Rhythms of the World was born in Hitchin Town Hall and set up by Oxfam. Tickets were sold at £6 and there were five performances by local artists including Flaky Pastry, Voices, African Drummers, Wayne McArthur and Bibi Marinder and Party. The event started as an evening gig. A rhythms and blues night was also held in November of this year.
A massively successful sell-out event that raised over £2,000 for Oxfam. African drummers, Bhundu Boys, Strange Fruit and DJ Man Ezeke played. The event ran from 7.30pm-12 and tickets remained at £6.
Another successful event with the Bhundu Boys back by popular demand. Tickets were now £10 and the line-up saw Suki Rayat (a Rhythms original), Dharambir Singh and Summerhouse.
Top London based salsa band, King Salsa, played – but selling tickets for a lesser-known local band proved difficult. Tickets were £8 for this evening gig.
Rhythms of the World moved outside with one stage (the back of a lorry trailer) in Hitchin’s Market Place and money was raised by a big street collection for Oxfam. The festival was now free to attend and ran from 3pm.
The start of the ‘Rain Years’. The weather was so bad we decided on the Friday – the day before – to move the entire event into the (then vacant) Corn Exchange. No one seemed to know where Rhythms of the World had moved to until the evening!
Rhythms of the World started more promisingly, but rain began in the afternoon and the crowds went home. Barely fifty drenched people witnessed the excellent nine-piece Zimbabwean band, Sangoma.
The Oxfam campaigns group decided to call it a day; the event wasn’t making much money for the charity and rain had dampened spirits beyond redemption. However, a small group of enthusiastic followers, and a couple from the original Oxfam organisers, decided to carry on. Workshops in the Town Hall and a stage in both the Corn Exchange and the George pub accompanied the Market Place stage. The sun shone for the first time since Rhythms of the World had been outside. African drummers, Aklowa and Horace X drew unprecedented crowds and ROTW became a festival. The media took notice and, most importantly, it drew the attention of music business professionals in the town.
ROTW bounded into the limelight. A new professional approach, closure of the High Street, more top quality performances and five stages with a greater variety of acts. Add to this a spectacular stage structure in the Market Place with professional lighting and sound and more market stalls.
Extended to Saturday and Sunday, ROTW 2001 was a true community festival. People of all ages, races and backgrounds united in enjoyment of a single event. With five stages, a reggae sound system, dancing in the streets, carnival procession and four participating pubs running fringe events, the festival was a unique community experience.
Community spirit – in the lead up to the festival, drumming workshops were run at local schools and on the festival weekend, an estimated 20,000 people attended. The festival now involved eight stages and 140 performances.
Rhythms of the World introduced its first programme, which could be purchased for £1. It contained a map, the line-up, a list of stalls, stages and acts and a history of Rhythms of the World. The main stage was moved to Portmill Lane and St Mary’s Church was used as a music venue.
The year of the largest dreamcatcher on Windmill Hill, where children and schools were involved in street art projects. The BBC, the Arts Council and Decibel decided to use Rhythms of the World to showcase national and world bands.
Rhythms of the World expanded to 10 stages and proudly displayed the dreamcatcher for the second year as well as sculptures made by 13 local schools that captured the ethos of the festival. ROTW also worked together with local councils and police to ensure the town centre was traffic-free for two days.
Making its 3rd annual appearance, the largest dreamcatcher was displayed on Windmill Hill as well as Aboriginal arches at The Cloisters at St Mary’s Church, the result of a workshop set up by the festival. A new stage was founded – the Phill Friendly Stage named after Phillip Edwards, one of the co-organisers from 2005, who sadly died. This year saw the launch of ‘The Rhythms Code’, to ensure everyone respected the town and had a safe and enjoyable festival.
In October of this year, the local authorities and the Rhythms of the World organisers decided that the festival was no longer safe to run in the town and started looking for a new venue. The cost of the festival was slowly escalating – this year it cost over £100,000 and made a loss of £12,000.
The festival moved to Hitchin Priory, thanks to a generous offer by The Chartridge Company. The new venue for the festival was not confirmed until January, leaving just six months to organise the festival. This was the first year of The Arena, the open space which showcased on the talents of a wide range of community groups. We also welcomed The Wellbeing Area, where people could enjoy a relaxing massage. To ensure the festival and the charity remained viable, organisers charged an entry fee once again.
The 17th Rhythms of the World festival was a sizzling success as more than 25,000 people filled the Priory grounds on 4 and 5 July. Rhythms of the World became a finalist in the regional Enjoy England Awards, which showcased the ROTW festival as a regional event. Bob Mardon retired as Festival Performance Director and handed over the band bookings to Steve Smither. The Phill Friendly Stage was renamed the BBC Introducing Stage and The Willow Stage became The University Of Hertfordshire Stage.
The University of Hertfordshire Stage was renamed to reflect its new surroundings and location of the stage – becoming the Nettlebed Stage. The Wellbeing Area became the Holistic Garden. This was the first year for the Artists in Residence and Outreach projects which aimed to bring the essence of ROTW to those who might not be able to attend the festival. The charity was winner of the arts, culture and heritage category of the national Charity Awards 2010. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly headlined the Sunday and 31,000 people attended the festival over the weekend.
Rhythms of the World marked its 20th anniversary festival featuring Raghu Dixit, Ska Cubano, C W Stoneking, Jim Moray, The Subways, The Selecter and Scum of Toytown. A new performance area, the Icehouse Stage, hosted a range of acoustic music, poetry and comedy acts. Our Outreach Programme is extended within the community.
Extremely wet weather. Included in the amazing line-up of acts, the crowd were treated to a fantastic performance by The Damned. Due to the effect of the wet weather on the Hitchin Priory grounds, this was to be our last festival at the Hitchin Priory site (for the time being!).
The festival took a year off as a suitable new site could not be found in time. Behind the scenes, volunteers worked tirelessly all year to ensure a wonderful festival on a new site for 2014.
Rhythms of the World was delighted to return to the Hitchin Priory site with six stages featuring hugely popular acts Courtney Pine and Freshlyground.
Rhythms of the World returned to the refurbished Hitchin Town Hall on one of the hottest days of the summer (temperatures inside and out soared to the high 30s).
Hiatus owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.