If 2020 was the pupa stage, then 2021 is the year for emerging from our chrysalis-like homes and spreading our wings to become beautiful dancing butterflies in fields once more, and it has never felt so good. Although the summer was coming to an end, Mucky Weekender was the perfect opportunity to take flight one last time before the autumn set in and we returned to our cocoons.
Midday on the Friday we crossed the road from our campsite and enter the natural wooded bowl which contains the arena with 3 stages. This site was previously used by Blissfields festival and leant itself perfectly to this size of event. It is the new home for Mucky Weekender, which was previously held in Sussex in 2019 with a 1,000 capacity. If the first edition felt like a private party gone slightly wrong (in a good way), this year’s event felt like a festival. This new site has allowed Barry Ashworth (founder and frontman of the Dub Pistols) and his management team to expand to a 3,000 ticket capacity. The site could hold 5,000 but it was restricted to give social distancing room. In these new times that we have all become used to, this amount of people feels comfortable, safe and yet still has an intimate, friendly party vibe.
We head to the first of 3 stages to open, at midday on Friday. The Ashworth Mad House is the main stage where today we will get to see acts such as Dr Meaker, Gentleman’s Dub Club, Freestylers and Rodney P & DJ Skitz, to name just a few. On the way, just to get off on the right foot, we visit one of two main bars, to sample the refreshments. This is an arena style site where we could not bring our own alcohol in (only in the campsites). The price of beer at £6 a pint did make us wince but also meant there was never much of a queue at any time during the weekend. There were also a couple of Guinness taxis on site selling Guinness or Pimms, alongside cocktails. It was one of the most enjoyable pints of Guinness I have had outside of Dublin. This is either true or maybe it was the emotional release of finally being allowed to party in a field. The weekend was a time to let our hair down, an opportunity we made the very most of. From the music and beer, to the friendly crowd and excellent organisation, it felt like we were finally back to normal. We had some great random chats with strangers over the weekend. I think we have all missed this kind of interaction with our fellow humans. I even had a proposal of marriage. I politely declined, offering a photo in return. It seems this was an acceptable consolation prize. The Dub Pistol fans, or family as they are affectionately known, many wearing their Dub Pistols T-shirts with pride, are always a friendly lot. It’s not just the punters that we get to chat to, but also the DJs, band members and organisers, who are all happy to share stories, pints and selfies.
One of my personal highlights of the day was a set by the legend that is Don Letts. He started with a tribute to Lee Scratch Perry, who sadly died recently, then cranked it up and played a harder set than I have seen him do before, perfectly judged for early evening and full of bangers. And so bloody cool at the same time.
This two day event has more to offer us than some larger, more expensive festivals we have attended. Clashes cannot be avoided and we are not even half way through the first day’s line up. We find ourselves moving between stages before the end of the set in order to see our next “must see” act. Thankfully the three stages are just a hop and a bound away from each other. Or at least it feels this way after a few pints of luscious Guinness.
The second stage is the Crazy Diamonds Club. The sound is superb, very directional in a weird way that keeps it in an open sided tent. Barry Ashworth plays one of many sets over the weekend here today. Understandably Cult-like, he draws a large crowd who are happy to sing along with every track he turns out. We saw sets from Hobbs, A-Skillz, 2 Bad Mice and John Carter amongst others. Leroy Thornhill (from Prodigy) delivered a great set with suitable nods to Prodigy tracks and style. He was there all weekend, smiling a lot and mingling with the punters. Every request for pictures or just a few words was met like a true gentleman.
With the new site and an increase in capacity we are given an additional stage. The Shack is nestled in the woods, adorned with computer screens, telephones and electrical paraphernalia from years gone by. The stage set is an art installation created for the festival by Arlen Figgis, son of renowned British director Mike Figgis. Along with the Shack DJs we get to see Just a Couple of Mums. With their aprons and dusters they throw out banger after banger to the delighted crowd, camp as hell, and undeniably delicious fun. Later this evening Klaus Blatter has a set scheduled, a booking I was really pleased to see on the line up. Sadly the speakers failed and this really impinged on his quirky act. The set went ahead on monitors but didn’t have the punchy sound from earlier in the day.
After so much dancing it was time to refuel. There was a great selection of food stands including pizza, chips, curry, jerk chicken and vegan burritos. Re-energised, we head back up to the main stage to see Uncle Dugs who, as hoped, put out an old school Jungle DnB set. Smashed it is a suitable summary, he never disappoints. The arena closes just after 2.30am and is made ready for a midday opening on Saturday, so we head back to our campsite to get some much needed kip. Today was perfect, pure rapture.
Saturday is a beautiful sunny warm day. This allows for plenty of lounging on long green grass outside of the stage tents, listening to great music. It felt like normality, relaxing, drinking beer in the sun with mates, we have missed it more than we realised. First up is a Q and A session with Barry Ashworth and Bez (from the Happy Mondays). Bez seems genuinely surprised that anyone has turned up to listen. He is a remarkably modest bloke and during the chat he was disarmingly honest. Barry asked him for memories of the Madchester days and he admitted he couldn’t remember much of it. We learnt a bit about his bee keeping, cheating on Bargain Hunt, being beaten up by a woman boxer when training for the celebrity boxing programme, Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Master Chef. He was honest that he does it for the money, to pay the bills, but doesn’t really like it. Bez is also very grateful that he gets the chance, purely because he was in the Mondays.
One of the acts missing from today is Doghouse Derelicts. Their guitarist, Dave Budgen (bass player with the Dub Pistols) is in hospital with meningitis. We wish him a speedy recovery.
As well as a stellar line up, Mucky Weekender also has some walk-abouts. We had the Queen in her mobility scooter, guarded by two Beefeaters. She seems to enjoy dancing with the crowd. Two Ents (scary walking trees) stalk through the woods stopping for selfies with people. There was a tuk-tuk, which had been given a Dub Pistol make-over. This was used to ferry the acts around the site. For those who cannot resist shopping, there were a few stalls including Tonic Music for Mental Health. They are a not-for-profit organisation, of which Barry Ashworth is a patron.
The highlights today include a great set from Seanie Tee, the Ragga Twins being nothing else but awesome, Natty Campbell and Chopstick Dubplate, Doorly and Terry Farley. We caught all the acts between us over the weekend and there wasn’t a single dodgy set which pays small tribute to the bookers. The Cuban Brothers, Too Many T’s, Krafty Kuts and Tractor Girl, amongst others, took their opportunities to universally smash it out of the park.
Lisa Loud, and Nancy Noise possibly had the hardest set time. They were up against the Dub Pistols headlining set, which saw a stage invasion of musicians who have worked with Barry over the years. We saw the return of MC Sirreal, along with the Ragga Twins, Rodney P, and Natty Campbell. It was shewdly crafted chaos, that the Dub Pistols do so well, and the crowd loved it. The love for the band was palpable and it was so fitting that they should headline the last night.
For those with any energy left, they could get their groove on to Tom Findlay (Groove Armada) on one stage and Bez’s Acid House Party on the other, both helping the crowd continue the party after the main stage show.
During the Q and A session we heard some of Barry Ashworth’s infamous stories of the sticky situations he has found himself in. This festival was certainly not one of those events. This festival is a triumph, made perfect because of Barry and his team’s hard work and dedication to put on the best festival, where everyone is a star and smiles are put firmly back on everyone’s faces. After a fairly crap 2020 and 2021, Mucky Weekender could be considered a reward for our patience and resilience this year, as well as a tonic for our mental health. If you want a great party with a friendly crowd and quality acts, I would seriously recommend this next year. Bring your dancing boots.
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