THIS year’s Bath Festival, running from Friday 13th May to Saturday 21st May has an impressive line-up of authors, musicians and influential thinkers, headed by guest curator Arifa Akbar, the leading theatre critic of The Guardian.
The world-renowned festival, which celebrates books and music in stunning venues across the beautiful city, includes careful pairing of authors and musicians to create experiences that will be unique to Bath.
The focus on live arts events and performances is a welcome return after the privations and frustrations of the pandemic and lockdowns.
The opening night free Party in the City on Friday 13th features dozens of live music events in city venues and as always is expected to attract thousands of visitors to enjoy everything from choirs singing in churches to samba on the streets, punk rock in pubs and local musicians playing on stages in the parks.
Look out for innovative contemporary jazz ensemble Empirical, who perform pop-up gigs in tube stations and shopping centres – they will set up in one of Bath’s empty shops, playing a series of free performances
A new Festival Hub in historic Queen Square over the first weekend of the festival will provide a gathering space with music, food and drink, family activities, live entertainment and surprise performances.
Historic venues around the city will include Bath Abbey, the Assembly Rooms and the former Art Deco cinema, The Forum. Komedia, best known as a music and comedy venue, will be hosting a range of events, and there will be talks at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. There will be a series of book events at the official festival bookseller, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in John Street. Other venues include Persephone Books in George Street, Walcot House and the festival’s intimate Literature Lounge in Alfred Street.
• events created for Arifa Akbar, who wrote the acclaimed memoir Consumed, including Tanzanian-born Nobel Prize winner, Abdulrazak Gurnah, and the brilliant Turkish-British novelist and activist, Elif Shafak talking about their work and the themes of home, Britishness, international fiction and post-colonial legacies.
• environmental campaigner George Monbiot talking to local writer Max Porter about Regenesis, his vision of a new future for farming, food and humanity.
• singer PJ Harvey presenting her new work, Orlam, revealing herself as a gifted poet who has written the first full-length book in the Dorset dialect for many decades.
• broadcaster Justin Webb (The Gift of a Radio) and author Richard Beard (Sad Little Men) joining broadcaster Mark Lawson to discuss male power and privilege, life in Britain’s elite all-male boarding schools and its effect on the psyche of the men who often end up leading the country.
• historian David Olusoga and geneticist and author Adam Rutherford, author of Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics, will be in what promises to be a stimulating discussion.
• Women on Top, an evening of life-affirming comedy with five funny women – Anna Whitehouse, Lucy Beaumont, Isy Suttie, Jessica Jones and Helen Thorn.
• debut voices, Julia Armfield, Susan Stokes-Chapman, Kasim Ali, Jendella Benson and Lizzie Damilola Blackburn.
• concert and talk by US pianist Jeremy Denk, a festival special and one of only two UK dates he is playing this summer; he will be playing Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and talking about his memoir, Every Good Boy Does Fine.
• a one-off water-themed programme at the Roman Baths by Bath Festival Orchestra, re-launched during the pandemic to give a platform to young musicians.
• Colin Currie, acclaimed as the world’s most daring percussionist, at Bath Abbey.
• festival favourites Public Service Broadcasting, bringing their blend of original music and intriguing stage performance to The Forum.
• pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, perform in the Holburne Museum as part of the festival’s Rising Stars of Classical Music series.
• Karine Polwart (seven-time winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards) with her latest project, collaborating with jazz/folk pianist Dave Milligan.
• saxophonist Jess Gillam with her ensemble, playing in a wide range of musical styles at Komedia.
There are a number of unique events, created specially for Bath Festival. They include a performance of Poulenc’s short opera, La Voix Humaine, a 20th century classic, in an apartment in Bath; comedian Marcus Brigstocke dissecting the Sunday papers with author and campaigner Dr Rachel Clarke, Channel 4 News journalist Symeon Brown and comedian Rachel Parris for a brunch time event; and author James Runcie talking about his new novel, The Great Passion, which was inspired by JS Bach’s masterpiece, accompanied by violinist Irene Duval.
Bath Festival walks are a regular sell-out – this year’s specially commissioned trio are the Bath Blitz walk, which revisits the 1942 bombing raids, a behind-the-scenes look at the city as a film and television location and a walk exploring Bath’s evolution as one of the great spa towns of Europe.
Major publishing houses, Penguin and Picador, are to host proof parties, previewing as yet unpublished works to a small gathering, with the chance to take home proof copies of books ahead of their publication.
Others taking part include Ali Smith, Martin Bell, Clover Stroud, Mark Haddon, Monica Ali, Nicholas Crane, Tracy Borman, Phil Wang, The Tallis Scholars, Marian Keyes, Viv Groskop, Nina Stibbe, Lucy Mangan and Cathy Rentzenbrink.
Festival chief executive Ian Stockley says: “A festival celebration has never been more important for bringing the city together. We look forward to seeing audiences’ reactions to the very special live events we’ve got planned for Bath.”
Guest curator Arifa Akbar has had a long working relationship with the festival, which, she says, makes her role as guest curator feel special: “I have been an audience member, often rapt or moved, and always walking away inspired. In former incarnations as journalist, moderator, trustee and punter, I picked up a keen sense of excitement the programme unfailingly sparked in the room.”
Tickets go on general release on Friday 11th March. For full details visit thebathfestival.org.uk
Pictured: Arifa Akbar; Elif Shafak; David Olusoga; The Tallis Scholars.