the achievement of Beautiful Days organisers is to be much applauded

Beautiful Days 2021 review

published: Mon 30th Aug 2021

around the festival site

Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd August 2021
Escot Park, near Fairmile, Devon, EX11 1LU, England MAP
daily capacity: 17000
last updated: Mon 2nd Aug 2021

Beautiful Days recommenced for its 18th birthday this year, and the first step for everyone’s safety was getting our Covid passes. Those of us with two vaccinations and/or took a lateral flow test within 48 hours of the festival and had a negative result could easily access their pass online. This pass was shown on arrival and green wristbands were provided in exchange. The comfortability of being around so many people (17,000 capacity) for the first time in a while was definitely aided by this worthy precaution, and off into the festival!

Getting onto site and setting up home for the next few days was a breeze, as the helpful Beautiful Days staff directed us into the spot that was most suitable for our vehicle and how much space we needed. We headed down into the festival to catch up on our favourite food vendors we have been missing since 2019 and find a couple more. We made a bee line for Lalita’s Indian vegan food, and had the thali and masala dosa, with a side of their onion bhajis (which we firmly believe are the best ones altogether). A new welcomed vendor was Mrs Whippea, who make vegan soft serve ice cream with pea milk. They offer a variety of sauces and different toppings, as well as in a cone or tub, with a festival sundae if you’re after a special treat. I firstly had one with rainbow sprinkles, but on our second visit on Sunday, I opted for plain, as the actual ice cream itself is beyond delicious on it’s own. There was music playing on the Thursday night at 7pm (unofficial low-key sets played in Dirty Davy’s), but we opted to listen from outside, have a couple of drinks and catch up with some missed faces and friends. Simon and G started on their habitual observations of what’s changed since the last Beautiful Days, in regards to placement of vendors and other things most people wouldn’t even notice (nerds!). Beer and cider prices were reasonably for a festival at either £4.50 or £5.00, plus £1 for a reusable pint plastic beaker. Obviously these could be replaced with a fresh one as and when requested. Another point was that dietary notices were up in the beer tents this year telling drinkers which of their libations were vegan or gluten free, which we found very handy being vegan. Average main meal food prices appeared to be around the £9 mark.

Breakfast on Friday was atypical, but very yummy: Indian loaded fries, with chickpeas, curry, mayo and sprinkled with dry spice. This was supplied by new vendors to the left of Lalita’s and as you can probably guess, Beautiful Days is a food event for me, nearly equal to it being a music event. A marching band, clad in black and pink ventured around the festival to further brighten everyone up for the day ahead and performances to come. Levellers (acoustic) started us off at The Big Top stage and were thoroughly enjoyed in Beautiful Days tradition, aided by the fact that the sides to the tent were not put on this year, meaning people less comfortable with being up close and personal could opt to sit outside and still hear, which many did. Headsticks with their mixture of tongue and cheek accompanied by important lyrical subject matter, were next for my music of the day. They played some cracking new songs from their upcoming album C.O.W, including ‘Miles and Miles’, ‘Red is The Colour’ and ‘Tyger Tyger’. The latter was lyrically inspired by Romantic poet William Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’, which as a literature student, instantly grasped my attention and held onto it. Not only that, but the subject matter of a young woman who had taken her own life and those who had not made it through lockdown and the pandemic is central to the power of the song.

New Model Army: Beautiful Days 2021
New Model Army, were always going to be a highlight for Simon. He’s seen them here a few times over the years, and also Justin playing solo on occasion. They played a crowd pleasing set which saw the usual (though not over recent months) moss pit and shoulder riding. Justin mentioned how glad they were to be back at what I’m sure he called their favourite festival and this doesn’t surprise me, as its also Simon’s too (outside of a certain Somerset farm’s fields that is).

Saturday was kicked off musically by Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs who are as at home at Beautiful Days as bouncy mud and Otter Brewery. I enjoyed their adult comedy as always, as well as their beloved festivals tunes. The real dirty songs were promised the next day at the Bimble Inn, down Hobo Hill. Watching them play in the Big Top brought my mind back to two years ago, when I was there doing that same thing and using a few spare moments to ponder what I pondered on then. Davey, Tyrone and Bill were genuinely happy to be back performing at a festival it’s obvious they truly cherish, and that happiness was definitely felt in their performance.

My most anticipated act from this year was Gary Numan. I had heard a couple of his most famous songs as a child, and as the bullied child who did not yet know they were autistic, songs such as ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ really meant a lot, and still do. The love of those songs developing into exploring Numan’s many other fantastic ones. It’s safe to say he was phenomenal. The rain was heavy and unapologetic, but Gary and the band were strengthened by it, rather than otherwise. It lent itself to the drama of his heavier material and dominating stage presence. ‘My Name is Ruin’ from the 2017 album Savage was my personal favourite of the set. It automatically teleported me back to dancing at beloved goth clubs and I immediately couldn’t wait to be doing so again. There were a few naysayers in the crowd (a definite minority), and unfortunately I was stood behind one of them, who looked like he had been gut punched when his teenage daughter exclaimed she was enjoying the performance thoroughly. I left the mainstage awestruck, impressed and with a neck hurting equally as bad as two years prior seeing Peter Hook perform. I’m already ready to see Numan (and Hooky) live again ASAP.

James: Beautiful Days 2021

Another of Simon’s favourites, which really completed Saturday night for us was James, having played a warm gig up in Oxford (I believe) a couple of nights before, the band felt on top form and really tight as a unit. With Tim Booth dancing around the stage in his own unique style and inviting band members to step forward a various points, where and when he can. He also intently listens and appreciates his musicians, something that is really refreshing I think and almost becomes a member of the crowd. They, again, like many others opt for a mix of old and new (indulging himself as Tim put it) with the likes of ‘Getting Away With’, ‘Frustration’, of course ‘Sit down’ and finishing with ‘Sometimes’ and a tear bringing (for Si anyway) ‘Come Home’.

Sunday early afternoon saw me at the Rebel Tent for talks and poetry by Woman Will Not Be Silenced (WWNBS). They are an organisation formed after the Sarah Everard vigil (of which the speakers were present), were police forcibly would not allow women to protest, mourn and stand in solidarity in the aftermath of her murder. The poetry was starkly honest and recaptured what it means to be a woman, rather than what men tell women what that means. The organisation seeks to encourage women to protest and become actively political to make the positive change towards equality. They also expressed and affirmed their anti-racist stance, that all women matter, not just white and middle class women. I enjoyed the talks and poetry, however a snag was unfortunately hit upon. WWNBS mentioned that they were anti-homophobia, but it was left unsure about queer people who didn’t identify as women were welcome to join. As a non-binary individual, this snag immediately made me uncomfortable, when the question was asked by another enby. A politician’s response was given, with the incessant repetition of “we are inclusive”, but the question wasn’t explicitly answered at all. This response, with the repetition of the word “women” meant we left the tent firmly believing that the organisation was cis women for cis women and our support did not fit the criteria. I still wish them luck with their worthy endeavours to combat the abysmally low conviction of rape (1.6% in 2020) and violence towards women. The Rebel Tent is a hot mix of political talks and discussions on varied topics e.g. climate change, islamophobia and Kill the bill campaign, but also hosts an acoustic set by Mark Chadwick, and DJ sets From Leviticus crew.

Simon’s Sunday is his usual run around the site trying to capture as many bands as he can, rushing between mainly the Big top and the main stage. Thankfully it’s not to far between them, making it relatively easy for folk to meander back and forth. First on the list was a bit of MarthaGunn opening the main and onto the big top for The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. These tank top wear troubadours have played most years of late moving up through the ranks to The much coveted old Fabbies slot of midday, creating their Sunday service. After a year of Saturday Neet in sessions of the lockdown/covid times the band are eager to get back on stage, and their crowd are equally excited too. Many tanktops, Greggs bags and puppets can be seen. A firmly tongue in cheek reworking of many a well known tune such as “Lady in Greggs” and “Walking in man piss” are soaked up by the audience.

The rest of Sunday was filled by Lottery Winners (whose lead singer had fun interactions with both photographers and crowd alike), Plenty of Bouncing to Dreadzone in the warm summer sun (yes it did come out for us), a hot mosh for Ferocious Dog saw their loyal fans well and truly happy. Skindred, Simon says, were one of his unlikely highlights but who didn’t fail to please with raw energy and strong vocal.

A separate mention for Samantics who played in the Bimble Inn (always packed for many a firm festival favourite, including Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs and Funke and the Two Tone Baby, today). He started out by telling us how it was a truly memorable outing last time, and how he wished to carry on that feeling by playing “Beautiful Day” (a fitting title) first as it was the song he finished with last time. Always heart felt and personal his songs are played with loopbacks, uke and feeling.

Levellers: Beautiful Days 2021

Back for Levellers to finish our and realistically, their weekend. As you would expect they played many of the crowd pleasers from ‘Julie’ to ‘One Way’, however, notable absentees from the band were Simon Friend (replaced by Dan Donnelly for this and the opening acoustic set) and Boaksey on the digeridoo. But with laser canons firing into the night sky and the sounds of Marks vocal and the rest of the band blasting out, I think everyone was just so pleased to be there again and to send us on our ways back to vans, tents, yurts and tepees, there was the rousing firework finale.

As always there was plenty there for the younger folk, and the theatre tent too. We didn’t get to sample these things as the music, in the main, kept us too busy. Wandering passed the Little Big Top (where most of the dance related activity takes place and the after hours silent disco) we did notice a kids rave taking place by Big Fish Little Fish which also looked like great fun for the smaller revellers and their parents alike.

As a bit of a footnote, much was mentioned on the matter of the toilets, especially on Thursday, as these seemed to have come “fully loaded” from a previous festival. I believe the Beautiful Days organisers listened to social media posts and reacted very quickly, seemingly managing to get a lot of extra poo-crew in at short notice, and definitely improved the situation over the weekend. We were told that basically the whole festival had to be put together in a four week period, and to pull off this achievement is to be much applauded because even though a couple of vendors seemed to be missing, it really wasn’t a scaled back festival.

review by: Nia Dorian

photos by: Simon Gillespie

Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd August 2021
Escot Park, near Fairmile, Devon, EX11 1LU, England MAP
daily capacity: 17000
last updated: Mon 2nd Aug 2021

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