When we come to look back on 2013, we might well consider it a vintage year for festivals - the year when the sun shined on us all, when our wellies were kept in our car boots and when smiley, happy people danced, pranced and partied like never before. I'm now seven festivals into the summer and this is the seventh annual Beat-Herder.
Beat-Herder has proved that it's much more than a Glastonbury after party. It's a compact, glowing and growing mini-metropolis, a town full of surprise and wonder, another to add to my ever growing list of must-do festivals.
Saturday afternoon and the sun is beating down. We're stood on the ramparts of the fortress, looking down on the assembled masses below . This is a new venue for The Beat-Herder and it proves to be a splendid and welcome addition to the wares currently on offer. Imagine those old toy forts you perhaps used to play with as a child and resize it by thousands and you might have a picture of this structure. From the outside it looks incredibly impressive; wood effect and turrets in each of the corners. At night, it has tubes that blow fire into the air. It's a Wild West Arcadia. Nothing prepares you for the aural bombardment when you head into the fortress. The corrugated iron inside encourages the sound to bounce around the four walls sealing the pumping beats for all to enjoy. It's a dustbin dustbowl. There's bare flesh, toothy grins and energetic dancing as a house-trance based set from iDigDeep scorches all those in the vicinity. We leave the ravers, the old skool dancers and the tattooed muscle hounds to their pleasures and move along to the other delights of the Shire.
The other new venue, The Maison D'Etre, is the place I choose to be for much of the weekend. This is a new bands tent. It's kitted out with comfy furniture and decorated with a washing line of starched-white clothes. On the Friday night, we stumble across Extra Curricular in here. They give us a lesson in how to merge funk, hip-hop and dance. Their exuberant front-man, Thabo, could teach higher profile front-men a thing or two about performance. Later in the evening, we see a highlight of the festival. Sicknote dish out medicines of danced-up delights. These prodigious punks throw paint over us as they serve up a prescription of slightly skewed techno. There's dark, devilish humour within the theatrics and the audience are wilfully swallowing it down.
Other highlights of The Maison D'Etre line up include Concrete Knives on the Saturday evening and Temples on the Sunday evening. Both bands have been creating a bit of a buzz around the festival circuit this Summer and it's easy to see why. Concrete Knives are full of French charm. There's singing, screaming, shouting, melody and beat. They're effortlessly cool and I make a note to catch them again soon. Temples are more obviously derivative. These cool kids from Kettering shake their hair and psych us out with their trippy 60's influenced worship. It's nothing I've not heard before but they harmonise and play with such skill that you can't help but be charmed.
There's one lowlight in the new bands tent and that's Public Service Broadcasting. It's not that J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth play badly but they are hideously let down by the technology they bring. The visuals simply refuse to work. The crowd try desperately hard to enjoy PSB without the public information films that accompany the tracks and the tent is certainly packed out but I know how much better this band can be live than they are tonight. I leave early.
There are so many sites of entertainment in Beat-Herder shire (12 listed in the programme alone and there's a few more that weren't listed) that sometimes (especially during the day when the sun beats) the main stage is less well populated than the quality of act on stage deserve. Skinny Lister on the Saturday afternoon are a case in point. Their well-rehearsed folky festival set doesn't fail to get the skin blistering as those that are assembled work up a sweat with their energetic bouncy dancing. The flagon of rum that gets passed amongst the crowd is communally quaffed by thirsty onlookers. Laura Thomas takes a break from her vocal duties and waltzes with the audience. People wake from an afternoon slumber to find a double bass being plucked next to their heads. This is how Mumford and Sons should be. It was much cooler when we got to the main stage on Friday evening. Clean Bandit impressed as a warm up to Chic. Here are a band that effortlessly transcend their elevation to the larger stage. The merging of classical fiddle over poppy dance beats combine with some tuneful and well-toned vocals. They're a great choice to help warm the crowd up for Chic.
Fresh from their Glastonbury successes, Chic and Nile Rodgers are an act that need little introduction to most. Nile and band seem genuinely happy to be here in the Ribble Valley and ensure that the assorted freaks are all dancing to the good times on offer. The site has been open since earlier this morning and with little to do but pitch tents and drink alcohol many of those around us seem a little worse for wear. But this is a set that has something of a unifying effect across the audience. It's brilliant programming. It brings strangers together in a field and from here on in we're going to look after each other all weekend like we're long lost mates. Jimmy Cliff's set on the mainstage later on the Sunday night has a similar unifying effect but this is our chance to say goodbye to the friends we've made this weekend. Shivers are sent down our backs and across the field as the crowd becomes choir for 'Many Rivers To Cross'.
The Toiltrees area is more than just an excellent festival pun. It's a clearing within a beautifully wooded area from which we get a full weekend of assorted dance. It's Sunday afternoon and I need respite from the sun that continues to pound so I seek siesta and shade in the wood that sits behind the main stage. I'm not alone. Norman Jay MBE is laying down some big chilled tunes. Some people are dancing but most seem happy to save some energy and let this summer afternoon bliss wash over their picnic rugs. I hear that last year the Toiltrees area had less impact because the speakers had been positioned too far apart. The organisers had clearly listened to this criticism because this year there was no such issue. By night, this area ravages with dance. DJ sets from Utah Saints and Jaguar Skills are impeccably received on the opening night but for me the true revelation was Tom Staar who closed the stage as constellations cleared and we saw the first glimmers of Saturday's light. I take one final walk through the Toiltrees before the area closes down on Sunday evening and catch Mistajam telling the crowd that they're better than those he's witnessed partying in Croatia and Ibiza this weekend. He embarks upon a game of musical statues and has the audience in his hands. Not bad for a lad from Nottingham.
Attached to the woods but forming it's own separate area is 'The Street'. Permanent fixtures and all year round buildings give this area a festival theme park feel. Here, by day, you can buy bon-bons by the quarter from ye olde sweete shoppe, you can get a haircut or a cut throat razor shave from a stylish looking barbers or you can get your very own permanent Beat-Herder tattoo from the parlour. By late afternoon, the area comes alive and you can go dancing in the Hotel California or you can praise the lord of dance from the pews of the Parish Church of Beat-Herder shire. 'The Street' is an area of creative endeavour and a really enjoyable space in which to have a mooch, to get involved in the underbelly of the festival. At the end of the street are a row of beat-up cars, The Garage. Mechanics double up as DJ's and give us showers of Car Wash. Pretty people wanting to party climb up onto the bonnets of the cars and beep their horns in time to the roar of the engines.
The quirky humour and creative spark so evident in 'The Street' area isn't limited to that part of the site. It's Sunday lunchtime and here we are in the Beat-Herder and District Working Mens Social Club. It's a throwback to those days in the 1970's when going down the social was all the pre-rave. Old TV screens show classic episodes of Coronation Street. Signed pictures of Soap Stars and politically incorrect Northern comics adorn the walls. It must have been a nightmare decorating these walls and I amuse myself thinking of the bin full of unused Tarbuck's, Savile's and Roaches. A tribute act to George Formby takes to the stage. It quickly becomes clear that this has a modern twist as he launches into a cover of 'In Da Club'. You can get a good pint of real ale in here or a decent pint of chewy cider. At £3.50 a pint, you feel that it's fine value for money (although you wish that the prices were in line with the décor).
Indeed, prices are well regulated and reasonable across the site. The many baa's (a nod to the sheep in nearby fields) sell two cans of red stripe and strongbow for a fiver and also seem to do reasonably priced spirits. If you want a pint and not an ice cold can, then a couple of bars on site will meet your need. Across the fields, there's food for all taste buds. Gandhi's Flip Flop again provide their £2 Vegetable Samosa's that were such a treat at Glastonbury. Elsewhere you can buy pies for £2.50 and whole pizzas for a fiver. Hog roasts come with a free bottle of water although with the many water points dotted around there's little need to buy your own. Stalls selling pints of home made lemonade and exotically flavoured ice-creams must make a killing in the heat.
Sunday evening and it's been a couple of hours since a British man won Wimbledon, not that many of the crowd gathered in the Smokey Tentacles Lounge seem bothered by such sporting fact. Shisha's are being smoked whilst Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate impress all with their second set of the day. The crowd are sent in a spin as Joe and Sekou serve up an impeccable fusion of Afro-beat, reggae, hip hop and soul. Joe declares his love for Beat-Herder and the crowd cheer wildly. Match point.
Looking out from Smokey Tentacles across the rest of the site, a camp fire again starts to flicker in the middle of Beat-Herder's very own stone circle. On Saturday night, we'd relaxed up here, chatted to old and new friends and taken respite from the love, laughter and loopiness happening elsewhere. Within minutes we could be riding on fairground rides but we leave the dodgems, the waltzer, the big wheel and the carousel to those that need such thrills from the funfair. We don't spend a great deal of time in the funfair field which seems a shame because nestled up in the corner is the Trailer Trash tent. Here they have Wrekon creatures, pole dancing robots and a focus on disco and brass. At other festivals, it's the sort of venue I might spend hours at. But here, there is so much to enjoy that it's simply a blip on the landscape. I walk past the StumbleFunk tent on Saturday evening when Roni Size & Dynamite MC dispatch their explosive beats but again this bass-heavy tent is one that generally passes me by throughout the festival. Sadly, the same is true of the The Perfumed Garden, a relaxed tent in which to chill and the Bushrocker Family Hi-Fi tent, replete with roots, reggae and dance-hall. Did I really miss so much?
For a smaller festival, Beat-Herder really does punch above it's weight. It is clearly a labour of love for the many volunteers who help to make it happen. It's a festival that cares for its punters, that wants you to feel involved. The excellent 52 page programme is a bargain at a measly £1 and text within sums it all up better than I can. "We love our little county and do our very best to protect it from the cringing callous that is the corporate world of cock. We may spit, not on our streets, but in the mucky mouth of materialism and rely on you, our good parishioners, to help make sure that our special part of this wally world remains kind, caring and, well, special.'
A year seems like a hideously long time to wait to do this all again.
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