The Beautiful Days festival was created and is run by the Levellers, who wanted to “offer not only the best in live music today but to re-create a community spirit that many events nowadays lack or choose to ignore"
It is set in the beautiful location of Escot Park in Devon, and this was really brought home to us by the herd of cows watching all the festival-goers from a field by the main walkway in. Arriving at the festival was easy and efficient, with wristbands given out whilst driving in, and the car parks being close to the camping areas.
The site is small, with 2 main stages and 2 smaller stages supplying the music, and a good selection of food and produce stalls to keep the punters happy and fed. The festival is definitely family orientated, with large areas dedicated to keeping children entertained with performers, games, arts and crafts. There was a plethora of families at the festival enjoying themselves, and the children added an element of joy and discovery to the weekend, which is lost at many other events.
This vibe could be felt in all areas of the festival; from the friendly faces behind the food stalls; the children turning the camp sites into a giant playground; acrobats and singers there to entertain; and even the police seemed to have smiles on their faces, and were relaxed.
But the whole scene was let down by the litter, and the poor recycling facilities. The site quickly got messy, and it wasn’t long before the bins were overflowing. Certainly the organisers could learn about the model used at WOMAD, and if they did they would have a faultless festival.
Of course, however, you come to festivals for the music, and Beautiful Days did not disappoint. The basic theme was folk and funk, and featured local bands and bands with a more ‘worldly’ outlook. They were chosen to entertain and to help the audience to dance, to sing, and to make the audience think. Friday saw the festival kick off with a Levellers acoustic set, an energetic set which rapidly filled the Big Top tent as their sound was heard across the site.
However, it was the lesser known bands which provided the highlights of the weekend. On the Friday Sonic Boom Six opened up the main stage, with their colourful music to match Laila K’s outfit. A combination of Ska, hip-hop and Reggae, they got the crowd dancing under the grey skies, and set the scene for the rest of the weekend. The King Blues arrived onstage to a wall of teenage screams, their hit I’ve Got Love was probably the anthem of the weekend, and the world seemed a far rosier place as they closed.
Over at The Big Top it was a far folkier affair, with Jim Moray, and Chris While & Julie Matthews showing a different side to the festivals. Imelda May gave us some jazz and soul early in the evening, before The Broken Family Band produced an urgent, addictive set of indie rock. A band to keep an eye on.
Back over on the main stage, Dreadzone showed the newbie’s a few tricks in whipping up the audience with their heavy beats of dub, reggae and techno, even though frontman MC Spee was on crutches and forced to sit down for the entire performance. Dreadzone were followed by Hawkwind, who just didn’t have the energy on stage to finish Friday in style. Even their dancers and lazer show could not lift their set, a shame after some fantastic earlier acts.
Mozzy Green opened the main stage, and I was blown away by their passion and ear for a melody. Will and the People upped the pace, before local favourite Pronghorn, a cowpunk band, entertained the crowd with their mix of West Country folk and European folk, encouraging the audience to have a dance off in one of the best moments of the weekend.
The Martin Harley Band supplied moments of mournful ballads, blues and jazzy swing, and will have earned many new followers after their set. Kissmet were colourful, fun, and took your breath away with their energy and drumming. Lau, who won best group at the BBC Folk awards in 2008, brought and accordion into proceedings, and their music was lapped up by the crowd.
Back on the main stage, Les Truttes showed that you should never judge a book by its cover; if you’d told me that one of the most entertaining artists of the weekend would be a Belgian cover band, I wouldn’t have believed you. But sing, dance and act they did, pumping out hits from Queen to Britney Spears, I hope to see them again in the future.
The Dub Pistols followed, with Barry Ashworth leaping around the stage, the crowd were soon following. The Wonder Stuff performed their greatest hits set, with a couple of newbie’s snuck in there. Their fiddler Erica Nockalls looked fantastic in her blue dress, and added a touch of glamour to this band of 21 years.
The Saw Doctors followed, and though they look their years, they still managed to eek some dancing out of the audience. And then it was The Pogues turn, and a chance to show me what all the fuss is about, having never been enraptured by them. Inebriated as expected, the magic of Shane MacGowan failed to materialise, and I, along with many of my fellow watchers, thought it was a set lacking in the energy which this festival deserves. Most would have had a far more enjoyable time over at the Big Top, with The Imagined Village and Swans in Flight playing blinding sets.
The imagined Village produce a sound which can only be described as “folk for the 21st Century”, and of course the unofficial star is Eliza Carthy, a woman who has amazing stage presence, and is a mean fiddler. However the act of the night has to go to Swans in Flight, who played to a practically empty tent, which was a crime as their music was fun, passionate, rocking and very, very good. I felt very sorry for them, as their music deserved far more recognition on the night.
The Subhumans played a blistering punk set on the main stage, which incited a group of moshers unseen in the first 2 days. Frank Turner played a fantastic set after, his catchy guitar melodies and good looks pressing all the right buttons with the crowd.
The Living End then brought a bit of Aussie rock to the event, Scott Owen stealing the show with his antics with his double bass, playing it like a guitar, spinning it wildly and balancing on it, enjoying himself immensely. Over in the Big tent, Chris TT played a solo gig, singing political songs about protecting the countryside, and the behaviour of the police. Babar Luck played a rocking set of his songs about spirituality, though he was competing with Gong on the Main Stage.
Gong are one of those bands I’ve heard fleeting things about in the past, but have never heard their music. They play psychedelic rock, or space rock, and though might have been awesome in their day, and under a dark sky, their set did not amaze. The lighting show was lost to the sun, and even Daevid Allen’s charm and costume changes, could not stem the feeling that it could have been better.
Lamb, however, wowed the crowd. It was a bit of a risk to put a drum and bass outfit on high up the bill, but their music was soulful, progressive, and was just right as the sun set. Lou Rhodes looked and sounded gorgeous, and mixed with their bouncy beats, it was a real treat.
Back in the Big Top, Eliza Carthy took centre stage as a solo artist, and she played to a packed tent. She is such a talented individual, and with such a great stage personality, her and her band we great to watch. Cara Dillon played a far more sombre set, beautiful though it was it was a relief when the Blockheads appeared on stage to continue the party. Under dim lights, they crammed the stage and played a blistering set, these old timers showing that you don’t need to be young to rock a joint. Bassist Norman Watt-Roy is a living legend, one of the best players in the world, and the driving force behind this band, which continue on without Ian Dury.
Of course, those who chose to watch the Blockheads were missing out on the Levellers. And many would not have been disappointed. The Levellers, closing on the mainstage, played their debut album ‘A Weapon Called The World’ in its entirety for the first half of their set, before playing a few of their hits to close off. Keen Levellers fans would have liked it, and it was brave for the band to do something different, but maybe a few more hits would have been welcomed.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable 3 days. The food was good, the toilets cleaned regularly, the outfits colourful, the beer and cider tasty, and the music varied and of high quality. Certainly if you have a young family I would highly recommend it. I will be back next year.
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