Penn Festival is a triumph of optimism over adversity

Penn Festival 2012 review

published: Tue 17th Jul 2012

Soul II Soul

Saturday 7th to Sunday 8th July 2012
The Big Park, Horsemoor Lane, Buckinghamshire, HP7 0PS, England MAP
early bird £42.50 weekend + £16 for camping, under 12s free
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Thu 24th May 2012

The wet weather has been star turn at so many of this summer's festivals, and Penn festival was no exception. It got muddy, damn muddy. By Saturday afternoon the lush green Chiltern grassland had turned into a chocolate mousse quagmire, but with a certain mix of stoicism and irony Festival-goers made the best of a rather soggy weekend.

around the site (people)
Wary mothers looked on disapprovingly, but away from their daily conventions resistance was futile, their kids wallowed, slid and splashed around in the mires which grew wherever crowds passed through or massed up. Punks who looked old enough to know better did no better, irresistibly drawn into the morasses. Naturally there was wrestling and filthy bear hugs as the liquid mud bath in front of the spread to some thirty feet in diameter. Pepa Pig Heaven.

The Real Thing
By Sunday afternoon a trailer-load of straw had been incorporated into the mix giving it the consistency of medieval plastering material. When The Real Thing implored the crowd to 'Jump' those who did free their wellies from the bog could only manage 'Rooney' jumps, barely leaving the ground, as a wattle and daub deadweight clung to their boots. 90's one hit wonders Snap! fared better with their crowd interaction. It was mostly gesture based; you know "ROCK" fingers, pointing homeboy style and all that. More hands, less feet perhaps explaining why they were such a huge hit with this crowd. Thankfully their version of The Gap Band's 'Oops Upside Your Head' didn't provoke that bizarre sit-down dance people do at weddings. I wondered what the dance is called for a while, but it was really too wet to think – so like everyone else I just enjoyed the show.

Soul II Soul
Later there was a chance for mind elevation as the sensational Soul II Soul headlining set saw Jazzie B and crew roll out the vibes. Oh my gosh they were so good. Playing to a soaked, muddy rabble on a rainy night in deepest darkest Buckinghamshire was perhaps out of their usual element, but if so it didn't show. The audience were bang up for it too, so there were smiles all round when the bass boomed from festival's terrific Electro-Voice sound system. As we shuffled and sloshed in the summertime rain to 'Keep on Movin' it was all about the shared experience.

I noticed a fair few of the prime movers and shakers in the Saturday night crowd were there for Festival closing set from The Beat. Yet again the rain poured down, once more these hardy souls rose to the occasion and yet again the band didn't disappoint with a set stuffed full hits. There was no room for fair weather friends, strictly outdoor festival folks. Judging by appearances their heyday might well have been the late 80s/early 90s, certainly it was for most of the bands. Who would have thought to see Altered Images, or Rozalla at a Festival in 2012?

The Beat
To be fair it wasn't all forty-somethings playing in the mud, a wedding party made their presence felt with fancy dress and sheer drunken enthusiasm! With their marquee pitched right next to the main stage, but protected from the masses by a slightly incongruous low picket fence, the gang were hard to miss.

I guess that's part of this festival's attraction, buying a prime pitch probably works out cheaper than a boat trip to the Caribbean or suchlike. Certainly the party appeared to be having a fine time from start to finish. Along with the several hundred other of the hardcore who stuck it out to the muddy end they and were rewarded with great fun set from The Beat to close this Festival, with one more downpour and one more tune.

around the site
The mix of people did seem to work out nicely, enough family people, enough young people and enough kids to brew up a nice Festival atmosphere. There was plenty to keep the young kids entertained; those big hamster balls, a craft workshop where they made hobby hoses from old socks and even the fairground dodgems. And as we know there was plenty of mud for them to lark about in too. So with happy kids go happy parents and with the bad weather comes that 'Dunkirk' spirit. Adding a host of characters from the punks and wedding party and the festival certainly had an authentic festival vibe. Whether that's what people expect from a 'Boutique' festival I couldn't say, I think it was probably too muddy to qualify - not enough sitting around reading the Guardian. In fact, thanks to the soft ground fold up chairs were conspicuous by their absence. Anyone who managed 'Glamping' in the conditions would probably be embarrassed by the term.

It was the second Penn Festival, the first won plaudits at the 2011 Festival Awards, will the second? They won't get much praise for the parking arrangements, as the allocated field was impassable except by military or agricultural vehicles the cars spilled out into the narrow country lanes, blocking them for two way traffic. Despite being £4 a pint the bar was out of Ale for the silent disco on Saturday night, so no points there.

around the site
The acts weren't the usual you see on the bill, but if there is a substantive difference between reprising Festival bands and Pop acts of the 90s it seemed lost on this audience. They were a great fun crowd, singing and dancing along at every opportunity. They larked around in the mud, the campsite was alive 'til the small hours with laughs and jokes. In many ways it was a triumph of optimism over adversity. On the Sunday afternoon as the sun came out is was possible to picture what the site might be like in fair weather, green grass and trees swaying in a gentle breeze, people lying about on straw bales, the smell of ash burning in the wood fired pizza oven, laid back tunes over that top quality sound system. It would be well worth a visit.
review by: Ian Wright

photos by: Ian Wright

Saturday 7th to Sunday 8th July 2012
The Big Park, Horsemoor Lane, Buckinghamshire, HP7 0PS, England MAP
early bird £42.50 weekend + £16 for camping, under 12s free
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Thu 24th May 2012


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