Beatherder Festival 2023 - The Review

Success amidst the storms, Beat-Herder remains excellent

By Sean Tizzard | Published: Thu 3rd Aug 2023

Beat-Herder 2023 - Around The Site
Photo credit: Phil Bull

Beat-Herder 2023

Thursday 13th to Sunday 16th July 2023
Ribble Valley, Sawley, Gisburn, Lancashire, BB7 4LF, England MAP
£230.55 for the weekend (4 days)
Daily capacity: 5,000

I have a confession to make; in truth, I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit to this. You know how I’m always saying to you that Beat-Herder is the festival that I would never want to miss across the summer of festivals? Well, it’s like this….

I wake on the Sunday morning in the Beat-Herder’s Ribble Valley to pitter-patter sounds on the canvas of my tent. My feet seem sodden and the socks that I couldn’t quite manage to remove last night are definitely wetter than they were when I fell to sleep. I turn my head, try to open my eyes and my nose brushes the tent-inners. A gust of wind from outside pushes the tent-inner to make a jelly-mould of my face. I deduce that something is awry. Here, we seem to have partial tent collapse. I’m trapped in this canvas cocoon and there’s no butterfly likely to emerge. Puddles have soaked my clothing; my cans of cider are swimming in the porch lake that has formed overnight. There is nothing that I can do. I have to concede defeat and leave early. I reluctantly pack my stuff away to begin the trudge through the mud to the car. The exit is mercifully swift.

Oh – but I wouldn’t want you to think that this disastrous downpour that dampened my spirits had been a constant across the weekend. Things built to a crescendo in truth and before the drop of Saturday night and Sunday morning, the weather was tolerable. In fact, on arrival on Thursday afternoon/evening, we were almost in the realms of the perfect festival clime. Let’s go back there…

 aroundthesite

Here we are – Photographer Phil and myself back in the crew camping field of the festival we both love. Parking the cars was simple; there was no queue at the accreditation office where the smiley gent dispatched our wristbands with customary Beat-Herder friendliness. And the space was plentiful to pitch in. We’re veterans of Beat-Herder and congratulate all and sundry that this entrance/camp set-up has been the simplest yet. The clouds loom large on the horizon but for now the sun beats down and we plan our descent into the action of the valley below. Over on the other side of the dip, the Toil Trees glisten; beyond the main stage arena and in the distance, we can just about make out some sound emerging from the Trash Manor stage. Music and entertainment on a Thursday at Beat-Herder is a new experience for us. We missed last year’s trial but this year we are on it….

Thursday at Beat-Herder is not your all-guns blazing, party like there’s no tomorrow experience that Friday’s and Saturday’s are renowned for. Rather this is a gentle introduction into the delights. Much of the site is closed but there’s enough to hold your attention as you regain your bearings and discover what inflationary damage there is to the price of a pint. I’m glad to report that most bars do actually serve a ‘pint’ this year – you can choose between two craft-like Vocation ales. The Pride and Joy is a tasty, frothy sup and at £5.50 seems decent value when compared to festival prices elsewhere. The pints are served in paper cups and you have to check that you’re not getting a cup of foam with a layer of beer such is the risk of froth but all bar staff seem aware of the potential problem and are keen not to serve you half-measures. If ale is not your thing then you can get cans, spirits and everything you’d rightly expect at any well-stocked bar. We will not go thirsty with the eighteen bars around the site.

I’ve digressed. It’s Thursday and we’re sat in the Trash Manor bar quaffing a pint of Pride and Joy. We’re catching up with old friends and once again marvelling at the strange, sometimes lurid dance movements of the mechanical robots positioned on the stage to play with our heads. BCUC, a band all the way from Soweto, South Africa are about to take the stage and, like those robots, they are also about to hypnotise with their ritualistic church chants. There’s something timeless, riotous and ultimately punk-spiritual about the way that these voices combine. You sense the struggles of the past, the joy of the present and the opportunities of the future as you watch in awe. It’s something of an understatement to say that BCUC are a fine, first act to catch at this year’s Beat-Herder. They’ve set the bar high.

 BCUC

Some weather commentators (of which there are plenty at Beat-Herder) predict that the Friday is going to be the day when the deluge hits. But, for the most part, we’re treated to a day of sunshine and showers. The ground is holding up well and offers little insight into what is around the corner. I wander around the site saying hello to random strangers and getting into decent conversation when time allows. Some say that Beat-Herder’s legendary friendliness is harder to find this year; that the happy spirit is being mooted by the younger tribe who are more intent on marching around in gangs whilst monosyllabically and routinely pushing others aside. For sure, there’s a bit of this but the over-riding spirit is a positive one and this remains a festival with a strong soul. 

Here I am on the Friday afternoon in the Beat-Herder and District Working Men’s Social Club (BH&DWMSC). It remains a must-see on the festival circuit, a Northern pub evoking the spirit of the 1970’s. I’m sure that, as the weekend proceeds, some who were previously unaware of the charms of the place are forced by the rain to stay for longer than they might have otherwise; new converts to the space. For now, Billy and the Biscuit Brothers, a Burnley based covers band supply enough of a veneer of cheese for us to get up and dancing. Later this evening, the emerging Northern (female) punks, Loose Articles, add to their burgeoning fan base. “Ooh, I’ve heard this one, Sinead loves Bitcoin, on t’radio”, I think to myself when I’m having a moment. We’ve got a fuzzbox again.

Loose Articles

When the days are sunnier, it’s not unheard of to meander between the BH&DWMSC and the main stage (they sit adjacent to each other) and omit to explore the rest of the site. The main stage holds fewer delights in truth when the rain is pouring but we can still hovel under the awning of the bar that stands at the side of the stage. There’s no need for shelter amidst the sunshine and showers whilst Mobius Loop entertain all with their floral funky folk. A large programme-sized hole appears in the programme when hip-hop legends, The Jungle Brothers, are due to play. I’m reliably told that they do join us on stage for a truncated half-hour set and appear frustrated that their travel delays to Beat-Herder mean they can’t complete their set. I’m long gone by this point though because I don’t want to get held up in the controversy of Bad Boy Chiller Crew who are up next. I can’t comment; I wasn’t there but, by all accounts, the booking of ‘Bradford’s finest’, generally sniffed at by punters on forums in advance of the festival, went without incident and most simply said that they were ‘alreet’. Confidence Man headline the main stage on the Friday night. I love some of their poppy dance tunes and wacky Australian spirit on record but live (and as headliners) something feels a little bit lost, Perhaps, they will grow into such an elevated slot in the future?

It's Saturday afternoon/evening here at the main stage and the rain is really lashing down. This is the point that things move from manageable to unpleasant. The mud becomes liquid gloop but strangely the liquid drum and bass that hits out from the stage makes us all warriors against the weather. From late afternoon, it’s a D’n’B run as the sparkling female-led acts, Venbee and Piri, give us a glimpse into the future of the genre with their personal and largely fun takes. It’s dead wet for Piri and you temporarily worry about her faux-fur boots until her proud parents (a lovely couple from just up the road) introduce themselves to us from under the awning of the bar and reveal how much they care. Wilkinson really gets the crowd going with a DJ set extraordinaire. An act at the top of his game, Photographer Phil recalls that he’s seen him a few weeks before at Glastonbury. It’s hat really surprise. I didn’t think I was much of a fan but the full band action that they offer tonight is pure class. Impeccable stage setting sees them all on layered, square blocks. It’s a performance that perfectly straddles the intersection between rock and electronic. Whilst I still find their recorded output pretty difficult to get excited about, they’re an act that I’d now definitely go and see in a field. You can’t say fairer than that.

Pendulum

And it’s these surprises that consistently make Beat-Herder great. Who knew that Leicester lad, Gok Wan, was such a fine purveyor of the DJ form? Well, those that saw him at Glastonbury might have had an inkling but here in the Toil Trees on the Saturday afternoon just before the rain really drops, he exuberantly runs us through an hour-long set of happy house dance classics. It’s packed out – those that are there for the novelty of seeing the TV fashion makeover guru in an environment you wouldn’t expect soon have to concede that he’s very good at what he’s doing. The crowd are all smiles – the joy that Gok brings is contagious. It’s definitely a Beat-Herder moment.

Part of that moment is because it’s dressing up Saturday. People put a lot of thought into their fancy dress efforts at Beat-Herder and it’s always fun working out what cryptic costume people have come as; for at Beat-Herder, punters are given a letter of the alphabet to get creative with. 2023’s letter is ‘C’ and it brings out all sorts of clever ideas. I spy a bunch of Christmas trees being serenaded by Cris Cristoffersen (hmmm) whilst a cock in a condom looks on longingly. Phil takes a pic of a chameleon with 5 comma’s on their fronts (think about it). The cardboard cut-outs are getting soggy whilst Charlie Chaplin, the Chuckle Brothers and Charlie Chuck exchange jokes at the urinals. Somebody fails to get the memo and repeats their Boris Johnson costume from last year (Oh hang on, perhaps they did know what they were doing).

Smoky Tentacles

The Smoky Tentacles tent sits beyond the stone circle at the top of the ‘hippy’ field but it’s always worth making the effort to head up to the calm oasis it offers. Rugs, shisha’s and an altogether more relaxed atmosphere give you the chance to chat, refuel and perhaps even have a quick doze. We wander up to catch a lovely DJ set from Favilla. She tells us at the end of her set that mixes calm Afrobeats with laidback hip-hop that it’s the first time she’s played to a crowd. You would never guess. The mix is lovely; it has guest rappers (who’s name I don’t manage to catch) and builds beautifully. Favilla clearly knows how to put a set together.

We didn’t plan to see Favilla but beat-herder is probably best when you meander from tent to tent allowing yourself to be surprised. It’s by doing this that we get to see 8-bitch in the Perfumed Garden, a tent at the opposite end of the site from Smoky Tentacles but one that has a similarly smartly curated feel. 8-bitch is from Preston and sets up table within the crowd. From here, they intricately press buttons on titchy calculator synthesizers and make computer game soundtracks that captivate. It’s visually striking and well worth a watch. On a different scale entirely but also visually striking is the imposing drum orchestra, Drum Machine. They play on the main stage to some acclaim but I miss them. I do see them in the Ring though, an awesome grassy amphitheatre. The beats bounce around the mounds as 50 or more drummers enthusiastically slam our hangovers into submission with a tribal cacophony of sound.

8-B1tch

People with more stamina than me report that once the Sunday morning rains cleared, the weather again became tolerable. And I’m more than a tad disappointed that my collapsing tent meant I had to miss what was, on paper at least, the day with the best line-up. Alison Goldfrapp has never disappointed when I’ve seen her live, Horace Andy would surely have been something else and what better way to wrap up the weekend with a Pulp tribute act in the Factory. It wasn’t to be this year. Tickets for next years festival are on sale now. Will it be too much to ask that in 2024, the weather Gods give us a break from the intense sunshine of 2022 and the extreme storms of 2023? Something in between the two would be just grand. Look, rain or shine, there is no festival that packs as much of a punch as beat-Herder does. It’s still up there with the best on the circuit. And I can’t wait to have a full weekend there once again….


review by: Sean Tizzard

photos by: Phil Bull


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