Sun, fun and a smidge of mud for the 12th Beautiful Days festival, located in Escort Park, Devon. We headed down on the Thursday to join the early revellers and get a good camping spot. After a bit of a queue to get into the grounds, what with the volume of cars and caravans down the windy country lanes, we didn't have to join the usual additional queue for the wristbands as the stewards were prepared at various locations. We were soon set up and enjoyed sitting in the sun and getting to know our neighbours. No music until Friday, so it was a nice quiet evening for us.
The festival kicks off nice and early on the Friday with children's activities. Beautiful Days has the best family camping area of all the festivals we do, and it gets bigger every year. The family camping is spread throughout three fields. There's a bit of hill to carry all the camping stuff down at the start and back up again at the end, but it means an easy walk into the festival all weekend. This year there were added shops, food stalls and wood-turning workshops to get stuck into, as well as the opportunity to make wooden tent pegs, spatulas, pendants and one-legged stools with a pole lathe. For only £2 they were very popular with adults and children. Stalls were selling recycled clothes, camping essentials, more clothes, children's ear defenders (which was great to see), and other quirky bits and bobs to keep the little ones entertained (bubbles, hats made out of cans, and daisy hair accessories). The family area also had food, a bar, a stage, a bouncy castle and slide, and even a toddler play-tent to keep them entertained before they'd even gone into the festival; and a huge theatre tent putting on wake-up shows in the morning, pirate shows in the afternoons, and comedy in the evenings.
The music didn't start until 2pm, so Friday morning was a great chance to have a good wander round and check out where everything was this year, to have a walk up to the healing field and Tiny Tea Tent and then across to the Little Big Top on the hill and check out what sculptures they'd put up. This year in the main arena the usual fire lanterns weren't there. Instead they'd put up some huge metal obelisks; hmm…they weren't as pretty and took up a lot of sitting space, but it would be interesting to see what they did when it was dark. Sadly, they did nothing, despite containing huge tanks of propane.
Another thing Beautiful Days does well is mud. When the ground gets muddy, it's proper thick mud, and there were a few sticky patches which made it tricky with a buggy; but it's a good workout. The Levellers kicked off the music with their acoustic set in the Big Top which easily fills unless you queue up early; but you can still hear them from outside and sit on the grass in the sunshine and have a lovely pint of Beautiful Days ale.
Another Kids Area is located between the two main stages and is always busy with activities for every age. Music sessions for the teeny ones, circus skills, workshops, little funfair rides, trampolines and a climbing frame for the bigger ones, and a tent just for the teens for them to sit and chill and more fairground rides. We had a look at the smallest museum, set up in an old gypsy caravan, full of teeny tiny eerie skeletons, drawers of different bugs, grasses and bees and loads of just crazy weirdness….children seemed to love it.
We settled back at the Big Top arena to sit on the grass and enjoy the afternoon' s music; Gabby Young and Other Animals had everyone inside the tent and sat outside tapping along and doing jazz hands, followed by Cara Dillon who played a haunting set. We could have stayed by the Big Top all day- the food selection round there was brilliant,;stone-baked pizzas, fresh oysters, burgers, Tibetan Momos and then local ice-cream or cream tea with strawberries for pudding.You really can eat yourself silly. We eventually had to move to the main arena to see Dreadzone, who had the sunset spot on the main stage and had us all up and bouncing. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott followed and had the entire audience singing along to their Beautiful South classics and some Housemartins' hits. It was a real trip down memory lane as it had been so long since I'd listened to Carry On Up The Charts, and I was amazed how many I could remember the words to. Heading back to our tents, the festival was still in full swing, with Steve Earle on the main stage, a fire show in the kids area, queues for the fairground rides and more music in the dance tent until 2am followed by a silent disco until 5am for the night owls.
We started off Saturday back down in the family camping area with the 'Rise N Shine' show; an hour of silly songs and groovy dancing, which really woke us up, and we were singing, 'Covered In Custard' for most of the day. We followed that with a good look around the shops until we found the merchandise tent - great T-shirts, Levellers baby vests and even a baby carrier this year! Perhaps a Levellers Babygro for next year - up to 2 years, I'm sure they'd go down well.
After a dry night, the mud had dried and been trampled down so pushing a buggy around was much easier so we had another good wander around. People were lying round on the grass, soaking up the sun, or just bimbling around and searching for breakfast,. There was loads going in the kids area again. A big drum kit made out of plastic barrels was set up for the kids to bash, and a group showed us exactly how to play it later on. Workshops were open to make musical instruments or crazy hats, and we stumbled upon Titan, a huge walking robot doing a show which our 5 year old totally loved. Most of the children ran after him wanting more…so he sneezed all over them, spraying them with water.
Instead of cramming ourselves into the main arena, we found a nicer spot on the grassy bank next door, under the large wicker statues, with soft grass for the children to run and roll around on. We could see the music on the main stage and watch the world go by and with only a small walk down to the bar and toilets. And as we were next to the flagged area, we had a front seat view of the fire show when the sun went down.
Rusty Shackle played some great folky dancing tunes, and we remained in our spot for Easy Star All Stars and Seeed who played cheesy reggae versions of 'Jump Around' and 'Sexy Back,' with everyone jumping and singing along. Sadly again we didn't make it to see the headline act, Seasick Steve; heading back to our tents after the Dead Kennedys, as we all badly needed more layers and our snuggly sleeping bags.
By Sunday, the toilets at Beautiful Days are usually in a pretty bad state: but not this year. Whatever they'd reorganised this year had worked and the toilets remained clean, with toilet roll and hand cleaner too, which was nice.
Sunday at Beautiful Days is fancy dress day and is a very big deal. This year's theme was Black & White, so we got to recycle our cow costumes from last year. On our way back to the festival arena from the campsite we passed loads of people in the Beautiful Days festival T-shirt in black and white stripes, fantastic 50s rockabilly dresses, men and ladies in some lovely wedding dresses, and loads more cows, penguins and dalmations. We caught the end of the The Jam Tarts Choir playing in The Big Top, and checked out the wooden sculptures and the big chess set laid out for anyone to have a go at. And Titan gave us another show in the Kids Area.
Back in the family camping area, at the Band Stand hosted the fancy dress parade - a four-man pedestrian crossing, angels, nuns, a chain-gang of inmates, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Princess Leia, clowns, pirates, mafia, skeletons, tuxedos and more beautiful man-brides. It was very impressive to see the effort people had gone to, using sequins, feathers, flowers, plastic, fur (even in the hot sun), lace, leather, chains, tutus and masks, everything and anything goes.
Following the parade at Band Stage were The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, with their comic renditions of 'Justin Bieber,' 'Portaloo' and 'Lady in Greggs,' and their customary crowd surf to the bar. The sun was out again and goats cheese and pizza crumpets from 'Totally Crumptious' went down a treat.
Sunday definitely moves at a slower pace, lots of milling around, last minute shopping and grabbing bargains. We were very surprised to hear that the bar was running out of beer and cider, something we haven't seen for a while, but the prices went down as a result. The Big Top captured us again, with 3 Daft Monkeys, and Seth Lakeman getting feet stomping, before the inevitable move to the main arena for the most looked forward to acts of the weekend - Reverend And The Makers, the legendary Jimmy Cliff and finally the Levellers' festival closing set. The Levs were in full rock star mode this year, with pyrotechnics, mind melting lasers, and the fireworks display to top all previous years. Mark's voice was a little off this year, perhaps too due to the festival excesses, but with a set packed with favourites from their 20 year history, they went down a treat and finished off the weekend nicely. Bring on 2015!
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