Set in the beautiful Mendip hills, the site, Ferne Hill Farm, is not too hard to find, a couple of missed turns as the direction signs had taken a battering in the rain, but no dramas.
Wristband exchange is a Graffiti art covered caravan and a friendly Irish lady welcomes us. After a bit of confusion and holding up awning poles we get banded and given direction to the parking field; camping, handily, is a mere gateway away. We've managed to get the tent up in the dry, avoiding the showers, and off to the music area we go.
A smiling hello from security as we walk in to effectively a barnyard, set up with a couple of small marquees, one as a bar, the other the food outlet for the weekend, a quick glance shows a small but decent menu. Well, it's Friday night and Funke and the Two Tone Baby is our first music! Tonight is a kinda add on night that is becoming more popular, so the audience is small and sipping cider, think I best sample my first after a long week!
It lives up to its name of Outcider with at least a dozen local ciders. Choices from the likes of Hecks, West Milton, Cyderspace, Tricky, Lawrence Hill, and Roger Wilkins. Plastics pint glasses are 50p, this we are told will go to a charity, over on a nearby desk are 'graffiti your glass' stickers and sharpies to write your name or whatever you fancy on and then keep it for the weekend.
This system seemed to work very well, as I don't think I saw a discarded glass all weekend. Funke is putting is usual hi energy one man show with guitar, harmonica, beatbox and loopbacks. Will Varley was next up, telling us of a shouty night he'd had recently, so a few vocal warm ups with the crowd gets us yawning and humming like air raid sirens. Crisp vocals sorted and melodic guitar Will sings modern day folk songs of social observation.
A quick mooch over to the food tent to have a look at what's on offer tonight reveals vegetarian bean chilli served with crispy skinned potato, salad, soured cream, guacamole and tortilla chips very wholesome and filling and only six pounds! Shoot The Moon a 7 piece ska outfit whose tight sound of brass, guitars and vocal bring a great bouncy end to Friday's music.
Woken by the sounds of cockerals this morn (Saturday) reminds me that we are on a farm in the Mendips. This is a truly rustic setting, the stages are set in two barns, the bigger of the two has a great stage created from what look like barn beams. Along the edges of the barns are giant wool/fleece sacks providing dry and comfy seating and the barriers in front of the sound desks and stages are sheep pens.
I haven't danced in barns since some heady times in the distant old free party scene. Music starts at 12 today, with Paul McCoch! He welcomes the people arriving with a song dedicated to the morning drinkers while a hen wanders in. Snake Snake Snake are from a village called Burrowhill, which a few may recognise as the name of the cider producer that has the busy cider bus at another festival. They're missing there 3rd 'snake' a cellist, but entertain with local takes on 'Folsum Prison' and Shakin' Stevens' 'This Old House' along with ones about apple trees, flooding from the River Parret and cider smuggling (Smokie and The Bandit style).
John D Revelator are up next with songs of 'the ghost of Windmill Hill' and 'dads in sheds on party drugs'. John D Revelator, Malarkey are a bouncy 5 piece, Caribbean voiced outfit from the Midlands. Their loud and energetic ska set leaves the singer sweating. These guys seemed to enjoy their whole weekend as they stayed on all festival.
Mid afternoon and we've had really good veggie burgers before watching The White City Shakers, Yan Yates & The State Union Radio play an easy Southern sound with washboard, banjo, guitar and box, while Fish Hook are on in the smaller barn, playing a punk rockabilly set with heavier bass tones, lively guitars and higher female vocals.
We go local with Inbredz bring us proper West Country comedy hip-hop, with 'A Fist Full Of Shrooms!' and others, and gets the crowd laughing and dancing along. Gaz Brookfield plays a set of songs about his personal life and the West Country, playing an off the cuff extra verse to his song 'The Diabetes Blues' telling the crowd about his recent diagnosis from type 2 to type 1 diabetes and still no cider!
A brief stop by the central fire and I notice folk playing pub skittles in a field just over. The field next to this has the gents urinal in it, giving probably the nicest countryside vista from any latrine! The 'facilities' are basic but well looked after portaloos in the music areas and a couple of portacabins with flushing toilets in the camping ground. These we are told feed off to a wetland reed bed, I also noted a few quite large solar panel arrays adding to the green credentials of this site.
Captain Hotknives is a guy and guitar playing his own tunes, some controversial stuff in his set but mostly it's lighthearted. The Skimmity Hitchers are soundchecking and have us laughing even before they start their set, it bodes well for these cider fuelled singers who happen to have put this wonderful little festival together. 'Pint of Cider!', 'People Are Strange (in the west country)' and 'Black Rat' go down a storm to a happy crowd of hitchers! As does the mickey taking of one punter who apparently tried to bring some fizzy 'Irish' cider on site, luckily the no glass policy prevented such an ingress.
A lovely tofu curry for our supper fills us ready for the evening along with a top up of ciders. After some quite heavy rains over the previous night and periodic downpours during the day we are treated to a beautiful sunset. The site itself held up without worry just a few puddles on the farm tracks.
Gorgeous George are more than just one, a six piece with a London twang, 'John Wayne Enterprise' goes down well as does their version of 'Hookie Street'. They're not sure what part of the country they are in but enjoyed the gorgeous gorge (Cheddar) and thought it was like being in the old country.
Kunt and the Gang is warming up with some banter with his audience,"now don't rush me" he tell us, and a few comedy facts later and on we go. 'Bangers and Mash', 'A Gentlemans Wash' and tales of lonely nights in chain motels have most laughing and some, I think, wondering if he can get away with saying what he does. Does that bother him? Definitely not as he continues with hand puppets as his gang and more internet hits.
There's a bit of impromtu banjo jamming beside the large open fire in the middle between the bar, food and larger barn before Sonic Boom Six. This Manchester lot are lively and have a great not quite rock or punk sound, it's not quite inner city, rock steady or ska - yet a mix of all of those for me. They even chuck a Dexy's riff in t'boot .'Virus' and 'Monkey See, Monkey Do' get people moving.
Sunday morning arrives, weary folk stir and there is a waft of breakfasts being cooked. The small catering crew have worked hard all weekend serving full English to us from 8am with lunchtime variations of sliced locally reared meats and veggie options including cheese platters served on slate, crumpets and burgers.
My first sup of the day is a light ale, Beach Blonde from Sunny Republic Brewery another west country enterprise. The only other concession on site is the Ferne Animal Sanctuary, more on that in just a bit.
Commander McNeil starts off the music for us today, a weekend of firsts for him he states, his first gig in Wales, and his first gig at 12 midday! "Who the fucking hell are Slipknot?" gets us shouting a song about "Paul" and hints of Chumbawumba's Give The Anarchist A Cigarette.'
QELD a hip hop duo, that sing over Bristol type trip hop backing sound, bring us their tunes of recreational usage, A.C.A.B and dislike of the institutions! Then Oscar Everard plays a few classics of The Stones, Pogues and Hendrix as well as his own stuff over the background vocals provided by the house martin chicks in the nesting box above.
Disco's Out (Murder's In) take up the sheep shearing shed stage now, donning paper hats to hide their hangovers under. A lively, fun, 7 strong young bunch with a 4 piece brass section and a sweet jar full of flying saucers. Out cide the barn some human shearing takes place with a few people getting mohicans and dyes in aid of the animal sanctuary.
The Paper Trains play a southern, truck driving cap wearing sound while some crew/residents watch from the balcony inside this barn. The Devils Rejects, well two of them start up, the rest of the band haven't quite made it here yet, playing an American/Irish set. The stage livens as the other half of the band get here to complete the sound, giving a Dropkick Murphys/ Flogging Molly inspired feel, which gets my gypsy pegs dancing especially to the finale of 'Raggle Taggle Gypsy O'.
A quick skip to the second barn for Willowen, the main singer reminds me of a cross between the singer from ugly kid Joe and a Californian surfer, yet their sound is a lovely violin guitar and percussion box.
The Hellfire Orchestra give a taste of a guitar driven set with a tad of mandolin too, a really good feel that would go down a storm in many a tight venue.
Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons now give us or possibly only me a sound of late 80's, women's vocal rock (band from Wayne's world!). 'Still Livin With Mum n Dad' and 'Playing In A Rock n Roll Band!' went down well with their audience as did their well polished and professional set.
A stop for evening supper gets us chatting to a lady who spots the shirt I'm wearing to reveal a possible secret gig to me, and its local this has been a really friendly weekend with plenty of like minded people chatting with other randoms. This evenings choices were vegan chilli or vegetarian lasagne or sliced meats with jacket potatoes and salad.
Once fed, it's time to move to banjo and washboard duo, Dana Immanuel, welly tapping ladies accessible sound is easy to listen to. The Haywains, play some punchy 1minute30 songs with an old festival punk smash!
Neck were one of my main musical pulls to this festival and they didn't dissappoint. with obvious comparisons to The Pogues, the London/Irish band blast through some grand guitar, penny whistle and fiddle driven songs like 'Everybody's Welcome to the Hooley,' 'Psycho Ceadlih' and hunger strike activist, Bobby Sands, penned 'Back Home in Derry.'
Mad Dog Mcrea see us to our musical finale and right from the off their energetics lead to a broken string to whilst playing 'Raggle Taggle Gypsy O.' A quick string change whilst an instrumental is slotted in leads onto further favourites like the 'Bear Necessities' ,'Devil Goes Down To Georgia,' 'Stupid Little Things' and 'Happy Bus'.
With tired danced out legs, we depart the sheep shearing shed after brief thank yous from the organisers. This was a brilliant and simple festival organised by a team of cider appreciating folk and great tastes in the type of music they wanted played at their do.
All the bands and musicians we saw were of a top quality, as also was the sound. For the modest cost of the tickets, the festival could not be faulted in our opinion, especially if you'd snapped up tier one tickets at a bargain £29 for two days music, cider and camping.
The site is a compact size which makes seeing so much, so easy, and with programming of bands not overlapping and the beer and food tents handily placed between the two indoor stages, made for an entirely enjoyable experience. A proper job well done!
Let's hope for another Outcider next year.
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