Sea Change delivers on an ambitious musical line-up

Sea Change 2017 Review

published: Mon 4th Sep 2017

Nadia Reid

Friday 25th to Saturday 26th August 2017
various venues, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5QH, England MAP
£55 weekend tickets
last updated: Fri 4th Aug 2017

Traditionally August bank holiday weekends are rainy affairs, so planning to spend a couple of days at Totnes’ Sea Change Festival made perfect sense when my wife and I decided we wanted to return to this their second year, way back at the start of the year. 
However, on the first day, the Friday, it’s actually wall to wall sunshine, and although all the stages are indoors, most of them are radiating the heat of busy rooms in summertime. It’s nice then that you’re able to wander from venue to venue with the plastic cups, or sit outside and chill in the afternoon sun, or peruse the wares on offer in Totnes market, or take a break in a cool tea shop. Better yet peruse the vinyl treats on offer in Drift Records, who are responsible for this wonderful brace of music filled days, and also had record signings and impromptu appearances.
Many of the ticket holders clearly opt for the go to the nearby beaches ('6 miles thataway' I explain to some startled Air BnB dwellers who had assumed, from the name, the sea was a short walk away) or the banks of the River Dart which bisects the town. It’s clear a lot of people are late arrivals, as the number of bright pink festival wristband wearers rapidly increases as the sun dips enveloping the narrow streets in welcome shade. A lot more people turning up, forces the smaller venues to adopt a one in one out policy.
The biggest venue the Civic Hall, has a welcome air con by the door on the first day, but it’s gone to behind the bar by the second, leaving just pure baking heat, and little air flow even with open windows hidden behind the heavy drapes. There are cooler places to hang out like Totnes Cinema (showing an eclectic mix of films) and Birdwood House - home to talks from music writers and journalists Laura Barton and Laura Snapes, Simon Raymonde head of Bella Union records, Erased Tapes label founder Robert Raths, amongst others.
Unit 23 is a sweaty nightclub with a canvased cooler space outside, and the upstairs rooms of the Barrel House is indeed somewhere where your shirt sticks to your back. But it’s St Mary’s Church that becomes our favourite venue. It’s high ceilings, thick stone walls, and muted stained sunshine describe how it’s builders worked out how to stay cool. The sound here is also fabulous. We spend most of the two day festival enjoying the acts showcased before the altar. These are a little different, more stripped back acoustic affairs with subdued mood lighting. Holly Macve was our favourite last year but this year that accolade goes to Massayoshi Fujita whose mastery of the vibraphone, and explanations of the tunes, is spell bounding. 
The music line-up is surprisingly strong, we take the opportunity to enjoy acts that ease the clashes we would otherwise experience next week at End Of The Road. This is a great festival for the music fan with Temples, Jane Weaver, Hey Colossus, Grumbling Fur, Blanck Mass, Jambinai, Daniel Brandt and Eternal Something, Amber Arcades, Trembling Bells, Tasseomancy, Aldous Harding, H. Hawkline, and Nadia Reid, amongst the highlights on a line-up that really impresses us both, and punches above it’s weight for what seems like quite a small festival, and tickets for the weekend were only £55. We found out later that the included a special launch party on Thursday headlined by Gold Panda, free to ticket holders. Perhaps I should have read my emails a bit more closely. 
Away from the music the historic town has lots of bars offering a fringe programme of acts, and a host of ales, and ciders. Included in these is Totnes’ own New Lion Brewery who offered beer specially created for the purpose. There were street food pizza sellers and a cocktail bar set up near the Civic. The town is home to some decent restaurants - we enjoyed a seafood meal in the Bistro, and lost hours in The Bay-Horse Inn sampling their beers and ciders.
Bob the bright yellow bus took those camping at Dartington back to their campsite, and for those driving in each day there was plentiful car parking near Unit 23, handy for those wanting to enjoy Sex Swing, Jane Weaver, Chris Forsyth, or our personal favourites ILL who  started Saturday’s bill with energy. I’m really happy the organisers moved to this location from the Arts Centre as it made getting around all the venues that bit easier.
The organisers delivered a great line-up of acts, stewards were friendly, festival goers polite, and wonderfully respectful of the acts - keeping extremely quiet, especially in the church and creating a wonderful experience were we could really enjoy the live acoustics. 
My only gripe was the rather patchy sound in the Civic on the opening night, but the clarity of St Mary’s more than made up for it. It was the first time I managed to get into the Barrel House for live acts, I kept getting distracted by the DJs on the terrace last year. The venue is tiny but has a massive atmosphere when acts play just inches from you. That atmosphere is worth a ticket alone. Now I’ve said that, the one in one out queues will be down 2 streets!
I still managed to miss the special edition gastronomic feast that was Summerisle, here’s hoping it returns next year. I heard only good things about the pop up food place after the event had climaxed.PerhapsI should have read the £2 programme! 
This is the second year of a the festival, which is increasingly getting a reputation for good music, and boldly took a big step up in terms of acts showcased this year. It was mentioned numerous times beforehand on 6Music and talking to audience members some had travelled many miles to sample it’s aural delights. It felt like a well managed success, with acts often commenting how much they enjoyed their sets. Let’s hope it returns again next year, and firmly establishes itself as the best indoor summer festival on the calendar. Will they ever have, I wonder, their namesake Ellen A.W. Sundes make an appearance?

review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams

Friday 25th to Saturday 26th August 2017
various venues, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5QH, England MAP
£55 weekend tickets
last updated: Fri 4th Aug 2017

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