Towersey festival is a real family affair. That is true not only for the punters who pour through its gates for four days of music and fun, but also for its organiser.

Attracting crowds since 1965, Oxfordshire’s oldest music festival is organised by director Joe Heap – who follows both his father and grandfather into the role.

“I think I’ve only missed one or two festivals since I was a child,” says Joe.

“I’m not alone, either, as so many people have been coming to Towersey every year, and now come with their children, their grandparents, their grandchildren.”

That sense of ‘family’ and belonging, coupled with the festival’s rich heritage, are elements of which Towersey are proud.

“Those are some of the things that make the festival so special,” says Joe. “We say it’s ‘where music has roots’, but visitors do as well.”

Having outgrown its rambling and somewhat confusing former site at Towersey village it is now at home on Thame Showground. Gates open tomorrow, with revellers taking advantage of the bank holiday for an extended feast of folk-flavoured entertainment.

Always proud of its ability to box above its weight, the festival has an impressive line-up featuring former Fairport Convention member and one of the world's finest guitarists Richard Thompson, Ireland’s Sharon Shannon and Wildwood Kin tomorrow; The Proclaimers, Big Country and Daphne’s Flight on Saturday; Beth Orton, Fisherman’s Friends, Martyn Joseph and Brighouse and Rastrick Band on Sunday; and former Bellowhead squeezebox maestro John Spiers, country-pop duo The Shires, Peter Knight, BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Imar, and Blair Dunlop (son of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings) on Monday.

Herald Series:

Beth Orton

Joe insists the event is about more than just big performers though. “The main stage acts are obviously important, but the festival also has other smaller stages, all covered, where there are loads of other acts appearing,” he says.

“There are also workshops, family-friendly activities, a Saturday night ceilidh marathon and, on Monday evening, our lantern parade with some amazing constructions built by everyone over the weekend.”

For many, it is the presence of The Proclaimers, Scottish identical twins Charlie and Craig Reid, which will be the big draw.

Best known for hits I’m Gonna Be 500 Miles, Letter from America and Sunshine on Leith, The Proclaimers take their lead from the great rock & roll, country and new wave writers – artists who could say everything they wanted to say in a tight three minutes.

“That’s our currency,” says Charlie, whose new LP, The Angry Cyclist features 13 tunes, all of which clock in at under three minutes.

“When you start off, you don’t want to mimic anybody but you’re inspired by people, and you try and find your own voice through that, you know? But your influences come through.

“We don’t ever bother hiding them and we always acknowledge them – I know a lot of people are iffy about acknowledging their influences, but we have no problem with that.

“Someone who has something to say, lyrically, and doesn’t spend 20 minutes doing it... then I probably relate to them. So the Merle Haggards – but Noel Coward as well, he’s a master of that. So are Ian Dury, Kevin Rowland, anyone who has something to say and says it straight-forwardly, with humour.

Herald Series:

A Proclaimer

"Humour is good, but get to the point too!”

Charlie and Craig have been getting to the point since 1987, when a powerful appearance on Channel 4’s flagship music show The Tube led to their signing. The hits followed, as did appearances on Family Guy, the Shrek soundtrack, a Peter Kay collaboration, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Sunshine On Leith, a hit theatre and film musical.

“We were both extremely sceptical about it, but it worked, just everything about it worked,” says Charlie of the stage production. “Dundee Rep Theatre did the work on the first production, and it’s gone and gone ... it’s certainly defied our expectations.

“I never thought of us doing that. Musicals weren’t really my forte, and for us I thought, you must be joking!” he laughs.

“And then you look back in retrospect and think, yeah, it was a really good idea.”

While The Proclaimers draw on more than 30 years of experience and success, English country outfit The Shires are a far more recent phenomenon. The duo of singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes were thrust into the spotlight after being championed by Steventon’s legendary radio presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, and signed to Decca. Their latest album Accidentally On Purpose places them solidly in the radio-friendly easy listening camp.

Discussing his favourite track off the album, Ben starts to reel off a long list of titles before Crissie cuts him off: “You’re just running through every track on the album,” she laughs, “you can’t list them all!”

The incident underlines how proud Ben is of their latest collection. Recorded in Nashville, and their third consecutive UK top ten release, it finds their combination of contemporary US country with serious pop hooks which perhaps explains why Ben is struggling.

“I guess the one I really like is Loving You Too Long, which is the last song on the album,” he says eventually. “We all went for this Carole King kind of sound. It’s quite an unusual song for us, it’s in a waltz tempo – so it’s perfect for Strictly Come Dancing.”

Herald Series:

The Shires

Another highlight is the track written for them by Ed Sheeran, after the duo met the all-conquering singer-songwriter at a Nashville gig.

“We were just excited to watch the show, to just get to see Ed, from five rows from the front in an arena that held 20,000 people; that was just amazing!” says Crissie.

“Then there was talk that there was an after-party. We got taken back stage and got thrown into this party. My first introduction to Ed was him just handing me a jelly shot!”

For Joe, such diversity is all part of the magic of the festival set up by his grandad as a charity fundraiser all those years ago. “It’s a celebration of roots music,” he says. “The foundation is folk music, but we have a wider range of music every year – all with a roots vibe.

“We have some real surprises in store, as well as retaining everything our regular visitors have told us they love so much about Towersey.”

  • Towersey Festival is at Thame Showground from tomorrow to Monday. Go to