As I get older and the number of staple festivals I go to starts to dwindle, I know there will always be a couple of festivals that I cannot miss. One is Glastonbury, the daddy of them all, the cause of my festival addiction. And the other is Strummercamp. One is the size of Bath, the other the smallest festival I have been to, held just in the grounds of a rugby club. But as many should know by now, music is not the only thing to make a festival, it’s the people, and as Strummercamp's message says; "Without People We Are Nothing". Over the past decade (well, all bar one year) I have seen this festival grow from one stage to the four stages it has now, I’ve seen the same faces over that decade, met more along the way, and had to see people say goodbye to old faces, but the spirit never changes, not matter how many people are here. This festival just cannot lose as it never attracts any trouble, everyone is on that same wavelength, and Joe Strummer’s spirit shines throughout the event.
This year’s ten year event marks a true milestone for Three Amigos, now sadly down to two since Dave Howard had to go a couple of years ago, (but he is still remembered as the indoor stage is still named after him). Kev and Phil truly put their all into organising this event year after year, with no eye for any gain, just to hold an event like this, and it shows throughout the place. Even down to how clean the place is, there’s hardly any litter, people watch out for each other, even the wall of deaths are polite, fallen cameras and change are handed back, there’s no theft, no crime, no trouble reported, and the event numbers increase every year with no correlation to any more trouble happening. Strummercamp just so happens to attract a good bunch of people, the best in fact, and walking around it does leave you with a sense that humanity is alive and well, and practiced by many people, some who out in the real world people may cross the road to avoid (tattoos, mohicans, ripped jeans) but this outdated and unfounded stereotypical view comes crashing down here. I can call them my Strummer family, and we’re back again for our annual meet up.
The huge main undercover stage is still here, a Strummercamp staple due to Manchester’s well known wet weather. The outdoor acoustic stage is now a more amplified stage (The Compadres Stage). Many people did not like the loud late night dub tent from last year, so that has not returned (Strummercamp listens to the people!). The Hempen Jig stage is also on the campsite and undercover, right next to the Art show, featuring work from David Worth, Dale Grimshaw, Joshy Hislop, Joe Mutanti, Tony Unu Shaw, Paul ‘Aitch Art’ Hannah, Rachael Haney, Jez Keefe and Dr Victor Freakinstyle. This is full of so much creative talent, from cartoon punk images, tattoos, drawings, live gig photographs and interesting models.
The face painters are back this year, with kids and adults alike joining in on the fun. There are plenty of children here as always, and as always they are allowed in for free, and get just as involved as the parents do, mini moshpits, singing along, all bar the alcohol drinking!
The campsite has been cordoned off a little this year as a guide, as it really has swelled this year, meaning there is no room for the Sunday 5-a-side football tournament. Mind you after the belting drinking weather on Saturday and Sunday bringing some rain in (though nowhere near what there was last year) there were some sorry looking faces roaming about on Sunday so maybe it was a good thing! Toilets, I will mention here, are cleaner than many you would find at festivals, and the inclusion of a male urinal this year means I only queued in the actual club.
There are two bars on site, one outside (and again undercover) and the one as part of the rugby club. Pub prices are upheld for the weekend (I did hear the Club, who run during the festival but do not organise it, did put up the price a little bit, but it’s still average what it is on a night out). Food is available from 7.30am to midnight in the club and outside, selling burgers, chili, paninis, tofu, veggy options and the best pies I have ever had at a festival! Steak and sweet potato and the cheese and kale Strummercamp special were favourites (yeah we had to try a few didn’t we, to get an overall view…)
Not being used to the sun here and getting quite warm inside on the Saturday, we spent a couple of hours chilling out under the club seating areas people watching. You can see the broad scope of punters here, the old punks, younger punks, kids, and everyone gets along. It really is a community spirit, and one which is growing all the time judging by the amount of people here.
The bands range from those the older folks remember like Ruts DC, The Men They Couldn't Hang, King Kurt, to those that the younger folks “get more”, like A Fish Called Bastard , Kleine Schweine, and Revenge of the Psychotronic Man to those that bridge the gap like Backyard Burners, The Yalla Yallas, Goldblade, and Babylon Dub Punks. The Roughneck Riott, a hardworking band that have played nine Strummercamps, have progressed from the TNS stage to the main stage, and now fill that main stage, and all ages love them. It’s nice to see them grow up this way, and nice to see them back again. The festival also does a lot to help newer bands, like my own (Captain Shitbeard I can name drop as a perk ay?!) who they allowed to play even though the bill was very full as it is the tenth anniversary.
The broad range of music too, from rockabilly, hardcore, old school punk, Oi!, folk, dub, blues, it really does introduce you to a lot of bands and sounds over the 3 days. Entry on the Friday (where live music and DJing warm folk up) is available with a weekend ticket, which are still a bargain at £65 (£140 for a family ticket, 14-16 year olds £20, day tickets £35). Merchandise is also a bargain, and there’s a raffle on for £150 of Doc Martens vouchers. The festival is not for profit, no corporate sponsors, so all the funds raised go into organising next year’s event.
Once the main stages have finished too (some earlier than others, the Compadres and Hempen Jig close around 7pm, the Main Stage about 11pm) the indoor stage (which are hosted on separate days by TNS Records and Spannered) stay open for late night music from the likes of Jake and the Jellyfish, and John Player Specials, and the DJ carries it on until around 2-3pm. Stand out bands for me were SuperFast Girlie Show (two basses!), The Urban Voodoo Machine, The Roughneck Riot, King Kurt, Bug, Def Digby, X Ray Cat Trio, Joe Solo, Backyard Burners, Kleine Schweine, Faintest Idea, and hats off to Revenge of the Psychotronic Man for bringing a dingy… that thing was a highlight for many crowdsurfers, or should I call them crowdsailors! Ahoy!
As always, I look forward to next year, as this festival does it for all the right reasons, unites the right people with the right attitudes, and is the safest and friendliest event and the only place I want to be on this May bank holiday. Long live Strummercamp!
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