I am woken by a man sounding the spit of Geoffrey Boycott. This man is bemoaning his fate for somebody in the night has had a call of nature right outside his tent. You know those times when you're desperate to laugh but realise that doing so will implicate you in something you're innocent of. This was one of those moments. I laugh inwardly and fall back to sleep. Welcome to Skipton. Greetings from Beacons Festival.
An hour later, I am woken by a security guard knocking on my tent. Quite how the knocking aroused me I'm still not sure but orders are barked that we need to vacate our tents. In my half awake state, I wonder if Geoffrey Boycott has raised an alarm about the poo but as I poke my head out of my tent and see a sea of campers in pyjamas, nighties and dressing gowns I'm put right. Beacons has a bomb scare and it's coming from the art shed just 50 metres away.
For half an hour we're held back whilst a bomb disposal squad is called in. I break through the security guard lines and investigate close up. It transpires that a package has been found in a shed by a stall holder opening up for the day. It's a car battery in a box, on the side of which says 'fragile' and 'art bomb'. Chances are that it's a hoax but no risks can be taken. The battery is detonated and taken away. From across the field in the Impossible Lecture tent, strains of Tom Jones's Sex Bomb merge into Bomb Da Bass. 'Come and get your post bomb-scare porridge' is written onto the chalk board outside. Beacons, you are bonkers.
I don't want to give the impression that Beacons is all about misplaced crapping and artistic rebellion though for it's mostly not. This art-based field that I'm camped near is quite a way from the main arena of the festival which hosts much more traditional fare. The main 'Loud and Quiet' tent is similar in shape to the John Peel Tent at Glastonbury and classes as the main stage for the weekend. I spend much of my Friday evening in here. Egyptian Hip Hop warm me up with an early evening slot of dreamy hypnotic pop and seem much tighter than when I saw them previously in Liverpool. Ghostpoet's laid back hip-hop seems to have an extra punch as night descends all around. On paper, Bonobo are perhaps a strange choice to headline but they are local to Leeds and are a full band tonight. Doubts about credentials are quickly abandoned for they are a shimmering orang-utan of electronic wonder. Barely visible through a dazzling white light, they take the audience to trippy treetops with their terrific noise.
The second tent in the arena is the 'You Need To Hear This' tent. It's a tent much smaller than the 'Loud and Quiet' tent but it has a line up over the weekend that's difficult to distinguish in terms of size of act. Having loved Drenge two weeks earlier at Y-Not, I take my place right at the front for their Sunday evening gig and in truth I'm blown away by this showing even more. It's the eve of the release of their debut album and the brothers from Sheffield are in no mood to waste opportunities. Glittering guitar and demonic drumming cackle in a Castleton cauldron to spectacular effect. When Eoin jumps into the crowd towards the end of the set, he's mobbed like a long lost friend. And when he picks up an abandoned plastic water bottle and forces it on his fretboard to emulate a slide guitar we know we've seen a young duo who've come a long way this summer. Later on that Sunday and not to be outdone, the tent is positively heaving for Savages. I jump into a moshpit for the first time this summer and don't care what damage I do as I dance like a Banshee to their gothic post-punk thing.
I thought I would spend more time in the third tent of the arena than I actually did. The Resident Advisor tent is (as you'd expect from a tent sponsored by RA) dance laden and I mark acts like John Talabot, Bicep, Theo Parrish, and Andres as 'must see at least a bit of'. I head to the entrance of the tent on the Friday for John Talabot and I'm not sure that the sound is pumping out quite as well as it should. Earlier that evening, I'd spent time in a drunken haze, chatting to a delightfully attractive Irish woman and when my fumbled advances are spurned over the blissed-out Barcelona based beats, I decide enough is enough and I head back to my tent for a night alone.
I was a bit concerned on arriving at Beacons that I knew nobody. At most other festivals I've been to this Summer, there's been friends or acquaintances. But I had no reason to worry. Throughout the weekend, Beacons proved that it's perhaps the friendliest fixture on the festival calendar. Everywhere I sat and stood people were happy to talk and to share recommendations (and other stuff). Saturday was damp and drizzly but it didn't matter much for I was allowed to gatecrash a 40th birthday party. On Sunday the sun came out and a mother and her teenage daughter encouraged me to try Yoga for the very first time. Later that night, I was led into a David Rodigan dance-hall by people who didn't bat an eyelid at my Dad-dancing moves. Top people. I didn't let on that I'd been in this tent, The Social (and essentially the fourth substantial tent within the arena) for much of that reggae filled afternoon swaying to Prince Fatty, Iration Steppas, and Channel One Soundsystem.
My slight disappointment at finding that most of the tents are only serving cans of lager and cider at nearly £4 a pop is tempered by my discovery of the Whitelocks Ale & Cider Tent. Set up with flatted boards and long communal tables, this area has the feel of a beer festival and with barrels from smaller breweries in Yorkshire, Lancashire and London on offer, it's great to sit , chat and quaff. Prices range from £3.80 a pint to £5 a pint depending upon the strength of the ale you've chosen. It's not the cheapest of the Summer but the variety is welcomed. Where else have I been able to get a pint of Ilkley Mary Jane or Weird Beard Mariana Trench this year? Also in here is a kitchen serving up fine pizzas and burgers. Elsewhere on site there's a row of food retailers described in the programme as a street food festival. Gandhi's Flip Flop is a firm favourite of mine this summer but I can now add to that list with Diamond Dogs, Skipton Pies and Patty Smiths Burgers.
It's Saturday morning and I'm still getting my bearings. I poked my head into the Impossible Lecture tent last night but wasn't brave enough to head in for the things happening inside looked a bit too obscure and arty for my sober head. This morning I choose to have a cup of tea and watch as a virtual reality performance piece picks up in one corner of the tent. An announcement comes from the stage that 'the coach' is looking for people to sign up to 'the team' for a show exploring themes of masculinity. I pluck up some Dutch courage and add my name to the list mystified by what I'm letting myself in for. Minutes later, the coach approaches me and asks if I'll be tape-keeper. He passes me a black-box in which are five cassette tapes that I can eject by pressing appropriate buttons. A team of ten are formed and we're led outside. Way in the distance, our eyes are drawn to a man dressed in American Football helmet and outfit standing still. He starts to move from side to side in jerky fashion distracting those that are closer to him. After a minute of this he sprints towards us. The team move out of the way and crumble as he bundles towards us, high fiving spectators as he passes. For the next forty minutes or so we are led by this American Football figure to a variety of locations around the site. At times, we are encouraged to jog, at other times the fitter amongst the team sprint. We huddle into a scrum as we listen to a tape. American Football man eyeballs us, breaks down into tears, agitates and trembles. All the time whilst watching this performance I am conscious that we are being watched by other festival-goers. It's obscure, it's art and it's an essential part of Beacons for me.
These human interactive performance pieces are complemented with a range of other installations and visuals across the Beacons fields (the views from which look gorgeous). There's translucent cloud like sculptures hanging from trees and neon signs lighting up the night with lyrics from songs. On a high point of the site sits Dan Fox's Howling Wire audio installation – an elaborate construction that uses the wind to produce random sound.
Up by this installation is the kids area, Diddee Rascals (I don't go in but I hear it's excellent) and another music stage which feels a little out on it's own – the KLFM stage. I trek up here on the Saturday morning just to say that I've been there. I catch an energetic band from Leeds with the fantastic name of Japanese Fighting Fish. It's a performance full of energy and I warm to their quirky guitar gills. I hang around to watch Josh Savage set up with a string trio. It's undeniably pleasant but hardly groundbreaking and I leave this singer-songwriter to his pontifications whilst I go and have a poo. I had wanted to see both Julia Holter, and Malcolm Middleton later in the day within this small, out of the way tent, but festival frolics got the better of me.
Indeed, it is a sign of the quality that exudes from every pore of the Beacons festival that, although I kept myself busy and active, I returned home with a sense that I missed so much. I only glimpsed at Gold Panda, and SBTRKT when they played the Loud and Quiet stage. I failed in my intention to watch Birmingham based Jaws who I sense might be bigger than Peace and Swim Deep this time next year. I completely missed headline sets by Natives, and Wire and listened to Django Django from the comfort of the car park as I packed late on the Sunday night. I stumbled and marvelled at the sound and graphics coming from the RFID dome and invaded the space of some ravers as I crossed the open air expanse in front of the Red Bull Music Academy stage.
Perhaps, I would have seen more of these things that were circled in my programme if it hadn't of been for the Into The Woods tent. Settled away from the main arena and in the arty bit, this was a luxurious tent, lit low, draped with curtains and furnished with comfy beanbags. It also held the unique diversion of a whisky bar in the corner. Staff with a real passion for Whisky guided me through their impressive menu. I chose not to spend £50 on 50cl of 40 year old Glenfarclas but instead spent a fiver on a double measure of 12 year old Caol Ila. Clean peat.
The Into The Woods stage predominantly showed films but it was so much more than this. On the Friday evening, I was left gobsmacked by the technical prowess of Sandrani, a 4 piece jazz-like musical act made up of people from Indian, English, Mauritian and Italian heritage. The call and response between tabla and classical guitar was truly something else. I catch the end of the excellent film, Sightseers, a Bonnie and Clyde like romp through the touring caravan community of Northern England and appreciate the Q&A afterwards with the actors and writers. Shane Meadows apparently appears in here later for a Q&A after Made In Stone is shown. I blame the whisky for not properly watching the Sham 69 based film, 'This Band Is So Gorgeous' and then shamefully asking director Dunstan Bruce how he had found Jimmy Pursey. 'Ermmm, he wasn't actually in this film because he'd left the band by then', came the awkward reply.
For a mid size festival, Beacons is pretty complete in its intent. It has a focus on art but that doesn't mean that the quality elsewhere suffers. There's enough dance for ravers, enough up and coming guitar bands for trendy bloggers and enough ale for the CAMRA types. Random things happen and you're never quite sure what you'll find but you know that the wide range of people here are all likely to be chatty, friendly and game for a chuckle. Indeed, I catch up with Geoffrey Boycott on the Sunday evening and the phantom shit incident is simply something to laugh about. Bring on 2014.
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