Dancing in the Streets

With Eel Pie Island’s links to jazz, blues, RnB and rock, who better than renowned music journalist Allan Jones to report on Twickenham’s High Tide Festival 2021…

As a veteran of the UK music press with a 40-year tour of duty between 1974 and 2014, I’ve been to festivals all over the world, from Glastonbury and Reading to California, Tennessee, the Texas Hill Country and on to Venezuela, France, Spain, Germany, Greece and Finland. The best of these festivals wasn’t always necessarily the most well-known, with the starriest headliners, the largest crowds and tickets costing more than a loft extension or a small boat. Which begs an obvious question. What makes a great festival? Good weather always helps, of course, and obviously as much good music as possible to turn a crowd into a community, which is when you end up with an event as memorable as this year’s High Tide Festival, which transformed a large part of Twickenham at the end of September. 

As the sun went down on September 26, the scenes in front of the David McGeachie Property Stage in Arragon Road were as euphoric as anything I’ve seen at an open-air musical blow-out, anywhere, ever.

After 18 miserable months of quarantine and lockdown, everyone was cutting loose like they’d just been sprung from prison or released from a chain gang, unleashing their inner Rude Boy as The Desmond Dekker Band knocked out hit after hit and turning at least a corner of Twickenham into a mid-70s Jamaican dance hall.

This kind of musical time travel had been going on all day, across eight venues that featured jazz, rock, folk and poetry. The CTZN Bar in York Street was transformed for the day into a kind of suburban honky tonk, with a lot of great country rock from Danny George Wilson, Pete Gow, Ags Connolly, My Darling Clementine and local picker, Chris Tulloch, aka Mandolin Jack. If you’d spent the day at the David McGeachie Property Stage, you would have found yourself transported by Brixton bluesman Errol Linton’s fabulous band to Chicago’s South Side and the kind of club where in the 1950s, you might have seen Little Walter or Muddy Waters.

Stick In The Wheel’s dramatic Celtic drones meanwhile, would have taken you to some windswept moor, while exotic collective Malphino brought South American rhythms to south west London. The reformed Salad brought back memories of the balmy days of Britpop and may have been surprised to find themselves so fondly remembered, before Delroy Williams, sporting a fantastic hat, led out The Desmond Dekker Band for a climactic finale. On the Tsaretta Spice Jazz Stage, the sun-baked, riverside audience got to appreciate an afternoon overflowing with some of the best UK jazz around, including performances from Deschanel Gordon and Binker Golding. 

The local Basement Door and Powerjam curated youth bands playing on the Madison Brook Stage showed how strong the next generation of bands are too.

I’m sure a lot of people contributed in many ways to the success of High Tide 2021, from vital sponsorships and general support to actually turning up and playing at one of the eight dedicated venues. 

The biggest cheer should go out, however, to Kevin Jones and Phil Penman from Eel Pie Records, who are doing so much to make Twickenham a happening place and deserve all the future support they get to repeat the whole thing again in 2022 and many years to come.

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