Tim Delaughter, lead singer of the The Polyphonic Spree, is stood on the Lunar Festival stage. His arms are spread wide and his smile is even wider. It is clear that he is in love with this festival. "In all of the years that we've been performing, I don't think we've ever shared a stage with so many other fantastic acts", he says. The audience are hardly disagreeing with this sentiment. Later within this joyful, exuberant, jaw-dropping set, Delaughter issues a plea to the organisers. "Can we come back and play this festival every year?" he asks. The crowd cheer and scream. The Polyphonic Spree have tonight proved that they are the perfect band to end a weekend of moments. This is as legal as highs can get. Happy daze.
Just a couple of hours earlier, Lunar had given us another of those moments. It's hard to believe that Arthur Brown is a man in his 70's such is the energy with which he sets about playing old and new songs. He tangos in flames with a sultry dancer who joins him on stage. His colourful make up runs down his balding pate as he tells us all with absolute conviction that he is the God of hellfire. But, the moment comes when his set finishes and he marches from the stage up towards the centre of this beautiful site to the campfire that has glowed warm all weekend. With a rod of fire, he approaches an elaborate construction, part crow, part fox, like an Egyptian Anubis, packed with straw and standing tall to scare the birds. A brass band accompanies him on this parade playing a version of 'Fire' on their trumpets. As punters cheer, Arthur lights the pagan scarecrow. It sparkles, glistens and then flames. This is our very own Burning Man moment.
The night before, fire had played a part in another festival moment. It was one that I was too late to join but I've watched a Youtube video since returning home. Sixty festival goers, organised enough to get their names onto 'the list' are taken to a remote part of this rural countryside. And after, a short introductory talk from Cally the manager of Nick Drake's estate, they are treated to a vinyl playing of Pink Moon on Drake's old record player around a campfire amidst the trees. I wish I'd been there.
But I had my Nick Drake moment earlier in the day. Waking early(ish) on the Saturday and struggling with a slight hangover, I learn that Nick Drake's grave is no more than a twenty minute walk away in the nearby beautiful village of Tanworth In Arden. I can see the spire of the church from the entrance of my tent. The weather looks like it's on the edge of a storm but I have a backpack with kagoule in it and there is surely no better way with which to clear my head. So I set off back up the tree lined avenue that leads into the Umberslade estate where this festival is held. I find the grave and take some time to think just as the threatened rains descend. I perch under a tree and open my backpack to find my coat isn't there. In it's place is a can of cider. The rain shows no sign of stopping so I find shelter in the entrance to the church. "Is it wrong to drink the cider here?" I ask myself. Surreptitiously, I open the can and drink it. The birds are singing beautifully. I am temporarily overwhelmed by the stunning natural, solace which surrounds. I breathe deep and take it all in.
When I walk back down the tree lined avenue fresh from my can of cider with Nick Drake, a car stops. I am asked if I'd like a lift back to site. Charmed by the offer, I jump in. This car is taking other campers towards the site. They'd got a taxi to the entrance. It is Patrick, the Head of Security for Lunar Festival who offered the lift. A smiley, calm and happy man, he tells me that the only real issue he's had to deal with so far has been people wanting to drum a bit too late into the night. He enthuses about the festival and its ethos. This is a coming together of like-minded, blissed-out people, to create a memorable and beautiful time.
The spirit of Nick Drake is never far from Lunar. Many of the bands booked to play have their roots in folk. This is a folk mixed with spaced-out psychedelia that spins out of control into club based hallucogenic dance by the time that night falls. There are two main venues, three if you count the tent by the Riverside bar (I can't see a river here) that has DJ's playing into the night.
Such is the quality of the line up on the main stage, the Lunar stage, that it's difficult to pull yourself away. This is especially true when the sun shines brightly on the Sunday. The Grafham Water Sailing Club kick off the day before midday with their brand of industrial Joy Division happiness; Misty's Big Adventure continue to be ably led by Grandmaster Gareth and their dancing monster as they mix psychedelia with every other known musical genre; Lanterns on the Lake bring us into a more chilled place with their atmospheric folk rock whilst Scott Matthews captures the essence of Nick Drake with his Buckley-esque singer songwriter Black Country charm. I'm perhaps in a minority of one for finding less charm than I should in the somewhat legendary Pram and need a rest in my tent during festival favourites The Destroyers. The rest lasts longer than I anticipate but bleary eyed, I sit around the campfire and chat to friends I've made as The Magic Band confirm their legendary status on the stage with a Psych-blues fusion that's both a fitting tribute and pretty special introduction to Captain Beefheart. The stage is set for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and The Polyphonic Spree to set the night alight.
It's a similarly delightful draw on the Lunar Stage on the Saturday. The line up is amended from the programme (Linda Perhacs is a cancellation) but you sense that, for most day trippers, the main draw today are the co-headliners, Donovan, and Temples. Donovan takes to the stage first, just him, his guitar and a rug. He's still flying off into other dimensions on this magic piece of carpet and, in truth, his is probably a marmite set. Many are joining him in rapture whilst others find him ridiculous. I must say though, that he appears to throw himself wholeheartedly into the essence of Lunar and is seen on Sunday morning wandering the site and signing his name against a piece of graffiti art influenced by his look. Temples are an altogether more grounded prospect even though these young Sixties-influenced lads from Kettering have experienced a meteoric rise to their popularity over the past eighteen months. When Donovan joins them on stage, it provides another moment for the festival. Young and old branches of Psychedelic pop coming together in a timeless tree.
Friday doesn't lack either. We arrive a bit too late in the day to see the initial acts. By the end of the weekend, we're resenting our foolishness and agree to be here for every minute of the festival in future years. Toy aren't far removed from Temples in terms of influence and look yet their sound somehow shimmers with a heavier calling. Tim Burgess keeps his sixties influenced sound simple and sweet, his mop of blond hair bouncing freely in the wind. British Sea Power headline and are a revelation to me. Always previously on the edge of my vision and never quite taking centre stage, tonight they come across like a folk version of The National. Throughout the weekend, the backdrop to this main stage is given life through a video channel and never is this more moving than when the soundscapes that BSP produce are given added impetus and gravitas alongside extracts from the 1934 fictional documentary, The Man Of Aran. A truly exhilarating ride.
Because much of our time is spent by the main stage, we neglect the second stage, the Northern Sky Stage . There’s no real excuse for doing so, for when the programme runs according to schedule, you can flit between the stages and not miss a beat of music. But, we’re lazy. When we do venture up to the other end of the site, we spy no shortage of quality. The Blyth Herald had earlier filmed a small set in the proximity of our tent so we’d already seen their harmonies and talent close up. They put on a gig in a round with different members of the ensemble taking centre stage to dazzle with folk-led tunes. It’s very easy to close your eyes and enter into a dreamland. Don Letts does his DJ thing up here on the Friday night as part of the Silver Dollar Soundsystem. It’s a stunning set, perfectly in line with the mood of the night. Up at this top side of the site, there’s space at which to sit and admire the view. But there are no toilets. This is an oversight.
Generally though, the toilet provision works well for the numbers that are in attendance. Clumped together in one block at the entrance to the site, the cubicles are split into male and female. I have a friend who has a festival theory. He says that if you want to find a pristine turdis, you should always look to follow a burly looking male. The chances of the burly looking male leaving the toilet clean are apparently higher than if you follow a prim and proper looking woman into the bog. This friend has no empirical evidence to back up his gender specific claim but I can testify that the gents portajohns are maintained to a fine standard whenever I feel the urge.
We are sat in the Lunar Cafe. The Lunar Cafe is a tent that sits close to the Lunar Stage. It’s a Saturday afternoon and we’re chilling at one of the many tables here. A caller takes to the small stage that’s in here and bingo cards are given out to those who are taking an interest. Club Unlikely specialise in warped cabaret and this game of bingo is a fine introduction to their charms. Later, they push forward with a surreal, bizarre but ultimately funny quiz. On the Friday night, on initial exploration of the site, we sit in this very cafe and taste their fine curries. For £7, our plates are stacked with a delightfully tasty chicken tikka dish. Exceptional value for the amount on the plate.
Even without this cafe, you’re unlikely to starve at Lunar. In another area of the site, there are a range of food producers selling some fantastic, local, produce. I don’t get to make use of the Meat Shack from Redditch but Tim Delaughter gives them a positive recommendation from the stage. The proprietor, in an act of generosity, gave Delaughter his very last burger that he was saving for himself. Harefields Roast and Bakery from Northampton are linked to The Great British Bake-Off though I’ve never watched such TV. Here you can get a full roast dinner on the Sunday. Their roast potatoes are to die for. I’ve met the proprietor of Jabberwocky toasties from Leamington at other festivals. Their cheese and ham toastie, full of the finest cheddar, provides a great mid-afternoon snack.
Alcohol at the Riverside Bar is provided by the Purity Brewing Company. Their small range of ales, lagers and ciders keep our mouths wet over the weekend and they only charge us £4 per pint. Mad Goose, a zesty pale ale, is our drink of choice though we do sometimes stray into the amber of Pure UBU, the Lawless lager or even the golden Addlestones Cider. To avoid the crunch and waste of plastic glasses, Purity provide a firmer pint glass with their logo on the side. You pay an extra £1 for this glass but then try your hardest to keep it with you over the weekend when you want a refill. I managed to lose a few!
For a small festival, there’s so much going on to keep you busy. In the camping field, there’s a freshly mown mini football field where youngsters are entertained with their own version of the Olympics over the weekend. A climbing tower is erected by the side of this pitch and an instructor guides children in the art of rock-climbing. There’s storytelling, Capoeira, a cinema tent, fruit tree therapies, Sausage making, blacksmithing, clubs that you need GoD’s permission to get into (the Guardian of the door), a brilliant 50 page programme that comes with a souvenir nine track CD of bands playing the weekend, spoon carving and weaving workshops. The list could go on.
It is easy to see why Tim Delaughter wants The Polyphonic Spree to play at Lunar every year. The organisers of this amazing, compact festival have got a gem on their hands. Over the course of the weekend, we often found ourselves marvelling at how they had been able to pull such a stellar musical line up for the numbers in attendance. My guess is that many favours have been called. When October arrives and I reflect back upon my summer at festivals, I very much doubt that many will provide so many moments as Lunar. Pretty much perfect.
latest on this festival
The Lunar Festival 2018 review
line-ups & rumours
back after a year off