Greenbelt proves an entertaining if slightly soggy weekend

Greenbelt 2012 review

published: Fri 31st Aug 2012

around the festival site (Saturday)

Friday 24th to Monday 27th August 2012
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£120; concessions £75; child 5-17 years £65; family ticket £310
daily capacity: 22000
last updated: Tue 24th Jul 2012

The following is a brief overview of Greenbelt, the family-friendly Christian music and arts festival that is held every August bank holiday weekend at Cheltenham Racecourse.

around the festival site (Friday)
I need to confess straight away, that for the first time in over 20 years of attending this festival, I leave the tent at home and cheat by staying in nearby accommodation – nothing too lavish, not a luxury hotel, but pretty basic student digs which did have en suite facilities! This turns out to be a huge bonus when the rainstorms started…

The festival layout at the Cheltenham Racecourse site is similar to last year, with a few new venues including the addition of a second outdoor stage called the Canopy and a new seminar/workshop venue, Eden, which is hosting ecology themed events and ties in with this year's theme of 'Saving Paradise'. The advantages of the racecourse setting are the various indoor (dry!) venues and proper toilets (the toilets are so posh that there is moisturiser on tap, as well as soap). Activities start late afternoon on the Friday and highlights are Woken Spurred – a spoken word show hosted by Harry Baker, an excellent slam poet to rival Latitude's Kate Tempest – and the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who embodies the Greenbelt ethos of faith and justice in his songs, so makes an excellent Friday night mainstage headliner.

around the festival site (Saturday)
Saturday is memorable for the torrential and thunderous downpours; there are even hailstones at one point during Weapons of Sound's percussive lunchtime mainstage slot which sends all but the most hardy punters running for cover. I didn't realise quite how the deluge had affected the 'village' area of the festival which is on the grassy racecourse side of the site until I head across to hear the end of Bruce Cockburn's unplugged set in the Big Top. Treading across the plastic mesh boards laid to protect the course is interesting as muddy water splurges upwards as people step on to them and the village itself is ankle-deep in mud. The upside to the inclement weather is a lovely sunset and dusk light in the sky later on, as well as a triple rainbow.

Saturday highlights include: a double dose of Peter Owen-Jones, a priest and BBC presenter who talks about 'The New Christianity' and his documentary series 'Around the World in 80 Faiths', and shares some touching and heart-warming moments from his travels which didn't get filmed; Folk On, the spoof folk band who've been playing at Greenbelt for a few years now and building a devoted following, who play at the late night magazine show 'Last Orders'; Luke Sital Singh, a Guardian artist of the week with an amazing voice, who steps in for The Candle Thieves on The Canopy stage; Willy Porter who plays in the Performance Café, an American singer-songwriter who's extremely dextrous on the guitar, and has warm, amusing songs to sing (such as 'How To Rob a Bank') as well as tales to tell.

around the festival site (Sunday)
Sunday morning is glorious and sunny and there's no rain today but the mud doesn't have a chance to dry out. The racecourse side of the site is a big, shiny mud lake and there's also a fairly impressive mud pool in front of mainstage which attracts some barefoot dancers. Highlights today include: Peter Tatchell, the political campaigner, talking about the idea of the 20% wealth tax, which would be a one-off and would mean cuts to public services would be unnecessary – a very popular idea with most of the crowd at the Grandstand; the 'theatrical performance activist' Peterson Toscano's clever and amusing presentation of 'Jesus Had Two Daddies' in the Big Top; Roddy Woomble, of Idlewild, and a few friends who play a lovely celtic-flavoured set at mainstage, followed by an excellent show from The Proclaimers, who draw a massive audience of all ages, who sing and dance along to their songs; mainstage continues with music from who headlines to an enthralled crowd.

Thomas Truax
Speech Debelle, Shlomo, and Nitin Sawhney, but I swap these for an evening in the Performance Café and a vibrant and energetic set from the Leeds lads, Hope & Social, who've found a lot of support after their Greenbelt debut last year; they are followed by the madcap-steam punk–mash-up of Thomas Truax.

Monday morning begins with the sound of the wind howling around the student accommodation buildings and banging windows and doors, which is infinitely preferable to wind whipping around a tent in a river of mud! There are a few rain showers today and only the foolhardiest of festivalgoers braved the racecourse part of the site with its mud swamps and gaps where food vans have left early.

Folk On
After playing 'human Venn diagrams' in the huge Centaur venue with a 'Battle of the Visions' (of different futures) and listening to the interesting Reverend Richard Coles, formerly of the Communards, today is a folk-fest with the absolute highlight of today, and indeed the whole weekend, being Folk On playing the lunchtime mainstage slot – they draw a huge, appreciative crowd; there are also passionate mainstage performances by The Imagined Village featuring Martin and Eliza Carthy, and Jackie Oates, formerly of The Unthanks, and Bellowhead; Seth Lakeman is on later but I miss his set as I'm in the Performance Café for another chance to see Luke Sital Singh and then Leon Walker, ex-Dartmoor-inmate and one of the beneficiaries of Billy Bragg's Jail Guitar Doors project.

Franz Nicolay, of The Hold Steady, followed by Jackie Oates of The Imagined Village close the Performance Café. Greenbelt 2012 ends on a high with a packed Last Orders programme, including music from Atlum Schema, the endearing Luke Leighfield, and Tayo Aluko, who performs an extract from his musical 'Call Mr Robeson', comedy from James Acaster, as well as comedy and music combined in Folk On whose last song 'Hug It Out', a light-hearted solution to solving the world's problems, has everyone up dancing and hugging for the Greenbelt 2012 finale.

Looking forward to next year's festival, the theme for Greenbelt 2013 is 'Life begins' and the festival will be celebrating its 40th birthday.

around the festival site (Saturday)
review by: Helen OSullivan

photos by: Helen OSullivan

Friday 24th to Monday 27th August 2012
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£120; concessions £75; child 5-17 years £65; family ticket £310
daily capacity: 22000
last updated: Tue 24th Jul 2012


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