innovation in festivals is alive and well and living in Beat-Herdershire

The Beatherder Festival 2012 review

By James Tayler | Published: Wed 4th Jul 2012

Beat-Herder 2012 - Slamboree
Photo credit: Phil Bull

Beat-Herder 2012

Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2012
Gisburn, Lancashire, BB7 4NR, England MAP
£100 for the three days incl camping - SOLD OUT
Daily capacity: 5,000

Having heard rave reviews from friends of last years Beat Herder, this seemed like an event not to be missed. The weather gods had other ideas and dropped an awful lot of rain in the run-up to Beat herder 2012.

around the festival site (1)
As we approach the festival atop a hill in Ribble Valley Lancashire, we catch sight of our home for the weekend and although we receive texts from friends on site warning of long and slow moving queues, by the time we arrive (about 4:00), we park up with no delay. This is the only festival where I have been shown to my parking space by a man on horse back! The queues onto the festival site seem to have passed and only queue we experience is on foot getting onto the camp site. Bags are being rigorously checked which means delays in getting in and pitching tents. In total I think it takes about an hour to be processed through the mêlée, get onto the camp site and find our spot while the gunmetal skies threaten to soak us and our belongings.

Once searched and through the gates, the ground is nice and soft and gives little resistance to tent pegs but the camp site seems to be getting pretty churned up in places already. Playing card flags spread evenly across the camp site giving a much needed pointer to help find the tent and a great way to shepherd in late arrivals.

As part of a large group, we spend some time catching up before going for a wander to explore the site. Unfortunately that means another long delay waiting in a large queue to get searched again. Perhaps with searches this rigorous, more security staff would be a better idea to process the crowds at peak times.

around the festival site (1)
First impressions (apart from mud), is that a huge amount of effort that has gone into decorating the site. Not only the usual flags (though there are flags a plenty), sculptures, art installations and techno monsters are taking over the scenery. First stop to get a beer is The Working Mens Social Club. It's a big covered tent with a bar and a stage at the far end. The walls are covered in amusing stuff, like the rogues gallery of famous patrons of the club (Ken Dodd, Fred Dibnah, James Brown and Jim Bowen amongst them). This becomes one of my favourite venues over the weekend with Ribble Valley cider 2 ales from Bowland Breweries - Ram Jam and The Udder One on offer at the bar. There are many bars spread across the festival site. Most stock the basic ales and then a variety of ciders and canned drinks at pretty reasonable prices (£3 - £3.50). There are also cocktail bars, stalls selling energy drinks, smoothies and milkshakes.

around the festival site (2)
Although Beat Herder didn't really strike me as a child friendly festival, I thought I would take a wander to The Lazy Meadow and check out the kids area. The main kids tent is run by The Ladybird Project and I was really pleasantly surprised. The kids I saw up there were playing in miniature wooden houses, or taking part in a dancing competition but the chalk board with the weekends kids activities seemed innovative and original. I was also pleased to learn that they will be working other festivals including one that I am taking my kids to.

The Lazy Meadow seemed to be the main hub for workshops (Knitting and Laughter Yoga), The Smokey Tentacles Shisha Lounge was also up there and had a stage and bar too. In the centre of the meadow stood the stone circle where a camp fire warmed cold bones through out the night.

around the festival site (2)
Away from the very crowded loos in the main arena, the campsite portable toilets seem to be kept reasonably clean, empty and well stocked with loo roll. In the arena, the mud makes it more difficult for them to be serviced regularly but they still remain pretty good.

Smerins Anti Social Club (crowd)
This year's fancy dress theme is 'The Letter A', and despite the inclement weather, and the resulting mud, there are some spectacular costumes. Among them I spot a home made cardboard Armadillo outfit, Airhostesses, American Footballers, Aliens and even Anneka Rice!

One of my favourite things about Beat Herder is the huge array of small and intimate venues. New this year is The Church with its pews, stained glass window, a pulpit and an organ. It is a tiny venue (not much bigger than a garden shed), but big enough to house record decks and space to dance on the pews and in the isles.

Sunday service was conducted with hymns - Bohemian Rhapsody, Dancing Queen and Tainted Love - all on the hymn sheet.

around the festival site (1)
In the same area of the festival as the church were The Demon Barbour, Hotel California, Luna Cinema and Rude Studio Tattoos (yes a real tattoo studio) All in the woods. The area in the woods is known as The Toil Trees and at night time it looks like a rave scene from the early 90's. Big Funktion-One Sound rigs are used over most of the site and speaker stacks are carefully placed throughout the wooded area. Visuals make the trees bend and curve and bring a surreal edge to it all.

Orbital (crowd)
Musical highlights for me are Orbital whose Saturday night headline spot on the main stage is one of the best performances I have seen from them. The brothers Hartnoll play a large selection of tracks from their new album 'Wonky' including 'Stringy Acid' and the ghostly 'Never', as well as old classics 'Chime' and 'Belfast'. Possibly the highlight of their set for me was the addition of 'Are We Here' from the 'Snivilisation' album, mashed with The Carpenters – 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft'. Their light show was out of this world too!

Surprise act of the weekend for me was Slamboree who I had never seen before. They seemed like an unlikely cross between traditional Balkan music, a circus, and a full on rave. The transitions between musical styles are as subtle as a baby with tooth ache, and the energy Juggling hats, knives, brightly coloured costumes and just generally having a laugh on stage worked brilliantly. Slamboree are a perfect festival band!

Another act that I'd never seen before was Parov Stelar. A friend described them as sounding similar to a Ska Dreadzone which I thought suited them perfectly.

Friday night/ Saturday morning in the Toil Trees was an incredible night, with Utah Saints, and their old school rave followed by the incredible Fake Blood and then Eddy Temple Morris. Before the night ended, we managed to catch a bit of bass heavy Lost Propertytoo before retiring to the tent.

around the festival site (1)
By contrast, following the Goldie set on the Stumblefunk stage, we tried the Toil trees again and were disappointed with James Holden, and Nathan Fake. Holden's set comprised of tracks building and building but never quite reaching a crescendo. Instead they petered out before doing anything or going anywhere. Fake's tunes seemed to be an ambient mish mash is sounds that didn't really belong together.

Death In Vegas played a set of mainly newer songs but the crowd really lit up for 'Aisha', and The Beat did what they do best, and that is to transport you to somewhere else. Somewhere sunny, where cold drinks are a must and you know all the songs on the jukebox. Rankin Roger and Rankin Junior joined forces to lift the crowd further still and just in time for the party vibe to continue with Lee Scratch Perry. He is bonkers but having been at the forefront of reggae production for decades now, he was not to be missed. He even promised to take home all of the ladies underwear thrown at him and hang it in his studio.

Lee Scratch Perry
Mr Scruff & MC Kwasi performed an incredible 7 (yes seven) hour set in the Toil Trees. Deftly switching from genre to genre it seems impossible that after several visits to that area of the festival he is still playing. The parts that I catch are incredible and I wonder how it would be to spend some time to thumbing through his record collection!

After such a wet weekend it was inevitable that getting the car off the festival site would be pretty tricky. There is no easy way for the organisers to do anything more than what they did to counteract this issue. Instead, those that could got out of their cars and helped push people off site. Although it took me about 5 hours to get out, it's this kind of festival spirit that will get me back to Beat Herder.

There are many more wonders that I could tell, but that's the beauty of beat Herder so discover it for yourself. I know I haven’t seen it all, and I'll be back next year to see more. Innovation in festivals is alive and well and living in Beat-Herdershire.

Lee Scratch Perry (crowd)
review by: James Tayler

photos by: Phil Bull

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