Willowman folk are there to party, dance and enjoy themselves

Willowman Festival 2014 review

By Trevor Eales | Published: Wed 2nd Jul 2014

around the festival site

Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd June 2014
Hillside Rural Activities Park, Oaktree Bank, Thirsk, North Yorkshire , YO7 4AX, England MAP
£65 for weekend (+ booking fee)
Daily capacity: 5,000
Last updated: Wed 30th Apr 2014

This was my first visit to Willowman, which billed itself as a family friendly festival in North Yorkshire. I was keen to see what it had to offer.

Arriving on a sunny Friday afternoon, first impressions were of a small, compact event that appeared well organised, with friendly helpful staff. The campsite was busy but not cramped, and situated close to car parking and music. It was immediately apparent that there was a wide age span among those present. Toilet and washing facilities seemed basic but were clean and well maintained throughout the weekend.

As I wandered into the arena, Hope & Social were beginning their set on the main stage. They described themselves as a Yorkshire E Street Band. Some tracks possessed that storytelling element and the full band sound with guitar, brass and keys prominent, was certainly reminiscent of early Springsteen at times. They made a pleasing start, with their matching blue blazers resplendent in the early evening sun.

Friday’s headliner,  Craig Charles played a crowd friendly medley of soul and funk classics. The expertly chosen tracks had the desired effect of getting the audience moving and was undoubtedly well received, although it left me feeling that I was watching a well oiled set that was a proven crowd pleaser. More impressive were Smoove & Turrell who preceded Charles. A really tight band with some great soul and funk material, and impressive vocals, they were a perfect warm up and more, for the headliner.

I ventured with some anticipation to The Willow Wobbly Stage, unsure of what to expect. Did the name relate to a stage that had somehow by-passed health and safety regulations, was it a reference to the structure of the tent? No, it was Willow Wobbly Ale, specially brewed for the festival and served in the bar at the rear of the tent.

Entertainment followed a pattern set by the main stage with a mixture of, “heritage acts of a certain age,” mixed with bands from Yorkshire and the North East. What most of those achieving success had in common was music aimed at getting an audience onto their feet and moving.

“Willow Wobblers” were treated to dub / punk sounds of Ruts DC, Eddie And The Hot Rods high energy rock n’ roll, heavy dub sounds of Radical Dance Faction, and the excellent Bessie and the Zinc Buckets, for whom every song imaginable presented a rockabilly opportunity. Poor Ian McNabb, playing some great guitar based songs to a diminishing audience, eventually turned to experimentation, playing abridged pop and rock classics and counting by how many each new track increased his audience.

Saturday was a day of nostalgia, some great music and one surreal experience.

Returning to my car mid afternoon I discovered a local village cricket match in full flow. Deciding to briefly chill in the sun and take in this most pastoral and conservative of English summertime experiences, I couldn’t help notice the incongruity of the men in white with their deck chaired audience, as the air and ground vibrated with dub heavy sounds emanating from the dance tent a mere 40 metres away. Who knows what the cricketers made of it!

One band who typified the mood and spirit of the festival were ska collective Pikey Beatz, who were first to really arouse the crowd with their late Saturday afternoon set. Performance over, they proceeded to party and dance the evening away with the rest of the audience.

The Blockheads were musical excellence; thrilling the crowd who were on their feet singing and dancing to a set filled with classics and a sprinkling of newer material. Many of the songs speak for themselves but the band played with great technical ability and an obvious enthusiasm that brought both music and audience to life.

The Wailers were introduced by Steve Williams, festival organiser who had apparently been trying to book the band for 3 years. Steve “Mr Willowman” deserves a few words in his own right. Over the weekend he was ever present, talking to crew, store holders, guests, making speeches and playing guitar with several performers. The guy deserves great credit for putting on such a well run festival.

So what of the Wailers? Thoroughly enjoyable and professional and without doubt greatly appreciated. How could they be anything but a resounding success with such a great back catalogue!

Sunday was a strange day.

It began a little too early; brought about by a combination of hot sun beating on my overheated tent and some over exuberant small children. Mid morning brought a relaxing vibe; sat of the grass listening to the dulcet tones of Northallerton Silver Brass Band as they played a selection of pop classics, movie themes and nursery rhymes.

The first performer to grace the main stage was tousle haired Australian troubadour Kim Churchill. His vocal range and skills on guitar, harp and drum, mesmerised the lunchtime audience to such an extent that he was still selling and signing CD’s 20 minutes after completing his set; a real success.

Being a “Willowman virgin” I was not prepared for what followed. As the afternoon progressed more and more of the audience drifted away, clearly going home. I felt really sorry for main stage headliners The Baghdaddies who played a sterling “Balkanistic” (their term) set of Balkan beats to an audience which was by then, smaller than that which greeted the first performer of the day.

Willowman billed itself as a family friendly festival with a great atmosphere. There was a real mix of ages, with plenty of activities for both adults and children in a workshop / acoustic field. There is no doubting its appeal to families and differing ages and the atmosphere could not be faulted. In my opinion, there are differences between it and other “family friendly” festivals such as Wychwood. Willowman had a more alternative and less wholesome feel and was better for it. The audience, of whatever age, were there to party, dance and enjoy themselves and without doubt they did.

Was it a success? Yes – Friday and Saturday were both great days with good music and really lively and positive atmosphere.

review by: Trevor Eales

photos by: Trevor Eales

Latest Updates

Willowman Festival 2018
festival details
last updated: Mon 4th Jun 2018
Willowman Festival 2018
line-ups & rumours
last updated: Mon 4th Jun 2018
Willowman Festival
festival home page
last updated: Fri 8th Dec 2017
Willowman Festival 2017
festival details
last updated: Fri 21st Apr 2017