The History of Rhythm Festival

Rhythm Festival 2006 poster

Rhythm Festival was a music festival featuring rock, folk, blues, country, and various off-shoots that ran from 2006 until 2011 in Bedfordshire, England. The first five Rhythm Festivals were held at Twinwood Arena, Clapham, near Bedford, and were programmed by writer and music promoter Jim Driver.

RAF Twinwood was the former WWII airbase from which band leader Glenn Miller took off in 1944, never to be seen again. The site was converted by owner David Wooding into a festival arena with two permanent stages, primarily to host the Glenn Miller Festival. He also renovated the buildings and created the Glenn Miller Museum in the former control tower.

Headliners at the first Rhythm Festival in 2006 included Jerry Lee Lewis, Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band, Roger Chapman and the Shortlist, Seth Lakeman, Cara Dillon, The Blues Band, Jah Wobble and John Cooper Clarke. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was due to appear but could not as he was recovering from surgery at the time. The first Rhythm Festival was filmed and featured in an episode of the TV crime drama Midsummer Murders called The Axeman Cometh.

The second Rhythm Festival in 2007 featured John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Prince Buster, The Levellers, Dr John, Alabama 3, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Hothouse Flowers, and The Yardbirds. Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm were due to appear (for the second time), but despite receiving over £35,000 in deposits, failed to turn up.

In 2008, control of the event passed to Twinwood Events for a single year. Acts who appeared include Jefferson Starship and Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Star, The Saw Doctors, Richie Havens, Chas and Dave, Michelle Shocked, Phill Jupitus & Friends, Steve Cropper, The Zombies, 9 Below Zero, The Pretty Things, Jah Wobble's Unique Event, and Neville Staples. Alton Ellis was booked to appear but was forced by illness to pull out due. He subsequently died.

In 2009 the Rhythm Company took over organising the festival, with Jim Driver back in charge. He booked a line-up that was headlined by The Proclaimers (Friday), with Alabama 3 (Saturday), and James Hunter (Sunday). Other acts appearing on Friday included Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers, Frank Sidebottom, Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Oli Brown Band, and Billy Jenkins Blues Collective. Saturday's line-up included The Blow Monkeys, Terry Reid, The Beat, Jacqui McShee's Pentangle, Adrian Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds, and The Demon Barbers. Sunday has performances from Alvin Youngblood Hart, Eric Bell (Thin Lizzy) Band, Strawbs, and Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash.

Although no one knew it at the time, 2010 was to be the last year Rhythm Festival was held at Twinwood Arena. The event was headlined by The Wailers, Donovan, Arlo Guthrie, 10cc, Billy Bragg, The Damned, and Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Also on the bill were The Men They Couldn't Hang, Neil Innes (The Rutles), Adrian Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds, The Dualers, Louisiana Red and the Michael Messer Band, what was supposed to be the farewell performance from Roger Chapman & The Shortlist, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Jackie Leven, Ben Waters Band, Aynsley Lister Band, Leatherat, Swans In Flight, The Whybirds, Addison Lee, Sean Taylor and Fastlane Roogalator. The festival had to move because rain and water-logged ground were endangering the following week's Twinwood Festival, organised by the site's landowners.

Rhythm Festival moved to the grounds of Shuttleworth House at Old Warden, near Biggleswade for 2011, for year five. Despite torrential rain practically the whole summer, the festival went ahead with reduced numbers. With new stages and an entirely different layout, the festival featured performances from Toots & The Maytals, Imelda May, Jack Bruce, Steve Cropper and The Animals, Nick Lowe, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Oysterband, The Pretty Things, Saint Jude, Tracie Hunter Band, From The Jam, Sandi Thom, Curved Air, Terry Reid, Mud Morganfield, Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs, Oli Brown Band, Miranda Versus The Crok, The Blockheads, The Burns Unit, Nine Below Zero, Slim Chance, and Three Bonzos And A Piano.

This was to be the last festival to take place. Although the 2012 festival was programmed and advertised, it never actually took place due to lack of resources caused by the London Olympics and Rhythm Festival was no more.