After an incredibly challenging 12 months, Henley Festival are delighted to return for 2021 to its spectacular setting on the riverbank in Henley-on-Thames with its full black-tie splendour. They will be moving their traditional dates to Wednesday 15th to Sunday 19th September 2021 and will be bringing to the mix a super-charged brand new pop-up party that will take place from 8th – 10th July ahead of the main festival.
The UK’s most glamorous festival and winner of Headline Performance of the Year in 2016, Henley Festival 2021 will see the existing eclectic line-up promised last year, full of award-winning comedy, critically acclaimed artists and the biggest names in popular, world, jazz and classical music. Replacing Myleene Klass and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on the Floating Stage on Sunday 19th September will be an unforgettable experience of Queen, ABBA and the Bee Gees in a rock and symphonic spectacular with the English National Orchestra.
While 2020 saw a digital edition of Henley Festival, the return of a physical event will once again see festival goers arriving by boat as they step onto the green lawns of the festival which will be transformed into a Great Gatsby vision, as black-tie clad revellers spill across the festival site, champagne in hand, while fireworks explode overhead. A sparkly sight we are all looking forward to seeing and experiencing after a dull 2020!
Established 38 years ago as a classical music charity event, Henley Festival is the UK’s only black-tie festival – glamour personified – and continues to run as a non-profit organisation, supporting charitable projects at both a national and local level.
Seminal British pop band Madness will open Henley festival 2021 on Wednesday night. One of the top 20 selling UK groups of all time, Madness have seven top ten albums, 22 top 20 hits and over six million album sales to their name. Having celebrated 40 years in the music industry in 2019, Madness will perform much loved classics including ‘House of Fun’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘It Must Be Love’ alongside new songs from their first album in five years ‘The Bullingdon Boys.’ A British group like no other, formed in the heyday of punk, Madness are true originals who mix ska and reggae rhythms with social comment and music hall humour. Their appeal endures to this day, Madness’ latter-day concerts having become fun-packed celebrations of one of the best-loved songbooks in British pop.
On Thursday night, Henley Festival is delighted to welcome the multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter James Blunt to headline the Floating Stage. A household name across the UK and beyond, Blunt rose to fame in 2004 with the release of his debut album Back to Bedlam, achieving worldwide acclaim with the hit singles ‘You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Goodbye My Lover’. Back to Bedlam went on to become the best-selling album of the 2000s in the UK, with over 11 million copies sold worldwide. Blunt has received numerous awards, including two Brit Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards and two Ivor Novello Awards, as well as receiving five Grammy Award nominations. He has continued to achieve huge commercial success with his following releases, the latest being his new album Once Upon a Mind.
The Henley festival audience are in for a treat on Friday night, as singer-songwriter sensation Sophie Ellis-Bextor takes to the floating stage. The queen of ‘sophisticated pop’, Ellis-Bextor released her double-platinum selling debut album Read My Lips in 2001, which reached number two in the UK Albums Chart and produced hit singles including ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Take Me Home’. The album also experienced international success, selling more than 2 million copies worldwide and winning the Edison Award for ‘Best Dance Album’ in 2003. Ellis-Bextor continued to achieve great commercial success with her following releases. In 2014, her fifth studio album Wanderlust became her highest charting album since Read My Lips, peaking at number 4 in the UK. Bringing a vibrant mixture of mainstream pop, disco, nu-disco and 1980s electronic sounds to Henley, Ellis Bextor’s headline show is bound to have the whole festival dancing the night away!
Friday night’s performance by Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the floating stage will be followed by Sara Cox presents: Just Can’t Get Enough 80s.Dance the night away to classic tunes from the TV and radio broadcast legend! Join Sara Cox for all the hits from the best decade, delivered with a stunning stage set and amazing visuals. Huge anthems for monumental crowd participation moments making epic memories to take home. If you’ve got fond memories of legwarmers and spandex, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough 80s’ is a new show set to send you into a retro frenzy!
Lovers of Disco are in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat on Saturday night, as a collection of the world’s most iconic dancefloor hits are reimagined, reinvented and brought to the floating stage by a full 36 piece orchestra, live band, singers and dancers for an amazing performance of Disco Classical, along with legendary Special Guest, Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge. Formed in 1971, Sister Sledge achieved international success at the height of the disco era and Kathy Sledge will perform as part of Disco Classical, some of their most loved tracks including hits from their breakthrough album We Are Family, and will include the top ten singles ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’ and ‘We Are Family’, the latter earning a Grammy Award nomination. Disco Classical and Kathy Sledge will create one of the most memorable and uplifting live music experiences around, filled with captivating light displays it’s the perfect uplifting party show!
On Sunday 19th September, the unforgettable new Don’t Stop Me Now presents a magical evening of Queen, Abba and the Bee Gees in a rock and symphonic spectacular celebrating their greatest hits including Bohemian Rhapsody, Staying Alive, Mama Mia and many more. Featuring a quartet of rock vocalists – all stars of recent West End hits – full rock band and the outstanding 52-piece English National Orchestra, the full symphonic arrangements are blended with a great rock band and top international singers performing all your favourite numbers.
The 2021 comedy line up at Henley is set to be bigger and better than ever, with the likes of Al Murray, Milton Jones, Shappi Khorsandi and Rory Bremner among the stellar 20 comedians performing at this year’s festival. One of Britain’s favourite comedians, Al Murray’s hard-edged social and political satire is sure to have the audience in fits of laughter. In 2003, Murray was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy, and in 2007 he was voted the 16th greatest stand-up comic on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.
Milton Jones will be bringing his hilariously clever one-liners to Henley’s comedy line up, involving puns delivered in a uniquely deadpan and purposely neurotic style. Jones has had various shows on BBC Radio 4 and is a recurring guest panellist on Mock the Week. Along with the likes of comedian and author Shappi Khorsandi and Scottish impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner, his hilarious show is certainly not to be missed. In addition, runner-up on series 12 of Britain’s Got Talent, Robert White, and the first stand-up comedian in Britain to use a communication aid in his routines, Lost Voice Guy, will also be keeping audiences thoroughly entertained, alongside a whole host of up-and-coming comics.
Henley Festival’s very own Jazz Club in the stunning Spiegel Tent offers dining and live jazz music before and after the main headline act. With their thrilling three-part harmonies, mercurial percussion, virtuoso violin and soaring sax and clarinet, The Boneshaker Band will create an inimitable and unmissable opening to the Jazz Club on Wednesday night. On the following night, Moscow Drug Club will bring their intoxicating & intimate musical experience – where elements of Berlin Cabaret, Hot Club de France, French Musette and Storytelling meet – to Henley’s Jazz Club. Friday night will see London’s own Jazz Dynamos transform and reinvent well-known songs from Peggy Lee, Dolly Parton and Madonna with a mix of jazz, bossa, samba, and contemporary pop music – occasionally all at the same time!
On Saturday night, internationally acclaimed Swing band Natty Congeroo & the Flames of Rhythm will bring the party to the Jazz Club with their high-energy, immersive live performance. Led by the legendary showman Natty Congeroo, the Flames’ repertoire is a combination of tight original numbers and explosive interpretations of classic Hot Jazz, Swing, Rhythm ’n’ Blues and Gospel. Closing the Jazz Club on Sunday, Austrian ensemble Aureum Saxophone Quartet will showcase the richness and infinite array of sounds that are possible on the saxophone; your ears will be amazed! In addition, electrifying live outfit The Hawkmen will bring a taste of rhythm ‘n’ blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll – brought together in a uniquely classic, rootsy, hybrid blend – to Henley.
Enter the Bedouin Tent for a taste of world music and home-grown British folk at their best. World music highlights include Paprika, the UK’s leading Balkan band, who create fiery melodies and foot-tapping rhythms that fuse Eastern European, Balkan, Gypsy and Classical music in a whirlwind performance of frenzied virtuosity. Max Pashm will also bring his infamous live show experience to Henley, featuring uplifting percussion, vocals and keyboards along with his general showmanship and sense of humour on stage. Fusing the folk and urban traditions of her Zambian homeland and her Scottish roots with London’s eclectic music scene, Namvula’s uplifting, emotive songs will transport the Henley audience into different worlds, while staying firmly rooted in African soil.
The Bedouin Tent will also be presenting up-and-coming names in folk music, including Julu & Heg, who have taken the scene by storm with their evocative, harmony-rich songs. Award-winning fiddle player Henry Webster is also among the latest generation of folk musicians bringing a fresh perspective to the tradition. Teaming up with singer-songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris, this special performance is not one to be missed. In addition, folk duo Nicola & Jim will present the amazing spectacle of Nicola’s simultaneous fiddle playing and clog dancing alongside the driving sounds of Jim’s piano and accordion. Having recorded and performed with international stars including Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Laura Marling, British slide guitarist and songwriter Martin Harley will also showcase his incredible artistry and intimate, gritty style to the Henley audience, and with three albums and numerous gigs across Europe already
BBC Music Introducing was created in 2007 to support unsigned, undiscovered and under the radar musicians. Henley Festival is hugely excited to be working with BBC Music Introducing discovering breaking acts from the region, all of whom have featured across the BBC network before.
This year Henley Festival will be hosting new local producer talent in addition to emerging bands and songwriters. Elton John and Lauren Laverne approved multi-instrumentalist Ralegh Long brings his Nick Drake-like sombre lyricism to Henley on Wednesday night followed by the London based and Reading bred electronic composer Darshaan on Thursday. On Friday Henley audience gets to enjoy the intricate folk of Roz Firth and on Saturday the singer-songwriter Olly Chamberlain will grace the stage at Pure Heaven before hitting major UK festivals in Reading and Leeds. Nigerian-Australian Tabi Gazele’s hypnotic melodies and joyful yet thought-provoking lyrics have drawn her comparisons to Emeli Sande. Her first performance at Henley Festival follows over 2 million combined streams of two track features (Devil On My Shoulder and Soul Glo with Lee Fields) on multi-platinum Australian hip-hop group Bliss n Eso’s 6th Studio Album ‘Off The Grid.’
Henley Festival is one of the very few festivals in the UK to showcase artworks from some of the UK’s most talented artists, photographers and galleries. Focusing largely on local talent this year, Henley Festival is delighted to play host to a string of up and coming makers and craftsmen, including artisanal jewellers of Studio 35 and Cristo Design’s striking wooden furniture. The festival will also welcome back Tommy Burr’s urban art that repurposes mundane materials like traffic signs into vibrant pieces of art. The festival will also collaborate with the internationally recognised Bishopsland Educational Trust for the first time, celebrating the craftmanship of the recent jewellery graduates.
Sunday sees the festival transformed into an enchanting playground for families and children of all ages, with a whole host of dazzling activities, performances and concerts.
Headlining the stage on Family Sunday is award-winning children’s presenter and double MOBO winning saxophonist YolanDa Brown who will present the spellbinding Henley Symphony Orchestra. From glitter face painting, eccentric comedy and theatre shows to interactive performance art, Family Sunday is a whole day dedicated to nurturing adventurous, curious and creative little minds.
For kids who love our furry friends, globe-trotting theatre troupe Creature Feature will roam the grounds as hugely lifelike and interactive gorillas for the day, for kids who love music there will be jazz and funk fuelled storytelling taking them on a magical adventure under the sea from Groove Baby whose latest show ran at London’s Southbank Centre, and for kids that love to have a giggle, hilariously silly comedy-duo Mad Etiquette will be performing one of their critically acclaimed skits.
With a programme packed full of wildly imaginative activities, Family Sunday at Henley Festival promises a truly entertaining day out for all the family.
Henley Festival is topped off each night by a jaw dropping overhead firework display. The sparkle that we all need, 2021’s fireworks display will be designed by Titanium Fireworks, the team who have put on some of the UK’s biggest firework shows in the last decade including the 2012 London Olympics, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the London New Year’s Eve Fireworks display and Hogmany in Edinburgh, as well as pyrotechnics for some of the biggest names in music including Adele, Will Smith, Coldplay and Take That. Henley Festival is currently the only music Festival which Titanium work with.