Audio Soup, which organisers proudly proclaim is Scotland's biggest wee festival, returned for a seventh year this weekend, and, despite inclement weather, still provided its loyal fans with another weekend to remember.
The stunning drive to the site - which is nestled in the hills by a river near the village of Cranshaws in the Scottish Borders - is a fantastic showcase for the area, which is often overshadowed by Scotland's more famous attractions such as the Highlands, the national parks and the capital city, Edinburgh, which is just an hour's drive north. And in the same way that the journey to the site shows off the area, so the festival itself is a brilliant reflection of the upcoming music scene in Edinburgh, Scotland, the north east of England and beyond.
The site layout had been changed a little again this year - its fourth at Cranshaws - and extended again too. The car park was moved to an adjacent field meaning that the campsite almost doubled in capacity and by Friday evening it was already almost full. The arena was wider again, allowing for a bigger marketplace and a wider range of stallholders and attractions for Soupers to enjoy. There were familiar faces such as Edinburgh-based Monkey Temple, Meadowsweet, Juniper Sun and Lotus Crystals as well as newbies such as the beautiful upcycled creations from Freedom of Ztyle. Yorlim Y. Not's Turkish Steam Room and Tepidarium - a hand-built, mosaic-tiled, wood fired steam room was back, as was Arbor-Antics and their hand-crafted traditional games designed to test Soupers' skills and judgement.
Caterers on site this year included the Haggisman, offering, erm, haggis as well as salmon and venison, local farmers Well Hung and Tender from Berwick-upon-Tweed who served up burgers for the meat eaters, and the Beat-Root Cafe which was back with its popular menu of veggie food. The always wonderful Mutley's Crepes was back too, and Amigos Soup food supplied healthy Mexican food with a Scottish twist, while Tony's Really Good Chips - which were actually really good - kept the festie-goers warm and happy as the weather conditions became increasingly cold and wet.
The main stage area itself was more enclosed this year, with various other stages - the Electrikal Tent, Otherwhere and Odyssey for example - all leading off the campfire area next to it, creating lots of other musical worlds to explore and lose yourself in for a while, or even a weekend, and catering for all sorts of musical tastes. Everything is still within easy wandering distance though at this almost perfectly formed festival site.
The Swingers Bar was a welcome addition to the campfire area, and the 'mini-soupers' kids area at the other end of the site was also popular throughout the weekend, offering workshops, crafts and activities for little people, including a celebration of Dr Suess and his wonderful stories. Some of the activities on offer at the kids' tent included clay sculpting, stone painting, story telling, nature talks and instrument and jewellery making. There was also a snuggle corner filled with books and pillows for quieter moments. And of course the hay bales between the Cackle Bar and and the Beat-Root Cafe proved to be a very popular play area for youngsters as well.
The different site layout meant that even though attendance numbers were up again on previous years - around 2000 folk with rumours of a sell out - the festival still didn't feel crowded and kept its friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
A sunny, dry day on Friday and the excitement of arriving on site raised everyone's spirits and hopes of a fantastic weekend were high amongst Soupers old and new. Friday night set the scene for a weekend of partying and catching up with old friends and making new ones - everywhere you looked people were hugging each other, smiling, and introducing folk to new friends as people began to arrive.
This year, the festival was officially opened by a piper leading festie-goers through the gates, and Tinky Disco was the first band to play on the main stage this year - graduating from their Beat-Root Cafe slot at last year's Soup - followed by Jamie Martin. But the first band of the weekend for us was The Honey Farm in the Cackle Bar. The Cackle Bar is billed as a place of "fun, fancies and frolics" and always serves up an eclectic mix of music and performances over the course of the festival. And the Honey Farm were a great introduction to that ethos. Fresh from gigs in the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, as well as appearances at the Linkylea festival and Kelburn Garden Party earlier this year, these three girls were celebrating their 'honey-versary' a year after their first performance, which was also at the Cackle Bar last year.
Edinburgh's Bitta DisGrace, Pimpses Asha and Sweethardt Dowt - who are currently working on their debut EP - tore up the stage once again, purveying their brand of intelligent hip hop and attitude - with a liberal dose of humour - to a packed bar that hung on their every word and bounced to their every beat.
Also fresh from Kelburn was Supa & Da Kryptonites who were back on the main stage this year. It was a sharp-suited Jay Supa who took to the stage, along with the three-piece brass section, drummer, bassist and guitarist, and vocalist Sarah Knowles, and they were also joined by a string section. This band just seems to get bigger and better every year. They filled the main arena with their huge sound, belting out an eclectic mix of hip hop, funk, ska, soul and reggae in a hi-energy set that included Truth, Afterlife and Dance in the Rain - which is probably the last time it wasn't raining that weekend.
Headlining the main stage on Friday was The Hempolics, described as one of the "worst kept secrets on the UK circuit today". Praised by Paulo Nutini - who features on their forthcoming album - for their "sweet sweet music" The Hempolics offer a back to basics reggae and dancehall sound that is perfect for those summer time festival vibes.
After their set, entertainment at the Cackle Bar, the Electrikal Stage, the Otherwhere space, Odyssey and the Beat-Root Cafe kept the party going until the wee small hours with many happy Soupers carrying on throughout the night back at the campsite, chatting, singing and laughing until dawn.
Which is kind of when the rain started, pretty much as forecast, around about breakfast time. And it was pretty much relentless throughout the day, taking the shine off many a colourful festival outfit as waterproof jackets and ponchos were donned. Despite the rain, Alien Aerobics and Josephine Sillars proved the show does very much indeed go on at Soup with their main stage appearances, and the rain began to ease a little by late afternoon, just in time for the Cow Cow Boogie to take to the stage.
As their name would perhaps indicate, Cow Cow Boogie offers a slice of rockabilly, swing, country style blues. With a self-professed 1940s and 50s influence, this five-piece Edinburgh-based band - who have two albums to their name and performed as part of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival the week before Soup - lived up to their promise to get everyone dancing and get the party started. Lead vocalist Nicole Smit's voice was like a soothing honey bourbon - complete with a bit of a kick - as she powered through It Ain't Fair, Somebody's Always Talking, Bang Bang, San Antonio Rose, Scorched, Gone Gone Gone and Home Cooking, seeing good on the band's promise to keep the audience moving and warm with their faster tunes.
Back at the Cackle Bar and the entertainment was in full swing with the Fungasm Game Show, inspired by 90s telly favourite Blind Date and complete with glamorous assistants, nonsensical scoring systems and audience participation. From the whimsicial Fungasm show it was time for the political anger of Rage, a - you've guessed it - Rage Against The Machine tribute band. This tribute band, three-quarters of which is made up of members of Edinburgh ska outfit Bombskare, is as much about the political revolution of the original band as the undoubted musical prowess of those involved. With Bombskare guitarist Scott on drums, trumpeter extraordinaire Colin on guitar and singer Andy on vocals, this was a loud and proud rallying call to everyone to get angry about the political situation the world finds itself in once again. As Andy pointed out: "In these current political times there's still a need for Rage." Blasting out "Maria", "Wake Up" and of course "Killing In The Name Of", the set certainly blew away some cobwebs and got the field jumping.
Singer, songwriter, composer and film maker, Jessie Rae, who is based in the Scottish Borders, was back at Soup in the Cackle Bar for the second year running. He appeared, as he always does, in Highland battle dress, complete with helmet and claymore, performing his best known hits such as Over the Sea, Inside Out - written for Odyssey in 1982 - and Double Dip in front of his own videos and bringing his self-styled funk hero to a whole new generation. Plenty of folk were up dancing and it almost seems as though Audio Soup is like a spiritual home for Rae these days.
Next up on the main stage was Maxiroots, whose appearance at Audio Soup was one of several summer festival gigs from Knockengorrach to ButeFest with his new live show "In Cumbria". The musician, producer and DJ, who has shared the stage with Lee Scratch Perry and The Wailers to name just two, blends electronica with the groove and rhythm of Latin music in a jumping mix of reggae, dub and world music that the crowd went wild for. Acclaimed vocalist Tom Spirals was in fine voice and the new single Move Like This featured a guest appearance with the collective from Leonie from Alien Aerobics to get the crowd moving even more.
The fire show, accompanied by the awesomely impressive Harbingers Drum Crew, was back at Soup for a second year, delighting those who gathered to watch. The damp conditions failed to dampen the spirits of the fire dancers who lit up the night sky with their spectacular and mesmerising display, which culminated with the ceremonial lighting of a huge willow-weaved stag. The 20-strong Harbingers Drum Crew from Edinburgh played on after the fire display, and were equally as mesmerising as the dancers, leaving the enthusiastic crowd shouting for more and buzzing from the reaction they received.
Slamboree was next up on the main stage in another performance that would be undersold if described merely as mesmerising. A genre-defying live band fusing bass beats with live guitars, percussion and brass, the talented musicians are supported by a crew of circus performers, dare devils and entertainers. They describe themselves as a "pyro circus rave massive" and claim that each show they perform is unique and it's easy to see how that could be true. With dancers, fire-eating, knife-throwing and stunning costumes and routines - as well as some seriously catchy beats and hooks - it was hard to know whether to dance or watch the spectacular and award-winning show that has already graced the stages of big name festies such as Boomtown, Beautiful Days, Electric Fields and the grand-daddy of them all, Glastonbury. If you get a chance, go see 'em, but maybe don't take very young kids with you.
The weather forecasters had predicted that Sunday would be wetter than Saturday and they weren't wrong. The rain came on about nine in the morning and pretty much didn't let up for the next 12 hours. Audio Soup has never been as wet as this one was before, but it didn't deter folk from having a good time. There were parties and jams in camps throughout the site, and a few dedicated souls still came out and supported the bands on the main stage. It has been a pretty cold and soggy start to the festival season in Scotland generally this year, with Eden and Kelburn both hit by rain and mud, and Rewind - in Perth the same weekend as Audio Soup - also experienced the same wet conditions.
The Micro Band were the first band of the day for us on the main stage, at what was the last show of a seven gig, seven city, eight day tour for the band, which had included other festivals including the Solas Festival on the outskirts of Perth and the Kelburn Garden Party. They welcomed what they described as a dedicated and hardcore micro audience to their set in the pouring rain, and brought a hint of sunshine to the rain-soaked field with their happy world vibes and tropical rhythms that were almost Magic Numbers-esque in terms of harmonies and their tight, energetic and multi-layered performance.
Next up on the main stage for us was Johnny Cage and the Voodoogroove. These guys, who are from the 'deep south of Wales' - or Cardiff to you and me - first came to my attention as the runners up in the UK's official best part-time band television programme last year, which was won by the mighty Bombskare, headliners of Audio Soup. Both bands are seriously hard-working, putting in the hours and the miles to keep playing to audiences up and down the country week-in week-out. The Voodoogroove have a hint of the Alabama 3 about them, with a passion and belief in their self-styled legend and "Cubana punk n soul, hard rock and dirty roll, voodoo rockabilly vamp trash blues and swamp monster stomp box boogie" that grabs you by the cowboy boots, offers you a bottle of rum and gets you grooving all night long. Well they would have done had it not been in the middle of an incessant downpour in a field in the middle of a wet and particularly cold Scottish summer. A few hardy festie goers did turn up for the ride however and weren't disappointed. There was a lot of honky tonk piano and old school rock 'n' roll, and the guys gave it laldy, playing their hearts and souls out as though they had made a pact with their devil and their very future depended on giving the performance of their lives. They belted out their version of the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) which they debuted on the telly last year, FeverSleeper, Well Well Well and plenty of other down 'n' dirty tunes throughout their hour-long set.
The rain finally began to ease off as Henge took to the stage. Describing themselves as the Earth's primary exponents of cosmic dross, which is helpfully the name of their album, released earlier this month. Watching Henge felt as though we had been transported back in time to the seventies but singer Zpor has the loveliest smile and suddenly being back in the seventies and protesting against the weapons of war and learning to love and dance again really doesn't seem like a bad thing at all.
After the visual and audio delight of Henge's performance, it was time for the weekend's headliners, Soup stalwarts and organisers - and let's not forget the UK's official best part-time band, Bombskare. They opened with "Catastrof**k", blasting into new material such as "I Wanna Be Famous". They were joined on stage by Johnny Cage himself and some of the Voodoogroove for "Do All Dogs Go to Heaven", which also saw two youngsters steal the spotlight as they skanked away and even got to play a few notes on Scott's guitar. "Beatrice", "Freedom 35", their cover of Britney Spear's "Toxic", a storming cover of "Live and Let Die, Done No Matter What, The Ballad of Lloyd Knibb" and "Sally Brown" all got an airing and the band, who were down a keyboard player for this gig, were as energetic as ever, with Murray's and Andy's voices both on fine form - Murray in particular holding some notes that Robert Plant would be proud of - and the brass section charging through the numbers - literally charging round the stage - as they powered through their set in another field-storming climax to the festival.
Audio Soup this year was the living embodiment of the old saying that life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain, which plenty did. A weekend at Soup is a musical journey, an odyssey no less - where else could you travel from the swamps of America to the planet of Venus in less than an hour? It's a musical revelation and education as well - with over 100 artists on the line-up including some big names, particularly in the DJ scene, you are pretty much guaranteed to come away from this festie with a whole new list of bands that you love and would recommend to others to try to catch if they can.
It is not even just about the music though. Soup is always a very restorative weekend too, realigning senses of perspective and re-affirming priorities - albeit in terms of great music, entertainment and a great atmosphere. The community spirit at this festival is just the best and absolutely the real deal. Many events lay claim to being a family, Soup genuinely is, and the organisers work really hard throughout the year to ensure that vibe is maintained.
As they say, Audio Soup it is made by the people for the people with creativity, talent and raw energy - it is made with genuine passion and love - go along and try it for yourself, season to taste and just mix it up!
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