Now in its 11th year, Wychwood goes from strength to strength competing in an over-crowded festival calendar. However with a strong emphasis on the family, diverse line-ups and enviable reputation, I’m sure there there’s many more Wychwood’s to come! But back to this year, as I make my way into the site I am immediately greeted by the friendly stewards who always seem to have a smile on their face. They bring a very “homely” feel to proceedings. This being a family festival it’s no surprise that there are no groups of teenagers wandering the site with half a can of Stella shouting “Alan” etc….
The great majority at Wychwood are families made up of perhaps three generations as the still hip grandparents have hip grown-ups who now have their own hip toddlers. The atmosphere is relaxed as everyone enjoys hanging out together. The festival has thought of everything and everyone is getting involved. These are just a few of the delights on offer I noticed as I “mooched” around the site, Ukulele lessons, tightrope walking (with a low down rope for the small ”performers” and a higher rope for the more experienced) music yoga, hoopla and storytelling in the Waterston’s tent.
After several hours taking in the sights, sounds and all that Wychwood has to offer, I gravitate to the main stage and catch my first band Songhoy Blues, they are a late (but welcome addition to the line-up) as they are between tour dates. They receive a very warm welcome from the Wychwood crowd and you can see on the faces of the audience that work, the mortgage and daily routines are a million miles away from the here and now. Happily the weather which is we are told going to be changeable over the weekend is holding out with bubbles streaming overhead into the thankfully blue sky.
Camping chairs are a regular feature at any festival, but once Dreadzone, arrive on stage the faithful are immediately up and dancing, parading their best moves to the polished festival veterans. They sound slick, even though their frontman is missing with MC Spee unfortunately falling ill, Earl 16 is stepping up and singing with melodic richness. The affection for the band is palpable and they are without doubt the unofficial “house” band of Wychwood!
Next on stage are The Undertones and to be truthful, I was sceptical and not expecting much, however after the blissed out reggae atmosphere courtesy of Dreadzone; we are duly taken by the scruff of the neck and subjected to the thrilling raw energy of their punk anthems. Their charismatic lead singer (Paul McLoone) is a joy,you can clearly see he is enjoying every kick, pose and air punch, he even has breath to chat to the crowd between belting out fast paced lyric packed songs; “Jimmy Jimmy”,“Here Comes the Summer”and my personal favourite –“My Perfect Cousin”. Bassist Michael Bradley is equally engaging, they have the crowd in the palm of their hands with their on stage chemistry bringing everyone in to the fold. As to their previous singer…Fergal who??
With renewed optimism I head over to Wychwood’s Ecotricity Big Top to catch some emerging talent. Last year I caught the then relatively unknown Wolf Alice, so the pressure is on! Yet again Wychwood delivers in the shape of the mesmerizing Darlia who own the stage! The guys play a brilliant set and remind me a little of Nirvana in their post punk grunge aesthetic. Without pause to catch my breath I move from what could be the next big thing to genuine 70’s superstars Boney M on the main stage. The first thing to say is that they definitely bring the glamour and look amazing! The crowd have come to party so they should be a shoe-in. The dance moves are all there and the costumes are all glitter and spangle. There are a few technical hitches with the microphones I don’t think anyone noticed (or even cared) as they are treated to the full Boney M experience after hit after hit is rolled out including “Daddy Cool”, “Rivers Of Babylon” with “Brown Girl In The Ring” still being hummed long after the only original member, Maizie Williams and her new band members have left the stage.
A perfect way to end the first day and to settle us in nicely for the weekend ahead.
It’s Saturday and after waking up with Boney M still singing in my head, and feeling slightly groggy I decide it’s time to balance body, soul and mind and indulge in some musical Yoga which seems to do the trick! Refreshed and re-energised I’m soon throwing shapes in the Ecotricity Big Top as DJ Andy Kershaw plays a heady mix of carnival tunes. With good humour he points out DJ’ing is not a spectator sport as he beckons the crowd with “don’t stand and gawp at me folks have a dance” we willingly oblige!
After much jigging about I have worked up an appetite so head off for a spot of lunch and get chatting to some charming lads from Bristol, who serve me up a tasty holloumi, salad and sun blush tomato wrap with garlic mayonnaise from their aptly named van “Wrappers Delight”.
There is so much variety here at Wychwood so much so that I’m spoilt for choice and find myself torn between my wrap and Goan fish curry; but I will be back later for the curry I’m sure, if only to listen to the guy serving curry singing along to Frank Sinatra tunes playing in the background.
I believe food is a big part of any festival and to borrow a cliché, variety is the spice of life. The very chatty and friendly vendors are offering Chinese, Portuguese or Mexican fare with ostrich burgers for the curious and potatoes wedges for the not so curious. If you have a sweet tooth there’s plenty to tempt you from the straight and narrow, tray bakes, old fashioned sweet shop treats, crepes, melted chocolate and doughnut affairs called Chuuros (apparently Spanish in origin), the sweet heady aroma of the doughnut fill the air mixing with the familiar festival scent of incense, pretty intoxicating stuff, we are only mere mortals after all so I give in to the odd doughnut (or three!).
I am back in the Ecotricity Big Top for more of a sweet treat from Black Honey. This is my first introduction to them and my feeling is Black Honey will still be my stand out band at the end of the festival, they left me stunned and feeling I had witnessed the start of something, a definite “I was there “moment for the future. They were just awesome in their intensity, originality and talent with the bass line reminding me of Joy Division and a lead vocal that stunned me. I thinks it’s an understatement to say that I need Black Honey in my life (and you should too!).
Still reeling from Black Honey I head back to the main stage for something more relaxed as The Proclaimersdo what they do best.Of course they are most well-known for the boisterous “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”but this (as I know the rest of Wychwood appreciate) this is only part of their story. They write and perform songs of life, love and loss set against backdrops of working class communities entwined with social commentary. Of course they deliver their best known songs to a very appreciative audience. About 6 songs in there is barley a dry eye in the house as we witness a real life marriage proposal from on top of the crowd barrier during “Let’s Get Married”.However the highlight of the set had to be the beautiful and melodic “Sunshine on Leith” where the harmonies were a master class in live performance.
Records have been broken at the festival today in terms of attendance with today being the busiest in its 11 year history. This could be in part be down to the next act on stage UB40’s Ali Campbell with Astro and Mickey Virtue, . With the crowd chanting Ali Campbell’s name, the band appear on stage to huge cheers and they play like the seasoned musicians they are. Ali rewards the crowd with a shout out to his Birmingham contingency. All the hits are played - “Rat In My Kitchen”, “Here I am Baby”, and “One In Ten”, all to the great delight of the crowd. This I feel was a significant moment for the festival.
I witnessed dancing as far back as the sound desk, and you could barely hear Ali Campbell’s voice above the crowd as they sang along in unison to the classic “Red Red Wine”. A fine end to a very fine day!
My last day on site and with the Sun disappearing and the wind picking up it’s up to Mad Dog Mcrea playing to a still good humoured if a bit chilly crowd, to give us all a lift. The tone is setand up next are firm Wychwood Festival friends and beloved favourites The Wonder Stuff with an acoustic set.
This is a relatively new line up with the welcome addition of Dan Donnelly accompanying Miles Hunt, Erica Nockalls. Miles Hunt is as warm and chatty as ever with insider tales and banter between songs while the stylish and stunning Erica Nockalls plays her violin with edge and verve. The Stuffies are loving it despite battling with high winds on stage. The new material is sounding great and we also get crowd pleasers such as “Golden Green” “Don’t Let Me Down Gently” and what has become a live favourite for me a very spirited “Mission Drive”. As expected it’s the cheeky “Size Of A Cow” that garners the biggest reaction. Within the blink of an eye, an hour has passed and the set is over. It’s fair to say another Wychwood triumph for Miles and Erica!
All in all “Wychwood 11” has been a great success, my only disappointment came with the continued building works which affected the layout and created a few eyesores of open/dead ground. However this I’m sure won’t be an issue next year! As ever there are many more things I would have loved to have seen or experienced (Ghostpoet, Silent Disco etc to name a few) but with so much on offer I had to be strategic. How they deliver this much festival for the ticket price is genius. If you want a safe, relaxed and friendly festival with a broad range of music, activities, food and general feel good vibe….you’ve certainly come to the right place! And judging by the amount of people already buying tickets for next year….I would get in quick!
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