overview

Wychwood review

published: Tue 12th Jun 2007

Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd June 2007
Cheltenham Racecourse, Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England MAP
£95 w/e adults with camping, (£75 w/e 12-18 yr olds, students, OAPs, unwaged)
last updated: Mon 21st May 2007

Another super weekend at Cheltenham racecourse where festival, music, weather and atmosphere combined to make this year yet another winner! Everyone I spoke to, whether newbies or regulars, said they would be back and most made use of the discounted tickets offer to save 25% on next year’s tickets by buying them at the festival. I still say those wanting to go to Wychwood make sure you get your tickets early.

All of them said they had had a terrific time, I overheard one family, who looked like seasoned festival goers saying this was the best festival they had been to ever and for families with young children they are right. A terrific all sorts of tastes line up which really entertained. See bands overview for the musical highlights.

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The arena had a wonderful relaxed colourful atmosphere, as families unwound listening to the music on offer and kids played happily amongst the crowd. The numbers of which were clearly more than last year, nicely busy but not packed, plenty of people dancing at the front of the stage and blankets and chairs up the sloped bank at the back. Best of all everyone was having a great time, acts were applauded, the crowd joined in with audience participation requests and the atmosphere was superb.

However for many people the start of the festival had been slightly complicated. Firstly everyone decided to arrive at the same time, leading to car congestion and irate drivers as temperatures rose in the heat. However, the loading area, new for this year, was too small to accommodate such numbers and cycle taxis too few. Gone was the drive your cars onto the campsite, unload and then return to the car park.

This fantastic idea of previous festivals had been ceased, it would have been nice for us all to be told, as not knowing we had brought more stuff than usual. This was a big disappointment, I really hope they return to the drop off allowances of previous years or make it clear if we need to bring less stuff.

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Once on the campsite in the middle of the racecourse, we found it much the same as last year, numbers were up but it still afforded plenty of space between tents. Toilet blocks were well lit and kept in good working order. The campsite offered a café (Real Sausage Meat Co.) and a ‘local store’. The hot showers were a bit more than I was willing to pay and there seemed to be a lack of water on site at times.

The campervan field was at the far end, then family camping, quiet camping, camping and the tipi field. At night the campsites were peaceful, with quiet camping being the loudest, lots of loud snorers! Only slight complaint the grass was rather long for sandal or flip flop wearers – and got slippy and cold under clear skies.

Access to the arena was slightly more meandering with no central bridge this year but it was easy to find our way to the arena. What an improvement on site planning, where there was an open space last year and skate park, was now a colourful array of stalls, making the adjacent healing field more a part of the festival.

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It made it feel more vibrant, well that was until the bloke from N-Power started hassling us, a constant pain throughout the weekend. It wasn’t just me who was slightly annoyed by this, talking to some of the acts (who wander about the festival too, giving you a chance to say hello) they were also a bit surprised of the ethics of both N-Power and HSBC and their presence on site.

I have to say it meant on first impressions the festival felt a little too commercial – I really detest the hard sell at festivals, unless it’s for a charity or good cause. I’ll happily sign a ‘Big Ask’ campaign postcard, write on a brick for ‘Shelter’, donate to Oxfam and Greenpeace but corporate selling felt very wrong.

Anyway, a minor gripe, the layout before the main arena had also been altered and it felt less open to the elements and brought more colour to the arena, although the toilets were hard to spot and the queues longer they were immaculately clean and stocked all weekend, as ever fantastic!

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On the upside, there were more decent stalls, more foods to delight on offer this year, and more choice of beer on sale. Despite my personal liking for Wychwood Brewery’s products and the fact the names are an obvious pairing, Wickwar Brewery pulled out the stops.

As well as pints there was a 4 pint jug option to save frequent walks to the bars and a choice of four ales, including the specially brewed festival ale ‘Stagefright’, yummy cider, well-stocked bars and efficient service, plus they didn’t run out on Sunday (bonus) which all added up to make me a convert.

But there was a downside, metal fencing ‘in/out’ pens in front of the bars much like that seen at corporate festivals, one step away from tokens in my book, made it less homely and in fact in the Big Top the fencing caused chaos as it bottlenecked both the entrance and exit. But it worked well in the Wickwar Bar and Stage causing less congestion for those buying beers and those watching the excellent bands and great comedy Mundo Jazz sounded terrific. I’m still not keen on the barriers though.

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The benches outside this bar (and in fact the seating all over the site, especially those in front of the tea tent, many with umbrellas) made for comfortable enjoyment of the festival. In front of the main arena the short grass and the overall cleanliness, hardly any litter in the main, meant you could sit down comfortably.

The weather, the music, the giant kites in the distance and the children carrying colouring crafts made in the kids field made for a wonderful atmosphere and at night glo sticks and flashing lights also added to the atmosphere. The workshops, talks, comedy, groovy movies, fire show at night, wandering performers, jugglers, poi swingers, Pimms and smiling faces really added to the vibe.

This year it seems having your hen or stag party at a festival has become popular with many noticeable parties like those dressed up as Vikings deciding to make a weekend of it at Wychwood. I actually think this is a great idea, and all those I saw at Wychwood were having a terrific time.

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A bit of a disappointment was that there were no Silent Discos and the late night entertainment starting so well, if quietly with DJ Derek, seemed to fizzle out a bit on the following nights. Alternatively there were comedians on hand to have you laughing in the small hours at the Wickwar Bar. For those without families and up for having a late night party I suspect they would be less enthusiastic about the festival overall. Those of us who partied through the day and have kids need our sleep and so didn’t miss out.

With the festival growing, the first ever reported crimes of a dozen or so thefts came this year. But other than hearing about them, we encountered no trouble what so ever the whole weekend, everyone was incredibly friendly and there was no disturbance anywhere. Stewards were friendly and helpful and I never saw a single uniformed officer all weekend.

The biggest surprise of the weekend had to be the lack of the Asian community there - for a festival, which had as a main sponsor The BBC Asian Network, it seemed very poorly attended. With Anoushka Shankar, Swami, Aziz and Transglobal Underground all on great form it would have been nice for the festival to have a bigger mix of ethnic backgrounds all supporting the festival.

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Thank goodness for the cycle taxis for easing tired limbs with packing up and yet still there were car queues at the drop off point. I think the organisers need to review that, and also some better labelling where toilets are (signs over them?) and perhaps consider something to entertain campers taking their kids home and then sitting up in what were cold evenings – a Bimble Inn or Chai Tent type thing would be great. Somewhere a bit nearer to get a late night warming drink and some gentle music.

I liked the layout changes overall; in front of the workshop tents, in front of the main stage, and the area next to the healing field, which has a wonderful vibe all enhanced the festival. Year on year the festival builds, and improves, it was great to see friendly, enthusiastic crowds all weekend. It was nice for it to not be too busy, numbers are bound to increase next year, there’s still enough space for everyone.

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Thanks to everyone connected to Wychwood festival behind the scenes who helped make it such a relaxing weekend. You can tell how good a festival is by how much it upsets you to have to leave. We didn’t want to go home, it was over all too soon.

Musically the festival had a stack of highlights, Transglobal, Zion Train, 3 Daft Monkeys, Nuala, Magic Skool Bus, The Destroyers, Ba Cissoko, Martha Tilston, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Anoushka Shankar, Balkan Beatbox (Jump!), Subgiant and Afro Celt Soundsystem were my favourites. A stronger festival flavour, the line up was once again a little random, but I really like that, it gives the chance for festival goers to sample loads of different musical styles and acts.

Clearly it’s not just an art to put on a festival this good, it’s pure Wych-craft!
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams

Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd June 2007
Cheltenham Racecourse, Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England MAP
£95 w/e adults with camping, (£75 w/e 12-18 yr olds, students, OAPs, unwaged)
last updated: Mon 21st May 2007


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