All of the members of the Sun Ra Arkestra are doddering slowly away from Lunar's main stage, marching towards a wooden crow structure in the middle of the field. Those of us who were here last year to witness Arthur Brown, the God of hellfire, set light to things, have an inkling about what might shortly be happening. Glittering in their colourful, sparkly outfits, these ancient boys of jazz follow an assortment of costumed wildlife; humans dressed as foxes, foxy badgers and mice, acting out their animal characteristics. The procession passes the giant wooden crow and heads to the helter-skelter beyond. For a second, we wonder if the fairground ride will be razed or if the eldest member of Sun-Ra, 91 year old Marshall Allen, will whizz down on a sack but these fantastical things don't occur. Instead the procession returns to the wooden crow, Marshall lights it with a rod of fire and we watch, in awe again, as the metres-high crow turns orange and burns.
The temporary diversion to the helter-skelter must have still been on the minds of the Bootleg Beatles about thirty minutes later when they're running through their headline set of Fab Four classics from 1966 to 1970. "This one is called Helter-Skelter", says the tribute Paul before the band launch into their version of 'she said, she said'. We never do discover if this is simply a sign of tribute Paul's impending senility (the Bootleg Beatles have been gigging five times as long as The Beatles did) or whether this is a wise reference to a mistake made in earlier years by the actual Scousers. I'm enjoying this set a whole lot more than gig buddy Rob. As the opening chords of 'Yellow Submarine' break out amidst the joyfully singalong crowd, I agree to beat a hasty retreat to ensure that Rob doesn't become a tribute Mark Chapman. We get in the car and drive home. Lunar 2015 has been one hell of a weekend.
It threatened to not even start. I had a prior commitment on the Friday of the festival which meant missing a top quality day of clever programming. Apparently Mark E Smith was his usual snarly self with The Fall, and Tinariwen hypnotised with their desert blues. On arriving, bright and breezy on the Saturday morning, I was met with the revelation that a Sean Tizzard tribute act was already on site. Yes, somebody had said they were me to get press access. Either that or my attendance had been marked off in error. In the future, I'll have to use an alternative moniker for these things. I was lucky that I was wearing an eFestivals T-shirt and that I had my driving license as proof of identity.
We quickly found photographer Phil. He'd already told us that it was busier than last year. The campsite was certainly more packed out with tents but at no point over the weekend did things feel oppressively busy. Pick a portaloo with care and you could still find toilet paper within on the Sunday evening. Nip in front of the rows of blankets and chairs placed across the waist of the main arena and you could always get a fine view of your favourite festival act. Barge into the bar and the queue was never more than three people deep for a pint of Purity related ale or lager. Perhaps the only time that the busier site was bulging too much was in the teatime rush for food.
Food provision at last years Lunar was stellar. This year it was merely adequate. A corner dedicated to food was no more and now choice seemed more limited. Running down one side of the main arena you could get pizza, burger, falafel, toasties, curry and elderflower based cordials but sometimes these stalls were closed (probably sold out of produce). Aside from the reliable Jabberwocky toasties, the food never struck me as particularly great value for money, especially if you were attempting to feed a family (I wasn't but I did sympathise).
And this is a festival that sets its stall out at being family friendly. They might have dabbled in such a mission last year but this year sees it fully embraced. There's a whole field, the Pink Moon meadow, given over to a mini football pitch where many of the family activities take place. Here we have football tournaments, battle frisbee competitions, calypso kids, mustard seed mess, disco baby yeah (a parent and toddler party) and hedgerow headdresses.
I'm having a wee. I can hear a John Motson like commentator over a tannoy system. With a granular attention to detail, this commentator is informing all about the evolving minutiae happening around the site. "And here we have somebody about to approach the ticket office . They have a purple rucksack on and they're carrying a tent in their right hand. An exciting development if ever I saw one." These commentators are seen regularly around the site, sweating in their sheep fleece lined brown overcoats, speaking into their bulbous mics. They're working hard to give the rest of us enjoyment, using dry humour and words to elicit a smile from the grumpiest of punters. Neat.
Mark Radcliffe is clearly no stranger to using dry humour and words to elicit a smile. I could only watch and learn from a master in action when he compered from the main stage throughout the Saturday. Dressed as a pirate, he oozed wit and warmth (and a considerable knowledge about the acts he was introducing). He talked of going to Space rock venues as a younger man back in Bolton and always hoping that he'd meet a woman of the calibre of Jane Weaver. When Radcliffe's band, Galleon Blast, played to a packed out tent up at Lunar's second venue, The Bimble Inn, another announcer took temporary charge. "We've now got the fabulous 'My Beautiful Diamond' for you", said the replacement, immediately breaking all MC rules by getting the name of the band wrong.
He was right though that 'My Brightest Diamond' were fabulous. The project of multi-instrumentalist, Shara Worden, this was a stunning set. Raved about by those in the know as up there with Sufjan Stevens (who she's been known to collaborate with) and St Vincent, in the US experimental pop stakes, this show entices from the off. When Shara launches into a quasi-aerobic session, pointing towards part of her body and then towards the skies in a tremendous rendition of 'This Is My Hand', I know I've found a new (to me) favourite artist.
This is what Lunar does so well. The schedulers clearly know their music and know what will work together to form an impressive whole. In fact, so assured are they in their programming ability that the last minute cancellation of Zun Zun Egui (so sad to see the announcement that they're splitting up) doesn't phase them at all. Instead, they pull a rabbit out of the bag as a replacement. Few had heard of Follakzoid when they were announced in their early Sunday afternoon slot but this Chilean, largely instrumental space, kraut-rock provided perfect sunshine stuff. Judging by the way that all of their vinyl and CDs were quickly snapped up from the merchandise tent straight after the show, you suspect that the organisers have them noted in their notebook for further future events.
Perhaps Follakzoid went down so well in this early Sunday afternoon slot because we were all feeling a little bit tender from the efforts of the night before. There's so much quality going on during the day at Lunar that it's easy to overlook the attention that's put into the later night offerings. Drawing on the expertise of established regional club nights, there are three venues to wander between, all packed with people dancing and having fun. On Saturday night/Sunday morning I spend time flitting between the psychedelic Sensataria sounds of Richard Norris within the Crow bar and the Magic Door club night in the Bimble Inn. I retire to bed just before 3AM. It's been a fab night and I see colourful bubbles as I fall into the land of nod.
It's a shocking admission but I've never seen Julian Cope live before. I've heard tales of unfathomable live shows; of a frazzled man not so much on the edge of dark madness but completely enveloped by it. Yet, what we get on this Sunday afternoon at Lunar is an hour long lesson of charming, sometimes caustic, stand up with interludes for songs. It's just Cope and a couple of guitars but he captivates with tunes from The Teardrop Explodes day to present. It's his stories that most people cling onto. There's a certain skill in getting an audience singalong going at such a family focused festival when the song is overtly in praise of drug taking. Such is the charm that Cope is endowed with we all warm to his ways even more.
You'd have to be a pretty head-in-the-sand sort of festival goer to have not seen Public Service Broadcasting do their thing over the past couple of seasons. Suggestions that their charming combination of driving sound over historical film might be a bit one trick pony are completely blown away here at Lunar. With a new(ish) album to promote, The Race For Space, this is a Saturday evening headline set that evokes immense happiness, warmth and power. Expanding from a two piece to a full band, the film footage and visuals, whilst still important to the overall effect, seem to be a little less to the fore. Instead, we're treated to dancing astronauts and motivational stories of epic endeavour. Completely uplifting and euphoric.
Those showing their love for PSB were also watching intently when The Radiophonic Workshop took to the main stage on the Sunday afternoon. The 'unsung heroes of British electronica' are all fantastic studio musicians and it is tough to not appreciate the timelessness of the classic TV themes they (or their predecessors) have produced. Geeks nod knowingly as we hitchhike our way through a guided tour of the galaxy. Children are terrified as the sound of Daleks descend into the field. Yet, this show doesn't reach the exuberant heights of the PSB show from the night before and I head off to find other delights.
I am lying on a beanbag at the Bimble Inn. Outside, the sun is beating down with intensity and my fair skin needs a break from such heat. There's some perfect Sunday afternoon and early evening singer songwriter stuff which I'm able to drift in and out of consciousness to. RM Hubbert is a sweary Glaswegian with a neat Flamenco guitar style. When he does spoken word pieces over the top of the playing, it's reminiscent of some finer moments of Arab Strap. On consulting the programme, it's not at all surprising that this is a man who has worked with Aidan Moffat. Following RM Hubbert is the Swedish folk-roots of Benjamin Folke Thomas. There's a timeless quality to his songwriting; a rich voice telling tales that are often mournful laments to lost relationships. Completing this trio of wonderful and yet varied singer-songwriters is Robyn Hitchcock. He covers Nick Drake as befits the festival location; at times his banter between songs feels more nonsensical than a Lewis Carroll riddle and yet at other times it pounds with insight. Here is a man in his 60's with the power to make women (and men) of half his age swoon; a silver fox with an unique voice and style. Shortly after playing 'my wife and my dead wife' he introduces his girlfriend onto stage with him to harmonise in some songs. She's probably barely in her thirties.
This is a festival not tied to performers of a certain age. It's refreshing to see some of the elder statesmen of the gigging circuit take their prominent position. I sit in the middle of the field and watch from afar as Pretty Things go through their motions. It's easy to see why some commentators have listed these as one of those bands who should trip off the tongue alongside The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces and The Stones. Following this, we watch the antics of Wilko Johnson. We're happy that he's here; Norman Watt-Roy throws those monster, angular shapes as he licks his bass. It's not the best set I've ever seen from this trio but it still makes for a happy Saturday early evening.
Lunar is a festival that is not afraid to punch well above its weight. With a line up that a festival with a capacity of double the size would be more than content with, it's one to mark in your future diaries. I came away from last year's Lunar happy to have discovered a little gem. This year it has become one of the brightest diamonds in the festival calendar.
latest on this festival
The Lunar Festival 2018 review
line-ups & rumours
back after a year off