Thames Festival 2013

Things to do, Festivals Free
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 (© Barry Lewis)
© Barry Lewis
 (© Barry Lewis)
© Barry Lewis

An afternoon of singing at The Scoop


 (© Nathalie Crouch)
© Nathalie Crouch

Water carried past Big Ben

 (© Zatorski + Zatorski)
© Zatorski + Zatorski

1513: A Ships' Opera – The Dutch Klipper, De Walvisch, is one of the historic vessels taking part in 1513: A Ships’ Opera by Richard Wilson


The Deluxe River Cruise – Doug Fishbone


The Great British Carnival


Firing on the Foreshaw


London’s celebration of its epic, watery backbone is undergoing a sea change. Perhaps that should be a river change – although, as the Thames is tidal as far up as Teddington, there must be substantially more than a pinch of salt in it. Anyway, the Thames Festival is longer this year, covering ten days instead of a single weekend, with activities from the river's source to its mouth (though most of the action takes place between Lambeth Bridge and St Katharine Docks).

But, in place of previous years’ party-beside-the-river format, in 2013 the festival consists of an extended programme of arts events and other watery wonders themed around the river.

The changes reflect reduced sponsorship; this year there will be no fireworks and no night carnival. Reassuringly, though, while the festival’s focus has changed, director Adrian Evans remains at the helm. He’s the madman who accepted the challenge of organising last year’s Diamond Jubilee pageant. Despite the torrential rain on the day, that was a resounding success, so we have high hopes for the new-look festival.

The most exciting prospect, on September 14, is ‘1513: A Ships’ Opera’ by Richard Wilson and Zatorski+Zatorski. It’s an ambitious project commissioned for the festival that will see historic vessels from the age of sail, steam and diesel become a floating orchestra to perform a haunting live concerto expressed through hoots, whistles and foghorns.

On September 14 and 15, on ‘The Deluxe River Cruise’ from Westminster Pier to Tower Pier, American conceptual artist Doug Fishbone will trawl the Thames for humour. This is the man who once dumped a load of bananas in Trafalgar Square in the name of art so you can expect, well, the unexpected. It will involve surreal live commentary and a slide-show – that much we can tell you.

Competitive action is part of the mix, too. On September 7, The Great River Race, which takes place over a 21-mile course from London’s Docklands to Ham in Surrey, attracts more than 300 crews from all over the world. Encompassing skiffs, Chinese dragon boats, Hawaiian war canoes, Viking longboats, Irish curraghs, shallops, wherries and whalers, the vessels range from spectacular to super sporty. Then, on September 15, the Steve Faldo Memorial Barge- driving Race is hotly – if rather slowly – contested, as hulking steel barges are manoeuvred along the stretch of the Thames between Tower Bridge and Westminster Bridge, with many of the contestants in fancy dress

Sing For Water, a long-standing festival tradition, sees a massed adult choir drawn from all over the UK lift up their voices to raise funds for UK charity, WaterAid. And in ‘ Voyages of Discovery’ 600 children stage a riverside performance of songs inspired by Henry VIII’s connections with the Thames.

Many more events will be announced shortly. The Thames Festival is still very much a family affair and most of what’s on offer is free, although some events are ticketed and there’s a small charge for some of the walks and talks.

For more Thames Festival highlights see our feature.


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first time i have been to the even didnt think much of it tbh considering the feedback ive heard from people who have attended before however we did enjoy the day lots to do and see quite busy which was a bit annoying and little expensive

I am sorry about the disappointment some of you have written about. I can report that the people attending my walking Tours of the Docks and my 'Celebrating St Katharine's' exhibition said that that they have really enjoyed themselves. The classic boats here are stunningly splendid and not to be missed! Do please come along and say hello- I will do all I can to make sure you have a really enjoyable visit. During the week it's quieter, and the exhibition is open 11 am to 4 pm- those people disappointed by not seeing the Gloriana will be pleased to know that she will be here from tomorrow.

I go every year. Its always been a great event for whole family. But this year it was like a non-event. Dull and boring. Where was the festival? Just the usual streets artists and vendors. Only at Bernie Spain Gardens there was a cluster of food tents. The musical stage was tiny and really dull. I came out with whole family. Half with the kids left early. There was nothing to do or see! What happened this year Mr Mayor? Go back to previous format. There was no effort in this year's event. And no foreworks either! Please if next year is going to be like this year's then i wont be attending again.

Very disappointing this year. After attending every year I felt something lacking. There were no acts, only a few stalls selling food and clothing and the vibe was very sedate. A real shame as I generally enjoy going with friends but we left after only being there for an hour.

Bring back the Night Carnival,The Fireworks & the Music. This year's Thames Festival will be Crap. The Budget cuts are Here. Thank You Bankers.

Don't like the changes. The market along the Thames from the tower to Westminster was the best thing. Why has that gone?