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KITE takes flight
Creative Sensemaker

KITE takes flight

Thursday 18 November 2021

Time to book your tickets for our new festival of ideas and music in June 2022


If you have the good sense and the good taste to be at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire, between 10 and 12 June next year, you are – I promise you – in for a serious treat.

At this glorious venue, not far from Oxford and set in gardens designed by Capability Brown, Tortoise will be hosting its first festival of music and ideas, in collaboration with the team behind Love Supreme Festival. 

Such gatherings, of course, are now part of the warp and weft of British cultural life, and those of us who go all have our favourite memories (I recall with particular fondness one year at Glastonbury, discovering that Franz Ferdinand were being put up in the neighbouring winnebago – and very nice they were, too). 

At this week’s ThinkIn on protest music, Billy Bragg reflected rather more ruefully on his decision to take Boris Johnson to Glasto in 2000. But the overall impact of British festivals has been overwhelmingly to the good in the digital age; the deep human yearning to gather in our thousands, to listen to music in real life, in the open air, is stronger than ever.

KITE, please note, is a festival with a difference: a chance to dance and sing along, for sure, but also a fiesta of ideas and conversation in true Tortoise tradition. The whole enterprise has its roots in an original lunch between our co-founder James Harding and Love Supreme’s beloved supremo, Ciro Romano. 

That was way back in 2019. And what a great idea it seemed: a chance to talk and to rave for a few days in Oxfordshire, basking (we hoped) in the June sunshine. And then … a nasty pathogen came along and forced everyone to cancel everything enjoyable for quite a long time. Getting on down was swiftly replaced by locking down.

But you can’t kill a good idea. And now, after two more years of planning and creative partnership, KITE is back with a vengeance. Today, you have a chance to sign up early at a discount price.

This week’s Creative Sensemaker is all about getting you in the mood. And I’ll admit: I’m seriously excited about our headliner, Grace Jones, who truly personifies, in all her vivid splendour, the place where great music, flawless style and bold living meet and fizz into creative power.

Best known for her classic albums, Nightclubbing (1981) and Island Life (1985), Jones also deserves credit for the musical innovation of more recent work like Hurricane (2008). Decades before everyone was agonising about pronouns and gender theory, she was magnificently androgynous (“Feeling like a woman, looking like a man”). 

Grace Jones performing in Amsterdam, 1981

As May Day in A View to a Kill (1985), she single-handedly redefined what a Bond girl could be and do. And her autobiography, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (2015) co-authored with Paul Morley, is an amazing account of a life lived absolutely to the full.

As she recalls, she had her baby shower at Studio 54; “shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm”; “I am my own sugar daddy”; “I know that I was the wildest party animal ever”; “I flew on the Concorde so many times I knew the pilots. I knew their families. I could have flown the plane, except I would have wanted to do it naked, sprayed silver, in roller skates.”

You really can’t argue with that. So why try? Instead, sign up now to come and see Queen Grace in her glory, live and up close.

And, of course, the first rule of KITE Club is … tell everybody about KITE. Bring friends and family and let’s gather next June to have an unforgettable, celebratory weekend.

Here, to whet your appetite, are some of the other acts and speakers you can look forward to (with many more to be announced):

Music

Tom Misch

In his two studio albums Geography (2018) and 2020’s What Kinda Music (with Yussef Dayes) – plus his recent release of jams and covers, Quarantine SessionsTom Misch has developed a truly distinctive fusion of jazz-funk, exquisite guitar, electro dance, R&B and house music. There’s a debt, too, to the great chillout compilations of the 90s. Seriously infectious music that lends itself perfectly to live performance and the breezes of summer. 

Saint Etienne

Three decades since joining forces, the inimitable trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Bob Wiggs have long ago escaped the confines of the 90s indie-dance scene from which they emerged to pursue their own absolutely unique creative path. I still think So Tough (1993) is one of the best albums of the past thirty years. But see Mark St Andrew’s review of I’ve Been Trying to Tell You (2021) for evidence of their remorseless evolution and modernity (Creative Sensemaker, 17 September).

This Is the Kit

The musical collective that the astonishingly talented Kate Stables has gathered around her defies easy categorisation: imagine a group of folk singers from The Wicker Man, but with a taste for funk and a love of the English lyricism of bands like The Waterboys. This Is the Kit are wonderfully eclectic, and Stables draws widely upon (for instance) astronomy, numerology and the science fiction of Ursula Le Guin. She is also capable of explicit political interventions as when, in a livestream, she changed the title of ‘Easy on the Thieves’ (2017) to ‘It Is the Government’s Responsibility to Fund the National Healthcare System’. Listen to her most recent album Off Off On (2020) in preparation for the real thing.

Mavis Staples

If you have seen Jessica Edwards’ terrific documentary Mavis! (View on demand, 2015), you will know what KITE-goers have in store from this musical legend. “People always asking me when I going to retire,” she says. “I don’t care to retire! I’ve been on the road for over 60 years. I’ll stop singing when I got nothing left to say. And you know – that ain’t going to happen!” After 13 studio albums as a solo artist – as opposed to her many recordings with the Staples Singers – Mavis Staples remains a force of nature (check out We Get By), an artist that connects Gospel greatness with the music of the civil rights era, classic R&B, and contemporary soul. Get ready to dance to the sound of living history.

Nubiyan Twist

Afro-Jazz doesn’t come better than the music of this London-and-Leeds-based collective (presently numbering ten performers). Their latest album, Freedom Fables, is among their very best, thanks in no small part to the vocals of Ego Ella May. Nubiyan Twist always seem to manage to experiment and push the boundaries, but still drive the punters towards the dancefloor: a rare combination and one to look forward to.

Also on the KITE bill: TLC … Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80Baxter DuryConfidence ManThe OriellesGwenno … Katy J Pearson … Fran Lobo.

Ideas

Tina Brown on the royal family

The legendary magazine editor – try her Vanity Fair Diaries – is also an authority on the past and future of the royal family, and the author of the best book yet published on Diana, Princess of Wales. As the monarchy tries to reset once again after the death of Prince Philip, the antics of Meghan and Harry and the scandals enveloping Prince Andrew, who better to read the runes for this troubled institution?

David Miliband on crisis leadership

Still seen by many in (and outside) the Labour Party as the king across the water, the former foreign secretary has been CEO of the International Rescue Committee since 2013, based in New York. Managing refugee crises, championing international collaboration, and monitoring the impact of Covid in the developing world, he has become one of the most important commentators of our times on the future of global cooperation in an age of nativism and nationalism.

Elizabeth Day and Sathnam Sanghera

Two cultural phenomena for the price of one. Elizabeth Day – already an acclaimed novelist and journalist – has achieved international success with her How to Fail podcasts, public appearances and work as a television presenter. Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland was one of the must-read non-fiction books of 2021 and has stimulated a much-needed debate on the ways in which imperialism has shaped modern Britain. A conversation that is not to be missed.

Rory Stewart on war and justice

A former soldier, diplomat, and cabinet minister – who ran for the Conservative leadership in 2019 – Rory Stewart has made his name as a voice of political integrity, who cares deeply about international development, the notion of the “just war” and Britain’s strategic role in the world. He is constitutionally incapable of being boring. Come and listen to what he has to say.

Jarvis Cocker

The voice of Pulp has long since transcended his Britpop origins to become one of the wittiest and most thoughtful observers of our hectic times (you can pre-order his forthcoming book, Good Pop, Bad Pop from the Tortoise Bookstore). Jarvis in June? How can you refuse?

Delia Smith

The original and best: her books on food, gardening and faith have sold more than 21 million copies, and, in spite of many challengers over the past 50 years, Delia Smith remains the lodestar of modern British cookery, whose recipes can send supermarkets into a spin as customers rush for the ingredients. She is also joint majority shareholder of Norwich FC. A woman for all seasons, footballing or otherwise, with plenty to say about food – and much else besides.

George Monbiot

Dismayed by COP, George Monbiot is still one of the most amiable, constructive and inspiring speakers on climate change and global capitalism that you will ever hear. In a string of books and his Guardian columns, Monbiot tells it how it is, without fear or favour – and keeps smiling as he does it.

Mandu Reid on optimism and feminist resistance

Leader of the Women’s Equality Party since 2019, Mandu Reid has become an inspiring force in public life, pressing the case for action rather than words on – in particular – violence against women and girls. In a Tortoise Slow View in March, after the murder of Sarah Everard, she wrote that male violence against women was now a greater threat than terrorism and should be treated as a national security issue. At KITE, she will plot the next steps for women and their allies.

William Dalrymple and David Olusoga on the end of history

Who better to discuss the future of the past than these two mighty writers? In a series of wonderfully crafted books – most recently The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (2019) – William Dalrymple has breathed life into the art of historical narrative and shown that it can be the best vehicle for incisive analysis. David Olusoga’s debut (co-authored with Caspar W. Erichsen), The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (2011), was hailed as a deeply significant work – and his best-selling Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) has become one of the essential texts of the new cultural landscape. 

Also: don’t miss comedy at KITE from Reginald D. Hunter, David O’Doherty, Jen Brister, Janine Harouni, Sara Barron, Christopher Bliss and Michelle de Swarte. 

As a Tortoise member, you can buy your tickets in the exclusive pre-sale before they go on sale to the general public on Friday 19 November. You can buy day, weekend and camping tickets for 20 per cent off the full price.

Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to editor@tortoisemedia.com.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.

Best wishes

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
@MatthewdAncona

Photographs Gus Stewart, Tabatha Fireman, Hollie Fernando, Rob Verhorst & Burak Cingi/Redferns, Simone Padovani & Carla Speight/Getty Images

Portraits by Ed Miles, Christopher Lane, Daniel Hambury & Fabio De Paola/Eyevine, Tom Jamieson for The New York Times