The Vikings last went raiding in these parts in 997AD according to the The Market House Museum in the village of Watchet, but eFestivals thought we'd send out an advance party over the August Bank holiday weekend to see if the festival was a decent place for another Viking raiding party.
The festival is held very close to the housing of the local community, and the show takes extra care to not upset it's neighbours who welcome festival goers in the shops, the local church, the town museums and many of the locals fill the arena in numbers making Viking occupation difficult. It's so close a steam train chugs passed regularly with the village, harbour (the festival's previous location), and train station just a quick walk away. There's therefore not a lot of loud shocking, crazy bezerker type stuff going on, but then by this point in the summer season it's nice to have a more sedate festival which you can walk from one end to the other in under 5 minutes.
The festival is laid out in the classic campsite beside the arena model, with a separate field for live in vehicles. The arena is a donut shape, with a kids and family area in the middle, which at night became the silent disco hosted by Exeter's own Collision the South West's longest running indie club night.
At opposite ends of the arena were the Main Stage and the Udder Stage, with plenty of hearty food stalls and the well stocked bar down one side, and the market stalls. All offering good treasure for those wanting to plunder. There's also a surreal I Scream Van (I queued but never got the chance to enter) complete with graveyard, and undead accordian player, plus a real ice cream van, another dance area the DJ hosted Griffin tent and a prayer tent (with a service on Sunday) completed the layout.
There were plenty of clean and stocked toilets, some good food options for Vikings that have tired themselves in longships with Mexican, Pasties, Burgers & Chips, Oki's Curries, Crepes, Liquorice & Sweets, Homemade Tarts & Cake, Proper Coffees, Pizzas and the like all very reasonably priced at around £6. More importantly plenty to fill your drinking cups with from cans of lager/beer, a wide selection of Cotleigh Ales and lots of local ciders priced at £3 a pint plus the 30p hire of a plastic glass, unless you brought your own. There were also lots of promotions on certain drinks and happy hours. At one point I got a cider for £2.20 which makes it incredible value for money, and the staff are happy to fill your tankard if you're in the mood for tankard swinging.
The hordes arrived early, I was expecting the open arena to be empty most of the day, but there are reasonable numbers inside from around noon. I think that's due to the family orinentated demographic, there's stuff for kids to do like Circus skills, that starts early, or the fact it's almost as cheap to drink in the arena as it would be out in the campsite. Note that you're not supposed to bring your own alcohol into the arena, but you can drink it in the campsite.
If you're not able to invade, the festival also offers a budget ticket price of £50 for the weekend, a free programme with a cover picture drawn by Pete Loveday, competitively priced T Shirts, including ones with Vikings on (did they know I was coming?), and hoodies, and also a chance to buy band merchandise, which makes it a great option at the end of the summer season.
Late night entertainment is provided by the silent disco and Gail's Something Else Tent offering acoustic sets, telnted youngsters, open mic, poetry, banter, and a slice of tea and cake.
What Watchet also has which is rather unique is an amazing view, perched high on the coast with views over the water to Wales, which is illuminated with it's street lights making it look terrific at night. The view is a plus but the exposed location, even with the colourful flags, could make this a more miserable experience in really beard dampening weather. But, despite the exposed location it doesn't feel too spread out or sparse. Whilst we only get a little rain which was unremarkable, we did get a strong wind. The kind of Norse gods wind that deposited gazebos in nearby trees, tore out guylines, broke poles, and left tents flapping in the campsite, as though Vikings had indeed invaded in the night.
The music is a mix of feel good acts, festival stalwarts, some decent rising stars, and a pretty diverse mix of headliners. Dreadzone were fantastic as ever and had the audience bouncing, and The Neville Staple Band delivered a sing along set of ska hits, but I just didn't connect to The Hoosiers, losing interest in their new album showcase before they aired 'It's A Shame About Ray'. I was similarly bemused by Showaddywaddy (having not been in the country during their period of hits) I had no idea who they were. However the Udder Stage offered great alternatives in Erica, The Rocker Covers, and the highlight of the weekend Subgiant.
As I said earlier the arena was quite full early doors with a strong line-up down through the bill. I particularly enjoyed on the main stage like the mop wielding Cyberman accompanied Doctor and the Medics, Bemis, The Ohmz, Flutatious, the Bollywood crowd participation of RSVP, The Skints, The Outcast Band, 3 Daft Monkeys, and those Somerset legends The Wurzels.
The Udder Stage offered us early morning Zumba, plus more off the wall acts like the parody geniuses of both Combyne Arvester, and The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, plus a groove and a singalong with Boot Hill All Stars, whose little tamborine player stole the show. There were also showcases from Leatherat, FOS Brothers, Deferred Sucess, Luke Friend and even a laughter workshop (which from outside just sounded freaky).
The Something Else tent also offered some highlights particularly Funke and the Two Tone Baby, Gaz Brookfield, Stevie - One Bloke One Mandolin, and Darren Hodge, plus both drumming workshop and ukulele workshops.
I didn't realise it was fancy dress on Sunday. The overtly keen ones amongst them were wearing cartoon character themed costumes all weekend which should have given it away, and a collection of Minions, Scooby Doos, Mini Mouses, Spongebobs, an Asterix, Hong Kong Phoey and even a Viking wench, although the matching grannies in shades and woolly hats unnerved me greatly.
The whole event was really well organised, everyone was friendly, and I'd like to thank the organisers, and everyone involved in putting it together for creating what is a fantastically friendly event with a decent line-up. I may not bring an invading force, but by Thor's beard another scouting mission looks likely next year, forget the raiding, it's a great place to party.
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Watchet Music Festival 2016 review