In the neat and informative programme for Barn On The Farm 2017, festival organiser, Josh, tells all what first motivated him to establish his labour of love eight years ago. A young student in London, Josh was missing his home in the Gloucestershire countryside and wanted, as he had always done, to introduce his friends and family to new and upcoming music. After 'getting the bug' in year one, he put a marker in the ground in year two by persuading Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran to headline their first ever festivals (whatever happened to Ed?).
Josh tells us about the ethos of this very special festival. "I quickly realised it was all about creating a connection; blurring the lines between artist and audience", he mentions. "I was hell bent on breaking down the walls of the venue, making less of an event of the festival and more of a family in which the artist, audience, organisers and volunteers are all together as one", he adds.
You know what? These aims and objectives still pervade through every pore of Barn On The Farm. There's a closeness here, on this farm just outside Gloucester, which must have surely taken great effort to cultivate. Strangers quickly become friends as you find yourself overwhelmed by the music on offer. We all try to play the Barn On The Farm guessing game by pinpointing which of these acts are about to massively break into the big time (Last year, many of us recall watching Rag 'N' Bone Man play a blinder). Bands stand in the crowds before and after they've played actively supporting other acts. This is a festival with generous spirit and a good heart.
Last year, when reviewing Barn On The Farm, I had a very minor grumble about the queue at the ticket office. It was by no means excessive yet it seems the new process for entering the site this year has helped to improve things considerably. The car park now sits at the bottom of this glorious site and punters walk around the side of the main 'milking parlour' stage to get their wristbands at a newly positioned ticket office. Quick and efficient, the piece de resistance is that there are extra stewards/guides on hand to help you carry your bags from here to wherever you might want to pitch your tent. The camping area is so compact that it's never going to be a long walk but these extra touches help to set that friendly tone of togetherness from the off.
Despite getting up early and missing out on the Saturday morning lie-in, we're still not the first on site. That was always going to be the case because the festival has already begun. A select crowd across the Thursday and Friday has probably gone wild over secret headliners (Nick Mulvey I'm told on the Friday) and intimate gigs from the likes of St. Raymond and The Amazons. I'm reminded that in future years it'd be a decent plan to try to get a ticket to these special pre-proper festival Barn On The Farm days. Just being here over a Saturday and Sunday feels a bit too short; you just about get into your stride and then it all comes to an end. It's a festival that my liver loves.
With tent pitched, we go on a wander to explore. There are a few minor tweaks from the year before but mostly the set-up remains the same. There are three music stages; the main one, the outdoor stage and the wooden barn. It doesn't take long to walk between them but they're positioned so that sound bleed is never an issue over the weekend either. I note a few additional food stalls from last year (The Cheese Truck now sits beside my favourite festival food discovery from 2016 - Burger Theory). They've also added a small bar in a reconditioned pony-trailer down at the main stage which works wonders when you need a thirst-quenching pint and the walk to other bars, no more than five minutes away, seems too onerous.
You can still get pints of Stowford Press and lager from the bars. This year, they're priced at £4 a pop. Pints of Pimms come in at £6 a go. Over by the Over barn, in a little outhouse, those with a taste for something more 'farmhouse' can indulge in stronger, local ciders and ales. You still pay £3 for your Barn On The Farm plastic which you can then carry around with you all weekend. We curse ourselves for not bringing the ones we collected last year that now take pride of place in a kitchen cupboard.
The food offer is much like the rest of the festival; small and punching above its weight. Each of the caterers are apparently hand-picked by BOTF staff and it's this attention to detail that shines through. The best burgers on the circuit mix with the most-flavoursome of curries from the Bhangra Bus. Eat Like A Greek offers the tastiest of treats and they can all be washed down with award winning ice-creams and smoothies. The ice cream stall appears to do a staggering amount of trade over the weekend which is hardly surprising when the weather is as good as it is.
Saturday afternoon and we've only been on site for a few hours. But already, we've bumped into lots of people who we chatted with last year. It'd be easy here in this most friendliest of festivals to wile away the hours in conversation. And whilst we do a bit of that, we try not to forget our primary purpose for being here. It's to see bands and performers who might be the next big thing. Thus, much of the Saturday and Sunday are spent scuttling between stages like worker ants keen for our next sugar fix (or in my case pint of cider). We rack up an impressive tally of bands seen and it would make this review exceptionally long if I mentioned them all. Comments on some of the highs (and lows) follow:-
Headliners are perhaps a good place to start. To be honest, I was a little disappointed when Tom Odell and James Vincent McMorrow were announced for this year. There's no doubting their pedigree or indeed their general fit with the festival's music ethos but, I'm one of those who wants a lift and a boogie last thing at night rather than a mellow meander through singer songwriter anxiety. I'm happy to report that my disappointment was ill-founded, particularly in the case of James Vincent McMorrow. We watched the start of his set from the packed-out main stage but then retired to the camping field. Sat in a chair with can of cider in hand, the music from the stage wonderfully washed over me. McMorrow's massaging voice, always raved about as something angelic, carried crisply in the slight breeze. As darkness descended and the pathways lit up, I relaxed into my chair. I shut my eyes and drew breath, taking a moment to savour the peace all around. Before I knew it, I was out for the count. A perfect end to a fab festival day.
It had been The Big Moon who had impressed me most on the Saturday. I've seen them a few times previously so knew that their tuneful harmonies would be right up my street yet I hadn't quite prepared myself for just how good they've got. Evidently, large amounts of touring has allowed Juliette et al to really hone their craft. As the sun begins to descend and form shadows at the Outdoor stage, The Big Moon say hello to the ostrich that inquisitively pokes its head over a fence from a nearby field. I'm sure they'll generate lots more interest by the time this year has passed.
Hey Charlie are another all-girl band appearing at this year's festival. I don't know a great deal about them but a quick scan of the internet a few minutes before they take to the main stage for their Sunday afternoon slot convinces me that I should take a chance. Complaining of massive hangovers, this three-piece tell all that the previous day they'd been supporting Green Day in London. Dressed in red and very aware of their sex appeal, Hey Charlie give us a set of confident power-pop. At times, it does veer a bit too close to Busted and their ilk but there's undeniably something here to behold and it'll be interesting to see where they might be in eighteen months’ time.
Performance of the Sunday has to go to Izzy Baxter from Black Honey. They're one of the Barn On The Farm repeat performers having played last year when rain threatened the outdoor stage. There's no repeat of that weather on this most glorious of sunny days. Theatrical, seductive and holding the audience in the palm of her hand, Izzy gets the whole crowd who are watching to crouch down to the ground before giving us authority to jump up and go wild. When I first saw Black Honey, I wasn't entirely sure what the hype and fuss was all about. Now, I can see it completely.
Another repeat performance comes from Clean Cut Kid. They've been promoted from outdoor stage to main stage this year. It seems that the release of their first album has given the Barn On The Farm crowd chance to get to know the Clean Cut Kid repertoire. There's certainly more of a buzz and swagger about the Scousers this year in comparison to last. "Endless playing at festivals has clearly improved their stock", comments Photographer Sarah - and for once she's right.
If I was being critical (and I don't really want to be) it would be that some of the acts we see sound a little bland - a little too focused on mass appeal and a bit too willing to compromise their creative sparks as a result. The much-hyped Lany falls into this category on Saturday evening though I concede the audience, mostly consisting of young females, have a different outlook. On Sunday evening, I find it difficult to understand the attraction of Amber Run. They come across as a bit too pompous for their own good. Admittedly, they pull one of the larger crowds of the weekend on the main stage and many seem to be enjoying the substandard Coldplay on offer but the arrogant posturing is a bit too much for me. Just to prove that I don't have any sort of beef with acts from Nottingham (I've been known to criticise Jake Bugg in the past), I thought that Ady Suleiman's pared back reggae-lite acoustic set was incredible (and it was nice to randomly bump into his parents afterwards who seemed like fine people).
Bad Sounds open the main stage on Sunday. They come highly recommended so we make sure that ablutions are dealt with in the morning (bad sounds) to ensure that we catch the show. They've got an interesting, almost lackadaisical swagger about them and influences which are pretty hard to pinpoint. At times, they call upon the ghosts of Britpop and at other times seem to draw upon Squeeze's lyricism. You can't help but appreciate their casual approach and, in truth, they'd be my tip for the top from this mighty line-up.
In fact, Sunday is an awesome day for music. We're wandering from outdoor stage to main stage (sets are scheduled not to overlap) and, for this reason, we spend much less time this year at the Wooden Barn stage. This space has to be seen to be believed. Acts, mostly acoustic, play a few metres up in the air on the first floor of the barn whilst punters watch from down below. When we do venture into this space we wish we'd done so more. Arlissa, a new name to me, has an incredibly soulful voice, one that draws you in and then doesn't let you go.
Rag 'N' Bone Man enthralled all when he headlined on the Outdoor stage last year so it seems appropriate that the honour of closing the stage this year falls to a man who has written songs for him. Rationale has a confident, smiley manner and an effervescent charm. His music, modern chart-friendly soul, won't appeal to all but it's good enough to get me moving. I confess it's not the first time on this Sunday with the excellent electronic set from Seramic (ones to watch) and the 'less up my street' call and response from Youngr also getting my toes tapping.
Marsicans are a band I should have listened to previously but had somehow always avoided. In the Sunday afternoon heat, these indie-pop lads from Leeds sweat buckets, harmonise delightfully and simply put their all into making their gig a highlight. It might be their first time at Barn On The Farm but I'm pretty sure it won't be their last as they embrace all that is good about this festival. "In the end, I'll always want my friends", they sing in a line from recent single, Friends - and in doing so they echo the sentiment felt by many of us watching. Later in the day, I spot each member of Marsicans generously applauding and dancing along to other acts. They've clearly been well briefed.
"This is your festival, your family and it's never going to be anything other than that", states Josh in his closing comments of the programme. Elsewhere we read that "Barn On The Farm is the way it is because of you." 2017 has, without doubt, been a vintage year at Over Farm - glorious weather, lovely friendly people and beautiful surroundings.
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