Tim Hughes talks to promoter Simon Bailey about bringing 35 bands to Oxford’s Cowley Road for a new music event – Ritual Union Festival

AUTUMN is here, the nights are drawing in and there’s a definite chill in the air. It can only mean one thing: festival time!

As strange as it may seem, this weekend sees the start of a new music festival – and one which is set to reinforce our reputation as a centre of new and exciting music. Ritual Union Festival sees about 35 bands and artists playing on one day, with the emphasis on indie guitar pop, psychedelic rock and shoegaze, headlined by Peace, Black Honey, TOY and featuring a clutch of Oxford artists including rising star Willie J Healey, art-pop favourites Candy Says, imaginative indie four-piece Low Island, electronic wizard Kid Kin, alt-rock & rollers The Other Dramas and country-tinged folksters The August List.

And fear not, you won’t need to get your wellies or tents out; the festival is a strictly urban affair, with action taking place at four venues, all within a guitar pick’s throw of each other on Cowley Road.

The festival is the genius idea of Simon Bailey of the city’s Future Perfect promotions - which has brought scores of exciting up-and-coming bands and artists to town. Action takes place at the O2 Academy (both rooms), The Truck Store, The Bullingdon and The Library, and, says, Simon, it is here to stay – with the event set to grow year on year to become a central date in the city’s musical calendar.

Simon has chosen a dream line-up of local, national and international talent, with bands hailing from as close as west Oxford (Candy Says) and Carterton (Willie J Healey) to Russia (Pinkshinyultrablast) and Bahrain (Flamingods).

Other bands booked for the all-dayer include Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation, The Vryll Society, Traams, Ulrika Spacek, Dead Pretties, Her’s, Trudy & The Romance, Baby in Vain, Tom Hickox, Mellow Gang, Magique, Van Zeller, The Lizards, Melt Dunes, Calva Louise, Syd Arthur, Baba Naga, Seamus Fogarty, Van Zeller, Swedish Death Candy, Temper Cartel and Chris Barker.

“It’s a real powerhouse line-up,” says Simon, who lives in Headington and cites Cowley Road’s former multi-venue festival, Gathering, as inspiration. “There hasn’t been anything Oxford at this level for a while. This is something we tried to do a few years ago and staged a smaller event at The Bully last year, called What Became Of Us. Now we have just decided to go for it.

“I want this to be an annual event, to grow and incorporate more venues.”

He said the line-up was a showcase of bands supported by Ritual Union and similar sounding acts, with the emphasis on guitar bands. “It’s quite niche but we wanted to bring back some of our favourite bands which we have worked with over the past 18 months – and others we want to work with.

“Some multi-venue festivals have a real mix of bands but we wanted it to feel more carefully curated and give people a chance to see the bands we love. We are trying to show that guitar bands are not dead.

He said a highlight would be the set by Russian female-fronted shoegazers Pinkshinyultrablast. “This will be one of only two shows in the UK this year, so it is quite a coup,” he says.

“I’m also excited by Traams and Dead Pretties – who are going to be big ones for next year.

“Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation played smashing show at The Bully and Ulrika Spacek are great and supported Ride and Slowdive. It’s all distortion and shoegaze, and right up our street.

But he said the Oxfordshire acts would also prove a massive draw. “We wanted to put on a mix of local talent too,” he says. “So we have The August List, Candy Says and Willie J Healey on the main stage at the O2 Academy – which is what it’s all about.”

Willie’s show will inevitably attract a large crowd, with a huge buzz surrounding the west Oxfordshire artist and songwriter. It follows a series of sold-out headline shows, support slots with the likes of Palace and Sundara Karma and the release of his debut album People and their Dogs. It precedes a headline tour later this year, which includes an Oxford show at the O2 Academy on December 9.

“Some of these bands have done smaller shows at The Cellar or The Library but this will be a chance to showcase them in bigger venues which they haven’t yet had a chance to play. It gives them a bigger platform and exposes them to more people.”

Simon expects the festival to attract a diverse mix of music-lovers, saying: “There will be a lot of people who read [Oxford music monthly] Nightshift and listen to 6 Music as well as younger people who read DIY and Dork and listen to the later shows on Radio 1.

“There will be a very diverse audience and I know people are coming from around the country -– so it’s great to show what we have in Oxford and what a vibrant music scene there is.

“We alone have put on 150 shows in Oxford this year, which shows how strong the scene is, considering it’s a small city.

“We want people to come down and enjoy it. They’ll have a great day!”

* Ritual Union takes place at venues in Cowley Road on Saturday. Tickets from ritual union.co.uk