Nibley Festival is one of those which, on paper, seems too good to be true. First up, it sells out instantly year on year without any expensive marketing campaign or massive behemoth acts a la Glastonbury; secondly it takes place in one of the finest festival settings - the lush green Cotswolds in the shadow of the iconic Tyndale monument (recognisable from the latest TV series of Sherlock); it’s a not for profit event, so money raised is divided between good causes and reinvested into the following year’s festival; finally, it’s impeccably organised and very reasonably priced (tickets, food and drink). Oh, and sun was beaming all afternoon.
The journey between the car park and campsite and main arena is easy, getting in and out of the car park a breeze, collecting tickets straightforward and once you’re inside the story remains the same. The layout is well thought-out, an expanse of green ripe for sitting and chilling on (save for the village cricket pitch in the middle of the site), up front two stages - each taking it in turns to provide live music so there’s never a dull moment, around the edge lots of delicious food stalls and a bar selling local ales and ciders. It’s easy to spot the bands wandering among the middle-class masses here, they’re the super cool looking dudes - more often than not, all dressed in black.
This isn’t the kind of place you come to get merry and rowdy and there’s no escaping the family-friendly vibe (depends which camp you’re in as to whether you’ll enjoy this). This year sees an entire Big Top dedicated to entertaining kids with a circus theme this year - young wannabe clowns and jesters spin plates, try weird cycling contraptions and hula hooping til the cows come home. It’s the perfect way to introduce kids of all ages to the festival experience without worrying they’ll get lost/wasted/bored/all of the above.
The fact of the matter is, you could enjoy this festival without knowing any of the music a) because it’s about the good times as a whole and b) because you can trust the organisers to book some awesome festival bands, most of whom you’re yet to hear of. A solid mix of local favourites and touring acts get the canvas chair-seated crowd on its feet.
Skinny Lister opened up on the Nibley Stage, with their fun festival folk. With sniffs of Dodgy and Levellers, they’re the perfect openers for Nibley. Norma Jean Martine’s been getting a lot of interest lately, with a busy set at Bristol’s Dot to Dot in May, there’s a decent appetite for this kind of soulful young songstress - sadly, she doesn’t quite live up to the hype, and puts in a pretty forgettable set next to the other groups on the bill.
The Milk ratchet things up with their upbeat, soulful sounds, paving the way for Bristol’s Laid Blak to seal the deal - the crowd was putty in their hands as they bust out the reggae-inspired grooves, which draw upon dubstep, drum’n’bass and blues influences too. Their love for Bristol is apparent as they burst into a chorus of ‘Bristol Love’, name-dropping the M32. It’s not many musicians who can pull off writing songs about a motorway. Turns out it’s a double-hander today as Laid Blak head to St Paul’s Carnival too - a world away from Nibley. Nevertheless, they seem genuine in their appreciation for this awesome Nibley crowd and you get the impression that they, like many other band’s which have trod these boards will ask to come back!
Local girl done good, Stroud’s Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo hit the spot with some honey-toned vocals with soul - think Joss Stone meets Norah Jones. ‘Dear River’ has that Amy MacDonald style depth, with the Caitlin Rose cool - a killer mix. She commands the attention of the crowd like a siren and her sweet voice fills the field.
Frank Turner collaborators, the Bristol-based Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun add a sprinkling more nu-folk to proceedings. The angsty, earnest lyrics combine with rousing music with a punky-bite to create soaring sing-along ballads which rarely fail to impress in the Westcountry.
One of the biggest names on the bill is London‘s veteran rockers Turin Brakes, the radio-friendly indie group is well-versed in playing to sunny festival crowds and offer up a set of soothing understated anthems. Since the release of their debut Optimist LP, they’ve been consistent in producing albums throughout the 2000s and have retained a solid fan base - but for many of this crowd, they’re the band you didn’t realise you knew. Songs such as ‘Underdog (Save Me)’ and ‘Emergency 72’ inducing light-bulb moments in the toe-tappers in the audience.
As the sun sets on Nibley (and what a sunset it is), The Heavy finish the party in style. They’ve not had too far to come tonight, their hometown of Bath being just 30-40 minutes away and they’ve clearly got some dedicated fans in, singing along to their funk soul indie blend. You can hear a range of ever-changing influences in there - from soaring Kasabian style vibes, to a James Brown/Charles Bradley twang and, in places, sounding like a soulful version of Toploader they’re eclectic to the core. The stage show is lively and compelling and makes you feel like part of the family. A fitting end to a fabulous day.
If you want to join in the fun next year, you’d better be quick off the mark = with this hidden gem’s success spreading by word of mouth it’s sure to be another sell-out success again next year.
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