Beat-Herder can't help but be magical

Beat-Herder 2017 review

published: Tue 25th Jul 2017

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Friday 14th to Sunday 16th July 2017
Ribble Valley, Sawley, Gisburn, Lancashire, BB7 4LF, England MAP
tier 3 £137.50
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Thu 6th Jul 2017

It's Sunday evening. The Dub Pistols are drawing towards the end of their fine headline set at Beat-Herder. Soon, this festival highlight of the summer will be over for another year and all we'll have are the memories of another wild and wicked weekend of fun. But, for now, we're urged by Barry Ashworth to really let ourselves go for it one last time. "Oh no, here we go again, I'm off my face, another mucky weekend", sing the band and for many of us, the weekend is summed up in that moment. Beat-Herder has been magical once again. It doesn't know how to be anything but.


I wasn't even going to stay and watch The Dub Pistols set. There's so much else to do and see at Beat-Herder that it feels like you're cheating if you watch your festival favourites. Over at the new stage, The Factory, Daft As Punk (guess who they're a tribute band for!) are playing and surely it's better to check out something new? But Barry and co clearly have such an affinity and love for this place that they're likely to pull something special out of the bag. It's hard to draw yourself away. In truth, I'm glad I didn't.

For if I had, I wouldn't have randomly bumped into Joe Martin, co-frontman of Cabbage, enjoying himself towards the front. "I used to review for eFestivals", he reveals to me during our chat. "Yep, I even reviewed this one back in the day", Joe adds. Who knew that eFestivals had such famous alumni?

Twenty four hours earlier, I'd been watching the mighty Cabbage strut their raucous punk up at the Trash Manor. For many, Beat-Herder is known as a dance festival. It's certainly true that the bulk of the acts on the stages draw influence from that sphere. But to label it simply as a dance music festival overlooks all of the other great things you can see and do here in the Ribble Valley. Cabbage are a case in point. Within the faux-decadence of Trash Manor, amidst makeshift fountains and random works of art, Cabbage make an almighty racket. It's still easy to see why they made the BBC sound of 2017 list.


I'm asked by many I chat with at Beat-Herder what my highlight so far has been. It's a question that's not worth pondering for too long. For whilst there are no shortage of great bands and DJs on the menu, surely the absolute highlight of this festival are the people who attend. It's the sort of place where conversations between punters are positively encouraged; where a chat in a toilet queue or with somebody sat on a bench next to you leads to all sorts of unexpected diversions. You might subsequently find yourself on a fairground ride with that new friend or dancing to a Beatles tribute act in the Beat-Herder and District Working Men's Social Club. It's that sort of event.

Take Tina from Cork. Photographer Phil and myself are stumbling towards somewhere on Friday evening when we spot Tina looking lost on a bench. "My boyfriend's dancing in there but I need a break from the party", explains Tina. I can't recall much about the conversation that followed but I'm sure we all laughed lots and shared festival stories. I'm not sure if it was Tina or myself who thought it might be a good idea to go on the Waltzer but I do remember that Phil bravely stepped aside from the opportunity to spin claiming he needed to take photos. I'm sure that my face wasn't a picture.

Fast forward to early Sunday evening and Phil and myself are watching the excellent Dohnut (formerly known as Eating Disorder) down at the Stumble Funk tent. Dohnut are an energetic troupe from Leeds who seem to specialise in disco-punk. Anthemic, bold and particularly Northern, they remind me of Chumbawumba when they were actively pursuing chart success. With choruses you can sing along with after only hearing them once and lots of fizzing electronics, we agree that it's time well spent watching them. Running up to us bounds Tina. I know that we've previously talked but can't quite place when or where. Fortunately, Phil has a better memory. Tina's happy to see us again. She thanks both of us for helping her out of the hole she was in two nights before. Like I say, it's that sort of festival.


I'm getting my haircut. It's something that I like to do most years when at Beat-Herder. The regular barber, a chap from Barnsley, isn't here and he's been replaced by two local women who seem nervous and reluctant to chop at my locks when I enter into their shop. "We're really just doing glittery things", says one whilst the other mentions that 'she cuts her husbands hair'. They needn't have worried. For the next half hour or so I'm entertained by their chat as my hair is washed in the basin and then carefully trimmed. When it comes to paying, I'm told there's no charge. I thrust a tenner into the hands of the woman who has cut my hair. "Thanks, I'll put that towards my son's operation", she says.

This real-life street is an integral feature of Beat-Herder. Little shops selling trinkets mix in with the church, the hotel California and the tattoo parlour. Lots of people queue to get stamped with their permanent BH tattoo, a memory to take away from the weekend and a further way of declaring that you're in love with this place. By the side of the barbers shop is a hidden alley that leads to the swimming pool. I resist the urge to go for a paddle.

One of the many marvellous things about Beat-Herder is that each year something new gets added to the incredible range on offer. In years gone by, the Maison D'Etre tent has hosted up and coming indie bands but this year it's replaced by 'The Factory'. Like a corrugated shed with a downstairs and an upstairs balcony, this space is also kitted out with an old vehicle at the front. There's a bar in here as well. I pop in a couple of times but can't completely get the identity of the place. It might need a few more years to find that.


An area that really comes into its own this year is the Beyond area. A relatively new addition down at one corner of the site, you cross a bridge and head through a dark tunnel to find a range of rooms all with different themes. Phil and myself spend a happy hour or two watching the lights spray out in the Sunrise Psytrance garden whilst we stomp from side to side. At other times over the weekend, we get all funky amidst the Bump City residents in the Bubba Gumma room. There's also a space with a large, makeshift boombox down here in the back of 'Beyond'. Many don't venture too far away from this area all weekend.

It wouldn't be Beat-Herder without a range of weather types. By and large, the light but persistent drizzle on Saturday doesn't cause too many problems. There are enough tents and venues under cover within which you can find shelter (and beer). The rain does put a dampener on some of the more elaborate, made out of cardboard, fancy-dress costumes though. This year's theme is the Letter 'D'. As ever, people put their all into the creations; we spot quite a few Dolly Parton's, a couple of soggy Daleks and a Dumb and Dumber. It might be by accident but lots of punters appear to have got the drunken look down to a tee. By the time that Sleaford Mods take to the main stage on Saturday evening, the drizzle has stopped and a perfect festival evening is forming. The gobby, spit fuelled anger coming from the Nottingham duo might have looked an odd choice on paper but the truth is they go down a storm with this Northern crowd. As do The Sugarhill Gang who play an energetic journey through the classics of hip-hop, ably assisted by cameo performances from Melle Mel and Scorpio, earlier in the day.


The weather behaves itself on Sunday and as a result we spend much more time outside at the main Beat-Herder stage. I might be the only person in the world unaware of why Toots has taken a hiatus from performing but Phil fills me in. What sort of muppet throws a bottle at a ska legend when on stage? We're both pleased to note that Toots and the Maytals are back on form and the main man, broadly smiling, confident and apparently happy to be here, is showing no sign of the anxiety that apparently put him off performing for a while. Indeed, this is a blissful set in the early evening sun of classic ska. At one point, Lee 'Scratch' Perry joins Toots on stage and gives him a friendly hug. Lee has played a little earlier and the Beat-Herder crowd have loved the set from the ancient reggae eccentric. There's no shortage of offers when Lee does his thing and asks those watching if there's any ganja he can make use of. As mad as ever, you can't help but notice how these names surround themselves with musicians of the highest order. The results never fail.

I've made no secret in years gone by that the Beat-Herder and District Working Men's Social Club is one of my favourite tents on the festival circuit. An homage to Wheeltappers and Shunters, you'll always guaranteed to see wild and wacky things coming from the stage. I spend a bit less time in here than I usually might but still manage to win some John Smiths bitter hair and body shampoo during Mysti Valentine's F***ing Bingo. Mysti is a glamorous Northern drag act. She punctuates her rude bingo calling with spoof cabaret singalongs. She's no fan of the Tories and most entertaining to watch.

I see in the programme (as excellent as ever - an informative and funny read) that they recommend a Beat-Herder pub crawl. I'm always up for a challenge but I suspect this one might even be beyond me. There's no shortage of places where you can get a drink here and if you tried them all out it'd most certainly lead to a nasty hangover. We do still drink a fair bit from the bars though. Quality local ales (we drink the blonde for most of the weekend) only set you back £3.50 for a pint. Food provision is of similar value and quality.


Sunday lunchtime and I'm having a wander up to the Smokey Tentacles tent. I take a rest at the Stone circle. The smouldering embers from last night's campfire let off a light waft of smoke which creates a slight haze for my vista back over the site. My head feels a tad foggy anyway so I don't mind this blur. From the Smokey Tentacles tent comes a beautiful jazzy saxophone sound - followed by some exquisite spoken word. It's gentle and haunting and I go to investigate who's producing the noise. Sabrina Demi stands behind a loop machine. She has a saxophone wrapped around her neck and a smile wrapped around her face. Many blow on their hookahs as Sabrina blows on her sax. It's lounge music, horizontally chilled out for this crowd that want a bit of calm. I find a little stool to perch on and watch transfixed as the loops expand. Stunning.

Yes - Beat-Herder really has done it again. I've not even mentioned the glorious wizardry of Crystal Fighters, the unfathomable popularity of Milky Chance, the packed-out pathways leading to the Toil Trees for the Faithless DJ set or the fact that The Lancashire Hotpots are truly the Wurzels of the North. I don't need to.

It truly has been mucky, a bit muddy and a lot messy. Next year can't come quickly enough.

review by: Sean Tizzard

photos by: Phil Bull

Friday 14th to Sunday 16th July 2017
Ribble Valley, Sawley, Gisburn, Lancashire, BB7 4LF, England MAP
tier 3 £137.50
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Thu 6th Jul 2017

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