It’s coming … the Festival of Europe, a celebration of European friendship, culture and collaboration with allies and friends across the Channel – a gathering that celebrates what unites us rather than divides. The festival is an ambitious concept, part of the Summer of Europe, a series of regional events across the UK from May to September 2022, with a final one-day event in the North of England at the beginning of September.
I think our festival is a bit different. Firstly, it’s not fixed to a place or a city, secondly, it’s inspired by the shared experience of communities in both the UK and the rest of Europe and thirdly, it is responding directly to the unique political challenges that present themselves to us today.
The festival is not political per se – I’m desperately trying not to mention the B word – but we do need to highlight what has happened due to the loss of Erasmus Plus, for example, that rather extraordinary open-access EU programme of support for young people, especially those from less privileged backgrounds. As I said at the launch, we do need to support young musicians who are now struggling to tour because of expensive and time-consuming visas. And we do need to repair the damage between ourselves and our friends and neighbours across the continent.
Music, art, performance and much more
The festival will feature music, art, performance, debate, culinary delights and a wide range of local events organised by our Summer of Europe regional team. There will also be much dancing and a huge dose of community spirit. One of the highlights of the Summer of Europe will be the participation of the United Strings of Europe, led by Leader and Artistic Director, Julian Azkoul, performing new works in 10 cities up and down the UK. To cap it all, the inimitable Howard Goodall will be composing a new piece of music to celebrate the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe, which will be premiered at the festival and performed by the United Strings.
Celebrating sea shanties… with a European twist
In preparation, the team and I will be working beyond the UK, with our European partners to build a narrative that celebrates our common heritage. To borrow a phrase you may have heard before, we need to ‘take back control’. Take back control of a shared narrative built on friendship, togetherness, kindness and respect.
One of the musical themes is the sea shanty: exploring what the shanty means for people in the UK – such as Nathan Evans, who performed the TikTok lockdown sensation ‘Wellerman’ – and countries across Europe. For example, how does the Bristol band Gadarene, which blends traditional tunes with modern variations, compare to Wör, a five-man band from Belgium, who are inspired by 18th century Flemish tunes? The festival plans to put both these bands on stage together.
At the festival finale, there will also be an Erasmus Plus Zone, involving the latest in VR technology, where participants will be able to take a virtual tour of Europe from a headset. Andrew Hadley, Director of the Centre of International Learning & Leadership, is involved in these plans.
Join the community – how you can help
There are many ways you can help. If you’ve got ideas, if you want to collaborate with us, speak to us now, get in touch. We are looking for individuals and organisations who would like to take part or help with venues. But the festival also needs funding: we cannot survive on the good will of volunteers alone. With your financial support, we can make this happen.
I know that I speak for all the directors and our entire festival team when I say that we are committed to creating a cultural platform that is exciting, inclusive, accessible, educational, community driven, sustainable and optimistic for the future.