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Solfest 2011 Reviewed

We sent Alison Glover to take a look at Solfest and report back

Friday at Solfest

Solfest in Cumbria has been running for the last 8 years and is a family friendly eclectic mix of different styles of music, stalls, food and workshops; you'll find something to please everyone somewhere at this festival. I didn’t arrive at the Solfest site until 7.30 so had missed the first part of the afternoon’s entertainment so after getting my bearings I went to the main stage to see Kate Rusby's set.  It was 7 years since she last played Solfest and she has an almost all new band since then. Rusby started off with 'The Wishing Wife' followed by 'The Good Man' – nice combination and a mellow beginning to her set.  Her beautiful pure voice is ideally suited to the style of music she performs and she also brings a nice banter in between tunes.  Other songs included 'Only Hope', 'Mary Blaize', 'Take My Hand My Dear' and 'I Wish', I noticed that a large beetle made a guest appearance on stage with the band!  This was a really nice laid back beginning to my weekend at Solfest.

Headliners on Friday on the main stage were The Saw Doctors and as they started to play so did a light rain but this didn't stop the audience enjoying the Irish charm and tunes. Tommy K is always a crowd pleaser with Davy Carton doing his signature dance. 'Until the End' and 'Last Call' followed, the mood then got romantic with 'Indian Summer' in a cool damp field!  The band played almost perfectly apart from one noticeable hiccup but we can allow that. 'Green And Red Of Mayo' picked up the pace while 'Clare Island' got the whole crowd singing along and waving their arms.  This then progressed to bouncing along to 'About You Now'.  'She Loves Me She Loves Me Not' kept up the momentum but I wasn’t sure about the inclusion of a few lines from 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' – not convinced it worked.  'N17' had the entire audience up on their feet dancing and singing the chorus really warming the place up.  After a quick comfort break they were back for an encore of 'I’ll Be On My Way ',  'Why Do I Always Want You'. The Saw Doctors finished off a great performance with a few bars of 'Down Town' and 'I Like The Way You Move' to rock it up a bit with lots of raised arms and Irish jazz hands!  A good end to a by now fairly cold and damp evening.

The site was quite magical with fairy lights and camp fires, lovely smells from the various food stalls and snippets of music coming from the dance and chill out tents as we meandered by.

Saturday at Solfest

Saturday was Fancy Dress Day at the festival and it began with beautiful sunshine and blue skies.  After an indulgent elevenses of soya cappuccino and a crunchie brownie, a few minutes considering a visit to one of the reiki and massage tents, and a couple of circuits of the site as the traders were setting up - we strolled over to the main stage to see A Room Full Of Owls.  It was a bit bizarre seeing Spiderman, Zorro, Catwoman, Robin, Mario and Morph on stage, nice that they entered into the spirit of Fancy Dress Day. Initially they seemed a bit nervous but soon warmed up and wound up playing a pretty good set.

Second up should have been Pegasus Bridge but they had to pull out and so Nina Nesbitt stood in for them. Looking very young and beautiful Nesbitt sang gently showcasing her lovely voice.  I liked her, she did a good job at short notice, given that it was her first big concert and she made some debut on that main stage.

We had another perambulate around to look at the wealth and range of costumes on show, some of which were very imaginative.  Favourites were a swarm of bees complete with a sunflower and swatting team, a dragon, lots of fairies, and a balloon man. I wondered how long it would be before he was popped! 

Back to the main stage and the Bikini Beach Band were playing an absolutely storming set!  This was their 3rd visit to Solfest and I loved them.  Dressed in bright red, orange and yellow frilly shirts and tight red trousers and sporting fez’s they played instrumental versions of classic tunes with deadpan expressions and co-ordinated dance moves.  The rain had now started in earnest but that didn’t seem to matter as the crowd lapped it up!  Included were 'Rehab', 'Creep', and 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor'.  Towards the end of the set they were joined on stage by a pair of hula dancers, one male and one female in matching grass skirts who did some excellent shimmying. They finished their set with 'Misirlou' and went off to an amazing roar from a very appreciative crowd.  Their brand of sunshine music really made the dancing crowd forget all about the rain.

Wilko Johnson played on the main stage on Saturday evening and even though it was by now absolutely pouring with rain, it didn’t dampen the audience’s enthusiasm for his brand of R&B.  Norman Watt Roy played like a demon possessed and got totally lost in the music, and Johnson was his usual manic self with his trademark steely stare and jerky dance as he machine gunned the audience with his guitar. Totally loved it and so did the crowd.

Next up on the Main Stage was Camille O Sullivan who looked absolutely gorgeous but appeared to be as mad as a box of frogs!  She sang her own take on well-known songs by Bowie, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and others. I have to say I didn’t get it – maybe the cold and damp had infiltrated my brain too much, but the very soggy crowd lapped it up.

At this point I was distracted by the smells coming from the food stalls, in particular the Taste of the Seychelles stand, so we headed off in search of sustenance and filled our tummies with some excellent steak & haggis pies from the pie van.  Highly recommended and warming.
We were were introduced to Duck McDude - were you? he's very well travelled don't you know
Fortified by pies we ventured into the Bar Stage tent to catch Sad Society, a Scottish punk band who played a fast, furious and excellent set. We also were introduced to Duck McDude, a yellow plastic duck who had been liberated from a bathroom windowsill. This was his third year at Solfest, he has seen the 7 Wonders of The World, visited 21 different countries, apparently has his own Facebook page and was determined to have his photo taken on stage at Solfest. He succeeded!

Back out into the dark and it was time for the headline act – The Damned.  This was the first performance in their 35th Anniversary Tour.  They didn’t disappoint with classics like 'New Rose', 'Fan Club', 'Eloise', 'Love Song' and 'History of the World'.  Even after 35 years Dave Vanian is still smooth, suave and sophisticated with not a hair out of place and his trademark white streak and shades. When keyboard player Monty Oxymoron gets out from behind his keyboards he bounces about like an over-excited Duracell bunny, Stu West delivers a solid bass line and Pinch the drummer keeps the pace going.  Captain Sensible is just – well, Captain Sensible! They played a great set and finished with encores of 'Jet Boy Jet Girl' and the ubiquitous 'Smash It Up'.

After The Damned it was time for the UK Subs to take to the stage in the Bar Tent. They played with Chema on bass, a tiny whirlwind of a musician with his perfect black and red Mohawk. Jamie Oliver on drums played a blinder, and Jet on guitar supported the legend that is Charlie Harper.  They played a mixture of old classics like 'Warhead', 'Stranglehold', 'I Live In A Car' and new songs from their current album 'Work In Progress'.  Charlie jumps about like a man half his age and always delivers.

By now we were a bit tired, so at this point we gave in and headed off to bed!

Sunday at Solfest

Sunday morning was windy and cold - the hat and jumper sellers were doing a roaring trade, but there was no sign of rain.  We started the morning gently with a walk around the site, got a coffee and a brownie (a malteser one this time) and went to sit by the Drystone Stage to listen to April Maybe May perform.  They are an electric/acoustic duo who came on with their mugs of tea, setting the tone for their music which was pleasant, laid back, nicely sung but did send some of the Sunday morning watchers to sleep. A small child near the front of the stage enjoyed it immensely but it was a bit too gentle for me, so we walked up over the hill and down to the Main Stage to catch Joana and The Wolf.  

Joana and The Wolf are a band from London who sound like a cross between Florence & The Machine and the Cocteau Twins.  Joana looked striking in a leotard, diaphanous skirt and red ballet shoes, she sang in a slightly manic and dramatic way punctuated by intense dance moves. They went down fairly well, although there were a few bemused faces in the Sunday crowd!

By now the wind was getting up and I wasn’t quite sure that the addition of blue string and gaffer tape to the swinging sound rig of the main stage was going to do much of any use! The many flags and kites around the site were billowing in the strengthening wind, and the parachuting teddies were flying for miles.

Po’Girl followed Joana and The Wolf, they are a Canadian 3 piece with about a gazillion instruments each, we watched a couple of songs but were freezing by now, shivering, cold and damp so we went on a hunt to buy a hat.

Hat sourced and bought we headed to the Bar Stage to see what was happening whilst taking the opportunity to warm up a bit out of the wind.  Stop The Blackout were playing, an indie four piece band with a cool guitarist in shades despite the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun for hours! They were reminiscent of Coldplay and have a new EP out, 'On This Day' which I have to tell you is worth a listen.

Back out into the daylight Mostly Autumn were playing their take on classic soft rock on the main stage. They have been together for 15 years and this experience showed in their professional performance. Olivia the singer has a gorgeous voice and was clearly made to be a performer.

Over at the Drystone Stage A Genuine Freakshow were next up.  A big band (I think I counted 8 or 9 of them) they played a good set. I am a sucker for electric cellos and violins so I really enjoyed it.  

I decided I really needed warming up now so we headed back to the Main Stage for Kanda Bongo Man.  I had seen him on Jools Holland’s show and had been very impressed so I was looking forward to this a lot and I wasn’t disappointed!  Great African Soukous rhythms, the girl singer braving the cold in a sarong and bikini top with the audience joining in the Kwassi Kwassi dancing in their jumper’s hats and wellies!  Everyone was dancing, children, grown ups, photographers, security men. It was a great vibe and really brought the sunshine back.
My only criticism would be that the set was too short; we were left wanting a lot more from Kanda Bongo Man. Loved it!
Liverpudlians Cast were next up on the Main Stage. One of those bands that you think you know the name of and then when they start playing you find yourself saying “I know that one, oh, I know that one too, and that one!”.  Highlights were 'Sandstorm', 'Alright', 'Walkaway' and 'Guiding Star'.  

Headliners for Sunday night were The Stranglers.  One of the great bands to have emerged from the punk scene they were on top form played what can only be describes as a stonking set.  From the opening bars of 'Waltz in Black' to the final chords of 'No More Heroes' they held the audience in the palms of their hands.  JJ Burnel and his funky little dance, Dave Greenfield’s waterfall keyboards, Jet Black’s solid drumming and Baz Warne’s menacing stare all add up to a great band. Songs included 'Peaches', 'Golden Brown', 'Nice n Sleazy', 'Sweden', 'Nuclear Device' and 'Always The Sun'.  They played two encores and the crowd didn’t want them to go. An excellent way to close the Solfest Main Stage for 2011.

We drifted away reluctantly and followed some of the crowd up to the Bar Stage to catch Bombskare.  Despite being absolutely exhausted and having aching legs from a weekend of dancing, talking and watching bands, Bombskare lifted the energy levels right up and it was impossible to sit still and not to get up and move to their relentless ska beat. They call themselves Scotland’s Ska Juggernaut and they certainly are!  The whole tent was jumping and I’m sure I saw Robson Green sweating and skanking away. Fantastic!

All in all it was a great festival, there was lots going on for people of all ages, the festival was well organised with a good and varied selection of bands, despite the worse the weather could throw at us we had a fabulous weekend.  I’d definitely recommend it, it’s not too small and it's not too big and impersonal.
 I’ll be back, thank you Solfest!
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Review Info

Alison Glover with photos by Fishbones Glover
2nd September 2011
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