magine there's a farmer who likes music and sends his cows on holiday once a year to hold a festival on his farm, and it eventually takes over his and his daughter's life…. No, not Mr Eavis, this one here is called Nosworthy (Worthy!). And the little festival with a capacity about 5,000 is Nozstock; it spreads over some rolling hills in the Frome valley, I guess that's there the subtitle The Hidden Valley comes from.
Hey, although this event is celebrating its 20th birthday this is my first time at Nozstock!
We'd heard good things about it, and I like to try a new one every now and then, but perversely the date always clashed with WOMAD, which is an indelible fixture in my festival calendar. However, 2018 is the year in which someone in their great wisdom chose to hold Nozstock the weekend before that other one. The sensible part of my brain told me that doing two festivals on successive weekends might not be such a good idea, the not-so-sensible part muttered that they might move the date again next year and in that case, I'd never find out what I was missing.Unsurprisingly, the less sensible part of me won this argument. Plus, the bf really wanted to go, and he's doing three festivals in a row, so what excuse do I have?
The nearest town is Bromyard. Wiki tells me that there once was a Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster Railway, alas, it fell afoul of the Beeching cuts in the 60s and now it is bus and car only, if you want to get there. From London where I live, it's a bit cumbersome without wheels, although the festival organises one direct coach (and another direct one from Bristol); if you can book a place in time (and if the departure time suits you), you're in luck. Anyway, it's worth the trouble, most people I chat to are friendly locals: from Worcester, Birmingham, a smattering of Bristolians - as a Londoner I feel quite exotic here!
The bf & I arrive on Friday around 12.30, the campsite is already quite full but we find a not-too-slopey slot near the main entrance. No shade, though. This being July 2018, it is of course hot. Properly, record breakingly hot. So hot, that a few rain showers on Friday afternoon are most welcome for the dust and perspiration control they bring. So hot that every sliver of shade under the trees is occupied and the Split Screen ice cream van does roaring business all weekend (delicious unusual flavours such rhubarb and custard help too). I bet the bars with their selection of local beers and ciders did good business too.
You can arrive on Thursday afternoon to set up your tent, but the music starts mid-day Friday. Camping is separate from the arena with its 10 stages, but the site is so compact that you can lie back in your tent and listen to the main stage bands - and a bit of noise from other stages into the bargain. No long walks between venues here, but some steep slopes to negotiate (I saw some people doing this with wheelchairs and mobility scooters - respect).
The main entrance to the campsite leads us straight to the Orchard Stage area, surrounded by some gnarled old apple trees, it's the biggest stage with all the headliners. Confession time - I do not really care much for any of those headliners: Chase & Status, Grandmaster Flash and Goldfrapp; though the Grandmaster's Saturday set was quite interesting with its first half being a tour through the history of Hip Hop. They all draw a decent crowd, but I'm relying on good set of sub-headliners here, and hoping for some yet-to-me-unknowns to be discovered.
Just around the corner to the left of the main is the smaller Garden Stage, the old farmhouse is hidden right behind those two stages. The schedule tries to take turns between them, and both are properly loud. A range of food and merch stall surround them. To the left of this double-stage-centrepiece a path leads downhill to The Coppice, there Bristol's Tribe of Frog have their residence and pump out Psytrance until the small hours, under a canopy of leaves, disco balls and fluorescent butterflies - very pretty. Another path leads to an area called Elephant's Grave - local lore has it that there really was an old circus elephant buried here about 70 years ago. This stage is nestled next to a pond and decorated with, you probably guessed it, elephant themed sculptures. It features mostly DJs, pumping out Reggae during the day and Techno in the later hours.
To the right of the main stage a path leads down to The Altered State area with a big Smithy where you can learn how to forge iron (in that heat! argh!), or you can pick something lighter such as making willow baskets, carve wooden mushroom sculptures etc. Then there's a healing tent with yoga, massage and general support (bet they did a lot of heatstroke/sunburn treatments) and The Department of Cultural Affairs that hosts talks and discussions, workshops, theatre shows and in the evenings, comedy.
Further on, there's another tent with a bar, a dance area and a mini stage in a cage (really!), called the Cabinet of Lost Secrets. A bit spooky, it really comes alive at night. And then, The Band Stand, featuring mostly unsigned bands and delivering some of the nicest surprises of the weekend for me. It's got a whiff of musical Americana about it, even the tracks they play between the bands are in that vein.
Past the Bandstand, there's The Little Wonderland - Kids have their own pretty corner of the festivals where the Spare Room Arts team has designed a programme of music, dance, and all kinds arts & crafts activities especially for them. A lost kids hut is located right next to it. Some more food and merch stalls, including the delicious Authentic India, a friendly haven for hungry vegetarians, past the Wrong Direction's Cinema with its whacky programme and then there's a little bridge to cross and you're back at the main Orchard Stage, full circle.
We spend most of Friday ambling around, sampling a bit of music here and there and admiring the site. The Lovely Eggs duo are rocking the Orchard Stage as we start, we later listen to Honeyfeet from afar, and to We Are Scientists a bit more close-up, they are new to me but I quite enjoyed them and their banter. The Selecter are subbing, good old festival reliables. The real finds of the day are on The Bandstand Stage though, pleasant psychedelia by Johnny Smyth (slightly misleading name, it's a band, not a solo artist) and later, The White Feather Collective with their West Coast influenced rock, surprisingly original songs for such a vintage genre. Finally, there's Copper Feel in that cage venue, then a bit more Psytrance, and I'm done, although the Tribe of Frogs throbs away until about 3.30 in the Coppice.
The clear and chilly night makes for a pleasant rest, but Saturday is another hot one, with just a bit of welcome cloud cover here and there. We sample folksy Boatbar to Hamburg at the Bandstand and catch the roaring end of The Whipjacks' set at the Orchard Stage. Mad Dog Mcrea makes us miss Reginald D Hunter's comedy slot; every year I'm telling myself that I want to sample a bit of comedy at a festival, but music always wins out in the end. The Mad Dog is funny too, though. Then again a strong sub at the main stage with the Dub Pistols, but we skip second half of the Grandmaster (I'm getting too old to be told to have my hands up in the air ALL the time!) for a little wander and eventually wind up at The Coppice with DJ Nuky, she's in full swing.
Sunday has the best line up for us and we mostly stick to the main stage area. Childcare, Mad Apple Circus and Seas of Mirth put in good performances, but my personal favourite is Macka B, a man on a mission to make the world a better place through Reggae. On a 45. He wants to legalise ganja, he wants us to treat each other as equals, wants us not to join gangs and to embrace the vegetarian life style. He's got his work cut out, but it's all delivered in good humour and his song about all the good things vegans actuallycan eat is very funny. So are his efforts to get this crowd to sing a chorus consisting of "Cucumber! Cucumber!" with a Jamaican accent. Another stroll past the Bandstand, Jeremy Huggett's Chosen 5 are putting on some swinging jazz, a short rest and then back to the Orchard for The Blockheads. Afterwards our paths part for a while, because bf likes Goldfrapp and I really do not. But that works out well for me, because it means I get to hear some of True Strays' set on that Bandstand, it really is the stage of discoveries for me. True Strays are a band from Bristol and play fabulous rock, rhythm and blues, so enjoyable that I hang around for a chat and buy their cd after they've finished. Happy memories.
Nozstock is an event with a proper party atmosphere. They have a powder paint fight every day. Saturday afternoon sees a 20th birthday party at the Shambling Deck, complete with free drinks, nibbles, a big cake and a group of guests dressed as a shoal of fish. Never fails to amaze me how much effort some people are putting into their outfits. At night, big standing fire logs are lit in The Altered State area and one evening a big phoenix sculpture crafted by kids during the day is set alight. Sunday finishes with big fireworks after the main stages close, the smaller ones rumble into the night.
Although they are sold out on weekend tickets (some Sunday day tics were still available), the site never feels particularly crowded; this is partially due to good flow arrangements, but mostly thanks to the incredibly chilled and good-natured crowd itself. We didn't see anything remotely resembling aggro all weekend, quite something considering the amount of beer and cider that must have been imbibed. Plenty of bars and all that sunshine seem to mix well here. The mostly local crowd really seems to cherish having such a nice event at their doorstep, and they want to keep it that way.
I am already in the way home when, flicking through the programme (a very reasonable £3), I realise that I never really explored an area called The Cubicles. Ah well, bring on the next one - and don't move the date back again! Some anonymous poetic genius (no, not me) came up with the following verses, copied faithfully (yes, by me) from one of the many witty signs dotted around the site; I guess it captures perfectly how most revellers feel about Nozstock, so let me quote it to finish:
Who art in Bromyard
Nozzy be thy name
Thy festival come
Thy Groove be done
In a Field as it is in a Cowshed
Give us this day our daily Groove, and
Forgive us our Hangover
As we forgive those who
Accidentally spill our pint.
And please do
lead us into Temptation
For thine is the
Drum & Bass
and the Reggae
line-ups & rumours
line-ups & rumours
Fat Freddys Drop, The Wailers, Shy FX, David Rodigan, Grandmaster Flash,