All-Aboard the River Itchen

All-Aboard the River Itchen

by Charlie Hislop.

For a city on the coast, split by rivers, not much celebration happens on the water in Southampton. Then last weekend (September 3)  along came the All-Aboard Festival, making the most of the River Itchen on a summer’s day with entertainment on the water and along the banks.

It’s music, art and spoken word – from folk singers and sea shanties to a Samba-based percussion group cruising up and down from Northam Bridge to Woodmill. Hampshire’s premier harmonium playing Panda duo (Panda-monium for short) brought their nonsense, while Dan O’Farrell, the Flying Alexanders, Interesting Wallpaper, Mike Vaughan and many more graced the pontoons. St Denys Boat Club hosted an art exhibition and a line-up of poets led by Andy Buchanan. All in all it was a vast array of very talented Southampton people.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight issues – the Friends of Chessel Bay were out showing off the microplastics polluting our rivers; local Greenpeace activists were highlighting ocean pollution. A 10’ model salmon dashed up to Woodmill to highlight the plight of river salmon, created by Sue Badcrumble who also rowed up river with a giant octopus on board – reminiscent of the great Dutch river carnivals. Libby Russell brought the sustainable fashion Southampton Clothes Swap which was busy all afternoon.

Individual venues – clubs, private houses and pontoons along the river and all the performers attracted their own audiences, as well as floating festival goers and land-lubbers. It also attracted passers-by – cyclists, dog-walkers, and anyone passing through. Thankfully it’s not organised enough to count visitors but it’s big enough to announce that something is going on along the river, and the river itself is wonderfully busy with  boats and paddle-boarders.

Every now and then a train drowns out the music in Jannaway Gardens, and the first rule of Ukelele Jam is ‘Don’t block the cycle path!’ but that’s real city culture for everyday life. All Aboard is a celebration of just that based around the one thing that that both divides and defines Southampton – the River Itchen.

Photo: Mikee Mike

Cars crossing Cobden Bridge must wonder what the pictures and installations on the bridge are for; or the music coming in from a pontoon; or the small  crowd in the park. People sit outside their houses, or on their houseboats, and invite their friends over for the afternoon.

At a time when there is discussion of ‘top-down or bottom-up’ culture following the failed City of Culture bid, All-Aboard highlights the big issue. There’s no imported professionals to run it, no ACE financial backing, a line-up of both very local and well-known acts, great community involvement and contribution, and a lot of fun.

All-Aboard reflects the organic culture that underpins so much of life in Southampton, and which goes largely unnoticed and unvalued. You have to ask – where did – or does – all this energy, community and talent feature or have a voice in a city that aspires to be a City of Culture?


  • Main photo: Deb Wilkes/Chris Townsend. Other photos: Mikee Mike Beedon


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Photo : Mikee Mike