Packing sun cream for the first festival of the summer! This seemed an alien concept for me, but for my first trip to the Wychwood it turned out to be the most important. Having never been before this was all a voyage of discovery. Off the back of some sterling reviews and personal recommendations from close friends, my ten year old son, 12 year old niece and myself threw the tent into the car and made the hour and a half trip to Cheltenham racecourse for the Wychwood Music Festival 2016.
We arrived mid-afternoon and were welcomed on arrival by a glorious little festival site nestled nicely alongside the racecourse, with a vast expanse of rolling fields inside the track allocated for camping. We did not have a tent within 5 metres of our pitch, which is unheard of in my festival past. Yet even more of a revelation, there was vehicular access to the campsites to drop all your gear off to save lugging masses of camping gear before parking up back on the carpark. Though in reality it wasn't far from the carpark to the camp site maybe 4/500 metres, I still found this made the festival so much more accessible for many families and those festival fans with a huge range of disabilities.
After setting up camp our trio decided to go and have a wander to see what we could find, the kids soon sought out the circus skills and craft workshops. How terrible for me that they were positioned right next to the Wychwood Stage and bar. I helped myself to a pint of the Wychwood Brewery's own Hobgoblin Gold and took a sit down in the sun watching the kids cause havoc and try to learn all sorts of new circus skills including juggling, slack rope walking and all sorts of gymnastics.
After an hour or so we walked the 200 metres or so through the little market stalls to the main stage to watch our first act of the festival, Peter Hook and the Light, after a brief chat to the kids about the history of music and where some of this next performance might rank in the importance of modern music Hook did not disappoint delivering a perfect set full of Joy Division and New Order tunes delivered almost to perfection!
Idlewild were next into the breach, their set was a bit of a blast form the past, with the Scottish indie rockers throwing out a nice set full of familiar tunes from many a festival past. With the darkness closing in on a beautiful early summer's night the honour of headlining the first evening of Wychwood 2016 fell to The Waterboys. With a crowd ready to start their weekend on their best foot. The Waterboys provided the soundtrack to dance the night away under 'the whole of the moon'.
With the mainstage curfew of 11 pm soon arriving the night was still not over, with plenty of entertainment on offer, we decided to join in the revelry in the big top stage that was the Headphone Disco, running right through till 3 am. The headphone disco proved to be a highlight of the night. Upon entry you are given headphones with two channels to pick from, both of the channels controlled by djs up on the stage, channel a and channel b, playing off against each other with opposing music choices, and I cannot stress enough how funny this can be if you just stand back and watch. Listening to channel a playing 'Killing In The Name' by Rage Against The Machine whilst watching people to 'Cotton Eye Joe' certainly leads to some impressive sights!
After a good night's sleep we noticed most of the kids in the campsite getting more and more excited as 11 am approached, first to hit the main stage was Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble. More commonly known by many children and parents alike as Mr Tumble! Not really my cup of tea but it was great to so many smiling faces in the sunshine, with his brand of sing along nursery rhymes and slapstick comedy Justin certainly delivered the kids a treat.
After this performance we nipped into town to get some provisions, this was an effortless task, taking next to no time thanks to the great access in and out of the racecourse venue provided by Wychwood. On return we caught the arrival of the Ben Cipolla Band an 8 piece band playing a strong brand of jazz, booked off the basis of a barnstorming performance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, he brought real class to the stage.
Whereas Matt Berry & The Maypoles brought a psychedelic prog rock twist to the festival with their performance. Berry of The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh fame to name but a few, drew quite a big crowd to the main stage, playing a few obscure numbers from show Snuff Box amongst album tracks from his latest prog psych rock out. The band gave a solid 30 minutes of entertainment. They were however totally eclipsed by From The Jam. With a performance including all the hits from The Jam back catalogue this performance in my eyes should have been the headlining show! With clearly the biggest audience of the weekend bouncing and singing from front to back.
Still high from the performance just delivered, we decided to take on the crazy golf course, a nine hole dinosaur filled extravaganza. Everywhere you look at Wychwood there really is fun for all the family. After a victorious round of golf and refilling our respected drinks and ice cream cones, we took a seat to listen to the beautiful northern tones of Kate Rusby. She is a great raconteur and top sales person for anything Yorkshire, she not only sold Yorkshire well, with the voice of an angel I pretty much fell in love right there and then, the perfect soundtrack to a relaxed sunny afternoon.
Next up was a nice surprise, 2 years ago I judged a battle of the bands competition to win a festival slot, and the band who won that day were called Little Brother Eli, today they headlined the Wychwood Hobgoblin stage. In the 2 years since I last saw them they have really upped their game. Storming through an hour long set to a packed out tent even up against the titans that are the Stereo MC's,, these boys are destined for big things. With a newly recruited lap steel player adding ever more depth to their blues rock driven sound and a front man with stage presence to match the best in the business.
I let the kids decide on the evening's headliner and they decided they would like to see Ms Dynamite. Producing a high octane set packed full of hits, they picked well and were rewarded in style, with Miss Dynamite calling for help with her last song, she invited anybody who wanted to dance to invade the stage! After reclaiming the kids from their first stage invasion we managed to catch the last 20 minutes of 10cc, which I have to admit I was really impressed with! 'I Don't Like Cricket' was up there with great sing-a-longs.
Sunday morning arrived with not a cloud in the sky, we packed the tent away and brought the car down to load it up, what an absolute luxury.
Sunday was such a glorious day we decided we would get our sun cream on and have a full day watching the main stage barring one quick absence to listen to Craig Charles, before that little segueway though was a beautiful young lady from Cheltenham with a voice stolen straight from Nashville.
In Demi Marriner Wychwood truly unearthed a diamond to open up their final day. With a voice very similar to Kacey Musgraves teamed up with a catchy ear for a tune and intelligent writing make Demi a true star in waiting. Mystified were next to enter the fold, a three piece with real balls, but I couldn't help but think this was very much the wrong crowd for them, after a little meander via the ice cream stall, we entered a ridiculously hot big top stage just in time for Craig Charles' entrance, with a high octane set packed through of funk and soul the temperature only got higher and higher!
4 pm had arrived and it was time for The Parade, a chance for all the children, young ones and not quite so young ones to show off the plethora of items they had made and skills they had learnt during one of 80 plus craft workshops available over the Wychwood weekend.
All to the sounds of a samba band leading them all around the site! A real heart-warming parade watching kids showing off the rewards of their efforts. How do you follow this? With The Correspondents fronted by possibly the most energetic front man in music Mr Bruce, with his partner in electro swing crime DJ Chucks, they soon had the audience up on their feet and jiving along!
By now it was about 23 degrees in the shade, so I have nothing but respect for a man who can dance so furiously nonstop for an hour whilst singing and all in a trouser suit combo all be it a very wildly designed one, Mr Bruce I doff my cap to thee sir! The Selecter then did what The Selector does! Original two tone ska of the highest quality, which led us to the final headliner of the weekend, step forward Mr Bill Bailey.
Having seen Bill Bailey before I was very excited to take in his Limboland show, but I must admit I wondered just how Bailey would connect with a crowd full of children, with a show full of political japes amongst musical segueys, he soon proved the perfect booking with adults and children like rolling round in stitches. From tales of disastrous dog sledding under the northern lights, to the current political situation of the European referendum, Bailey kept the attention of all in the crowd. Even making a Moby style rave psy-rave track from samples recorded from members of the crowd.
As Bailey left the stage to a rapturous applause the honour of closing out the festival fell to local skiffle party legends, and Wychwoods own proclaimed 'house band' Thrill Collins. With school looming the next morning we decided to leave after one song, having seen the band at previous festivals, but they were certainly finishing off Wychwood 2016 in style.
All in all I couldn't recommend Wychwood highly enough! Especially for families looking to test the water in festival land with their children. The vibe all weekend was nothing but a relaxed little paradise. Thank you Wychwood!
latest on this festival
festival home page
line-ups & rumours
joining The Divine Comedy, The Christians, Craig Charles, Thrill Collins, & more