Tim Harvey, the creative genius behind the Wilderness festival, tells Tim Hughes what makes this eclectic artistic event so special

Musical icons, world-class DJs, top chefs, award-winning theatre companies and famous authors. When it comes to pulling together a festival, the team behind Wilderness festival do not mess about.

“I’m very excited about this year’s line up,” says the festival’s creative director Tim Harvey – the man responsible for designing the programme for the country’s most eclectic and interesting festival, which begins in two weeks’ time at Cornbury Park, near Charlbury.

“Wilderness is the most exciting event of the festival season – and this will be our best yet by a mile.”

The weekend will be headlined by Bjork, singer-songwriter Ben Howard and jazz-funk artist George Clinton. They will be joined by a diverse range of artists covering everything from folk and country to classical, electro-house, burlesque and blues.

“We’ve been able to get three great headliners with Bjork being the standout artist,” he said. “What she does is so emblematic of what we try to achieve every year. She is an artistic pioneer and her Friday night show will set the tone for the whole weekend.

“She is the biggest artist we’ve booked and is someone who really wanted to play here as her only summer festival show. It’s a wonderful testament to what we have achieved.”

She is not the only celebrity at the 30,000-capacity festival, though. One of the biggest names is not from the world of music at all – having found stardom not on stage but in his Oxfordshire kitchen. Raymond Blanc swaps the luxury of his Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, at Great Milton, for a tent, and will cooking a banquet for revellers. He joins an A-list culinary line-up of fellow Michelin-starred chefs Angela Hartnett, Nuno Mendes and James Knappett.

Priding itself on its ability to source the freshest new talent, the esoteric musical line-up features a mix of cult acts and underground talent. Among those playing for the glittered and fancy-dressed crowd will be Moloko’s Roisin Murphy, Hercules and Love Affair, Nick Mulvey, Nils Frahm, the Brandt Bauer Frick Ensemble, Caravan Palace, Ibibio Sound Machine, Will and The People and Benjamin Clementine. They will be joined by Damian Lazarus and The Ancient Moons, Asgeir, Shamir, Bombino, Lapsley and CC Smugglers. Music will be followed by spectacular processions, a puppet parade and acrobatic displays.

For many “Wild-ophiles”, the highlights of the festival are its Hidden Valley parties, which take place in a rocky ravine deep in Cornbury’s woods – a remnant of the ancient Wychwood Forest.

This year’s tunes come courtesy of DJ Tom Middleton, electronic music producer and Hercules and Love Affair vocalist Kim Ann Foxman, and DJ Harvey.

Witney Gazette:

They will be joined by Amsterdam’s Rush Hour founder Antal, blending house and techno with Afro and disco; Felix Dickinson, one of the champions of the burgeoning dance underground and party-starting Leeds duo PBR Streetgang; Mojo Filter, aka production and remix master Ben Zaven Crane; funk-soul-disco enthusiast YOMS; and Ollie Keens.

“The late night stuff is great,” says Tim. “There will also be trapeze shows synced up to the DJs. There are some really exciting things planned, but the most exciting is the Revellers’ Village which will take place near the valley, and which will be an escapist homage to the 18th century Wychwood Forest Fairs which took place around here – with everything from magicians to snake-charmers.”

There will be more dancing courtesy of jazz-swing and Latin funk outfit The Brass Funkeys, Bristol six-piece theatrical showband Carny Villains, the Duffy Moonshine Big Band, 13-piece Balkan brass act the Trans Siberian March Band, and Voodoo Love Orchestra.

If all that dancing gets too much, there will be more soothing sounds in the Travelling Folk Barn, which offers Eastern European rhythms from The Turbans, upbeat melodic pop from The Buffalo Skinners, Americana from Goodnight Lenin and acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Zachary Lucky.

Witney Gazette:

  • Headliner attraction: Bjork plays her only UK summer festival date at Wilderness

“Everything at Wilderness is booked from the heart,” says Tim. “Nothing here has been booked from a commercial perspective or the purposes of selling tickets. Everything we bring to Wilderness represents the cutting edge of where music is at. People like Nils Frahm, Shamir and Bombino are doing things differently, and it all makes sense. There’s a very deliberate theme to each day.”

For a break from music, festival-goers can listen to speakers and join debates featuring the likes of historian and television presenter Dan Snow, comedian and local Cotswold resident Dom Joly, GQ editor Dylan Jones, Chief Executive of the RSA Matthew Taylor, Marigold Hotel author Deborah Moggach, and the philosopher John Lanchester.

Then there is the lakeside spa, wild swimming, workshops in forest craft and artistic pursuits, or just the pleasures of eating and drinking.

“People can get out of it as much or as little as they want,” says Tim. “If they want to come for a swim, for the food, the spa and the self-indulgent luxury aspects, they are all there. But they can also come for a deeper artistic narrative. We are not trying to be biased to one side or the other.”

But, says Tim, the real star is the location, which encompasses the largest part of the ancient Wychwood Forest and is home to hidden valleys, deep woodlands, ancient oaks, pristine lakes and waterfalls.

“Wilderness has always been an experience which has been shaped by an artistic escapism, shaped by the landscape of Cornbury,” he said. “We really couldn’t do Wilderness anywhere else but at Cornbury. It is a site-specific festival experience. The whole premise is that it is completely and utterly immersed in the landscape and inspired by where it’s going to fit on-site. It’s all about the topography and how individual performances will be framed by copses of trees. And that’s what makes it special.

“It’s a celebration of the landscape, featuring the most pioneering of artistic experiences we can get hold of each year, but in a way that has a narrative and makes sense as an overall composition. That’s what makes it unique.”

Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, from August 6 to 9.
For details and tickets go to wildernessfestival.com.

Witney Gazette: