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The Larmer Tree Festival 2014 Reviewed

A vibrant, fun-filled weekend in a sublime setting, it had a helluva lot going for it...

What an amazing festival! I’ve never been but always wanted to go and I was not expecting what I got and what I found at The Larmer Tree. Everybody (stall holders, stewards, security, performers and festival goers) all mingled together producing a great vibe and clealry all were happy to be there.   

The site was kept immaculately clean throughout the weekend and most importantly, the loos were kept stocked with loo roll, emptied regularly and you didn’t have to queue for long. (To highlight quite how important this is, I once queued for over an hour at Reading Festival and was glad I had my wellies on!!!!)

I was also surprised at the very reasonably priced food and drink (no more than you would pay on the high street) and a very diverse range of offerings, including the best pizza I have ever had at a festival.

Space Hopping at the Larmer Tree!
Space Hopping at the Larmer Tree!

Set in the grounds of Larmer Tree Gardens, there was so much space it never felt too crowded. The attention to detail is incredible. Everywhere you go, there is something going on. You could take three generations of family and there would be something for everyone. Fancy Yoga or Zumba to start the day? It’s there. Need a massage? Head to the secret garden.

Then there were the performance artists popping up out of nowhere as you wander round...and the phone boxes dotted around the site where you could call another phone box and someone passing by would answer. Genius.

The annual Larmer Tree carnival was awash with vibrant colours and creative costumes which wound its way around the festival site on the Sunday bringing the festival goers together in the true spirit of this friendly festival.

The there is the music. There were performances in the ‘Big Top’, the ‘Social’, the ‘Arc’, ‘Garden Stage’ (beautiful Victorian stage) and the ‘Main Stage’. An eclectic mix - Dub/ Soul/ Acoustic/ Comedy/ Rock/ Punk/ Indie/ Ska/ Rap/ Blues – you name it, it’s there.

Yes, they really do have Peacocks wandering around
Yes, they really do have Peacocks wandering around

Most people focus on the main attractions, the headlining acts on the main stage. They, of course, were amazing and had the crowds on their feet. Tom Jones on Wednesday, The Squeeze on Thursday, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls on Friday, Public Service Broadcasting on Saturday and Gentleman’s Dub Club on Sunday.

However, as you hop from stage to stage, you discover talented bands you’ve never heard of that had you on your feet.

A prime example of this was NudyBronque, playing the Social. The Social is generally more of a chill out tent and I don’t think the band themselves were expecting the reaction they got. A mix of humour, charisma and catchy tunes, these talented guys had the crowd on their feet. Best summed up by the person walking past me who stated ‘I’ve never seen a standing ovation at this time in the afternoon’!

NudyBronque, a standing ovation? yes, really!
NudyBronque, a standing ovation? yes, really!

The Social also provided the stage for some very clever sampling from Will McNicol and the ARC had great sets form Lily McCauley and Eyes for Gertrude. The FB Pocket Orchestra transported everyone back to a Bugsy Malone-style speak easy, with toe-tapping tunes and outfits to match. The Little Unsaid played the Garden Stage with catchy tunes, clean drums and melodic strings. The set included some punchy upbeat numbers and were lovely to watch.

After a scolding hot day, the temperature dropped to bearable and James Bay came on to the main stage. With a catchy opening number, he had the crowd on his side. ‘Let it go’ – the title track to the recently released EP is a more melancholy number but still very listenable.

Seriously? How charismatic is the singer of The Heavy? From the moment they came on, he had the crowd on their feet. In fact the whole band did. A mix of soul & rock, smooth & silky vocals, tight & energetic band. A couple of microphone issues probably went unnoticed to most due to the professionalism of the band and the swift response of the techs. Definitely my bag. Keeping it real – ‘I’m sweating like a mofo’ (Kelvin Swaby)

Kelvin Swaby, The Heavy
Kelvin Swaby, The Heavy

Beans on Toast – I had doubts about how this would go down at this festival. How wrong could I be? His irony was not lost on the crowd and although he kept the swearing in (he contemplated leaving it out) the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the set which included guest appearances from both Will Varley and Frank Turner.

Beans on Toast
Beans on Toast

Hat Fitz & Cara – what an awesome duo. So much so, I caught both sets. Amazing percussion/ drumming work combined with gritty blues guitar. La Chiva Gantiva – I love live music that is theatrical and fun. That’s why I love live music. This band encompassed both these thing. A mix of Rock-Afro Punk, this was a thoroughly entertaining late afternoon set.

Boppin’ B were high energy, they looked like they were loving every minute of it and so were the crowd. I’ve never seen a guitarist standing on the shoulders of other band members, whilst playing. By the end, everyone was dancing the early evening away. The Bad Shepherds added entertainment on the Garden Stage towards the end of a hot and rainy day. With good humour and catchy/ innovative covers, they were a great warm up to the headlining band. The best way to describe CoCo and the Butterfields is in their own word ‘fip-fok’ – a fusion of folk, hip-hop & pop. Highly energetic, fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.

Boppin' B
Boppin' B

La Pegitana (due to their delayed flight) played their set on the Garden Stage. A 7-piece from Catalan, they were visually vibrant and high energy.  They worked the crowd and got the afternoon started with their own punk ska samba mix of music. I also loved their entrance on to the stage with several streamer cannons firing coloured paper with the bands logo on into the crowd.

Hudson Taylor took to the main stage on the Sunday, I have never seen these guys before but after watching their excellent set I will definitely be looking out for them again. Comprised of two brothers they really had the crowd singing along and it was a great surprise to watch them joined on stage by Gabrielle Aplin mid-way through their set.

Hudson Taylor
Hudson Taylor

The weekend was topped off with a terrific set from Gentleman’s Dub club, raising the roof on what had turned out to be the most fabulous festival weekend.

After the main acts had finished for the day, the Arc tent transformed from a music stage to a comedy stage which included some of the UK’s top comedy talent with such acts as Mark Watson, Lee Nelson, Chris Ramsey and the outstanding Abandon Man whose spontaneous ‘off the wall’ comedy and ‘made up on the spot’ songs had me in stitches. Who’d have thought you could rap about Waitrose running out of pine nuts?

Mark Watson
Mark Watson

The variety of things to do and acts to see at the Larmer Tree is truly amazing for a small festival and the time and effort that’s gone into making this a great place truly shows. If you’ve never been to a festival and you think you’re too old or you used to go but think you can’t now you’ve got kid’s – think again. This is probably the festival for you.

I really can’t wait for next year when they celebrate 25 years!

Gentleman's Dub Club
Gentleman's Dub Club

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Jo Palmer
17th July 2014
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The Larmer Tree Festival 2014 Reviewed

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