Arrival on the Thursday was smooth, and we were guided to an appropriate spot by the happiest Hi-Viz wearer I think I’ve ever seen, and, with that, our camp was erected as we prepared for a veritable feast of music.
En route to the grand opening, I was able to check out the array of foodstuffs, activities, and the quite simply dazzling selection of shops – I don’t think that anyone will run short of ‘festival attire’ this weekend. The obligatory bucket hats were primed and ready for the under-16s trying to be cool and the over 50s who still think they are.
Foodwise there was a great choice for all tastes; the pizza seemed to be in constant supply and lots of people were scoffing wraps. I enjoyed Lalitas for their authentic taste and managed to get more of the burrito down myself than in my mouth when eating from Nacho Burrito. Prices weren’t too bad – I’ve seen worse – but portion sizes could be bigger for the vegan/vegetarian dishes (I’m ethical, not on a diet). Beer was reasonably priced for a festival and the toilets were great, but it would have been helpful to signpost the accessibility toilets more rather than them being part of the able-bodied queue options.
The Levellers Collective acoustic set emphasised the family theme, with at least 20 children hoisted on to shoulders. The gorgeous cello accompaniment of ‘Battle Of The Beanfield’ was followed by some jolly dancing (despite the drizzle) to ‘Together All The Way’. The jollity continued with bubbles, audience participation and some fast fiddle work.
Over to the main stage to Beans on Toast. His understated set allowed for political comments and various references to ‘recreational substances’. His lyrical content was slightly awkwardly juxtaposed with the arrival of his very young daughter on stage to dance and sing to the crowd.
The rain did not spoil the performance brilliance that was Elvana. High energy, witty, and better musicians than you think they would be. ‘Stay Away’ seemed to be directed at the rain and the crowd were happy to get wet bouncing along to a high energy performance of ‘Negative Creep’.
A change of genre again (I love the eclectic mix of this festival) for the amazing basslines of Gentleman’s Dub Club. Musically talented with a diverse range of instruments and an energy (and seeming youthfulness - must be the smart suits) that belied the fact they have been around since 2006.
I decided to miss the slideathon of the rain and wet flooring that would have meant running between Johnny Marr, The Alarm and Suede so stayed put at the Main Stage. Marr produced the goods – and a special guest of Billy Duffy to put icing on the cake. Of course, the Friday headliners Suede pulled out all the crowd pleasers with Brett still managing to rock a white silk shirt against a dry ice background. ‘Animal Nitrate’ was fabulous and ‘We Are The Pigs’ was really moving but I longed for the days of seeing them in small venues.
Saturday started off with the girl from the Black Country, Jess Silk playing her brand of folk. The tent was only ¾ full, but passers-by were drawn in by the singer, who recently supported the Levellers on their acoustic tour.
Back over to the main stage for Gaye Bykers on Acid. When I saw them on the line-up, I had to see if they have the same anarchic energy that I remembered from all those years ago and yes! The crowd enjoyed the driving rhythms of ‘Everything’s Groovy’ and the political message of ‘Harmonious Murder’ is still valid 30 years after being written.
Another genre change to Easy Star All-Stars with a fantastic fusion of styles and some excellent high-kicking energy that made me tired watching it.
Ferocious Dog have a large following and I played ‘spot the fan’ whilst walking around. A great performance on stage with an emotional ‘Hellhound’ and some audience-friendly banter.
Reef seem to be undergoing somewhat of a resurgence and I can see why. Gary Stringer’s voice was still as powerful as ever – especially when overcoming the technical issues at the start.
I headed to the Bimble Inn for The Autumn Saints with their American roots, bluegrass and British post-punk style. Having played Glastonbury and IoW festivals over the years I expected a crowd, but I was glad that it was intimate. I’m looking forward to their EP and upcoming album.
The Waterboys and Primal Scream were as expected, and I headed over to the Rock Orchestra in the Big Top. What a musical treat this was and the tent was full. The only downside with instrumentals is the desire of the audience to join in like a giant karaoke, which unfortunately drowned out some of the actual talent on the stage.
Showing the football was a great idea and didn’t impact too much. The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican had a full crowd for their absolute hoot in the Big Top. Guests included FMI Clatters, Devil’s Prefects and Kathryn Roberts for ‘Lady in Greggs’. Great moments included crowd surfing by Scott during ‘Jump Arand’, ‘The Devil Went Down T’Barnsley’ and the brilliance of Alan’s ‘Silent Farter’.
On the main stage were The Joy Formidable. I sensed Lush hitting Elastica and then smacking Hole on the way through. Haunting lyrics, driving rhythms and a song in the Welsh language. One surreal highlight was watching several Clangers headbanging along in the crowd.
Dreadzone suffered with a technical issue (volume) but they were totally unfazed after their 30 years’ experience. The biggest cheer of the festival was when they asked for a stool and out came MC Spee, using his crutch to power home the Dreadzone message.
Back over to the Big Top for Justin Sullivan and Dean White, who held the crowd totally spellbound throughout their 14-song set, which included ‘Notice Me’ and a fantastic rendition of ‘Higher Wall’. A wonderful performance was finished with ‘Wipeout’.
I caught the end of Public Service Broadcasting, who I felt missed their usual staging and then it was the surprise event – Skindred! Currently riding the wave of chart success, Skindred took time to play a great mashup tribute to The Proclaimers before getting down to business. Before long there was a very lively pit and those Newport Helicopters were going so hard that the hillside nearly took flight.
Closing a ‘Beautiful’ few ‘Days’ were The Levellers themselves and, of course, the amazing firework show that just marked the end of a blooming great festival. Same again for the next 20 years?
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