Review

Wychwood Music Festival 2005

published: Wed 8th Jun 2005

Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June 2005
Cheltenham Racecourse, Prestbury Park ,Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 4SH, England MAP
£69 w/e adults, £50 w/e 11-18 yr olds, £5 camping per ticket.
last updated: Thu 12th May 2005

Another classic World festival in the making, in it’s first year Wychwood has all the potential of becoming a firm favourite on the festival calendar. Some people were moaning it was too early in the year, but you can’t guarantee good weather at any point in an English summer. The large crowd dancing happily in the rain to Sunday’s headliner Alabama 3 is testament to the fact that if the audience want to have a good time they will. With daytrippers swelling the numbers each day and a fair few campers, this festival has all the makings of becoming a great rival to WOMAD.

It might have been a little unorganised to start with, but it was the first time they’d put on a festival and they took up the reins and improved throughout the weekend. The line up was clearly aimed at pleasing us and impressive it was too. Cheltenham has a flourishing music scene as all the local bands who played are great! Much more diverse than those offered by most festivals of this size on the calendar. Everyone who played, that I saw drew a good crowd and I didn’t see a band I wanted to walk away from all weekend.

So what made Wychwood different? Well aside from the fact it’s on Cheltenham Racecourse! First off there was allowing us to drive onto the campsite to drop off our tents and bags and then drive back to a proper car park and park. Best of both worlds, with just tents in the campsite and no long hikes carrying your kit.

Then there was the split of the camps, there was a quiet one, a noisy one, one for campervans and a few other combinations, there was even a tipi. I’ve seen other folk festivals implement this but it was nice to see it at a more rootsy event. No complaints from neighbours saying we’re keeping them up. Not that we did, we were ready for bed most nights after such a packed day and the sound of respectful revelry from other tents never kept us awake.

What made it even better was that the artists camped with us too. I was able to tell Captain Paranoid how much I enjoyed his amazing crazy set while he used our stove to make coffee. Mornings were relaxed with kids practising poi or football and adults playing bodhrans, banjos, guitars and tom toms.

The post festival club actually in a posh room in the racecourse's hospitality suite was a great idea. We went on the Saturday with Andy Skank getting young and old dancing with his fantastic selection of top tunes. Plus, there were others delighting crowds on the other nights. Okay, it was a bit like being at a plush wedding reception in the middle of the festival and the one in one out system and queues niggled some festival goers. But what a way to escape for a few hours and by all accounts Alabama 3’s impromptu set rocked on the Sunday night. Plus there were some surprises like the amazing displays of Breakdancing by Wild Animus.

Wychwood also boasts a wide ranging and full programme of Arts and crafts and workshops, which were given more room than any other festival in proportion to the size of the festival. With music workshops, dancing, expressive arts and even a graffiti workshop. Plus the fabulous Groovie Movie, the solar powered cinema, yay! You couldn’t help but get involved as you passed the stripy tents. It was also good to see many of the day trippers getting involved too. Perfect for kids of all ages and not a bored child was seen all weekend!

Then there were the huge Japanese kites floating over the racecourse itself. Creating a surreal feeling as you gazed at a huge rainbow manta ray, a giant octopus, a huge green eyed salamander and a woman snorkelling with a couple of fish trailing behind her. I hope they become a regular feature of future festivals at Wychwood. More fun still was being able to make a kite in one of the workshops after some Bolywood Dancing on the Sunday and watch the main stage while flying our own kite overhead.

The most amusing difference between this and other festivals was that amazingly it ran out of Wychwood Real Ale within a day of being open. Now this wasn’t as you’d expect because the place was wall to wall real ale bearded types, far from it, but I think an underestimate of how much they needed as well as the fact it tastes so lovely. The bar staff were apologetic and made amends by playing fantastic rock and roll every few hours in the acoustic tent/Zodiac Bar.

The two stages are very close to each other, it very compact and bijou and there’s little sound clash apparent. It works very well it means you can flit between the two stages, taking in the musical styles more often then not very different. The main stage is a small open air dome and to one side of the arena is the big top housing the second stage and one of the Wychwood Brewery bars.

Best of all were those that were there, everyone was mellow, happy and friendly in all weathers. With a diverse mix of ages and I neither saw nor heard of any trouble the whole weekend. Credit to the stewards and marshals who were friendly and helpful throughout and a special mention has to go to the two dancing throughout the rain in front of the main stage during Damien Dempsey.

All the bands had a good turn out to watch them, everyone enjoyed them, lots of people danced to them. The bands could feel this enjoyment and so upped their performances. On the whole it’s a more mellow mature crowd with kids, but I did notice there were also many youngsters with a good ear for fine music.

And it’s the music here, which is a real winning combination. From the opening act of the Angel Brothers through to the Finnish band Varttina, the incredible Matthew Herbert and a full big band which works very well at a festival, I was pleasantly surprised to the huge solo performance of the legendary Steve Earle. Well apart from his duet with the wonderful Allison Moorer.

For example there’s the lilting, haunting folk produced by the Jim Moray 4 on at the same time and contrasted by the determined style of flamenco and Arabic fusion of the wonderful Radio Tarifa. It was clashes of great musical sounds all weekend but with the stages so close you could sample both. Though I was difficult not to get drawn in to one enchanting band and miss another.

I can’t stress too much just how impressed I was with the bands on offer. Laid back harmonies and Byrds’ stylings of The Earlies singing to an enthralled, packed Big Top one day to Jaga from Norway who have a hugely impressive festival sound, big landscapes of noise floating over a diverse audience enjoying a wonderful Sunday in front of the main stage.

My favourite band had to be Show of Hands well they kept talking of places I know so well and spookily played a song they wrote twelve years ago about an Irishman coming to Cheltenham Racecourse. I was surprised because I’ve been avoiding them for years!

With everything from Radio1 DJ Gilles Peterson, to the country punk of Captain Paranoid. From the high energy and amazing vibe of Baka Beyond who fill the big tent with energy and wild dancing to the hypnotizing whirling of the incredible dancer who span for nearly half an hour to the sounds of the Mercan Dede.

Walking passed the main stage late on Saturday night I noticed how relatively clean it was compared to other festivals. Most people were disposing sensibly of their rubbish and rubbish collectors helped enforce that. Talking of clean the toilets were also some of the cleanest I’ve seen at festivals and for those not wanting to step into the plastic boxes Cheltenham’s own toilet blocks were also available to festival goers.

The only main downside was a huge fun fair, which was just deserted most of the time. I’m not really sure why it was there, it didn’t really fit with the rest of the festival. Judging by the fact most rides never had more than two people on when they were running, I hope in future the organisers consider putting another stage there.

Although there wasn’t a huge selection of food, what was on offer was varied and of good quality. All of my personal favourite festie caterers were there; The Real Meat Sausage Company, The Grand Bouffet, Mexican Vegetarian and PizzaZ.

All the outlets had friendly staff and good value for money with a selection of dishes with prices from £4 to £6 available at all of them. For the kids (and adults too) there were Crepes, Potato Wedges, Fruit Smoothies and Ice Creams. Plus a range of vegetarian options too. In a great pitch is the Tiny Tea Tent, the perfect place to sit under a tree or in the hammock and watch the main stage while supping Chai.

Wychwood may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but those that like their music of high standard and varied, who like to get involved in the odd workshop or two, or those that may have kids and are possibly post going too wild, then at last there’s another festival for you as well as WOMAD. But with the great addition that you just can’t help getting involved rather than just watching. It’s destined to get bigger but the first one was something very special, for those that went it was a particularly magical weekend. Those that missed it missed out on something very special. It’s small but it’s forming perfectly.

Check out the huge photo galleries!


review by: Scott Williams

Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June 2005
Cheltenham Racecourse, Prestbury Park ,Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 4SH, England MAP
£69 w/e adults, £50 w/e 11-18 yr olds, £5 camping per ticket.
last updated: Thu 12th May 2005


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