Greenbelt has a vintage year with an eclectic line-up and some big names

Greenbelt Festival 2011 review

published: Mon 5th Sep 2011

around the festival site (Monday)

Friday 26th to Monday 29th August 2011
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£120; concessions £75; child 5-17 years £65; family ticket £310
last updated: Fri 12th Aug 2011

Not much sleep Sunday night as the teenagers near us are having a relationship crisis in the early hours - the guy apparently wanted to shout from the mountain-tops that he loved the girl (goodness knows why he can't just whisper that?) but she'd treated him badly and there were recriminations and tears (from him); seems like it was sorted out by dawn. It's a sunny start to the day but soon clouds over. I spend the morning trying and failing to find somewhere to charge my 'phone - there are facilities for this but they're in high demand.

The Rising at lunchtime is again hosted by Martyn Joseph and guests are Sam Hill, Iain Archer, and Edwina Hayes,. We're given more songwriting insights and tips, and there's discussion about songwriting as a healing process as well as a means of expression, and technical talk about tunings.

On the other side of the festival, stewards outside the Big Top are holding up warning signs about strong language - I wondered how they were gonna get around scheduling comedian and political activist, Mark Thomas, during the day at a family festival. This is his 'Extreme Rambling: Walking the Wall' show which he's been touring recently and has taken to the Edinburgh festival. It's a 2 hour show (though it goes very quickly!), with brief interlude, about his adventures in walking the entire length of the Israeli separation barrier and crossing between the Israeli and Palestinian sides to speak to people affected by the wall. Thomas is aided by a house band and tells us hilarious, colourful, disturbing stories of his journey. He is very expressive and passionate and manages to inject the most serious information and dangerous situations with humour and laughter. The audience is very receptive and, in some ways, he's "preaching to the converted" as this is an issue that Greenbelt has been discussing for years, but he's hugely entertaining, educational and inspiring and the show fits in well with the festival's "Just Peace" campaign for a peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Little Bulb Theatre Company - Operation Greenfield
The next event in the Big Top is not so well attended, even though it's listed as a highlight in the programme - 'Operation Greenfield' by Little Bulb Theatre. It's clearly meant for a niche audience. There are four players and an eye-catching life-size cardboard cut-out of Elvis in his gold lamé suit (I bought my sister one exactly the same for Christmas). Set in Stokely, the story is made up of little sketches centring around a youth band gearing up to compete in a talent contest and the relationships between the band members. The characters are geeky and awkward and some of the scenes difficult to follow sometimes. The audience seems a bit perplexed but the quirky play is strangely captivating and they only started losing people during the extended band playing in the talent contest at the end.

There's a brand new Greenbelt venue for this year called The Playhouse which is being used for children's shows during the day, and comedy and solo theatre in the evenings. It's a theatre (capacity of 425) with comfortable tiered seating and I'm here for George Dillon's The Gospel of St Matthew. The theatre is in gloom with the stage candlelit for this one-man show, another featured highlight from the programme. The gospel is brilliantly presented by George Dillon, using different voices and humour, although there's too much constant anger in the performance for me and, as it's quite intense, wordy material, I leave after an hour with quite a few others as there's no sign of an end in sight (you know it's time to go when you're hoping for the crucifixion scene to pop up).

Foy Vance
I want to get over to the Performance Cafe for another "special guest" slot as, by now, I've seen Foy Vance on site and he's also tweeted about a secret gig, so not much element of surprise there! The band Reilly are just finishing their set and sound pretty impressive - they've organised a singalong with the venue divided down the middle to sing "sunlight" and "daybreak", and together "you're chasing all my shadows away". I'll hopefully catch some more of them next time. When Foy takes to the stage, running slightly late, he confesses that he was worried about doing a secret gig in case nobody showed up and also because he's up against gospel legend, Mavis Staples, on mainstage. He's brought a bottle of beer on stage with him, even though no alcohol is allowed in the venue, and may have already had a couple as he happily pokes fun at the English (we do a good line in torture), the Germans and Christians. All the mickey-taking is accompanied by a twinkle in his eye and that mischievous grin so he gets away with it. He talks about being thrown out of his own church and you can imagine he's not one for rules and regulations - I had to leave one of his recent gigs before he'd finished playing and only just caught the last tube home; he'd already over-run the curfew by half an hour and ignored the sound engineers gesturing wildly at him and threatening to cut the power. He over-runs tonight too but sings the last song unplugged.

There are lots of highlights in his set, which is perfect for Greenbelt - he has so much soul and spirit in his voice and the songs. There's 'Indiscriminate Act of Kindness', 'Gabriel and the Vagabond', a heart-breaking emotional rendering of 'Two Shades of Hope', dedicated to his dad, and the last song 'Guiding Light'. His wife, Joanne, and friend, Lee Mitchell, join him to wander around the venue and the crowd sings along with the refrain of "when I need to get home, you're my guiding light", as requested, long after the trio has disappeared out the back. A beautiful sound and the perfect last act to close the Performance Cafe.

It's been a vintage Greenbelt year with an eclectic line-up and some big names on mainstage. The only thing missing was a Saturday screening of Dr Who but there's been some lovely Greenbelt moments to make up for that – Duke Special singing 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' at mainstage, Mark Thomas inspiring us and making us laugh, Foy Vance singing unplugged in the Performance Café, and Dizraeli and the Small Gods singing 'Take Me Dancing' in the GTV Studio.
review by: Helen OSullivan

photos by: Helen OSullivan

Friday 26th to Monday 29th August 2011
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£120; concessions £75; child 5-17 years £65; family ticket £310
last updated: Fri 12th Aug 2011


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