This year's Boardmasters almost nails the full five-stars

Boardmasters 2021 review

By Raph Pour-Hashemi | Published: Thu 19th Aug 2021

around the festival site

Wednesday 11th to Sunday 15th August 2021
Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4AN, England MAP
Daily capacity: 50,000
Last updated: Thu 12th Aug 2021

Whilst all festivals have the pandemic to blame for their cancellations over the last two years, Boardmasters festival has been particularly unlucky, in that 2019 was called off due to severe weather; supreme misfortune considering the heatwave that followed in 2020. However, here we are in 2021, and Boardmasters finally re-enters the spotlight in the fading westcountry sunset just before we hit autumn. Covid hotspot this isn't (local news may now beg to differ - Editor), however, - as here the festival organisers reassuringly provide stringent covid protocols. Credentials are required for every entrant, be it via covid pass or the negative lateral test. On Sunday, everyone even had to have a retest. This really was the first festival to properly feel like the old days. Not a mask was in sight.


As a festival, right at the bottom left corner of England in glorious Newquay, on the beachy coast of Watergate Bay, Boardmasters has nearly all the attributes to make it a perfect festival. Not only is the lineup jammed pack with strong up-and-comers and some big out-and-out headliners (Gorillaz), it also combines music with the other popular southwest pastime - surfing, alongside having one of the most glorious locations of any festival; with clifftop views of the southwest coast and sea views (and breeze) decorating the backdrop. The community is very relaxed and friendly down here in Newquay, and the music is just as much background to many of the revellers as the glorious shimmering waves. As Dizzee Rascal points out - not many gigs are actually performed in front of the ocean. The Newquay microclimate was schizophrenic throughout. You could be besieged with rain when leaving the second stage (The Land Of Saints) only to have to remove your waterproof by the time you reach the main stage due to the blazing sun. The forecast was at times equal hot, cold, windy, and rainy. Thankfully, the ground remained dry throughout. Mud would have been the last thing we needed.


On to the music, and Friday's festival saw Lianne La Havas command the main stage with pure intimacy, singing her twenty-first century soul with gusto and winning the crowd over instantly. Though maybe she'd have fared even better in the second stage tent. Young heartthrob Sam Fender caused a beatlemania riot in the screaming main stage crowd and he loved every minute of it - enjoying his time in the sun both metaphorically and literally. Soulful emerger Mahalia was a tremendous hit in the second stage tent, and you can easily see her transition to the main stage in the next year or two. Kano, meanwhile, generated an intense atmosphere of a baying crowd. Even though he entered stage in a hoodie, the energy was elevated from the start. Headliners Foals, carrying over from the cancelled 2020, delighted in giving the crowd a headline set that they confidently feel they are best place to deliver - with Yannis even playing his guitar down through the front pit towards the end. Seeing bands headlining festivals to screaming, packed crowds felt like a nostalgic trip to the old days of 2019 - and everyone loved it. Clearly, Foals have the aura of an entitled headliner band - they clearly want to headline everything - and they spare no effort in trying to convince us.

The Saturday was arguably the weakest music day, primarily because Gorillaz (live) were a huge headliner and dominated the bill. The festival felt twice as busy as Friday - and the weather was the hottest too. Suddenly, it was a proper festival Saturday. Ashnikko, hugely popular with her own-Gaga-clone fanbase, packed out the Land Of Saints tent and had the crowd in blue rapture, in tandem with the neon blue hair she flaunted on the stage. She was one of the few North Americans on the bill, which left room for many homegrown Mercury-nominated artists to pack out the stages. Ashnikko is definitely one to keep an eye on, and she has a huge instagram following. Django Django played impressive art-indie to the tent faithful, serving as a nice warm-up to the main stage act of Albarn's Gorillaz. The cartoon side-project (arguably main project lately) of the Blur frontman, have had a good week - playing a free gig to the NHS workers at the O2 and they are a real coup for Boardmasters to attract down to Cornwall. "This is the first time I've ever played Cornwall" says Albarn, "and I only live down the road". A greatest hits set followed, with Albarn even diving into the crowd during Trans. Sadly, Robert Smith didn't turn up to guest vocal (as he did a few days before in London) but Slowthai, Slaves, and EarthGang did appear. The crowd had noticeably thinned out towards the middle of the set - in order to cram themselves into a bristling-full tent to see The Kooks - who pulsated through a landfill-indie charged setlist to the gratefully overjoyed, and huge number, of fans.


Sunday had the worst weather (rainy with patches of sun) but easily the strongest lineup. Indie all-female fourpiece The Big Moon owned the main stage confidently, whilst Goat Girl let the music do all the talking on the Land Of Saints second stage tent. The lineup for the Sunday afternoon had an intriguing TBC - until at the last minute it was announced that The Futureheads would fill the slot. Many people were unaware, and the tent was virtually empty, but gradually more and more were drawn in by the forceful rock that they could hear. Easy Life, one of the biggest British acts of 2021, handled their main stage debut with ease despite the pelting rain. Frontman Murray Matravers jumps in to the crowd, strips to his briefs and has arguably the biggest audience of the weekend singing along and forming two mosh pits. Too much fun for a Sunday afternoon. Close by, Arlo Parks received a rapturous and warm welcome in the second stage tent - and everyone inside was whooping and cheering or singing along to every word. Arlo will definitely be too big for this stage next time. Dizzee Rascal carries the biggest mainstream crossover on the main stage - and he's insanely popular with the southwest crowd. And then we have new headliner Jorja Smith, sparkling gloriously in the headlights, who comfortably handles the slot and charms the crowd easily with her nu-soul faves. It's been a fantastic musical weekend - and the festival-goers are fortunate to have been blessed with a really strong, diverse lineup.


Boardmasters almost nails the five-stars; but it isn't always paradise on the beach. Many were complaining on social media of the food and beer prices, and whilst the bars were never too full, and the queues never too big, the pricing certainly didn't have a southwest tinge. Worse still, it would seem that many of the toilets became unusable or blocked throughout the weekend - requiring many to do a call of nature in actual nature, much to the chagrin of security. The problems continue, as a vehicle fire caused huge traffic issues in leaving the festival. Boardmasters even had to tweet "Due to a vehicle fire which has damaged the road surface, the A30 Eastbound is down to one lane, which is causing delays leaving site. We're diverting traffic via the A39 and working to get you on the move ASAP. There are toilets and water available in the car parks." Awful reports of up to nine-hour queues in leaving the site on the Monday ruined what could have been a perfect festival experience after nearly two years away. Some protested angrily of a lack of water and toilets, These issues will need to be ironed out by next year, as Boardmasters is *almost* perfect; great community, great location, great lineup, great authentic local feel, but sadly still blighted by a few unfortunate issues.


review by: Raph Pour-Hashemi

photos by: Raph Pour-Hashemi

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