September in St Ives is like Paris in the spring, as it’s the best time of year to visit this popular seaside destination. The school holidays are done and dusted, there’s still plenty of sunshine kicking around, and the whole town comes together to put on what is arguably one of the oldest, and finest, music and arts festivals in the UK. Now in its 39th year, the dedicated team of volunteers who formulate, arrange and run the festival, are justifiably proud to be staging an event which caters to all ages, interests, tastes and pockets, for both locals and holidaymakers alike.
Featuring world class artists, writers, musicians and performers, as well as a diverse programme of hands-on activities and cultural experiences across the board, it’s a truly international festival which never loses sight of its distinctive Cornishness.
From classical to world music, folk and jazz to flamenco, plus poetry, theatre, walks, talks, workshops, exhibitions, comedy, films, open mic slots and so much more. With over 200 events to choose from, the hardest part will be deciding how to spend your days, so remember to pack your diary. Remember also to take time out to stroll hand in hand down the historic cobbled back streets, find a cosy table for two at one of the town’s many fine dining establishments, or cuddle up on the beach to watch an amazing sunset, as like Paris, St Ives is one of the most romantic places anywhere.
Attracting musicians, bohemians and artists for centuries, once you’re here you’ll know exactly why. In between festival events, be sure to visit a few studios and galleries to get a real feel for how influential the art scene has been, and continues to be. Maybe sign up for one of the themed art day courses, offered by the prestigious St Ives School of Painting throughout the festival fortnight. If the pen’s more your thing, there are plenty of writing workshops you can take part it, or be brave and take the mic at the Free Speech events in the Drill Hall, not forgetting Bob Devereux’s legendary Poetry in the Square music and spoken word gatherings every lunchtime.
But like most Cornish seaside harbour towns, St Ives was built upon fishing, a once thriving industry seeing millions of pilchards caught in the seine nets each year. It’s unique fishing heritage is celebrated in this year’s festival programme with a number of events, including net setting demonstrations, a walking tour focusing on the town’s fishing and maritime history, a show-and-tell of lobster pots and knots, and a special screening of the 2014 award winning documentary Pilchards: A Brief History of the Cornish Sardine. While the fish and chips at The Balancing Eel come highly recommended!
The full festival programme and information on how to book tickets can be found on the website www.stivesseptemberfestival.co.uk but here’s my daily hot picks:
Sat 10th: Why not limber up with an Iyengar Yoga class to see you through the festival fortnight? Wear stretchy/loose clothing, 10- 11.30am, St Ives Library, £7.50.
Then enjoy the free street entertainment and performances around the town from 12 noon, and later, be captivated by Fairport Convention, only one of the most seminal folk bands ever! Playing together for almost 50 years now, see them at The Guildhall, 8pm, £22.00 + booking fee. Bit too pricey? You won’t be disappointed if you head on down to the Queen’s Hotel at 9pm, where Tom Dale, virtuoso slide guitar and banjo player, will be singing old-time blues.
Sun 12th: Find your bearings on a town walk with local guide, Tony Farrell. Meet outside The Guildhall 11am, £5.00. Then play it by ear for the rest of the day
Mon 12th: Watch an open air firing on Porthmeor beach, in front of Tate St Ives, as ceramicists Mary Kaun English and Martyn Perryman demonstrate this ancient pottery firing method. From 4pm, fire lit at 6pm, free. Then dance, feast and make merry with Tyn Daga and Friends at their World Ceilidh night at The Guildhall. A phenomenally talented locally based trio, Tyn Daga will take you on a whirlwind global musical tour, with proceeds from the event going to the Nepali Children’s Circle Home. 7pm, £8.50 in advance or £10 on the door (under 14s £4.25/£5).
Tues 13th: Make your own soaps using a vegetable ‘melt & pour’ soap base, and adding dried flowers and herbs, oats, honey, essential oils and locally harvested seaweed. Barnoon Workshop, 10am-12pm, all materials included, £20.
Weds 14th: Be prepared to be tied up in laughter knots if you dare to see Shanty Baba’s new and outrageous The Kama Sutra Comedy Show. With adult content and no holds barred, BYO smelling salts and an open mind to the Porthmeor Studios, 8pm, £8 in advance or £10 on the door.
Thurs 15th: If you’ve ever fancied giving bell ringing a try, now’s your chance. Towednack church (TR26 3AZ) will let you have a go between 2pm-4pm. Minimum age 13, under 18’s to be accompanied by an adult, free.
Fri 16th: Sound of the Sirens are one of my favourite female folk/rock duos, whose tight harmonies, passionate song-writing, and driving rhythms will have you tapping your feet and feeling the emotion in their lyrics as soon as they hit the first chorus. With an engaging onstage presence, it’s not hard to see why they’ve garnered huge support from the likes of Radio 2’s Chris Evans and played every major festival stage from Cambridge to Glastonbury. I last saw them at Porthleven Food Festival where they had the crowd eating out of their hands. Sponsored by Aspects Holidays, and with support from local singer-songwriter Steve Jones, get your tickets quick for The Guildhall, 8pm, £12 + booking fee.
Sat 17th: Pull up an easel and join in one of the tutored drop-in life drawing sessions, working with the nude model, St Ives School of Painting, 10am –12.30pm/1.30 – 4pm, £15.00 or make a sketch book at Penwith Gallery, Back Road West, 11am – 5pm, free.
Sun 18th: If you go down in the woods today… you’ll find traditional storytelling, music (bring an instrument) nature trails, green woodworking and a medicinal plant exhibition. Steeple Woodland Nature Reserve, Steeple Lane (TR26 2AY) 2pm – 4pm, free.
Mon 19th: Retrace Wilkie Collins’ 1850 footsteps with Jak Stringer as she brings to life this writer’s seminal ‘Rambles Beyond Railways: or Notes in Cornwall Taken A-foot’. A brilliant one woman show performed at Porthmeor Studios, 3.30pm, £5.50, afterwards, do-si-do the night away at the Guildhall with The Whitetop Mountain Band. All the way from Virginia, USA, they’re proud exponents of their region’s old time fiddling and banjo picking. The Western Hotel, 8pm, £17 + booking fee.
Tues 20th: Inspired by last night’s gig? Make your own Didley Bow, a one stringed instrument, with a box, neck and an electric hook up, from recycled materials. No musical experience needed, Barnoon Workshop, 10.30am – 4pm, £45, all materials included.
Weds 21st: Towl Ros!/Cast Net! St Ives fishing in words, music and dance; capturing the sights and sounds of the catch and the emotions that go with it. With Tir ha Tavas (Dee & Dave Brotherton) Dave Higginbotham, Mick Paynter, Bob Devereux, Helen Musser & friends and Cornish choir Keur Heb Hanow. Porthmoer Studios, 3.30pm, £5.50.
Thurs 22nd: Go Gypsy wild at The Guildhall with the Budapest Café Orchestra. Traditional folk music from across the Balkans and Russia, crazy Klezmer and breathtaking ballads, that will bring out your wander-lusting inner gypsy. 8pm, £12 + booking fee.
Fri 23rd: Back at The Guildhall again, this time for festival patron, multi-instrumentalist and all-round nice guy, Phil Beer. One half of the award winning acoustic duo Show of Hands, you’re guaranteed of a fantastic folksy evening with this legendary performer and folk music ambassador. 8pm (doors 7pm) £15 + booking fee.
Sat 24th: One for all the family, it’s the sandcastle competition with a twist, as several architects will be getting their hands sandy for the event too. See if you can out-dazzle them in the construction stakes, on your 3m x 3m ‘building plot’. With prizes up for grabs in various categories, it’s a frivolous fun way to end the festival fortnight, Porthminster Beach, 12 – 4pm, free.
Have a look at our Holiday Cottages in St Ives.