So I guess we are officially in autumn now, we've passed equinox so the days are indeed shorter, so after a five month outdoor festival season I should head south to the lovely Cornish seaside town of Looe to what has become the end of season party for me. What can be seen as a traditional seaside destination for many travellers throughout the year this small town invites a whole different visitor for its festival. I've been to four Looe music festivals now and there are subtle changes each year. This year the festival's box office and bus stops for the shuttle buses have moved a bit further out to the towns main car park (millpool site). I think this was to try and help traffic flow through the towns main route for the weekend and possibly did help. Unfortunately for those less steady on their feet (for whatever reasons) it did mean a bit more of a walk. Another change was the main brewery supplier. St. Austell's own this year, third change in four years (sharing the wealth I guess) but who will it be next year? A third noticeable change was that there is only one stage in Champion marquee, whereas in the past it's been two.
Being an "urban" festival means that you will need the shuttle bus most likely as realistically the walk back to the various campsites is too far, though a few from my site (Tencreek) did walk down in the mornings. There are two sides to Looe and also to the bus routes, the side I stayed on has a bus run through to Polperro opening up that town too for visitors or to stay in. The other route is out to Widegates and allows for the holiday parks there to enjoy the late season extra trade too. The fair for the shuttles (double deckers from Plymouth this year) is a reasonable £1.50, these run approximately every 20 minutes throughout the day. This was however questionable at times, myself waiting for a good hour on Saturday morning, when the bus was too full to allow us on or was going in the opposite direction to Looe. In the past smaller buses have run and they seemed more regular during the day, from my site at least (however I know it was a bit of an issue on other sites in the past). Another issue was that the bus would only drop off in the evening at the end of the lane. Only a short walk back up to the site but, in the pitch black of midnight skies, not good when taxis still hare up and down with there passengers, or in the torrential rains we suffered too. I guess these problems were risk assessed by the bus company but seemed odd to drop off or pick up from the campsite in daylight and make folk walk in the dark?
Still I've looked forward to my return to this festival, so after a quick tent set-up (I've one of these inflatable tents, 10 minutes and I'm set) a quick pint at the camp bar and a walk to the bus. And I'm in the spirit for a good weekend as are my fellow bus companions.
Five to ten minutes walk from the temporary bus station and I'm over the main town bridge and just there is the first marquee stage, set on a smaller car park (closed obviously for the weekend) providing a solid flat surface (no mud here!) it's not open however as yet, so a walk on through the picturesque streets of east Looe toward the beach. As normal the town is buzzing and I here some hefty sounds weft out from the Ship Inn, Heavy Souls are thumping out some songs so another beer and stop off it is for me. A quick check of the schedule proves I have time to enter another local establishment Dave's Diner for some proper chips (well beside the sea, you've got to haven't you?)
Up next Two Stops from Bedlam, 4 drums and a techno suitcase, beat out a great set in the BBC introducing marquee/beer tent (this serves as the arena's second stage and alternates with the main stage for performances), the beer is set at a reasonable festival standard of £4 a pint for Tribute, Korev Cornish lager at £4.50 and wines from £4.
Festival highlights for me for the weekend were up next Ferocious Dog, are one of the hardest working and genuinely friendly bands I know. Back for a much called for second year and a well deserved sub headline position, they fire out a blistering set, Dan on violin seemed on particularly good form. Ken Bonsall's vocal was on point too with a real love for this setting I believe and only topped by his passion for Their songs. All the members give plenty to the performance and again heard many punters sing praises afterwards. A cracking tight and friendly mosh pit saw us in the thick of it and happily so.
Wilko Johnson didn't really grab me after the highs of Ferocious Dog, (though I'm reliably informed by my festival companion that it was a good bluesy rock set and enjoyed by most, perhaps I'll give another go next time as he is so highly rated by many) so as they close up the main stage I meander back through the town enjoying the atmosphere and on back to the bus, campsite bound. Handily we have a bar on site so a couple of drinks enjoyed with others returning and it was a little bit of a late night with new found acquaintances and off we go to imbibe a few more back at the tents.
Saturday is a windy morning up on the hill at my campsite and the threat of a weather front coming in later on, so a heavy head is lifted and on down to the town via shuttle bus. A great Marmite and cheese pasty is enjoyed for brunch and Roxanne on by Oompah Brass in the Champion marquee help ease of back in to the day, as does a pint of Tribute.
The Fisherman's Friends are my first on the main stage. A usual mix of cheeky banter with the crowd and great harmonies from these Cornish men. 'Cousin Jack', 'Drunken Sailor' and 'South Australia' please their early crowd and me.
One of my top moments last year was a Goth covers band over the river in west Looe. Lo and behold they are back again, so a 50p ferry ride over to catch Souls Of Misfortune at the Portbynan hotel, I think they may have frightened a few of the clientele but sound of the darker side of the 80's pleases me greatly and a reasonable crowd too.
Rain threatens as I walk back round to east Looe and typically my waterproof jacket belt hoop must have given way without my notice, so as I arrive on the beach again, so does the start of the downpours. Thankfully sand obviously provides great drainage and the BBC's intro tent equally great shelter, so not withstanding this The Changing Room play to a rammed in crowd. Tales of fish and fishing also of a prohibited love against the old traditions of east & west Looe!
Sham 69 come on and the rain is heavy, so against my plans I opt to head for the shelter of Buller's quay and its tented stage, though plenty stay out in it (had I not lost my coat I too would've stayed the course as these punk legends were part of my musical upbringing and with classics like 'Hurry Up Harry' they had the crowd singing along too) and plenty in the queue to get in, I guess Bryan Ferry has a big pull! (I'm told on Sunday that a few didn't appreciate the lively dancing taking place at Sham 69 though!), Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts are on (I think we had a reshuffle in here as I was expecting Big Boss Man who are at the merchandise area now) still 'Selfish Man' and a traditional arrangement of Alice Cooper's 'Poison' stood out in a all round quality set. The rain really came in this evening and I think that diluted the crowds too. Seth Lakeman played a great set and Bryan Ferry was late on, not easy on his crowd considering the torrents pouring down, but he did a full set taking him past curfew.
After a rough night the sun shines through on Sunday morning but there are still a few showers too. I manage to get an early bus down at half ten. Ten Zero One open up the day's music, these local lads growing year on year with the festival wonder if its a bit early for their style but those here enjoy it. I get a chance to chat to one of the security guys from coast2coast that I've met a few times over the years/festivals and its nice to catch up some. Alex Hart is another returnee and with her pleasant country twang playing.
I decide to take a look the other side of the fence and amble along the sea's edge to the banjo pier and watch the incoming tide creep ever closer to the festival edge (I think it had encroached over night but caused no problems to the stage setups).
Gaz Brookfield and his faithful violin player Ben Wain now take a rightful main stage slot (after 2 in the BBC introducing over previous years including one whilst on honeymoon!!), it's a classic set with a new one, “I know my place” from the soon to be released album of the same name in December. Seemingly somewhat dumbstruck be his great sized crowd, Gaz managed to stumble with his normal between song chat (“my speaking words are failing”) but for sure the set did not, brilliant and well received.
The Stone Angels provide entertainment in the beer marquee, quality two piece rock and onto some jump jive from Company B. These classically styled U.S. army men even pump out a cover of Jungle book's “be like you” which made plenty smile but there were quite a few twisting and jiving too.
A walk about offers an meander through the food outlets on the quayside and I get to catch some buskers, (about half a dozens out in the sunshine performing) notably including "Swingball Man" (some readers may know him from a festival in Devon and his fancy dress outfit) who got to duet with Ferocious Dog's lead singer on the quayside.
I take an impromptu ferry over to west Looe, to see if I might catch a band in the Jolly Sailor, but hear a tale and by happy chance it's true that Oompah Brass have a last minute venue change to Looe Social Club. On arrival it's clear they're battling against the football on big TV and didn't hold me there long. Cara Dillon seemed to be singing over the hubbub of the Champion Marquee, but she and her band held true and played a set with class and emotion. Citing the struggles of refugees travelling over the seas.
I think other than Gaz, my Sunday highlights were Rews a punk sound from a pair of ladies (off to check more of theirs and keep an eye for more gigs about) and The Eskies, they seem to have hit the festival/UK scene hard this year and a welcome addition they are.
Alabama 3 had a crowd suiting their stature but oddly to me were not sub headliners, that fell to Wille and The Bandits well known enough but not to my thinking as much as Alabama 3. But what do I know, I'm not a booker.
Fun Lovin' Criminals finish the main stage tonight, bizarrely a speed painter warms up their crowd. I don't mind some earlier stuff of theirs but it just doesn't conjure up the festival bounce they had those years ago in a Somerset field. And quick jaunt over to Craig Charles spinning up a classics set that had crowds shouting/singing along and through a few old school shapes on the dancefloor and it's home back to my tent via the shuttle bus.
Another wet and windy night sees us all packing our tents away wet, never a good thing and worse still when you know it probably won't be back out in earnest now until spring time comes around. There seemed all sorts of rumours flying about this year too in regard to its future, I believe it is in no doubt returning next year as very early bird tickets are released straight away after festival ends. One rumour with a bit of weight behind it is that they organisers are looking at sites out of the town, this was put straight quickly with the release of info that it's for possible late night revelry beyond the town curfew. If this pans out it would add another string to the festival's bow and further attract new people to enjoy it as well as some of us regulars I'm sure. So will I return next year? We'll have to wait and see, but the quality of acts, sound production and general vibe were all great and the festival team deserve my thanks for this again this year, bravo and encore.
latest on this festival
joining Steve'n'Seagulls, The Waterboys, Gwenno, The Young 'Uns, Molotov Jukebox, & more
line-ups & rumours
Saturday headliner & more announced
The Correspondents, Gwenno, Uncle Frank, Gaz Brookfield and The Company of Thieves, & more