Just last week a friend of mine and I went out for a very belated birthday get together and she gave me tickets to Henley Festival as a gift. What’s Henley I asked? ‘It’s like Glastonbury for grown-ups’, she replied without a trace of irony or sarcasm. ‘What do you do there? Is it a music festival?’
As it turns out, it is so much more than that.
Henley Festival is a boutique cultural experience that takes place over five days, celebrating the best of international and UK music, art, food and comedy, in a quintessentially British location.
It’s a place to soak up the atmosphere and be entertained while experiencing a vibrant programme from pop to world music, classical to jazz, blues to cutting edge new musicians, where art and gastronomy share equal billing with music.
It began as an idea in 1983, to bring music and culture to the town of Henley-on-Thames. In 2016, this extraordinary festival brings artists of the highest calibre from all over the world, and draws an audience in excess of 30,000 to the most magical festival setting they will ever experience.
The night we were there Blake were performing – remember them from when they visited us at Q Towers? They were joined by a very special guest, a lady I have been fortunate enough to have seen perform before, none other than Dame Shirley Bassey herself!
Wearing a silver sequinned floor length gown she strode onto the stage, which was floating on the river, to the opening bars of Goldfinger and the assembled crowd, I kid you not, went wild. Her voice and her presence is as powerful as ever, showing no signs of diminishing in spite of, or perhaps even because of, her 79 years of age. She was mesmeric, still the superstar that she has always been. She belted out her old favourites, giving us exactly what we came for! She segued seamlessly from Goldfinger into ‘Lady is a Tramp’ and ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.
She was not alone on the stage as Blake performed before Dame Shirley’s arrival, treating us to a beautiful Andrea Bocelli track, ‘Because We Believe’, as well as the perennial classic ‘She’ by Charles Aznavour, which they dedicated to Dame Shirley as she has devoted much time and support to the boys since they sang at her birthday party a few years ago.
The event wasn’t all about the music though. There were food stalls and pop-up restaurants, and Ronnie Scott’s had a pop-up club/bar there. There was an art gallery and auction, street performers, colourful characters of every kind and even a crazy alternate-reality hairdressers were guests and visitors could have a slightly ‘Alice In Wonderland’-style makeover.
All adding to the fun, and sometimes surreal nature of the event, we watched hundreds if not thousands of boats and sailing crafts of all shapes and sizes, including a floating gin palace complete with jazz band, go sailing past on the river.
It was a fun evening and one I would recommend trying at least once. Sir Elton John took to the stage the evening before, and Will Young was the entertainment the evening after!
Best of all though, I got to spend the evening surrounded by friends – and at the end of the day that’s what truly makes a good evening, a great evening!
Until next time,