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When: 9 – 11 June 2023

Where: Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire, England

“We come to live music so that we can be part of something that is bigger than us.”

These are the words of Brett Anderson as he leads Suede through a blistering, euphoric set that brings the second KITE Festival to such a triumphant close. To music, he could just as easily have added forums for creative thinking and thought-provoking discussions; he would then have been talking about KITE itself, an immersive three-day experience that elevates you above and beyond a life more ordinary.

Following last year’s highly successful inaugural edition, KITE returns to the splendid surroundings of Kirtlington Park some 10 miles north of the city of Oxford. We are again assured beforehand that we will be sure to enjoy a weekend brimful of ideas and music – a festival curated for the curious, no less – and once more KITE delivers on its promise.

Welcome to KITE Festival 2023

From the sparkly indie-pop outfit Pale Blue Eyes – who light the KITE touchpaper for 2023 with a life-affirming blast of ‘Globe’ – and the hypnotic, jazz-inflected rhythms of poly-percussionist Sarathy Korwar, to the The Mauskovic Dance Band’s highly-infectious blend of Afrobeat, Columbian cumbia, and early 80’s No Wave, Friday evening alone captures the extensive reach of KITE’s sonic compass.

Between these excellent performances, it is then possible to become reacquainted with the festival site. The addition of a huge, tented main stage for the principal musical acts and the relocation of the Kids’ Area are the only significant developments from last year, evidence of quiet evolution as well as a strong desire not to radically change what is clearly a winning layout formula. Everything at KITE – including its eight unique stages – is within easy walking distance of each other. This all makes for an intimate, inclusive environment in which to enjoy the wide scope of entertainment that is on offer.

The festival really starts in earnest when Saturday comes (and, to which, Sunday follows suit) when the morning and afternoon are populated by a series of fascinating and often quite animated discussions featuring as diverse and a potentially divisive range of public figures as you could begin to imagine, from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove to The Guardian newspaper columnist Marina Hyde; from Alastair Campbell – perhaps best known for his role as then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy – to the former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major; and from the comedian, author, screenwriter and television presenter, David Baddiel to the English actress, author and columnist, Dame Joan Collins.

Dame Joan Collins

Add to this list Sally Wainwright, the television writer, producer and director from Yorkshire, celebrated journalist, broadcaster and bestselling author, Elizabeth Day, eternal optimist Simon Sinek, and musicians Susanna Hoffs and Baxter Dury all of whom are to be found deep in conversation over the course of the weekend, and you can begin to get a true sense of the exceptional variety of individuals that KITE has attracted to this year’s event.  

David Baddiel explores religion. Describing himself as a “Jewish atheist”, he recalls humorous conversations with his friend Frank Skinner, a devout Catholic who thought he would “burn in hell” for getting divorced, until he managed to get the marriage formally annulled at the Vatican, and what drives many toward searching for “their god”: “God is basically like the idea of a parent”, he says. “It is reassuring, he can be angry, but he’s constant.”

It is clear from listening to Alistair Campbell speak that there is thought and experience behind his belief that politics should be accessible, relevant, and be blessed to keep on moving forward in order to encourage younger people to take the path into it, “to go to more than one meeting, and not find them boring”.

We learn of Sir John Major’s love of music. He comes onto the stage to the sound of Madeleine Peyroux’s ‘Dreamland’ and we hear of his discovering the then little-known chanteuse in a jazz club many years ago. Major references the Rolling Stones’ song ‘As Tears Go By’, having drinks with his fellow knight of the realm, Sir Mick Jagger (who “always got the hotel rooms I wanted when he was touring in the same place I was visiting…but always gave me tickets for his shows that night”) and Robbie Williams’ rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘It’s De-Lovely’.

Founding member of the 80’s chart-toppers, The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs tells the author and music journalist, Sylvia Patterson that there was never any romantic union between her and Prince, how she saw the final gigs of both the original Sex Pistols and Queen, and that her perfect cure for fear of flying is listening to Isaac Hayes ‘Theme from Shaft’ on her cell phone. Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, Hoffs then concludes by playing first ‘Manic Monday’ and then ‘Eternal Flame’, a song that, apparently, almost never made it onto The Bangles’ third album, Everything.

Susanna Hoffs

Shortly afterwards, and by way of sharp contrast, Baxter Dury reminisces with Miranda Sawyer about his unconventional childhood and upbringing. He recalls how his father – Ian Dury, lead singer with the Blockheads – had employed the services of a “minder” for the young Baxter for times when he was away. This individual was a 6’7” tall asthmatic drug dealer who went by the name of the Sulphate Strangler and drove a pale white Nissan.

Talking about his songwriting, Baxter Dury says it is “more couscous and avocado” than being out there on the edge, though his live show later on Sunday evening gives lie to that assertion. It is a hungry, unflinching performance, an abject lesson in survival.

Whereas the weekend mornings and afternoons at KITE lean much more towards the Ideas element of the programme, the Music component comes fully into its own by early evening. On Saturday, Candi Staton plays her first UK show in five years on what will be her final European tour. Now 83 years old, age has not diminished her vocal power. She has so many top tunes to choose from she can easily load ‘Nights On Broadway’ into the front of her set and it is great to hear her sing her 1969 hit ‘I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)’ just one more time.

Candi Staton

And Candi’s day is not quite done there as she returns later – albeit in recorded form – with ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ when her 1976 disco smash pipes Hot Chip onto the stage. Suitably galvanised, the British synthpop stalwarts put in an energetic shift full of electronic dancefloor classics.

In between times, Alison Goldfrapp delivers the set of the day. “Well, that was fun”, she rightly observes after an incredible, intense ‘Rocket’ that blasts right off into the Oxfordshire night sky. She is enjoying herself and so are we. She signs off with recent solo single ‘Fever’, as big a slice of bold pop music you are likely to hear all weekend.

Alison Goldfrapp

At the positively ungodly hour of 11.45 on Sunday morning, Stephen Black opens the Skylark stage. The man who is Sweet Baboo is enchanting. Accompanying himself, variously, on guitar, flute, Yamaha WX7, and a vintage tape machine that requires the weighting of a rubber to properly work, the Welsh musician sings charming little songs about escaping this world with his young son because life here is so rubbish, walking a neighbour’s dog during lockdown, camper vans, and a chance encounter with Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee.

Now I’m not blaming the Pretenders but maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to have played ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’. Coming at the end of a memorable line of killer oldies – ‘Message of Love’, ‘Kid’, ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, and ‘Time The Avenger’ complete with some truly outrageous guitar pyrotechnics from James Walbourne, the song includes the lines “Who can explain the thunder and rain, But there’s something in the air.”

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Now Chrissie Hynde is clearly blessed with prescience because within a few more minutes the heavens open. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain, we get it all to a point whereby the Pretenders have to leave the stage immediately due to what are clearly wholly legitimate health and safety concerns. The site, effectively, has to shut down until the weather improves. Two hours pass before things can resume, but sadly this puts paid to CMAT’s appearance on the main stage and then both Django Django and Suede are forced to play what are truncated sets.

“This is the shortest set you’ll ever see us play”, Django Django’s singer and guitarist Vincent Neff tells us. It may well be that but they still manage to pack plenty into that 25 minutes or so, including a stunning cover of Daft Punk’s ‘All Around The World.’


And Brett Anderson isn’t one for hanging around either. ‘Turn Off Your Brain and Yell”. Anderson heeds his own advice and launches into the opener as if this was his last day on earth. He keeps up this quite remarkable energy for 13 more songs. Leaping from monitors, circling his mic lead above his head like a lasso, jumping from the stage and into the crowd, he is a human dynamo, contributing to a stellar performance by the band, the musical highlight of the entire weekend, and a clear reflection of KITE’s triumph over temporary meteorological adversity.  

KITE is a delight and I cannot wait for it to soar again in 2024.

Additional reporting: Claire Eggleston

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from KITE Festival 2023 are here:




God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.