I am sat in a barber’s chair on a Saturday afternoon. A hot towel is about to be placed over the specks of dry mud, sweat and sun cream that are dotted over my face. This cut-throat shave isn't the cheapest of festival experiences but it's worth every penny. Every ounce of tiredness from the previous night seems to be being drawn out of me with every swipe of the razor. I am invigorated, enthused and yet ever so slightly terrified by this sharp-scissored skirmish. Bombay Shave have saved the day and tonight, Wychwood, there will be a new king at the headphone disco.
I'd been in the Headphone disco on the Friday night. But, to be honest, it's been a long time since I've danced and for the first couple of hours of the experience I felt incredibly self conscious of my Dad manoeuvres. It took me time to realise that nobody was really bothered by my boogie - for, there are two channels at play here that a simple switch on your headphones alternates between. My timing might have been ridiculously out of sync but it didn't matter one jot. I was simply dancing to a different beat. And there was a collective of Dad's here to protect my reputation.
These were Dad's (and Mum's) relaxing after a day of setting up camp with their children. Wychwood Festival has many niches but one is it's appreciation of family. This is a place that's built with family in mind. That much is obvious on my arrival at Cheltenham racecourse on Friday afternoon. I'm directed around a road that becomes a track that leads to general camping. A helpful steward suggests that I park my car by a bridge and walk all of 100 yards to find space to pitch my tent. Around me, youngsters kick balls and throw frisbees whilst parents cook exotic looking foods on elaborate cooking gear. There's none of the hardship and effort involved in setting up camp here that's involved in some other festivals. Small touches such as free showers simply compound this sense.
The appreciation of family things is perhaps most noticeable in the workshop tents collectively known as 'The Green'. This area has moved to a location at the other end of this site as a result of regeneration work taking place to the main stand of the racecourse. The move appears to get a big thumbs up from punters young and old. From Bhangra Fever dance through to Shamanic drumming with doses of Mr. Brown's Pig Puppet show mixed in with the making of a giant birthday cake using willow and papier-mâché (Wychwood is ten this year) this is an area for everyone. Even if you don't want to get involved you can pull up your chair in 'The Meadow' outside the tents and be entertained by the grotesque imaginations spawning from the Roald Dahl Museum and storytelling centre.
That camping chair is a critical part of your equipment at Wychwood. Everyone makes use of them to mark out their space. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area directly by the main stage. I've been to other festivals where this can feel oppressive and territorial but somehow this isn't the case here. People leave gaps in their sea of chairs to allow anyone easy access if wandering across the site. And nobody puts a chair directly in front of the main stage where, for most of the bands and acts over the weekend, a healthily-sized crowd stands and appreciates their musical heroes.
This year’s Wychwood headliners fall fairly and squarely into that hero category. On the Friday night, The Stranglers put in an inspired set that ensures much singing and dancing from the assembled throng. As the final chords of 'No More Heroes' drifts across the crowd, we know that Jean-Jacques and band mates haven't looked at the programme for the rest of the weekend. You know what you're going to get with the , Levellers and they don't disappoint as Saturday night headliners with their solid, one way of working a crowd into a frenzy.
Often at festivals such as these the Sunday night headliner can be met by a sparse crowd. Work and school beckons on the following day and so these family camping trips are cut short. But the draw of the Boomtown Rats is a popular one. I wonder how many people might have stayed if Bob Geldof's recent history hadn't proved so tragic though. The stage is set with a backdrop of a giant rat. With a magical entrance and some skinny, flexible dance moves in a fake snakeskin suit, Geldof quickly dismisses any sense that this is a show for rubbernecking tourists. His anger bubbles to the fore when he discusses UKIP's recent successes, especially as 'The Rats are immigrants'. He swears liberally but when in the presence of such a great, there are no parents complaining about his use of language. It's a stroll through the hits and back catalogue of The Boomtown Rats and nowhere is it met with more appreciation than within the extreme, dramatic pause between the bridge and chorus of "I Don't Like Mondays". Brave, blustering and triumphant.
The mainstage musical heroes don't stop there. Buster Bloodvessel is half the man he used to be (Douglas has lost 18 stone in weight in recent years) but this doesn't stop Bad Manners from putting on a sizeable skank on the Saturday afternoon. Graham Gouldman has us all searching his Wikipedia entry such is the staggering amount of songs that he seems to have penned or been involved in. His Friday night acoustic saunter is a perfect starter to the Stranglers main course.
Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra shows that years of gigging with Madness stand him in good stead as his ska orchestra completes a Sunday teatime sway that had begun with Gentleman's Dub Club. Youngsters in the audience are agog at the sight of their hero from the TV, Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble in the flesh. I'm not sure what leap of logic goes through somebody's head when they make that choice to be a children's entertainer but there's no doubt that Fletcher has made a good call.
This is undoubtedly a main stage that is programmed with a party in mind. But I can't help thinking that it's a bit of a safe middle-aged and middle class party - the sort of party where you stand around making small talk, eating vol-au-vents and reminiscing about how much better the music scene was back in the day. And that's just the youngsters...
I head off to get some food. It's a worrying development of late that I gain untold amounts of pleasure in eating far too much at festivals. The choice that presents itself to me at the food area within Wychwood is diverse and reasonably good value for money. National, commercial enterprises pitch in with sole traders. I'm a fan of a good pie yet I've never had the Higgidy Pie before. This national organisation proves over the weekend that they could give the likes of Pie Minister a run for their money if they covered more festivals. The smaller, incredibly hard working, Posh Baps enterprise is a sole trader. You might pay a bit more for their bacon and egg baps but the quality of ingredients shine through. Portuguese, French, Desserts, Mexican, Smoothies and Toasties - there's good, solid choice here.
I guess that the organisers are making attempts to be more risky (trendy even) in their Second stage programming. In the Big Top, we have some acts that are currently causing a stir amongst bloggers. Most people are watching The Boomtown Rats when Wolf Alice headline on the Sunday. It's an unfortunate clash. Earlier in the day, Racing Glaciers show that there's more than The Macc Lads to Macclesfield when they deliver a taut and shimmering indie set. At times, it sounds blander than Keane but there's undoubtedly something going on here and I resolve to see them again. Craig Charles does his funk and soul thang before them. It's amidst the heat of a hot Sunday sun and many people sit around outside the Big Top with picnics. It's the first arc I see in here on the Saturday that draws the largest crowd I see. Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, is no stranger to the Wychwood festival masses. His is a set full of humour and charm with knowing nods to the history of popular culture.
I like to discover new music at festivals and so find myself drawn to the third stage, the Hobgoblin stage. This is a stage that's programmed by BBC Introducing. On the Friday, it has bands from Hereford and Worcester, on the Saturday Gloucestershire and the west and on the Sunday Coventry and Warwickshire. I'd seen the fabulous Hot Feet the week before and though this is another competent show some of the finer, poignant and delicate moments within their set are drowned out by the chattering noise coming from the bar. This third tent doubles as a real ale bar and the more acoustic acts sometimes struggle with sound. On the Sunday, The Fallows have no such problem. Their brand of up-tempo, energetic fiddle led folk is warmly appreciated. This is in spite of programme changes which seem to delay their stage time by two hours. Much later in the evenings, we get comedy sponsored by this very website. I nip in and out but nothing really grabs my attention. On the Saturday night, a call-out to security is heard as apparently a drinker is getting a bit too exuberant in his heckling of an act. I wish I'd been there to see that. It wasn't me.
This real ale tent serves a decent and evolving range of bitters across the weekend. The price for a weaker ale is £4 and the price for a stronger ale £4.50. So, it's not the cheapest bar you'll see during this festival season. But the staff are friendly and attentive and the quality and range on offer decent without being mind-blowingly extensive. If Real Ale, cider or lager isn't your thing there are commercial alcohol selling stands that have paid for their pitches around the site. Posh, alternative wines, gins with extracts of cucumber and a cocktail bar with deckchairs outside in which you could plonk yourself and watch the world go by seem popular. It's part of the rules that you shouldn't bring your own alcohol into the arena area but some people do use their children's buggies as smuggling devices. Security on entering the arena are gentle and relaxed and only search the occasional bag. People aren't over-abusing this sensible approach. Everyone's happy and the bars still get used. Heavy handed searching by security is an unpleasant and developing trend at festivals and I appreciate the fact that, for this year at least, it's not a game that Wychwood are playing.
I never did make it to the Headphone disco on the Saturday night. Sharp after my cut-throat shave, I continue to chill with beer in my camping chair whilst watching the world go by. People stop and chat. Smiles become giggles and before I know it, the urge to be a dance floor peacock is replaced by an urge to drink wine back at the campsite. And, this all leads to a relatively early night. Perhaps, this is a sign of getting older. Perhaps, I'm just adept at fitting in with the bulk of the crowd. But, I'm not sure that such considerations matter. Wychwood is a lovely, safe and friendly family event and long may this be the case.
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