AFTER almost four decades at the heart of the Oxford music scene, Mark ‘Osprey’ O’Brien knows the beat of the city better than anyone else.

The endearingly cheerful musician, DJ and promoter has been relentless in his championing of local bands and support for local venues.

He has played and promoted thousands of gigs in the city – many featuring new acts, giving fresh artists their first steps to wider fame. Many of those shows have been staged as part of his long-running project called, appropriately enough for a devotee of grassroots bands, It’s All About the Music.

Now he is celebrating his 40 years in the music industry the way he knows best - with a series of events designed to put the spotlight on new talent.

They include the 11th instalment of his grassroots local musical showcase, the Oxford City Festival, which is seeing scores of acts playing at the O2 Academy, the Bullingdon, Port Mahon and smaller rooms and halls around the city.

And on Friday, November 24, he teams up with friends and guests Starbelly, Mojo Demon, Charms Against The Evil Eye and Ben Jacobs to play the O2 Academy himself.

Oxford Mail: Osprey and friends on the roof of the O2 AcademyPictures by Ed Nix

Hailing from Middlesbrough in the old North Riding of Yorkshire, Osprey takes his avian nickname from the CB radio ‘handle’ he used while working on a fish farm in the Lake District.

Enthused more by tunes than trout, the mountains of Cumbria were the backdrop to his first steps in the music world. Teaching himself guitar he formed a band – Subtle Issue – and dived headlong into the local gig scene, playing anywhere that would have him.

In the 1980s he accidentally found himself in Oxford – and never left.

“It was Phil Collins who inspired me to stay here,” he laughs.

“I was on my way to London and stopped off in Oxford with some friends. I was negotiating a deal with Virgin at the time and met Phil Collins in the foyer of their offices. He said Oxford was the place to be because it was where Richard Branson had his Manor Studio. So I decided to stay – even though I turned down the offer from the label!”

He discovered in Oxford a burgeoning underground scene embracing all genres. “I fell in love with the music scene here and met so many great people,” he says.

He put more bands together, first Walking on Ice then World – featuring Ride’s Loz Colbert on drums and with violin by the late Paul Sartin who would go on to star in folk-rock band Bellowhead. The group would form the basis of his current band OX 4 All Stars. The band have long been a fixture on the city’s gig calendar but have played far and wide, including a headline slot at Glastonbury Festival’s Golden Moon. The set ranks as a personal highlight for Osprey.

Oxford Mail: Osprey in Oxford

At the same time, he also threw himself into the city’s rave scene as a club and party DJ, stepped up his songwriting, penned poetry, and set out to help new bands get their all important first gigs.

“We were always inviting other bands onto our bill and just carried on,” he says. “I’ve always done it.

“When I started out I didn’t have anyone supporting me. I wanted to make sure new bands had someone backing them. I felt an obligation and get a kick out of it as I watch those bands develop. That’s amazing.”

While the city’s gig scene has been battered by Covid lockdowns and the loss of much-loved venues like The Cellar and the upstairs room at the Wheatsheaf, Osprey insists the future is bright.

“It’s booming again, without a shadow of doubt,” he says with a smile. “The city is really vibrant. There is so much new music pouring out and some old bands are back too, which is great.”

Oxford Mail: Osprey in Oxford

And what is it about Oxford that continues to inspire Middlesbrough’s musical missionary?

“It’s the venues, bands, scene and culture,” he says. “And I have met so many fantastic musicians.

“But it’s also that you can walk 15 minutes in any direction and be in the countryside. Everything is within arm’s reach.

“You don’t have to conform to fit in here; you can express yourself however you please, no matter what you play nor how big you are – whether you are a great big fish or a little amoeba just starting out.”

He points to the city’s musical diversity – with bands and producers creating everything from rock to reggae, folk to electronica and acoustic pop to metal.

“There isn’t an Oxford ‘sound’ as such,” he says. “There’s a plethora of unique sounds... a cacophony. It’s all here.”

“There are more great bands in some individual Oxford streets than there are in the whole of most towns this size.

“All I want to do is make more people aware of them.

“Everybody knows the big names who have come out of this city, but there are new bands and artists appearing every week. We should all be shouting about that.”

  • The Oxford City Festival takes place through November at venues around the city.
  • Osprey & co play the O2 Academy Oxford on November 24, with Starbelly, Mojo Demon, Charms Against The Evil Eye, Ben Jacobs.
  • Tickets from