair for musicians. I am so pleased to see the likes of The Fusion Project, Little Red, Catgod, Little Brother Eli and Roberto y Juan (back in February at Art Jericho) all using Self-booking is a means of taking control and having a say in their touring schedules. This is the way artists are going to keep earning the bulk of their livings, as recorded music remains so exposed to piracy and fraud.

One wish? To just skip Trump’s inauguration on January 20 and not have to sit through the horrid speeches and ceremony, that would suit me just fine.

Oxford Mail:

Local energy: Little Brother Eli


Ska and reggae DJ, artist and promoter

Musical highlight of 2016? Locally, Public Enemy at Common People. Even without Flava Flav, one of the best live performances I saw all year. Further afield, the outpourings of grief and love towards my friend the late DJ Derek, and in particular the tributes at Glastonbury, Boomtown and sharing the decks with Daddy G, Rob da Bank, Don Letts and Ray Mighty at The Farm in Bristol back in April.

Local act of the year? I think Zaia have really come of age.

Most overrated event? With a heavy heart I’d have to say Cowley Road Carnival. Over before it started.

Favourite local festival? Common People was the nuts.

Favourite local venue? The Bullingdon has come on leaps and bounds, but The Cellar still nails it for the soundsystem and the atmosphere.

Tip for 2017? There’s a wonderful new reggae band I’ve discovered called The Majestic, they’re playing The Cellar on February 27 and they completely live up to their name.

Ambition? Something special. Here’s hoping.

New trend? Racism. Xenophobia. Stuff that sounds a bit like Florence & The Machine.

One wish? If I told you, it’d never come true.

Oxford Mail:

Ones to watch: Zaia

  • Rob de Bank’s Common People crew

Team behind the South Park festival

Musical highlight of 2016? Duran Duran headlining our first Common People in Oxford is right up there.

Local act of the year? Ronan from Nightshift brought some fantastic local acts to our Uncommon Stage but we have to go old school and give a nod to Count Skylarkin’s Disco Shed as an Oxford institution that should never be underestimated.

Most overrated event? Bath time.

Favourite local festival? We are too biased.

Favourite local venue? We are very fond of South Park.

Tip for 2017? Madame Gandhi is getting us excited at the moment.

Ambition? Lots more brilliant parties.

New trend or fashion? Anything that involves glitter and Spandex is good with us.

One wish? More cake.

Oxford Mail: What's On module top link image

Top fest: Common People

  • Vez Hoper

Gig promoter, Irregular Folks

Musical highlight of 2016? Yorkston Thorne & Khan at St Barnabas Church. It was truly incredible and took me to a whole new musical world.

Local act of the year? Esther Joy Lane. She’s just incredible. I also love Solomon Grey and Glass Animals – fantastic.

Most overrated event? Bake Off

Favourite local festival? Truck has been getting really good.

Favourite local venue? The Cellar. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s warm, friendly, a bit frayed round the edges but all the better for it. And its luscious sound system is worked by some of the best local sound engineers in Oxford.

Tip for 2017? Without a doubt Esther Joy Lane is gonna make it big. I’m so so very excited for her. Also watch out for awesome band Go Dark. They’ve a debut album coming out on Bella Union. They’ll blow yer mind!

Ambition? Arts Council funding so I can do an even better Irregular Folks Summer Session at the Victoria Arms in Old Marston. I want to do you all proud with a really really special summer day to remember

New trend or fashion? Men wearing impulse. It’s the new hipster trend I hear.

One wish? For the Government to recognise that the arts are important to our daily lives and to fund artists to be able to do what they do so we can have a creatively rich life that really enriches all. Oh, and world peace!

Oxford Mail:

Rising star: Esther Joy Lane

  • Jake Pell

Marketing & Programming Manager at the O2 Academy Oxford

Highlight of 2016: The Uprising BBC Introducing night we hosted last month. Some great up and coming local Oxfordshire talent.

Local act of the year: I’m biased obviously but I am massively proud of the Leader boys this year. They are a band from Witney [managed by Jake] and this year sold out the top room at the Academy, and have big things planned this year. I also have a real soft spot for Kanadia, Wednesday’s Wolves and metal bands I Cried Wolf and Evarose.

Favourite local festival: Truck. We have a great relationship with Truck Festival, although Common People was great last year and I can’t wait for that too.

Favourite local venue: O2 Academy Oxford! But some great independent venues like The Cellar, Bully and Jericho.

Musical tips for 2017: There’s some real talent coming through nationally, and great small festival companies like Count Of Ten group (Who run Truck Festival, Y Not Festival & 2Q Festival) are the best at picking these acts up and building hot line-ups.

Personal ambition: Putting more shows on at the O2 Academy Oxford and other academies, while also looking forward to working with Leader and maybe managing another project too…

New trend or fashion: I think rock and heavy metal is coming back in a big way, from mainstream bands like The Amazons to more heavy underground acts like Black Peaks. There’s something happening in the scene for sure.

One wish: That Craig Charles comes back again at the end of this year. His annual Christmas funk and soul show here is amazing. Nice bloke too. If I could have my way it would be funk and soul every weekend.

Oxford Mail:

Witney lads: Leader

  • Seb Reynolds

Promoter, composer and keys player with Flights of Helios and The Epstein

Highlight of 2016: The Food of Love Project gig that I co-organised with Tom McDonnell at SJE Arts. Some of our favourite local, and non-local, artists played some very radical interpretations of songs referenced in Shakespeare’s plays. It was fascinating and entertaining, to say the least.

Local act of the year: I’ve always loved Rainbow Reservoir. Such a great band with maddeningly catchy tunes and amazing, sardonic humour. I hope to hear more from them in 2017.

Favourite local festival: Halfway To Seventy Five was really rocking. One of the acts that I represent, Speedbuggy USA, blew the roof off.

Favourite local venue: St John the Evangelist Church (SJE Arts) is magnificent, and still under-appreciated locally.

Musical tips for 2017: I hope the Flights of Helios album will finally see the light of day in 2017, and am very excited about people hearing it.

Ambition: To release my debut solo albums Remembrance/Epiphany, and to do a solo live show in Oxford. Watch this space. I am also working with Tom to release the Food of Love Project album, it is getting an official, national release in February. The compilation features contributions from Stornoway, Flights of Helios, Brickwork Lizards and James Bell as well as luminaries such as Thomas Truax, Alasdair Roberts and Dead Rat Orchestra.

One wish: Peace and love, man!

Oxford Mail:

Shakespearean shenanigans: Food of Love project

  • Cat Kelly

Festival Director, Folk Weekend: Oxford (April 21-23)

Highlight of 2016: Folk Weekend, of course. Hannah James’s JigDoll show had people coming out looking totally dazed, saying it had changed the way they thought about music completely.

Local act of the year: The Skeptics. Three old men in Hawiian shirts, with stunning singing.

Favourite local festival: Need you ask?

Favourite local venue: St Barnabas Church. It’s my favourite place to put stuff on.

Musical tips for 2017: The Owl Light Trio are being talked about a lot.

Ambition: Making Folk Weekend a totally inclusive festival. We’ve got a pilot project running this year which is Arts Council funded to try and encourage more families with disabilities and special needs to come to the festival.

New trend or fashion: No idea . I’m a folkie, we’re not known for being on trend.

One wish: I’m assuming this is not a Seth-Lakeman-covered-in-chocolate kind of wish? In that case, probably extensive coverage in the local press for my lovely little festival.

Oxford Mail: Folk highlight: Hannah James

  • Mark ‘Osprey’ O’Brien

Gig promoter, musician and frontman of Osprey and the Ox4 Allstars

Highlight of 2016: The return of Ride.

Local act of the year: Filth.

Favourite local festival: Des Fest.

Favourite local venue: The Jericho Tavern.

Musical tips for 2017: Filth and Violence is Golden.

Ambition: A new double album on vinyl.

New trend or fashion: I predict more 80’s clothing coming back – with lots of colourful and bright styles.

One wish: World peace, of course.

Local hero: Mark Gardener of Ride

Oxford Mail: