Our Creative Director Paul Northup has penned a blog about what’s in store this year, for those of you who want to know what we’re particularly excited about. Don’t forget you can also use our lineup pages to dig around in much more detail.
The weight of expectation has been heavy this year – both the pressure we put ourselves under and the anticipation we feel from the Greenbelt community. After all, 50 feels like such a landmark. It deserves a great bill to mark the occasion. Then again, booking a great bill is always our aim and ambition.
As we announce our first names for Greenbelt’s 50th celebration, once again we’re pleased with and proud about the diversity, creativity, ambition and vision they represent. And we hope they ‘speak’ of what we value and what we believe.
So, mindful of the fact that Greenbelt is so much more than the list of names on the first lineup poster of the year (no matter how proud we are of them, how hard we’ve worked to book them, and how many more there are yet to announce), let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of some of the highlights.
(And please browse and dig in on our lineup pages to learn more about all of the acts and speakers we’ve booked so far.)
On Friday night we’ll be raising the roof with an opening double-headline bill. Firstly, the iconic and pioneering Indigo Girls make their decades overdue Greenbelt debut after a trailblazing career in music. We can’t quite believe that Emily and Amy haven’t played the festival before. But they really haven’t (even though they should have). So this is our chance to celebrate two of the finest and most righteous singer-songwriters that have ever emerged from the Americana-folk scene.
And to close our Friday mainstage music bill, we’re humbled to welcome back our Ukrainian friends, the brilliant Balaklava Blues. Given everything that has unfolded in their home country since last they were with us, this time we’re putting their wild brew of dance-meets-protest-music front and centre on our opening night, and teaming them up with a scratch choir of Ukrainian refugee singers, forced to flee their country following Russia’s invasion of their homeland.
With newly updated video footage and having toured their visceral show all over the world in the last year, connecting a global audience with how it feels to be Ukrainian right now, we are in awe and anticipation of all their show will mean in our midst. As they said after a recent performance in front of the Sydney Opera House: “Every time we sing these songs, it is not only an act of resistance, it is an act of existence.”
On Saturday, we’re really excited to be welcoming the mighty Laura Mvula to headline our mainstage bill with her spiritual, soulful party music. A true artist with one of the great English voices of our time, we cannot wait to bring her back to Greenbelt. Yes, although Laura has never performed at the festival before, she has been a Greenbelter. In fact, once, when asked what her favourite gig memory was, Laura named seeing Eska at Greenbelt back in the festival’s days at Cheltenham Racecourse in the noughties. Small world. Three times Mercury Prize-nominated, and an Ivor Novello and MOBO award-winning artist, Laura will take Greenbelt by storm, together with her stellar live band.
Sunday night’s mainstage bill will close with Ezra Furman topping the bill, sharing her songs of protest, community and acceptance across a dreamscape of lush indie rock and out-and-out punk. Who better to close out our 50th and lay down a marker for the future than Ezra and her music, made where her faith, hope and identity intersect? As an observant Jew, Ezra draws connections between her punk expression and her religious practice:
‘They are both counter cultures. They were the voices I found at a young age that were saying, “What most people are doing is not the thing you should do. You should do this uncompromising other thing, that is fiercely loyal to certain principles and ways of thinking.” Judaism also… on some levels it sounds crazy to say, but Judaism immediately seems anti-authoritarian to me. It just rings that way instantly. I know there’s a lot of counter-examples of that from the real world of lived Judaism. But on deep intellectual levels, it’s for the underdog, for the minority in a larger culture, for the poor against the rich, the royalty.’
Aside from our headliners and first-timers like Ezra, we’re so pleased to welcome back some Greenbelt favourites for our 50th in the shape of Grace Petrie and Duke Special. Also, making his long-awaited return to our stage (and our country), the legendary Bruce Cockburn, who is travelling over to the UK from his home in San Francisco to play for us all. Marking this festival milestone would seem impossible to do without Bruce – one of the artists who has embodied all that we hold so dear and seek to celebrate: artistry, activism and belief.
And elsewhere on the bill there is a wealth of great music – from the afro-fusion rhythms and deep spiritual consciousness of K.O.G, to the immersive showbiz comedic strut of Oh My God! It’s the Church and the banging Palestinian pop and theatrical camp of the extraordinary exemplar of ‘beautiful resistance’, Bashar Murad.
Meanwhile, on our ideas bill we have a wide-ranging set of speakers, writers and activists beginning to assemble, who will help expand our minds and hearts to the world in which we live and how we might be true within it.
From the celebrated actor Adjoa Andoh, who you might know best as Lady Danbury in Bridgerton, but who comes to the festival in her role as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation, to the CEO of Humanists UK Andrew Copson, who will be posing sharp questions about the role of an ‘established church’, and the always-prophetic and incisive Ann Pettifor, who comes to speak into the (re)gathering financial storm and to call for economic system change.
From a returning Brian Eno, who will be in conversation with the firebrand Catholic theologian Carmody Grey on why facts are not enough to change our behaviour and why only story can do that, to the much-loved Carrie and David Grant, decades on from when they were last with us, to share their journey of deconstructing and reconstructing their faith as well as building a church community in their home at the same time.
After having to cancel last summer, we’re thrilled that Cole Arthur Riley will be with us to share from her seminal book on Black bodies, This Here Flesh, and we’ll also have the pleasure of Christian Aid’s Chair John Sentamu, who will be in conversation with Chine McDonald about his life of faith and service and his unwavering commitment to justice.
From punk poet Henry Raby to the relentless food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe and from the author of Brown Girl Like Me Jaspreet Kaur to the biblical wisdom of John Bell, we also welcome the wonderfully wise and compassionate Kathyrn Mannix, who has devoted much of her life to helping us understand death and dying better, as well as young writer and editor of The Quietus website, Luke Turner, to share from his electrifying writing on love, sexuality and religion in Out Of The Woods.
Mythologist and all-round ‘wild man’ Martin Shaw joins us to speak about how his journey into nature has led him back to a re-wilded version of the Christianity he was raised with, while Micha Frazer Carroll is one of a handful of Pluto Press authors who will be with us – Micha speaking on the politicisation of mental health.
It wouldn’t be Greenbelt if we didn’t throw a spotlight on Palestine across the weekend and joining us from Bethlehem to help us with that is Muna Nassar, a longterm advocate for her people through her education and work – previously with Kairos Palestine and now with the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
Ru Callender joins us to talk openly about ways in which we can have a more ecological funeral and a better send-off in general, while Simon Sharpe urges us to act faster if we are to avert climate catastrophe. Sophie Howe comes to us after a decade or more serving the Welsh Assembly as the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, where she held Government to account on how their decisions would affect future generations. Her role is now widely recognised and Sophie is now working on this long-term, future-thinking with a wide range of public bodies, including the UN.
Stefania Maurizi and Ewan Macaskill come together to share their years of painstaking investigative journalism to a common end – Stefania on Wikileaks and Julian Assange’s imprisonment, and Ewan as part of the Guardian team who helped to share the story of the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Last but not least, we welcome the Oxford University epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, who gently suggests that a form of faith, not science, seemed to inform the Government’s COVID responses, along with the journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown who asks whether the rise to power of Black and Asian politicians like Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng is really post-racial Britain in action, or co-option by white power merchants.
Also, as part of our wider activist offering aimed at engaging with festivalgoers and empowering them to move beyond any stuck-ness they might be feeling in their lives, we are excited to have in residence The Loss Project and The Fandangoe Kid with their Grief Moves workshopping and rave shake outs. Grief Moves follows the success of ‘Grief Raves’ (which brought people together via music, inviting the public to come and play songs that remind them of those they have loved and lost). Grief Moves invites us to come and shake out our grief on the dance floor, releasing climate, political, or socio-economic angst with the space to collectively remember the loss of loved ones.
Our emerging theatre bill features the beguiling simplicity and deep hilarity of Attenborough And His Animals as Clownfish – just two actors – bring to life memorable scenes from the great naturalist’s TV catalogue with their clowning skills, garnering five-star reviews wherever the show has played and selling out a complete run on the Edinburgh Fringe.
Meanwhile, all the way from Australia comes Casting Off, a joyful, witty and poignant circus show from A Good Catch. Three generations of women play out a conversation through gesture and physical theatre that is uplifting, refreshing and heartfelt. It’s about knitting, the universe and everything. Most of all, it’s an extraordinary show about love and life and sure to be the must-see hit of Greenbelt this summer.
Spitz and Co. make a welcome return to the festival with their brand new show Elvis In Blue Hawaii. Expect the usual mayhem and audience interaction – and, of course, all your favourite Elvis songs, as award-winning Elvis impersonator Joe Reeve (‘Best Sideburns’ – GlosVegas 2014) stars in this musical comedy which is bound to leave you all shook up.
We came close to bringing The Chosen Haram to the festival last year and so we’re thrilled to be able to stage it at our 50th. “Haram” is something forbidden by Islam and this show, performed on two Chinese poles, deals with themes of sexuality, faith, addiction and connection. Presented by Sadiq Ali and produced by Turtle Key Arts, it is based on a combination of lead artist Sadiq’s personal experience, as well as interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community who identify as (ex) Muslim. It tells an incredible story about holding onto faith and sexual identity.
The fuller comedy lineup is yet to be announced but we are thrilled to announce that it will be headlined by returning festival favourite and Prince of Puns, Milton Jones. A regular on BBC2’s Mock the Week, Milton has also appeared on Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow. He is currently working his 15th series for BBC Radio 4. As a previous Perrier Best Newcomer and Nominee, the winner of two Sony Awards and a British Comedy Award nominee, Milton is in an irresistible class of his own when it comes to deadpan, surreal one-liners.
In its new location this year, the shape of our worship and spirituality programme is yet to fully unfold, but early highlights include the returning spiritual practitioner and public mystic Beloved Sara Zaltash, together with composer, drummer, percussionist, beat maker and DJ Sekrit, fusing hip-hop, electronica beats and rhythms to create inspiration for our spiritual journeys.
Making their Greenbelt debut is the soulful and experimental jazz collective Grace Notes, who work with musicians, dancers, and artists to explore faith, spirituality, and worship to reimagine how people can discover joy, encouragement, reflection, community cohesion, activism, love and – Grace. And returning is IMMERSE – meditative, atmospheric textures and etherial sounds led by the emotive voice of singer-composer Wilderthorn (aka Jon Bilbrough). Building textures and sounds drawn from nature with soaring layers of wordless vocals recorded in the depths of both cave and forest, IMMERSE does what is says on the tin: it is a spiritual experience to soak in.
Remember, these are only the early highlights. There’s plenty more to come over the next weeks and months – children’s, family and youth programming, workshops, visual arts, outdoor activities and crafts – as well as more to add to the music, ideas and spirituality programmes. Keep your eyes on our Dispatches email and socials, and on our lineup pages for the fuller picture as it emerges.