Bath Festivals celebrates its 70th anniversary with impressive programme of events

Musical notes on Milsom Street (c) James Cheadle

Musical notes on Milsom Street (c) James Cheadle - Credit: Archant

This May Bath celebrates seven decades of creativity with its world-class festival

Carnival, Party in the City

Carnival, Party in the City - Credit: Archant

It promises to be a festival to remember, full of music, art, literature and performance and it commemorates a significant creative landmark. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Bath Festivals and to celebrate this important milestone, the finale weekend on May 26 and 27 will see the likes of Paloma Faith, Robert Plant, Imelda May, Alison Moyet, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Midge Ure and Seth Lakeman play on Bath Recreation Ground, alongside poets and other performers.

Bath Festival, the city’s flagship multi-arts festival takes place over 17 days and features more than 180 events, bringing together some of the world’s leading writers, musicians and cultural figures. And set against an impressive backdrop of iconic buildings and city streets, the programme – extended especially to mark the seven decades – it will no doubt provoke and enthrall audiences of all ages.

“The diverse range of events on offer will stimulate, uplift, delight most importantly entertain the people of Bath and beyond,” says John Cullum DL, Chair of Bath Festivals.

“This year’s festival includes critically acclaimed authors and musicians, international artists and emerging talent from the world stage, as well as performances by local bands, community groups and schools.”

Well known rock and pop bands as well as classical, jazz and folk music will be heard alongside contemporary fiction, intelligent debate, science, history, politics and poetry, with concerts, discussions and collaborations and many free events across the city.

David Olusoga

David Olusoga - Credit: Archant

With such a diverse mix of planned events on the cards, artistic directors Alex Clark, David Jones and James Waters are hoping audiences will not only enjoy performances but be able to exchange and discuss ideas as well as take time to listen to one another.


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Music festivals were held in Bath in the 19th century but the roots go back even further. According to history records Queen Elizabeth I came to hear choristers at Bath Abbey in 1668. The Bath International Music Festival began in 1948 and the first 50 years are chronicled in Tim Bullamore’s book Fifty Festivals. The Bath Literature Festival began in 1995 and has grown to up to 150 events, showcasing the leading contemporary writers, thinkers, journalists and poets. And in 2007 Bath Festivals acquired the rights to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival. Throughout the seven decades, the key purpose of the festival programme has been to introduce music and literature to the young and young at heart who might not necessarily have such opportunities to participate before. This same aim is equally as strong for 2018’s celebratory.

Robert Webb (c) Matt Crockett

Robert Webb (c) Matt Crockett - Credit: Matt Crockett


Literature highlights include historian David Olusoga who will talk about his award-winning book Black and British: A Forgotten History and best-selling novelist Maggie O’Farrell who has had 17 brushes with death and is mother to a daughter with a life-threatening condition, talks about attitudes to death and her profound book, I Am, I Am, I Am, in a very special event. International bestselling author Kate Mosse, who has sold over five million books in 42 languages will introduce her latest novel The Burning Chambers which takes readers to 16th-century Languedoc, where the battle-lines are being drawn in blood, meanwhile comedian and writer Robert Webb delivers his hilarious and heartbreaking insights on How Not To Be a Boy.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer - Credit: Michael Murchie


On the music front, singer-songwriter and New York Times bestselling author Amanda Palmer (The Dresden Dolls, Evelyn Evelyn) headlines the opening night of The Bath Festival with her unique brand of punk cabaret. In 2016, Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) appeared on the BBC Proms to celebrate the life and music of David Bowie. As well as multi platinum-selling singer, songwriter and producer Ben Folds and prolific composer, performer, broadcaster Kathryn Tickell, the festival also includes the five time Grammy award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo give joyously energetic performances, combining traditional South African music with gospel and tightly-choreographed dance moves.

Another highlight is Concert for the people of Bath - an annual affair this year with Bath Philharmonia and dedicated to the memory of Brian and Margaret Roper. It brings together the winners of BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and is rounded off by a medley of solos performed by the extraordinary Kanneh-Mason family.

Richard Stokes (c) Colin Wagg

Richard Stokes (c) Colin Wagg - Credit: Colin Wagg


On the story-telling and word front, award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin describes the highs and lows of her own extraordinary life; Richard Stokes discusses his Penguin Book of English Song with live illustrations by tenor James Gilchrist in partnership with Anna Tilbrook while acclaimed novelist Roddy Doyle reads from his new book, Smile accompanied by jazz guitarist Hugh Buckley.

Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith - Credit: Archant

These are mere highlights and there is much more to going on that this feature can allow.

Allison Herbert, CEO of Bath BID (The Bath Business Improvement District), a strategic corporate partner of The Bath Festival admits there is a feast in store.

“The BID team is thrilled to support Bath Festivals in their 70th anniversary year. We are looking forward to 17 days of events which bring together our businesses and the community in this inspiring and exciting city,” she says.

“This year’s festival with its extended programme and the new finale weekend will provide music and entertainment across the city, creating a party atmosphere for local residents and visitors.”

Party in the City (c) James Cheadle

Party in the City (c) James Cheadle - Credit: Archant

70th Festival Finale Weekend

The finale weekend of The Bath Festival celebrates the 70th Anniversary of Bath Festivals with a two-day event taking place on the Bath Recreation Ground. The line-up includes Paloma Faith, Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters, Alison Moyet, Imelda May, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Midge Ure, Seth Lakeman, Freya Ridings, Jade Bird, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, Rhys Lewis, Ward Thomas, Poets Corner/Spoken Word stage, Talent Show, Children’s area, artisan food and drink, bandstand stage, eclectic selection of craft stalls and much more...

Family Arts Day

Family Arts Day - Credit: Archant

Party in the City

Party in the City. It will break from tradition by taking place on the festival’s second weekend on Friday, May 18. This year sees the launch of SparkFest, a partnership with Bath Spa University which is an innovative programme of theatre, music and dance, curated and created by the stars of tomorrow.

The festival has also teamed up with Twerton Park, the home of Bath City FC, for a day of football fun for all the family; FilmBath to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage with film, literature, politics, music and comedy; and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, creators of a dazzling multisensory evening of Living Literature and promises to immerse the audience in the world of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Young artists

As part of Bath Festivals’ Creative Learning Programme and their ongoing partnership with Paper Nations, the festival will also showcase creative work done by young people, with a display of stories and poems by city children.

Every year, Party in the City is launched with a school commission in the Abbey and this year is no exception. ‘Festival Spirits’ will commence with a song recital by soprano Elizabeth Karani, who will then be disrupted by some mischievous children performing their own song and representing characters from past and future festivals. They will be guided by composer, Richard Barnard and artist Edwina Bridgeman to create a brand-new performance and installation piece celebrating 70 years of the festival. Working in partnership with Wiltshire Music Centre, a remarkable set of forces has been assembled for a concert performance of one of the greatest of all musicals, West Side Story, in Leonard Bernstein’s anniversary year.

The Family Arts Day will, once again, take place on the last day of the festival in Parade Gardens on Sunday May 20 for all to enjoy.

As John Cullum DL, Chair of Bath Festivals concludes the 17-day event is about embracing creativity and engaging with a wide ranging audience.

“Our aim is to bring the city alive through the arts, reinforcing Bath’s rich history and reputation as a cultural destination,” he says.

“This is a festival for everyone, regardless of personal interests and age. It’s a chance to dip your toe into something new as well as seeing your favourites on your doorstep.”

To find out more about Bath Festivals 70th Anniversary events, contact Bath Box Office from 9.30am to 5.30pm on 01225 463362 or visit