It’s mid August and it’s Beautiful Days time again. For the last 16 years (I think as I haven’t missed one yet and that’s the number that was on the back of this years festival t-shirt) I’ve been making this trip down to Escot House, not far from Exeter and just off the a30 arterial route to Cornwall/Devon and the rest of the west country. About 2 hours drive from mid Wiltshire it still somehow feels like one of my local festivals. We set off with this journey time in mind so to arrive at the gates as they opened, we must have timed it perfectly and our old camper behaved all the way down. Traffic was at a bit of a standstill when we arrived but this is to be expected and it was not so far back into the village as has been in some previous years.
About 45 minutes and we’re in, we are then sent past our usual field and into one beyond (felt like we were going into the car park). I asked why this was as some were being placed into the nearest field and others sent to the further away field. It all seemed very random to arrive right on time and have the longest walk to the site. Ah well a spritely set up of the awning and tent and we were ready for wrist banding. This takes place at the pedestrian entrances and can cause some queues to form, especially as our entrance was now the same as the camping one, and these people had waited a good while to go through. So we sat back at the van, cracked a beer or two and waited until it was a little quieter.
Nothing officially programmed happens on the Thursday night but it’s great to be able to wander the site at your leisure, take in any site changes (none that I noted this year), perhaps plot a food map for the weekend or to meet up with festival friends at one of the open bars. When I say nothing officially happens doesn’t however mean that you can’t find music if you keep your eyes and ears open, Magpie music and the yuke stall both had small unannounced acoustic gigs going on.
Food wise, this year was great as always, though there were a couple of the usual vendors missing for example the Pizza Tabun, near the Big Top (the sites second main stage). This has been a staple first night meal for myself for many years now and was sorely missed. Just near to where it was located though was a newly discovered food stop in the Cheezy Vinyl Bar. This serves food as the name suggests, with options with cheese as its main ingredient. Vegans however, don’t be put off by this, as they had a seven cheese vegan choice for us, from simple cheddar to a nicely spiced chilli and all alternatives between to choose from for the £7 cheeze platter and also yummy cheezecake for £4. Both of which were very tasty. If you want to sit in however it is best to pre-book as it does get busy. Around the rest of the site there was plenty to choose from for all diets, with the normal festival type food outlets including falafel, burgers, curries, noodles, paella, jerk, fish and chips. Main meals seemed to be all around the £7 to £8 mark, which I felt in general to be of a reasonable price and all that I sampled were of good quality and portion size. The vegan churros were amazing and were cooked right in front of us and were served with cinnamon and caramel.
The bars, of which there are 5 site ones and the Bimble Inn, were all selling Otter Ales from cask at £4, Otter’s draught lager and cider at £4.50 (a little pricey but ok if you want a chilled pint) and a range of local scrumpy ciders including the now controversially named Suicider (apparently someone has complained about this name) all at around the £4 mark. This partnership has worked well over the years and I doubt it’ll change in a hurry. Something that I feel should though is the continuing use of single-use pint (even if they are compostable starch ones), they create unnecessary litter, I’ve found over recent years that reusable purchased “pint glasses” get treated better. I’ve got a few now and take them with me to festivals and was even thanked a couple of times over the weekend for bringing my own. I did however hear through the grapevine that Otter breweries are looking more into this for next year, something I hope to see.
After a sound sleep Friday rolls around and it’s the start of the proper music, with all the stages opening up after the traditional openers: ‘Levellers Acoustic’ a more official sounding title than the older name of ‘Drunk In Public’. They play to a loyal crowd that more than fills the big top stage, with fans sitting outside soaking up the sunshine as well as the sounds from within, which included a string section this time around.
The rest of the day was filled by fliting from The Big Top over to the main stage. This is an easy hop taking about 5 minutes and takes you passed festival clothing vendors, record stall, jewellers and the village shop. Here most of life's little essentials can be bought from milk and bread to pot noodles and cigarette papers. Or if you have little ones you can go through the kid’s area. Here can be found child oriented workshops and fun things to see and do or listen to. There is also a tent especially for younger teens to hang out in. You could also take out your angers at the brake crocker shy, try to climb a pivoting loose ladder, hang from a bar for two minutes or ride a trickily modified push bike (the later 3 of which have entail a cost but if you win a cash prize is given). A full sized ferris wheel and helter-skelter was also there to keep big and little ones smiling too.
Musically, Friday had bands such as Rews, The Mahones, Justin Sullivan of New Model Army, Feeder, Suzanne Vega and the much hyped headliners The Hives.
All put on great shows with Rews doing a grand job opening the main stage after a much smaller stage performance last year. The Mahones had the crowd jumping with their Celtic-punk sound. Feeder felt like they belonged on the stage and pulled a great crowd, which they entertained thoroughly especially with the singalong hits including “Buck Rodgers”. Suzanne Vega opened with ”Tom’s Diner” and “Luka” which surprised me, as I thought she’d have held those popular songs for later on in her set. The Hives, took to the stage in their now trademark monochrome suits and right from the off you could see they were here to put on a show. Which they did, with much crowd calling and asking for them to participate or “react”. I don’t know any of their songs but for some reason they managed to pull me along through the set and out the other side, entertain but still none the wiser about any of their material. The are very clearly are an incredibly egotistical bunch, more specifically the singer and lead guitarist, spitting all over the stage.
Saturday was to be a mostly main stage kind of a day, which does make life a little easier. Though I feel it must be said, we are not the take seats and make camp in front of the stage type folk. I understand why some people feel the need for this, but I don’t get why they cannot fold them up when the performers are onstage or seemingly feel they the need to vent when others trying to pass may accidently bump or trip over them after dark (/rant off). Many however take up position higher in the main arena and commendable are out of the main throng of people.
An earlish 12 o’clock start got me to enjoy cheeky Londoner Emily Capell with a short but sharp 35 minute set and over to take on The Carousels. We missed The Spitfires by doing this, and I won’t next time, as I was told they were very impressive, not taking away from the very skilled and harmonious Carousels though. We opted to skip Hobo Jones and The Junkyard Dogs (knowing we would see them on Sunday in the Bimble Inn) headed back to the main for some new acts, for me anyways. When one of the singers from a band comes on stage and proclaims “I’ve got a pint of gin and tonic, it’s going to get better from here” you realise it could be a party for them as well as us. That band was Holy Moly and The Crackers and they certainly gave us one, with and infectious sound they really got those watching up and moving. Next up were my must-see recommendation for the festival: Slow Readers Club. They had a certain Manchester sound and not in a Happy Mondays type way but a “dark” Joy Division way, with an overwhelming Editors sound and feel. A fantastic set with numbers from all of their 3 studio release left me feeling like I will definitely catch them on a tour in the future.
Dreadzone followed with their dub heavy festival sound, getting a large daytime audience to bounce with ease. They really are a Beautiful Days (and many other festivals) institution and I mean that in a very fond way, always a pleasure to see them on the bill.
The Skids leapt onto the stage with a vigour of a punk band from thirty years ago, hang on, that’s exactly what they are! Gratefully bringing themselves into this century, declaring that they “don’t wish to only be a blast from the past”, they played some new material (protesting that Leo Sayer had kept the latest album from going to No1) as well as some classics.
90’s indie scene was represented fully tonight by Shed Seven and Manic Street Preachers. The former played a blinding, tight set that pleased us with many of the songs we may have forgotten, but instantly remembered and some newish material from their latest offering ‘Instant Pleasures’. Onto the Manics next, a band that a revered by many but unfortunately I am not one. They did play the only one I do enjoy ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ first, which suited me and so off we went in search of sweet treats before a relatively early night. I was informed, by those more in the know, that the Manics did a great show and were much appreciated by the audience.
The Sunday midday slot this year sees The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican. These tank top wearing silly beggars have been busking and playing at this festival for about ten years now, mainly on the Band Stand in previous outings. They have a loyal crowd who know all the words and join in at all the right points, eg. booing at the devil or waving Greg’s bag flags and helping the crowd dingy surfing Scott Doonican. Much like the Hobos, Beautiful Days just wouldn’t feel the same without them now.
Ducking Punches were to be one of my musical highlights of the day. I saw Dan Allen play a solo acoustic set a few years back in a local pub, and vowed one day I’d see the full electric setup, unfortunately they seemingly never play at festivals I usually attend or gig nearby on suitable nights. Guitar driven with a solid drummer playing behind, this pop-punk (a genre I’m informed they’d belong too) foursome played a fantastic set full of emotive lyrics and poignant feelings. I really enjoyed it and I felt they fitted right in, and so did they, saying that they’d enjoyed the whole weekend on site.
Straight we headed off early to the Bimble Inn for the Sunday afternoon “naughty” set by Hobo Jones and The Junkyard Dogs. In the enclosed environment of this bar/stage (created by what feels like 3 large tipi) there is always a real buzz for this group. We were not wrong and is was busy an hour before the start with many folk dancing to 70/80’s disco and plenty more either at the bar or sat around on cushions, rugs and beds (yes beds!). The tent filled to bursting point and there were many more outside on the hill. We were treated to a great set filled with all the usual songs, gags and banter from Davey Malone, Wino Tyrone and Miser Bill, including the often called for but not always played ‘Country Boy’ much to the crowd’s titters and enjoyment, versions of ‘Riverflow” and the audience participating “One way”, joined on stage at various points by members of other bands including Folk The System, Sweetchunks Band, Nick Parker and Nigel Clatworthy. All these and more played out the set to a rendition of Bob Marley’s three little birds. A great feeling was felt around the Bimble (maybe helped by their donated bottle of Jameson’s which had been handed around the standing crowd nearest the stage) as they all left the stage to sing amongst us.
We pottered our way back up the steep hill and down past The Little Big Top (where the more dance oriented acts and DJ’s play) to the main arena for our last three acts of the weekend.
The Wildhearts a band formed in the late 80’s and who’ve had a few line-up changes and splits over the years, but who still hit the stage hard with strong presence and musical power. Ginger Wildheart has had his own mental health issues, something we are reminded by himself to share and not hide away, also when he states “I’m glad to be here, I’m glad to be f*cking anywhere!”, we all know where he’s coming from. With a real energy they play through their 58 minute precise set and proclaimed: “We did it! We got all the songs done.” The set was followed by rapturous applause by the crowd.
Gogol Bordello are the second to headline act tonight, their Baltic Gypsy sound is lively and entertaining to many, the lead singer slowly disrobing as he builds a sweat through his lively performance (or possibly the dampness from throwing red wine around on stage) and the rest of the band were no stuck in the muds either. I know little of their work except for ‘Start Wearing Purple” which is rousing and a crowd pleaser for sure.
And onto our weekend’s hosts, openers and final act of the festivities: The Levellers. Absent of Jeremy’s dreadlocked bass playing the band still manages to play a fantastic set of all their best known and well-loved hits. Pretty much nothing else happens on site as they play, why would it? I think just about everyone here is a ‘Levs’ fan, and as always they don’t disappoint. They are by now a very experienced act that really know how to perform with each other.
The firework finale sends the crowd on their way back to their tents/vans or possibly the silent disco again or to polish off the last of the bars stocks. We opted for some rich, lush vegan chocolate brownies and a final sit down to look over the site.
I’ve not mentioned much of the plethora of dance acts, theatre and comedy, the Rebel Tent (my son went to listen to Peter Tatchell) or the healing area. This is all because the music on offer was of such high quality this year I simply didn’t have time to fit it all in! I did manage to get to a few acts on the Bandstand stage, including Nick Parker with Ben Wain, Nigel Clatworthy and Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip to name a few.
All in all I love this festival, I must do, I’ve not missed one as yet, I doubt nothing will change that love in the foreseeable future. Please don’t change this gem of a medium sized festival!
Many thanks to all the stewards, security, stage and sound crews, the organisers, DMF and the Levellers. I can’t wait ‘til next year!
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