Larmer Tree

published: Tue 24th Jul 2007

Wednesday 11th to Sunday 15th July 2007
Larmer Tree Gardens, near Tollard Royal (about 16 miles W of Salisbury), on the Wilts./Dorset border, SP5 5PT, England MAP
£105 for 3 days, £135 for the 4-days, £167 for 5 days
last updated: Thu 3rd May 2007

As a local to the Salisbury area, thus familiar with the famous Larmer Tree gardens, one may suspect that the effect of its beauty would be somewhat lost over time. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as the effect of holding a festival within its grounds merely accentuates and heightens the already visually gorgeous landscape. Old Wiltshire, pipe smoking types may oft claim that there is ‘something in the water’, as they leer at you suspiciously over their stone walls, but for once I am inclined to agree as the intimate vibe of Larmer tree Festival conjures an atmosphere quite unlike anything I have yet discovered.

As we enter the grounds, with the intention of heading to the camp site, a ‘Security Guard’ in the form of an old hippy in psychedelic trousers and a deck chair gracefully blinks us past in recognition. Which way we are meant to go who knows!? Luckily a procession of colourful flags goads you toward the main gate and a handful of tents, yurts, tepees and caravans outside obviously form the camping area.

If this festival were any more chilled it would possibly collapse as an entity altogether and dissolve into the ether in a state of total enlightenment. So what makes it so? Primarily the capacity of the festival is low at about 2000. Also the price of the tickets is high given the comparatively low-key line up. At £160 anyone could go to Glastonbury and see over hyped sensations such as The Killers or The Who, but those who instead choose the likes of Billy Brag, Dreadzone and Easy Star All Stars compromise on the competitive ‘who did you see this summer?’ attitude and replace it with a more enriching experience that precipitates in breaking down the anomic ‘awe’ factor common in most festivals.

As a result, it has to be said, I am under the impression this is one for those too old or ‘safe’ for Glasto or Womad: the last stand of the refined festival casualty & the idealistic left-wing middle classes. Thus the usual rabbles of rampaging wreck-heads have been replaced by conglomerates of overexcited children who swarm amongst the crowd without a care in the world.

The festival begins at the main stage with old favourite Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Having witnessed a Jools show a few times before I am dubious as to how he would bring anything particularly new to his performance, but with a massive range of additional musicians, and never less than 14 artists (including 9 saxophonists at one stage), he manages to keep it interesting for the duration of the set. It is also good to see that he has taken the context of the show into consideration, extending the range of material beyond traditional blues into Cuban, Reggae, Soul and Rock territory, even picking up a guitar for a song or two half way through. The set peaks with an appearance by Lulu who, despite her small stature, manages to flood the stage with charisma, her a voice as strong as ever as she practically ruptures the PA bellowing ‘Shout’ at the top of her lungs!

Thursday evening begins with a sound deeper and thicker than fresh festival mud as Courtney Pine’s legendary sax rumbles through a soul thirsty crowd. Scatting between bold, breakneck sections, which come thick and fast, he is often seen to be completely lost in his music. Unfortunately he loses most of the crowd along the way, being so completely immersed in his own dissonance that he occasionally drowns out the entire band! The whole ensemble is magnificently skilled, however, and there are some fantastic moments which explore a distinctive 70’s Progressive Jazz sound that has those of us who ‘get it’ wincing in awe.

Courtney Pine

Renowned and respected collaborator Billy Brag follows later with a solo set of his famous political folk punk. Clutching his silver electric guitar in front a small but adoring crowd of fans he belts out songs of love and war and working class oppression. Though his integrity is questioned by several audience members, (this is, after all, a predominately white middle class audience), I don’t think the irony escapes him for a second. And why should it? To not play due to classism would be the most basic example of hypocrisy and he knows it.

In fact as a near perfect response later act Bad Science’s vocalist barks “I may be middle class, but I’m still oppressed!” to rapturous applause and laughter. This energetic, but occasionally terrifying, band bring a fantastic, if unfortunately ego driven, concoction of comedy dub, funk and hip-hop, culminating with an inspired cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. The sound of two hundred or so blokes in the audience drunkenly belting out the line “I just wanna be a woman” will probably stay with me for some time.

Bad Science

The site features four stages, compromising of one Main Stage with a smaller Garden Stage, the ‘Big Top’ imaginatively situated inside a tent, and the Arc, a smaller stage inside one of the enclosed bars. As well as this the Social, a bar inside a tepee, hosts late night open mic and jam slots, and it is not unusual to see many of that days performers head over for a post-gig improvised session. It is here, later that night, we see an anonymous solo rapper coincidentally spitting his own version of ‘Glory Box’!

The Glowglobes, an acoustic duo whose heartfelt gentleness is unsurpassed this weekend subtly sooth us into Friday afternoon. Featuring a loose, but light-hearted cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’, the couple effortlessly win over the crowd, layering delicious vocal counter melodies over guitar and double bass.


Only catching the end of the Trojan Sound System is enough to convince me that their reputation is perhaps a little better than deserved. Though they do play classic tunes, proclaiming “Trojan music is true to Reggae music” as hundreds bob in agreement, much of the improvisation consists of repeating ‘Larmer Tree’ a frustrating amount at the crowd. The use of ‘One Love’ as a show finisher is popular and feels genuine, but rather predictable.

One of the gems of the festival is Bristol based solo sonic madman Kid Carpet. A self-proclaimed deliverer of ‘Kiddie Disco Punk’, he splices bouncy electro, irreverent spoken word and broken toys, mildly reminiscent of a less serious Coco Rosie on a jelly tot high. Indeed if there was ever evidence of the long term effects of sugar based ADHD this is it, and it is truly incredible.

The Glitzy Baghags set in the Arc late on Friday night are another example of a band able to get well into the swing of things. In their traditional English country get-up this collection of buxom dames and farm hands rips out ‘Turbo Skiffle’ at top volume. Contrasted by crazy lyrics exploring traditional modern wonders such as E-bay and Megabus and a mad cover of the Night Rider theme tune the Glitzys are a forced to be reckoned with, and the only band to keep me dancing all the way through the set!

Glitzy Baghags

Disappointment then at '12 Stone Toddler’, who were, alas, no where near as interesting as their name and the diabolical Dreadzone whose mix was as thick as the plumes of smoke that stopped anyone from actually seeing the stage! Luckily Kissmet steal the show as the sun sets behind the trees, bathing the crowd in a warm orange glow. Fusing Bhangra and rock with cataclysmic live drumming and an epic sound never again surpassed over the weekend every song played carries amazing energy and each is worthy of a finale. When it finally comes, the intense cover of Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your Love’ leaves the crowd so hot that the fresh rain evaporates before it can hit the ground.


All in all the Larmer Tree is is a fantastic opportunity for reluctant city dwellers of all ages to escape, enjoy good food, drink and entertainment. The music is not perhaps as worldy as I would have expected with a huge influx of hip-hop, funk, rock bands that, unfortunately, after 5 days all blend into one. Moreover, with this much ‘party music’ one can find oneself yearning for something more raucous or downbeat depending on mood. Luckily there is ample activity to distract even the most hardcore music fan, with a great selection of free workshops from Yoga and Juggling to simply ‘Laughing’, not to mention acres of garden and countryside to explore.

If you’re looking for a safe, child friendly bohemian experience that doesn’t delve into the weird or avant-garde then this is for you.
review by: Ruari Floyd

photos by: Abbi Mason

Wednesday 11th to Sunday 15th July 2007
Larmer Tree Gardens, near Tollard Royal (about 16 miles W of Salisbury), on the Wilts./Dorset border, SP5 5PT, England MAP
£105 for 3 days, £135 for the 4-days, £167 for 5 days
last updated: Thu 3rd May 2007

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