Sunday, 19 July 2015

Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West

This is another brilliantly well-organised festival, now in its second year and going from strength to strength. Morph, Flounder and their team put on an amazing little festival for a sell-out crowd of 500. This was so good it's difficult to know where to start. Right from booking at the amazing value early bird price of £45 (and very reasonable £15 for live-in vehicle pass) it has been rather impressive. Parking up was trouble free and, as is often the case with smaller festivals, very close to arena for both tents and live-in vehicles. It was the same last year, which is why we booked again straight away, and we weren't disappointed.

The arena itself had two main stages in marquees, a bar tent with another stage for walk-up acts, a good choice of catering from tea and coffee and vegan to burgers and ice cream from the likes of Nana's Kitchen and The Greatest Little Coffee Box On Earth. The Hotel Bastardos had the brilliant popup bar, and disco venue, there was a healing area, a few clothes stalls and a children's activity tent. Add in some brilliant walk-about acts and this is by far the most impressive set up of any 500 person festival I've seen.

Things kicked off on the Thursday evening with just three acts playing on the Out West Stage. We arrived in time to see Gaz Brookfield, who I've waxed lyrical about before and will do again. Such a great performer and this time joined by Billy Shinbone on banjo for the song Mud and Rainbows which they wrote in under 2 hours during a radio show at last year's Glastonbury. The rest of his set was the now familiar high energy solo acoustic guy we know and love.

The Jack Ratts finished the day with an outrageous orgy of punky hoedowns and shanties. Guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion and Bouzouki all played with attitude at breakneck speed. What a start and it really set the music scene for the weekend. There was very little let up in the pace as band after band kicked out a range of jump-around dance tunes.

The Jack Ratts

I'm not going to go through all the bands playing this weekend. It would just take too long. The theme of the festival is 'western' or 'once upon a time' and there was certainly an emphasis on rockabilly, bluegrass, psychobilly, americana and blues but with plenty of folk with more than a tinge of balkan, gypsy and punk injected. However I've got to mention a fair few of the musical highlights so here goes.

Screamin' Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band are a 7 piece country blues skiffle outfit with the best band name in the world. They are fronted by the charismatic April Jackson, Becca Philip and Marc Griffiths, produce a great skiffle/blues sound and are highly recommended.
Screamin' Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band
April Jackson
Becca Philip
Buffo's Wake
Buffo's Wake
Buffo's Wake were superb, and all the more impressive as they had virtually no audience for much of the set. Wow, did people miss out there. No doubt a later slot would help here as it's a pretty unique, madcap folk sound infused with East European melodies and a touch of the macabre, evoking feelings of a subversive circus-style cabaret.

The Rythmites
The Boot Hill All Stars
A nice roots reggae set from The Rythmites, again with a smaller crowd than they deserved and another cracking performance from The Boot Hill All Stars. If you didn't know it this already the core of this band is the duo responsible for the whole festival, Flounder & Morph Murray. Murdering a whole load of covers from Rasputin and Smoke On The Water to Jolene in the nicest way possible. Nothing is safe from their rocked up country-style treatment and it's all wrapped up with a wonderful dose of burlesque, feather duster fun.

The Cat Ratchers
The Zen Hussies
The last three acts on the Friday were all outstanding. The Cat Ratchers, The Zen Hussies and my favourites, The Meow Meows; sublime female fronted ska. "Tits & Hatred" is a work of genius. Would love to see these guys at far more festivals.

The Meow Meows
The Showhawk Duo
A late booking that we were particularly keen to catch up with was the Showhawk Duo. Two years
ago they took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm with their unique take on dance and trance classics played on acoustic guitars. The video taken there went viral and they've been enjoying a fair bit of success since. They're back at the fringe again this year (17th-23rd August). We were suitably impressed and they went down very well managing to draw a crowd into the tent despite the difficult early slot.

JC & The Hopeless Sinners
Shootin' The Crow
The Tatsmiths

Araceli Cabrera Caceres
Ursula Billington
Next came the highlight of the weekend for me. Ushti Baba come from the prolific and highly creative power-house of talent that is the Gypsy Disco collective in Bristol. The full 8 piece band was joined today by their fabulous Chilean dancer, Araceli Cabrera Caceres, and despite some technical sound issues they pulled off a stunning performance. Simon Alexander's trumpet is outstanding but it is the sheer joyous energy and skill of violinist Ursula Billington that really stands out. You will see them both play in other bands but never to quite the same effect as they achieve together here. If you like your folk laced with fast balkan and gypsy rhythms that have you whirling to exhaustion then these guys are for you.

Here are a few more of the great acts from the Saturday:

Carny Villans
Railroad Bill
Curtis Eller
Poor Old Dogs
Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Groove
Cut Capers
Los Albertos
Hot Tin Roofs
The Swingabouts
An improvement from last year was the number of top quality walk-about acts. Just to mention a few we had The Swingabouts entertaining across the whole field with some great jiving. Then there were the synchronised swimmers. Great bunch of guys who've worked the Edinburgh Fringe among other places with their hilarious routine. A New Orleans style 'funeral' band complete with coffin and a scythe-wielding Death drew a great crowd and had plenty dancing around.

Once Upon A Time In The West is a little different in style from our normal festivals and all the better for it. It's a tiny, old-school event with a strong theme and an excellent crowd who leave the site immaculate. Just how festivals should be. The only way I'd improve things is to have a fire pit for night owls to gather around. I don't doubt this one will sell out year after year. Check it out early if you want to give it go.

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