Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Willowman Festival 2015

"Just about the perfect festival"

Well that was the comment I heard from more than one or two folk at the end of the latest weekend of hedonistic revelry. And I have to say I agree. You'd have to be really picky to find fault with this one. I am and I will (I really don't like the thick plastic wristbands) but my goodness this was very close to being flawless.

Let's start with arrival. After the fiasco of the campervan parking at Bearded Theory last month it was a joy to be directed straight to a marked pitch with no fuss. Likewise tent camping and parking was more organised with the only minor issue being the family camping was the furthest from the parking. We were soon pitched and heading into the arena, which was right next to the campsites, for the first performances.

This is a relatively small festival with a 5,000 maximum capacity but I don't think it reached that. A lot of the time it felt like a sub-1,000 event with people of all ages and plenty of families making for a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The main arena was divided into two with the entrance and a few shops along the strip joining the two. One side had the main outdoor stage, another stage in a large marquee with a bar and a tent for dance music. The other side ("T'other field") had a large open area for games and activities and was also home to a good firepit with enough fuel to keep it going most of the night. Creative Intentions ran a colourful, popular cafe and hangout space and were responsible for the Acoustic Stage in one corner. This got a bit more than acoustic when it hosted a battle of the bands session for some talented young acts. I regretted not spending more time around this area but there was such a lot of good stuff going on elsewhere and you can't be everywhere, even at a small festival like this.

Parson's Lot
We arrived on the Friday so had missed the Andy Kershaw DJ session the previous evening and kicked off our festival with Parson's Lot. A fabulous, dancy folk-rock set with great covers and even better originals. Jeff "Jethro" Platts is not only an excellent frontman, vocalist and whistle-ist but all round great guy; a force behind the Creative Intentions space and the Acoustic Stage and rattling buckets to raise loads of money for Pegasus Children's Project. All told £1,500 was raised during the festival which will go some way to help the project's school and children's home in East Kathmandu recover from the effects of the earthquake in Nepal.

Frankie & the Heartstings
The two main stages operated alternately so music was continuous here without having to miss a single act (unless nipping over to the delights of t'other field). As usual I won't mention them all. Frankie & The Heart Strings were next up on the main stage and brought youth to a set that was musically strangely retro with almost a Roxy Music feel to it.

Neck were up next and much anticipated after storming the main stage at Bearded Theory a few weeks before. It was always going to be a tall order to top that, especially on the smaller, bar tent stage but they did a great job of pulling folk inside and getting plenty of us dancing to the riotous London-Irish folk-punk fiddle and whistle laden sounds.

To quote Monty Python; and now for something completely different. And there was definitely something slightly surreal about Astralasia as they took to the stage in the tent later Friday evening. Regular festival goers will be more used to a mix of rock, pop, folk, punk, ska, reggae and the like on the live stages but I had to look up how to categorise this psychedelic dance outfit. Words like acid house, trance and ambient dub mean very little to me I'm ashamed to say but apparently Astralasia have been an influence on these styles since the 90s. They certainly stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the live lineup. The hypnotic beats and tunes with wacky guitar sounds and freaky vocals from the feather-wielding lead went down really well in the tent packed with dancers and personally I loved it.

Echo & the Bunnymen
Headliners on the main stage Friday night were Echo & the Bunnymen but please, just look at the pictures. My mum always said if you can't find anything good to say, don't say anything at all. So, er... somebody clearly liked them because we could hear the encores from our van. There I found something!

North-east punk band Fire Lady Luck made an excellent job of getting Saturday underway despite some light rain early on and the North-east theme continued with the superb Charlotte Yanni Band. They played the acoustic tent here last year but this was the first time I'd seen them. The band is led by the talented, enthusiastic and excited Charlotte Yanni, originally from France but now based in South Shields, hence the name of her two piece act 'Frog on the Tyne' which she performs with the full band's charismatic double-bass player Kev Charlton. Although quite varied the music was distinctly rock and blues flavoured with great original tunes and a superb rendition of The Cranberries Zombie.
Charlotte Yanni Band

Sorry about the sound quality on the video. Phone was a bit close to the speakers.

Steve Williams and the Blues Deluxe
The Willowman Festival is the brainchild of Steve Williams and he took to the main stage next with his Blues Deluxe band and his flowing white locks. There followed a very professional example of jazzy rock and blues with some outstanding musicianship, especially on the Hammond organ.

Bessie and the Zincbuckets
Kev Charlton appeared again a little later with his magnificently painted instrument on the main stage with Bessie and the Zinc Buckets who appeared to have brought their entire fanclub down from the north-east judging by the number of their t-shirts being proudly worn around the site. This was rockabilly madness with no classic song too sacred to be spared the bucket treatment. Great fun and good to see so many up and dancing this early in the day. They brightened up the day in more ways than one as this was the point at which the sun came out and stayed to give a beautiful afternoon.

While the sun shone, Manchester punks Goldblade were delivering a loud, energetic set to a pretty packed tent stage with a shirtless John Robb flying around stage and audience in stark contrast to the increasingly chilled and sleepy crowd now flopped out around the main arena. The next act on the main stage, Pearl Handled Revolver reflected this mood and thing moved on in a slow lazy way as we worked our way towards one of the weekend's highlights.

New Groove Formation
To say we like New Groove Formation would be understating it a bit! This is party-style ska at its absolute best. They never fail to get the dancers going and I invariably end up an exhausted, sweaty mess, and I'm not alone. This was another great show; their usual festival setlist with many numbers off the last album "Summer In A Glass" (a masterpiece of consistently great songs) plus great tracks like "Turkish Delight" and "Too Much".

The sun was still shining low in the west on a stunningly beautiful evening as Dreadzone hit the main stage. A familiar feature on the UK festival scene for many years and still delivering a superb blend of dub, reggae, dance. Great band and great performance, rightly well appreciated and a great way to see the sun go down, Following them in the tent was Toasters and I regret taking a break at this point and missing them. By all accounts this 80s New York ska outfit put on an excellent show and I'll be looking out for them again in future.

Headlining the main stage was Peter Hook & the Light but this wasn't really our thing so it was at this point we retired to the firepit in t'other field and watched Venus and Jupiter set together after the sun and the odd shooting star as we chatted and played a few songs into the never-really-dark solstice night. One of my only tiny criticisms of the festival was the firepit was a bit close to the Creative Intentions tent so the music from there was making the impromptu firepit jams hard to hear. Picky I know, but a slightly different location would do the trick.

Electric River
The final day was to be relatively short with a very early curfew and first up was a band that had taken Bearded Theory by storm. Despite them playing 5 sets there I managed to miss them so was keen to see what all the fuss was about. Electric River are a 3-piece from the South-east playing heavier-than-average rock verging on metal at times. A very slick act, perhaps a little too polished as it could come over a little clinical at times but this was an enthusiastic and energetic set. Again it went down very well with the early crowd and this is an act going places.

The Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican
I caught a snatch of Big Red & the Grinners belting out some fun bluegrass then it was time for the brilliant Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican, covering all your favourite song and butchering them with comedy lyrics. If laughing and dancing isn't you're thing then stay away. Not many did; it was packed! The tank-top toting, wig-wearing jokers had the crowd in stitches as always. I was again struck by the understated skill of the young Bjorn Doonicanson (Dan) on fiddle and banjo. It's sad that not long after this performance the old fella who gives his name to the act passed away and the dedication penned by leader Scott is a testament to the genuine affection he is held in by the band. They will continue to keep the man's legacy alive by entertaining and rocking us, but gently. They got the biggest shout for an encore of the whole weekend, which threatened to turn into a riot when it was refused. Their popularity is richly deserved

Hazel O'Connor
Hazel O'Connor was on last on the main stage and, although very good - especially the sax, failed to wow me and was rather too downbeat as a headliner for my liking. The same could not be said for the very last act of the festival. Winding up proceedings in the Willow Wobbly tent was the outstanding Ferocious Dog.

Ferocious Dog
What can say about the lads from Warsop? This is folk punk like you've never heard it before. Fast, furious, exciting, emotionally charged, it has it all. Been following the band for a fair while now and with every gig the ranks of the Hell Hounds (fans) swell. For some this is just jump around music, for some a chance to marvel at the mohawks, tattoos and musical talents of the performers, for others a sing along to the politically-charged lyrics and for some a headfirst dive into the friendliest, semi-naked, sweaty moshpit in the world. The choreographed crowd surfing is yet another part of the overall experience but whatever you get out of it you will want more. Ferocious Dog is as addictive as it is brilliant music. A new album will be released shortly featuring many of the songs that are now firm favourites in the live shows and will include the single Ruby Bridges available to download from the usual places.

And so it was back to the firepit for the final night to sing and talk and relive the experiences of one of the best ever music festivals. Great music, great camping, great loos, great for families, great vibe and a special mention for the bar staff who worked tirelessly and we barely had to wait to be served even when it was busy. Super early bird tickets are already on sale for 16th-19th June 2016. I've got mine. I hope you can make it too.

There are hundreds of superb photos of the festival goers at Andy R Photography. Take a look:
Friday 1
Friday 2
Friday 3
Friday 4
Friday 5
Friday 6
Saturday 1
Saturday 2
Saturday 3
Sunday 1
Sunday 2
Sunday 3
Sunday 4
Sunday 5

No comments:

Post a Comment