It's the end of the festival season and the sun is still shining bright. What a lucky year! More bands have been heard, more campfires have been stood around and more wasters have been found passed out outside there tents in the morning than I can remember. It could be easy to feel jaded by this time of year but the sun hasn't let me spirits or energy become dampened, nor that of the several thousand festival goers at Looe's annual music festival.
Situated in the centre of the pretty Cornish town, quaint houses line a the valley along the river which then enters the sea alongside a sandy little beach. Narrow streets full of character hide old mariners pub steeped in the history of Cornish seafaring. Looe has it all and is surely inundated with tourists throughout the summer but this weekend surely sees a different type of visiter, one that probably divides the town in terms of whether they are welcome.
Geographically and psychologically at the end of the world for many UK inhabitants Cornwall is well worth a jaunt even when the festival isn't on. Arriving from the west we cross a bridge, the main festival site being on the east of the water with a few smaller on the west which are almost completely empty probably due to their distance of the main site.
East of the river is where it's at, it's busy and happily noisy, youths, families and drinkers all the line the streets chatting loudly like old friends. There are a disproportionate number of people wearing kilts which leads me to believe that there is a theme of some kind at the festival. I listen to people sincerely discuss how bum bags are coming back in fashion and I wonder if they are referring to the sporrans that we can see.
The age group of the festival goers is markedly divided you have the youth up until the age of 20 and then the 40 somethings with the usual festival going age group almost entirely absent. The programming has a lot to do with this, teen idols such as Frank Turner, or Cosmo Jarvis are interspersed with acts such as Brand New Heavies, and Squeeze who are far from contemporary.
The Brand New Heavies were great in their genre of pop, or acid jazz, at it was known back then but disappeared off the face of the planet and from music for a long time as far as I was concerned. I have a dim and distance memory of enjoying their happy music and fun performance at Glastonbury 2000 on the main stage, in the sun but now I'm surprised they are on a stage of this size even if they are promoting a new release. Regardless they are undoubtedly massively talented as musicians and effortlessly provide a good level of showmanship for the eager audiences. Far more interesting to check out though are the smaller acts, the Cornish talents that stay true to their peninsula and find it hard to break out. Perhaps the most successful Cornish act of the Friday is 3 Daft Monkeyss (there are actually four of them now, but perhaps one isn't daft) who are simply a must for anyone wishing to explore the auditory experience of modern day fiddly folk.
The campsite seemed a mountain away on Friday, but on Saturday the festival provided a minibus to the quiet and scenic campsite/caravan park that provided rest and respite along with clean facilities. Awake at the crack of noon and with breakfast in our bellies my friends and I headed into town to stumble around bars and talk to locals. We met a fascinating plethora of characters and samples some fine local produce, even Alpaca burgers which apparently should taste a bit like beef before hanging our legs over the harbour wall and admiring the stunning surroundings with a beer in hand. Looe is a photographer's dream, pretty houses set into the hillside, boats gently rocking with the ebb and flow of the tide and tree lined hill in the far distance.
Saturday’s line-up was again varied, although again perhaps a little tired for those who have been to many such events but for those who haven't seen acts such as RSVP they can still provided a unique flavour of Indian music with a humorous take on the dancing you see in Bollywood movies. Highlights of the day were both up and coming bands, the South West's very own Land of the Giants who are an energetic reggae outfit rising up the ranks of the music scene. The other was London's Tankus the Henge, a group of extremely talented musicians playing to a level of ability and showmanship that is rare in the modern world but wouldn't be out of place in New Orleans during it's classic period of musical output.
Our headline act, Squeeze was well attended by avid fans or people who were waiting to hear 'Cool for Cats' or 'Up The Junction' perfect for many of the festival goers who were of the age group where perhaps don't listen to too much new music. Again, great musicians but music isn't just about ability it's about freshness, energy and creative progression.
With the main act over we amble around the local bars that are still pumping out live music. The atmosphere is great, most of the music isn't but no one seems to care. They want cover versions over songs they can sing along to with there arms around each other, drunken, glasses raised to the sky and who can blame them, that's why they are here.
Sunday and I wake up feeling great, what on earth is going on? It's a festival and I'm sure that I'm partying as much. Maybe it's the magical Looe air or the quiet campsite. I head over to the west coast for a surf (only half an hour away) before returning even more refreshed. I take coffee in a local establishment and chat to my neighbour about his experiences and what he liked saying he loves and musical event where his feet are in the sand and he can look up to see a great backdrop regardless of music. It seems an important point, as many people don't know more than a fraction of the music on offer, it's just important that there is a reason to come together to meet new people, see new places and share experiences. I've already decided I'll return to Looe when the event is over so that must be a huge plus for the local economy as I'm sure many others feel the same, they either come back after the event or they visit Looe and return because they find out an event is on.
I miss lots of acts I was keen to see today because of the wonderful encounters I have with locals and tourists alike. Strangely I find this can be a guide of how nice an event is. If the vibe and the setting didn't interest me I'm sure I'd be avidly watching far more music.
What I did see was a display of south-west talent, not all to my taste but nevertheless showing that creativity is alive and well here. More cover bands though, although I admit that Hayseed Dixie has so much originality and personality that they are irresistible, although Red Hot Chilli Pipers, also a covers act but with bagpipes, were awful. It just had an X-factor feel, like some Simon Cowell-esque music industry reptile had come up with an idea that he could sell to festivals and events around the world under the principle that he was bringing an element of Scottish culture to other countries but it felt more like a decimation of culture, like Shakespearian actors doing a soap opera for the financial benefits. I'd forgotten they had existed, I saw them at least 6 years ago so I suspect they have now played those world festivals and have a new release that they are about to promote, who would actually buy this and listen to it at home? Really!
Finally, the headline act for the Sunday was Frank Turner folk pop pin up boy who is much loved throughout the land. His fast energetic bouncy songs, catchy lyrics and clean, well produced sounds elevated the the excited crowd to an enthusiastic rabble willing to take part in singing and arm waving at every possibility. His fans know all the words to all of his songs so even if he missed a word (which I'm sure he didn't) someone next to me would have yelled it into my ear. Even gracing the audience with a new number, which when bands do it's often a little boring, he managed to keep the energy going with fluid ease. With his songs,fast and short we were always going to hear lots of them but with several albums he could pick and chose as he felt all just as anthemic as the pop punk that was so great in the early 90's.
As the sun sets on Looe and the punters wobble home arm in arm they'll be talking about this event happily for weeks to come and looking forward to next year. Looe is probably a bit of a secret to those outside Cornwall and I wonder what it would be like if it was any busier. Right now it has the balance right and the fact that punters can enjoy music without a wrist band in some of the areas is a really great thing as it must bring many more revellers so the party and helps out those who can't afford the ticket price. I'll definitely be back Looe and it may be before the festival.
latest on this festival
charity behind the event has ceased trading
festival home page
joining Steve'n'Seagulls, The Waterboys, Gwenno, The Young 'Uns, Molotov Jukebox, & more
Saturday headliner & more announced