Oh Lunar, what fun you offer. There's beauty and joy a plenty at this perfect garden party. As we lounge around in glorious sunshine and listen to the array of psychedelic musical delights, laughing and reconnecting with old friends, I can't help but feel that it hardly gets better than this. I go to a few fab festivals over the summer months. Make no mistake, Lunar is striding towards the pinnacle of them all.
The things that I've loved about Lunar over the past couple of years remain intact. Heads turned when the pretty incredible headliners were announced. Mercury Rev, Super Furry Animals, and Television have the stature to top the bill at festivals with triple this capacity. But here in beautiful countryside just south of Birmingham, you still get something approaching cosiness. The opportunity to watch top bands without the shove and bustle of other more frantic affairs continues to charm.
On arrival on Friday afternoon, we did temporarily wonder if it was growing too big for its boots. Lulled into a false sense of security in previous years by the closeness of the car park to the camping, it's a bit of a shock that we're now directed to a more distant field. And we have to pay a tenner for this privilege. We're not the only ones who might have travelled lighter if we'd had known. But even with the longer walk from car to campsite, it's still minimal compared to other treks we'll experience this summer.
The site arena itself is still largely made up of two stages; the main Lunar stage and the Bimble Inn. At opposite ends of the field, things are still timetabled so that you can walk between the stages to catch all of the acts that perform. The area outside of the main arena, hitherto much more of a jumble, has had some thought and attention paid to it this year. There's now more of a thoroughfare that you need to walk down in order to get to the camping field; a pathway on which your attention might be grabbed by 'Hedgerow Head-dress' workshops, food, open mic and performance poetry at the Kitchen Garden Cafe or quality cider from a newer entrant into the festival mix, Hogan's Cider. In previous years, youngsters taking part in the Lunar Olympics had to suffer from punters walking across their sporting hits and kicks but now their field is roped off - and busy throughout the weekend with quality activities.
Though the Hogan's cider from ten miles down the road is a delicious addition, Lunar still largely employs the services of Purity for its main beer provision. Across the site, you can get pints of Lawless and Veltins lager, Mad Goose and Pere Ubu beer and Addlestones cider. It'll set you back either £4 or £4.50, not bad for beers of such quality and pretty much what you'd pay in nearby pubs. Food wise, there's enough of a range to keep hungry giants happy. Pizza, Bhangra Bus curries, Falafel and higher end burgers are the delights that I dip into over the weekend.
I am sitting in the Bimble Inn. At the side of this venue, the camping beds and comfy cushions help some to catch up on much needed sleep as the maudlin, gentle folk tones of Katherine Priddy wash over all. She's the first act on at the inn early on this Saturday afternoon. I've already gone on my annual 'pilgrimage' up to the grave of Nick Drake in the nearby picturesque village of Tanworth In Arden. This year, a sweet, elderly woman, tending to her husband's grave, informs me that motorcycling legend, Mike Halewood, is also buried here. Priddy's music offers the perfect accompaniment to my quiet reflection as I quaff my first pint of lager of the day (I'd already had a can or two of cider on my churchyard adventure).
I chat to a group of three ageing punks, here on a day ticket, to see Television do their thing. They've also worked out that the next act on in the Bimble might turn some heads. The Duke St Workshop are described by many as 'spooktronica', a genre I've not really been exposed to before. Over a fine mix of downbeat effects that build into laidback grooves, the duo's special guest, Laurence R Harvey, from Human Centipede 2 and 3 fame, recites the words of HP Lovecraft. It's a pretty captivating and unique listen even if it has origins in 'The War Of The Worlds'. This is no bad thing right?
I need some sunshine to bring me out of the spectral mood. Fortunately, there's no shortage of it over the course of the weekend. The weather always seems to be better than forecast in this little portion of middle England. I join the bulk of the camping chairs and picnic blankets for a considerable proportion of my time at Lunar at the main stage. Never do these chairs and rugs feel overly obtrusive like at some other festivals I could mention. There's always space at the front of the stage should you want to dance and it seems to be part and parcel of the crowd psyche to be considerate to fellow festival goers and to avoid plonking yourself in their line of vision.
There's so much music worthy of singling out for praise on this main stage. It's been said before but the programmers here really do seem to know their onions from their shallots (actually, I suspect that's never been said before). Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation are the first band I see on Friday afternoon and these Swedes thoroughly excite with their own particular take on Kraut-rock. Up next, Stealing Sheep, might be no strangers to the festival circuit but Rebecca, Emily and Lucy, costumed in white leotards and extravagant make up really hit a psychedelic sweet spot. With beaming, flirty smiles, they seem to be enjoying themselves as well. I see grown men crying whilst Damon Gough gives a Badly Drawn Boy, 'best of' hour. The stage is now truly set for headliners Mercury Rev. I rack my brains to consider when I last saw these guys and conclude that I might never have before. They've still got that awkward vulnerability to their sound; tuneful rock with the chorister like vocals of Jonathan Donahue shooting over the top like an angel on top of his tree. Arguably, we've already got our money's worth and it's only day one.
But it gets even better on the Saturday. Amber Arcades, comes from the Netherlands and seduces in the sun. For many, Bill Ryder-Jones
has released one of the albums of the past year and the Coral founder entices many more in this field with his summery, blissful pop. Birkenhead, here we come.
Saturday afternoon and evening becomes a showcase in incredible guitar playing. The Nigerian-London tribal soul jazz of Ibibio Sound Machine, led impeccably by Eno Williams, is made all the more immediate by the contribution on guitar of Alfred Bannerman. Musician friends of mine speak in hushed awe about Brazilian legends Os Mutantes, and on this showing it's easy to see why. Sergio Dias might look like your least favourite uncle, complete with demonic stare and flamboyant jacket, but when he plays it elicits an 'OMG' from those gathered to watch. Many bands might have been tropically freaked out to follow such guitar playing brilliance but not Television. And why would you when you have Tom Verlaine in your ranks. Playing Marquee Moon from start to finish, this is an exercise in understated greatness. Verlaine has a knack of making the most complicated of solos look like child's play. It's not the most energetic of Saturday evening headline sets (indeed, Verlaine requests that any lighting backdrop is kept to a bare minimum) but each deliberate note rings out with minimal waste. We want a bit of a Saturday upper after that which is clearly why Bentley Rhythm Ace have been commissioned to come out of semi-retirement to close the main stage proceedings with their sparkling dance stuff.
Before waxing lyrical in similar fashion about the Sunday main stage, it's perhaps worth taking a pause to acknowledge that the entertainment doesn't finish here when the bands do. Yes, some people only come out at night and if that's your particular bent, you can dance yourself silly with a range of the best club nights from Birmingham and beyond. I mostly manage to gorge out by day to such a degree that I flag by night but others tell me how great the Sensateria DJs are up in the Bimble Inn. Elsewhere, Dutch Uncles contribute to a 'This is TMRW' night and Leftfoot get Horse Meat Disco involved in the action as well. I resolve to stay awake to catch the delights of Craig Charles on Sunday night in the Crow's bar, a feat I just about manage though I confess my legs do little dancing as I swap festival stories in a chopped in half caravan with staff from the Bhangra bus. They love what they've seen this weekend (if my memory doesn't fail me).
Sunday on Lunar's main stage brings a shimmery, easy vibe and a chunk of novelty. There's a whole host of smiles around the field whilst The Mariachis do their cover versions Mexican style. Don't You Want Me has never sounded so good. Before this, many took the opportunity to snooze in the heat whilst the relaxing but incredibly cool three piece from Texas, Khruangbin, showed off their musical prowess with their first ever UK festival set. The weather was perfect for this mix of psychedelic jazz. Matt Berry & The Maypolesprobably slip more into the novelty category despite their best intentions of playing it straight. Most are here to see Berry beef it up and to perhaps tell jokes so it disappoints some that it's more of a Byrds based 60's shimmer that we get. He does have Mark Morriss from the Bluetones on stage in his supergroup though and we get to see Berry bellow and perform more a bit later. The Zombies have been around the block a fair bit but seem completely unaffected by it all as they gently re-introduce us to songs they wrote many moons ago with the stories that accompany them. Colin Blunstone's voice remains well preserved as is more than evident with their classic singalong 'She's not there'. It's left to the Super Furry Animals to conclude this years main stage Lunar. I'm sure that I don't need to convince many how right this call is. Gruff Rhys and all throw their hotchpotch of styles together and come up with the best music for dusk. I turn to a friend and say 'I really do give a fuck about Lunar'.
And that's because this fine festival has been tweaked but not changed too much. As its popularity continues to grow, I'm sure that Lunar fans realise it can't stay like this forever. But, whilst it does, it's a great field to be in. As has become tradition, the Lunar band lead the procession towards the wooden effigy in the middle of the field. Playing 'Fire' by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, we're reminded of two years ago when the man himself set the effigy alight. Tonight, it's the turn of Matt Berry. Adorned in a long black cloak and holding a fiery torch aloft, Berry beefs out an ode to Lunar before poking the statue into flame. It's symbolic and a perfect end to a perfect weekend.
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