Familiarity breeds contempt. That's what we're told right? But, is it actually true for us festival goers? Doesn't it give us immense comfort each year at Glastonbury to know that the stages are largely in the same place? The cider bus or Brothers bar are focal points largely because of their familiarity. We can just about handle minor alterations to the jigsaw ('oh, Arcadia is there this year') but pause a minute and imagine a Glastonbury with complete layout amendments? A Glastonbury where all the jigsaw pieces are picked up and swapped around.
Aside from the main stage, the Big Gin Stage, this is the brave move taken by Y-Not festival for 2014. It's Friday night and I'm a bit lost. It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook-up world.
It doesn't feel like I'm alone either. I'm eating a pie (my first Pie Minister Mothership this summer) and desperately trying to get away from the Big Gin stage. If there's a band I dislike more than Razorlight I've yet to discover them. Tonight, Johnny Borrell seems to think that he's Jim Morrison reincarnated but I think he's doing a better impression of Jim Davidson. My path away from this horror is blocked though; blocked by a swarm of teenagers, holding hands, arriving late, looking as lost as I am over this new site layout, but desperate to get to the front. They've miscalculated the time to get here and now feel the need to speed by. I have no choice but to sit and wait for the throng to pass. My belly is happy. My ears are not.
There might well be good reason for such wholesale changes. Last year's festival connected together so well but it is true that the lower field, now consumed by a campsite, did squelch up in the rain. People complained that the second stage, the Quarry, was difficult to access when the likes of Electric Six played; others were aware of the sound bleed that travelled from the heavier tent, the Giant Squid, also in this lower field. These are issues that have been resolved. The quarry now sits at an angle at the far end of the site, looking out into distant campsites. It's on a tilt here and the back of the tent is open allowing many more to see the music on stage. I hear much less sound bleed from the Giant Squid over the weekend.
After such Razorlight stress, I desperately need a pint of real ale. I recall that, last year, the wonderful Dolly Dagger's bar, just up from this main stage in the same field, did a stellar range of local brews. This bar is still in this field so I head in. Imagine my disappointment to discover that this tent has gone corporate. Staff, kitted out in Hobgoblin T-Shirts, proudly tell me that I have a choice between Hobgoblin and Marston's EPA, both selling at £4.20 a pint. If I choose to have lager or cider then it's the festival froth of Tuborg or Somersby to wet my lips. My disappointment abates when I find another bar on site,The Watchtower, slap bang in the centre, that serves me my fill of Leatherbritches and Steaming Billy until the bars run dry on Sunday lunchtime.
And I needn't worry about the lack of cider either. The Hog and Barrel, last year a delightful cider bar as well as a venue, full of wannabee farmers and mind blowing ciders, is still on site although again in a different position. It's still a tent that's full of straw and one in which punters relax over 7.5% cider whilst trying their hardest not to disappear between the cracks in the bales. There's an enthusiastic compere in here presiding over a wide range of musical acts. These give way to DJ's later in the evening. Saturday lunchtime (well, just gone midday in truth) and I open a can of cider as Grawlix open the stage. There's is a shoegaze echo pop, full of melodic feedback and it's a pleasant way to begin the day. Sunday afternoon and we peer in just as Raymond & Mr Timkins Revue draw to a close with their comedy set. They appear to go down well but this is visual comedy and our view is challenged by the crowd congregating in the tent entrance.
Mr. Motivator has overslept. Or at least that's what we want to believe when he's a no show for his pre-midday Saturday show on the main stage at Y-Not. In truth, I'm breathing a sigh of relief for I didn't really fancy an early pumping from Derrick. I'm still nursing last nights hangover and not feeling very motivated for this morning shakedown. It's only later that I discover the real reason for Mr Motivator's absence – knee surgery required after sustaining an injury in a celebrity TV gymnastics show. Get well soon Derrick.
"Small, fresh and loud" is the tagline that accompanies Y-Not's advertising this year. This is a festival ethos that has remained constant; if you're keen to see new, up and coming, noisy bands (often with guitars), then this is a way to do it. If you're keen to see more established, plateauing, noisy bands (often with guitars), this is also the way to do it.
My initial Razorlight horror (and my disappointment at Mr Motivator's no show) doesn't put me off returning to the main Big Gin stage. Over the course of the weekend I get to see a fair bit that I enjoy on this outdoor stage. White Lies are a strange Friday night headliner for some and it is true that their newer stuff doesn't immediately grab but the combination of atmospheric lighting, haunting vocals and quality songs (from the first album at least) ultimately wins the crowd over;, Bang Bang Bang have a future pop star at the helm in Natalie Chahal and their brand of 60's pop helps us all to feel warm inside (though it's damp outside); Catfish & The Bottlemen are a revelation on the Saturday afternoon. Radio listens have done nothing to grab me but live they are a different prospect, stylishly clad in black and knocking out an explosive sound. They'll be higher up festival bills this time next year. Two pieces are a rage at the moment and I've no doubt that Geordies, Gallery Circus, will jump onto that bandwagon with their more subtle and inventive take on Drenge. Guitars are the order of the day but there is a small splattering of hip hop. It's lovely to see a crowd so enthusiastic about De La Soul, especially as a high proportion of them weren't alive when 'Me, Myself and I' was initially released. Dizzee Rascal did what Dizzee Rascal does and the crowd lapped up his bonkers Saturday evening headline set.
The second stage, The Quarry, at the other end of the site, also has it's fair share of excellence. With short set times of half an hour for acts earlier in the day and headline sets of 45 minutes to an hour, you really need to pick and choose what you'll see here if you also want to watch acts on the main stage. Beans on Toast has been an under the radar festival favourite for years but it's great to see how welcomed he is into this tent by a young crowd who know all the words to MDMAmazing; Circa Waves do their growing reputation no harm at all with a packed out tent singing along to their shimmering indie pop. I know the name, Reel Big Fish, but it's only when watching them that I'm slapped in the face by a massive imaginary tuna. I don't think I've ever heard anything by this band before and I hang my head in shame. The Quarry tent seems to remain packed out and busy throughout the festival. It's delightful to watch young people so engaged with the music that's put on in this tent. They seem to know the words to each song played by each new up and coming indie band. Fab.
Frank Turner, and Newton Faulkner are deep in conversation, eating food and huddled around a slatted wooden picnic table in Y-Not's backstage area. They are probably exchanging festival tales. How did Kendal Calling compare to Cambridge Folk? Later, in the day, Jarvis Cocker appears in the very same backstage area. Rumours abound that he's checking out Y-Not for a 2015 Pulp reunion gig. The reality appears to be that he wants a bit of live action and Palma Violets fit the bill. This does seem to be a festival where acts mingle freely with press and punters. It goes back to the very roots of Y-Not. My guess is that ego is probably frowned upon here. Maybe this is what Frank and Newton are talking about!
One of the real revelations for me this year is how much I enjoy so many of the bands in the Giant Squid tent. At many festivals, I tend to shy away from the heavier stuff. I prefer melody to mosh pits and groove to grunge. But, there's so much sweat, effort and enthusiasm coming from this tent this weekend, it's hard not to fall head over heels. Turbowolf nail it and nail it hard with a sweaty rock/punk set. Nordic Giants are more subtle in their approach. Half an hour is nowhere near enough for these multi-instrumentalist feathered men of mystery to accompany the arty short films. Youth Man
are an excessive and exhilarating three piece of thrills and I resolve to catch them again soon. They spit water at each other and into the crowd. Raw and exciting.
Luke, a teenager, is stood at the very front of the Xanadu stage. He spits aggression through every syllable that he utters. Bare-chested and wide-eyed, he'll probably never remember the look of fear and terror that he's caused amidst the band on the stage. Hand Pockett, the Welsh comedy folk-rap trio, avoid Luke's intense stare as they banter and tease the rest of the crowd with their tune about the sausages served by the Butcher's daughter. It's a porky stand-off of sorts. I'm not sure that Luke understands the irony at play here. But the rest of us whoop, cheer and chuckle as his testosterone fuelled anger is cleverly reduced to body building excess by the clever comics Welsh whispering on stage.
This Xanadu stage has benefitted from the site redesign this year. I barely recall it's existence from last year but this year it's placed at a junction, a potential pinch point between campsite and larger stages. As a result, it's often heaving. This might be about the music programmed within here as well. It's a tent for funking, ska-ing, dancing and disco-ing within. It offers respite from some of the louder, more earnest excesses happening elsewhere.
As does the Saloon bar stage. This charming shed of a venue transports us into a world of Americana and Folk whenever we push back the 'batwing' doors and head inside. Some are simply sheltering in here from unpleasant weather on Friday evening which is a shame for Gabriel Minnikin who plays a hushed set that would be better received if people weren't talking over the top of him. It's warmer outside when Bells In The Birches delight on Sunday afternoon with a set of haunting folk harmonies, singalongs and one-liner jokes (that I wish I could now remember).
Americana offerings don't seem to be limited to the Saloon bar though. The Allotment seems to mostly play host to local(ish) bands so quite how Hungerhoff & The Wild Roots find themselves on this stage playing their first ever UK show is a bit of a mystery. This hotchpotch of Americans and Canadians (some of whom now live in Berlin) get the tent dancing with their impressive bluegrass set. Y-Not is characterised by a crowd that are enthusiastic about great music and when they stumble upon talent such as Hungerhoff, they'll respond accordingly (to the accordions). I'm more familiar with Nottingham based Huskies
but have never seen them live before. Their jingle jangle form of pop arguably sits in that hole between The Strokes, The Housemartins and Vampire Weekend. This correspondent predicts big things for these dogs.
There's a few 'fairground' like activities dotted around for punters who want a respite from the music on offer. We help find the hat of a punter that has blown off her head as she descended the Helter Skelter. Photographer Phil threatens to unleash his flowing locks onto the Roller disco (apparently, he used to be quite good) but then considers himself too wobbly on his legs. We succeed in not being sick as we ride the Chair-O-Planes but we leave the Ferris Wheel and the Dodgems to those with more settled insides.
Last year I commented in my Y-Not review that this really isn't a festival for late night partying to dance music. Whilst it is still predominantly a 'loud' festival, there are signs that we're being encouraged to dance more. I stand in a queue to get a silent disco headset for at least an hour before being told, as I got to the front of said queue, that the disco was closing in 45 minutes and I couldn't go in; we attempt to meet men dressed as grannies around the camp fire (for the programme tells us that if we ask them to tell us a story they'll lead us to a mystery place) but the queue for a late night granny is also too considerable. Others tell us the OAP's lead them to a hidden dance tent. Clearly, there's developments here but it would be good to see how Y-Not might further broaden it's late night adventures (and give a wider set of punters a chance to experience them).
Harold Wilson once said, before many of those here at Y-Not were born that, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” Despite initial reservations, once I'd got used to the new Y-Not layout, there's still abundant quality here. It's a festival that knows it's audience and appeals to them with bucketloads of bands. Somebody said to me that if you're a teenager from Derbyshire then Y-Not now represents your rite of passage. It's hard to argue with that. This well-informed crowd helped to make the 9th Y-Not one of the best yet. I wonder what changes are in store for next year?
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