What a year! Bath Festivals 2019 Highlights

While packing away the Christmas decorations and closing last year’s diaries we take a lingering look at some of our finest festival moments in 2019.

And what a year we had…

A collage of images from 2019

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The May festival of books and music kicked off with the annual Party in the City, a night of free live music in dozens of venues in Bath. People were literally dancing in the streets as local choirs and bands including Jamma de Samba, The Red Bandits and The Blues Others put on storming sets to appreciative crowds of all ages. Outside Bath Abbey a very special street performance, Pitch Invasion, created for The Bath Festival was performed by primary schoolchildren from St Michael’s Junior Church School, Roundhill Primary School and adults from Action for Hearing Loss.

The Literature Lounge, a beautifully decorated marquee was set up in Alfred Street for the first time, creating a popular intimate venue including sell-out sessions with poet Hollie McNish and journalist and podcaster Elizabeth Day. The festival’s hub was the Assembly Rooms where our official bookseller Mr B’s Emporium set up a bookshop full of tantalising titles.

As always The Bath Festival played host to some big names, with Jo Brand raising laughs at The Forum, Dame Darcey Bussell charming her audience at the Assembly Rooms and broadcaster Nicholas Parsons displaying his trademark quick wit. Film critic Mark Kermode spoke candidly and with humour about his career before bringing the house down, playing double bass with skiffle band The Dodge Brothers.

There were key themes throughout the festival which engaged audiences and started conversations. These included a series of lunchtime lectures, covering subjects from Roman Britain, Shakespeare and global philosophy and heated debates including on the state of education, feminism and the burqa. As part of a panel event exploring living with dementia author Wendy Mitchell spoke movingly and with humour about living with this cruel condition. The challenges faced by the environment were brought startlingly close as scenes from the David Attenborough series Our Planet were shown as part of a talk by series director Alastair Fothergill.

The classical music stars of the future, including pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and recorder virtuoso Tabea Debus gave memorable performances in some of Bath’s magnificent historic buildings. Different genres of music were well represented, with an evening of Hollywood songs and film, a rare performance from composer Roger Eno and some haunting folk from Irish four-piece Lankum. The festival also played host to Chineke!, Europe’s first professional orchestra to be made up of mainly black and ethnic musicians.

The main festival closed with the popular Family Arts Day in Parade Gardens attended by hundreds of people and a mini folk festival Firefolk, organised by BathIron to celebrate the blacksmith’s art and launch the newly restored Parade Gardens bandstand.



June opened with two days of full-on live music on the Bath Recreation Ground in the heart of the city. On the Saturday temperatures soared as festival-goers basked in sunshine to enjoy music from acts including chart-topper Mabel, Raleigh Ritchie and Clean Bandit. Bands competed over the weekend for coveted Bath Introduces first prize of a day in the professional recording studios at Real World, which was won by Irish singer-songwriter Dessie Magee.

There was music on the main stage and in the Big Top tent, street theatre provided by Bath Fringe Festival and over in the kids’ zone the Super Pirates kept youngsters entertained.

The next day the weather gods weren’t quite so kind, but the crowd singing along to I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone, led by the Hothouse Flowers helped dispel the rain clouds. Singer Corinne Bailey Rae put the audience in a mellow mood before Van Morrison took to the main stage. The legendary Irish singer-songwriter delivered a great set, running through many of his greatest hits. The Renegade Brass Band may have been unknown to many, but by the time they’d played their rabble-rousing hip-hop session with bold as brass attitude they’d won a whole new set of fans.

We’d like to give a great big thank you and round of applause to our Finale Weekend sponsors and to our partners Orchard Live for making this weekend come alive.



Thousands of children from schools right across the south west region took part in the annual schools programme, which gives children the chance to hear their favourite writers and illustrators talking live about the joy of books. The Assembly Room rang with the delightful sound of children’s laughter throughout the ten-day autumn festival.

We’re not sure of the collective noun for a group of Children’s Laureates, but there were an unprecedented six holders of this prestigious title at the 2019 festival. Cressida Cowell, the current champion of children’s literature, held her audiences spellbound at The Forum. Parents and children were equally charmed and enthralled by the show put on by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, with singing and storytelling. Dame Jacqueline Wilson did not disappoint her legions of fans with her honest and heartfelt chat about her characters, her life and how to become a writer. By contrast David Baddiel and Harry Hill both filled The Forum with exuberant giggles and guffaws from their audiences.

There were events for pre-school book lovers, as little ones got to meet the Little Mole, while very excited audience members got up close to a giant furry alien as part of the Aliens Love Underpants event. There were events for old favourites, including Elmer the Elephant, the Horrible Histories, Kipper and Dr Who along with some exciting new stuff, including Sophie Dahl’s first children’s book, Madame Badobedah and a new historical novel from the popular Somerset writer Emma Carroll.

Teenage readers had plenty of events to satisfy their thirst for new books. They queued to meet Malorie Blackman, Frances Hardinge and Chris Bradford. They also took to the stage to take part in the festival’s Poetry Slam, in which young poets presented their own work to an appreciative crowd.

The Junior Journalists competition produced three young winners, aged between seven and 14, who picked the author events they wanted to attend, getting free tickets for them and a parent. They went backstage in the green room where the authors congregate and got the amazing opportunity to interview their favourite authors. You can read our Junior Journalists’ interviews on our website. And look out for news of how to apply to become one of 2020’s Junior Journalists in the coming months.



The Creative Learning programme goes out into the community all year round. During 2019 teenage performers took over the egg theatre for a one-off live music event, Generation Zero, as part of our Young Producers programme to give real life experience to young people.

Last year saw a record number of schools (over 40) who brought children to the festival’s school programme events and we took authors to visit schools to inspire and engage with young people directly.

At the core of the Creative Learning is our aim to give young people opportunities to work with arts professionals, to be inspired to create their own events, grow their interests and gain valuable real-world experience. Some of what we do ­– like filling The Forum with 800 excited children to see How To Train Your Dragon creator Cressida Cowell – is easily visible, while others are quieter projects, such as providing a community library for young people at the Riverside Youth Hub, where charity Mentoring Plus meets.



We couldn’t have put on all the amazing festival events in 2019 – no really, we literally couldn’t – without our tireless army of volunteers and without our incredibly supportive sponsors and festival partners. Finally, we’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to YOU, our amazing audiences for coming along and supporting us. You’ve been brilliant!



The planning is well under way for 2020 festival fun. We’re joining in the worldwide celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a series of concerts in March and May. You can buy tickets for these and for gigs with razor sharp comedian Rachel Parris and singer songwriter John Grant. Tickets are also available for the fabulous Finale Weekend at the end of May, featuring a stellar line-up including Scouting for Girls, McFly, Billy Ocean and UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro. A rare visit to Bath by Queen of Punk Patti Smith has proved incredibly popular and there is now a waiting list for tickets to see her.

The schools programme for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival will be launched in April, also look out for the full line-up for the festival in June. The 2020 Young Producers project gets underway this Friday.

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