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Being disabled it is increasingly heartening to find festivals that cater for both physically disabled and people with learning difficulties. This year's festival season has been one, that not so long ago, would have been for the more able bodied due to conditions on the ground as well as in the Camp sites. Therefore my visit to Guilfest this year was another, in a long line of festivals I have attended where they have catered for disabled patrons in a very positive way.
After being dropped off by public transport at the site, I made my way to collect my wrist bands from the box office and was guided all the way by the stewards. Being situated in a city park, the festival site is very flat and well looked after, which means for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues (like myself) its very easy to get round.
The disabled camp site is situated directly behind the main stage and is one of the few festivals where cars are permitted to stay with the tent in the disabled area only. This, for a number of my neighbours, was a god send, as it meant they could charge various equipment from the vehicles.
There is a 24 7 steward and security presence on the access gate and wheelchair accessible toilets in easy reach. One small point, although the toilets were kept clean all weekend, if there was a third standard portaloo for the carer's it would have made a big difference to waiting times.
In order to get access to the main site, there is a gate located by the backstage VIP area. This gate cuts off a sizeable walk to the box office and main entrance and it is this sort of measure that make festivalling truly accessible to all, as it cut's at least 10 mins of the walk time to the arena.
I have been to GuilFest before and although this is a small point to some, its a massive bonus to me. They layout this year was virtually the same as last years. Being visually impaired, it meant I already knew my way around and where everything was.
The festival itself is a great combination of all genres of music in a neat package. Unlike many of the festivals on the current circuit, Guilfest does not specialise in anything. I think it is unique in the way it treats the line up and I am sure I got the feeling from the people I spoke to that they enjoy it because of that. A good example is the main stage, it has such a mixture of acts and bands, that everybody from grandmother to grandson should be able to find something they enjoy during the day. Roger Daltrey to N-Dubz, The Blow Monkeys to Wretch 32.
Speaking of Roger Daltery, I found myself on a chair on the main stage viewing platform on Friday night, to listen to 'Tommy' performed by Roger and his collective band. Whilst I enjoyed it immensely but I got the feeling by those on the platform, that the performance was sort of lost on them. Only when 'Pinball Wizard' came on, did they pick up and start singing and dancing. However, apart from the sound glitches, I enjoyed the whole performance including The Who's greatest hits. It is a shame that the curfew for the festival is 11pm, however as it's in the middle of a city park one can only appreciate the reasons why.
On the Saturday the rain that was forecast duly appeared and wellies put on. Now having been at Glastomud this year I was not looking forward to the prospect of a mud ridden site with huge puddles and the general mess that is normally accompanied with a wet festival. However the site has amazing draining abilities and although there were some areas where it got a bit sticky, it was not bad at all. Fair play to the organisers, where it did become muddy, straw was put down in abundance and was very effective. Saturday is always much more busy than Friday as was the case this year too. Local Band Draven kicked off the day for me and were excellent. They also appeared to have brought their followers with them and it was nice to hear cheering so early on the day. Next up were a very young band, District 6. Although young in age, something the compare made fun of, they were accomplished as a group and made a good noise. However I can't help thinking they might have been better suited to a tent rather than the main stage. It would have improved the atmosphere for them and given them more confidence. However that said, they deserved to be where they were.
I caught the beginning of Wretch 32. Now I have never heard of him before but he was amazing. Having seen Dizzy to many times, I kinda felt this is where dizzy should be now, as his performance was electric - definitely one to watch out for in the next year.
At this point I have a wander around the site, checking out some of the other smaller stages including the efestivals comedy tent. As well as a number of smaller stages, there are plenty of shops and food outlets. From somebody who does a fair few festivals during the year, GuilFest does for me anyway, have some of the best food stalls. Last year's ostrich burgers stall was still available, but I opted for a local farm selling burgers made from their beef all topped off with blue veined cheddar cheese. At four pounds fifty it was so much better that the normal burgers on offer at a lot of more commercial festivals.
After an hour or so, I found my way to the Good time stage it time to see Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. I have to confess I have been a Steve Harley fan for years, so was looking forward to him playing. After being introduced by Radio 2's Sally Traffic, Steve took to the stage and was, as expected, very good. The obvious last track of 'Make Me Smile', had everybody singing. It was a polished performance from somebody, who in his own words, "had been doing this for 40 years".
Next up was a certain Mr Peter Andre... Now I was there not only because I thought a review would be a good idea but a also because my wife likes him immensely. So, being from the snob school of music, I was not expecting to find him engaging, tuneful in his vocals or have a tight collective band. Oh how I was wrong. I propped myself up on the much smaller viewing platform and found myself enjoying the performance. If I did not know anything about the man, his lifestyle, TV exposure etc and was faced with this performance, I would say, he absolutely deserved to be there. The crowd loved him and the band assembled around him were excellent. I left to get a cider and I was confronted with the entire female staff of the Brothers Bar, dancing their socks off in front of the bar. I won't pull punches, he was good.
GuilFest has a night life after the stages shut but its not like most festivals. where there are little bits going on until the wee small hours, however for families this might just be a bonus. As it was I took leave and went back to my tent and was asleep fairly quickly.
Sunday again was one with showers and the sun trying to make some sort of appearance. I had to make my way home this day but just wanted to make my experience of this journey in this review. After watching a lack lustre performance from The Blow Monkeys (hence why they were so low in the line-up), I went and packed to leave. I tend to use public transport due to my condition and this was my method of transport home. After I had packed up, it took me 10 minutes from leaving the field in Disabled camping to arriving at Guildford railway station. The reason is the fantastic access to the site from all sides of the park it is situated in. I have never been to a festival, where I am home and the bath in an hour and a half.
To sum up my festival experience, GuilFest just gets better. For me, a disabled person and public transport user, it is ideal. The music is varied, the food stalls and staff excellent and the site a breeze to get around. Any issues? Well I think there needs to be a Viewing platform wrist band, as the excuse of "I am VIP and my children can't see" does not cut it with me when people in wheel chairs are forced to sit at the back. Would I recommend it to everybody? Pretty much. I would caveat it by saying, I have not stayed in the main camp sites for 15 years, but from a person in my position - it is excellent and one I would rate highly enough to recommend to my MS group as a friendly festival. Well done Guilfest.