Once again the weather wasn't ideal, however none of that seemed to matter as the Beautiful Days crowd proved to be resilient and up for it. It's this gathering of people that keeps the Beautiful Days atmosphere alive throughout the weekend no matter what happens.
On Friday night, one of, if not my personal musical highlight of the weekend was the untouchable Waterboys. It was mesmerising to see their frontman and songwriter Mike Scott sing timeless classics such as the moving 'Fishermans Blues', irresistible 'A Girl Called Johnny', still-riotous 'We Will Not be Lovers' and the undeniable 'Whole of the Moon' with endless, inspiring, passionate, vigour, using his ever-powerful, dynamic vocals to full effect. Scott even twisted the lyrics of one of their newer tracks 'Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)' at the end to 'you elected the wrong guy USA', which was predictably, met with cheers. Even their latest track 'If the Answer Is Yeah' cuts through brilliantly in this live setting. The whole band also were clearly committed to the performance – from the tight rhythm section to their keyboardist Brother Paul Brown's electrifying, energetic, signature performance style. Fiddlist Steve Wickham 's effortless, cutting performance also makes it hard to argue with Mike Scott's claim that he is 'the world's greatest rock fiddle player.'
A firm favourite of Beautiful Days, as well as many other festival fields, is the Bimble Inn and for the Beautiful Days regulars, it really is your local-pub-at-a-festival – except with better décor, bands, staging and atmosphere. Their line up this year brought Funke & the Two Tone Baby's infectious, bluesy sound and a rousing set from Beautiful Days favourites Hobo Jones & the Junkyard Dogs which went down so well you couldn't even get in the tent. The inn also provided a late-night hangout (and bar) for those who weren't quite ready to go to bed, staying open until the early hours for drinking, partying, dancing and all other good festival vibes.
Another Beautiful Days venue returning for 2017 was the Bandstand. The beautiful, intimate yet outdoor and spacious stage was the perfect place for people to chill out while taking in musical highlights from the likes of King Size Slim, Bandstand favourites the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican and a fiery set from Winter Mountain (with guests world-renowned fiddlist Seth Lakeman, as well as his dad folk legend Geoff Lakeman). Bandstand audiences were also treated to a surprise set from duo the Devils Prefects who's diverse catalogue includes tracks such as 'I'm Gonna Knock One Out for Jesus', the advisory 'Shoot Em in the Head', as well as the ever anthemic 'Shitfaced'. Every year at Beautiful Days, the bandstand grows it's following of regulars and with its unique atmosphere, it's easy to see why.
The Bandstand also played host to a set from underground festival hero Doozer McDooze. Part of why Doozer goes down so well, is because he sings about what his audience are going through in their everyday lives outside of the festival field, however while he was playing his audience were currently going through a lot of rain and mud. Upon seeing this Doozer decided to pack as many of the audience as he could fit onto the stage, in order to shelter them from the unfortunate weather. While the audience gathered round, singing along to many of Doozer's songs, a rainbow appeared behind the stage. It is moments like this which sum up the communal spirit that is shared by the Beautiful Days audience – and it is this spirit that I think keeps people coming back year on year. While I thought that some of 2017's line up could have been better, for example Friday night's, while talented, underwhelming, lacklustre headliners Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot seemed a poor choice – none of that matters when there are moments like this. It is easy to see why one punter described it to me as a festival that felt like a 'family gathering of thousands.'
Not only is the festival great for its reasonably-priced bars (you can even bring your own booze into the arena if you want to), music and atmosphere but also for its accommodating nature. The children's area was made up of many different devoted activities and was definitely one of the best-produced on the UK festival scene. The punters were also very friendly keeping the event family-orientated no matter where you ended up during the weekend.
The portaloos were also much appreciated by many – well-stocked with toilet paper and kept clean in difficult circumstances by Andyloos.
I also visited the disability field, and was told by many how appreciated and vital Beautiful Days' arrangements were. I was also told that they were ahead of many other festivals in this area. However some mentioned that the access arrangements could have been better when onsite, particularly due to any festival's variable weather conditions, in this case the mud would have been improved by ramping but on the whole it was heartening for many to see the effort the Beautiful Days team went too.
Other highlights included Frank Turner's Saturday night headline show – although not the best set I've seen from him, there were highlights including dynamic, powerful, closer 'Four Simple Words' and his guitar tech's dad crowd surfing on his behalf. As ever his impressive live vocal ability was evident and his mesmerising songwriting shone through on songs like the beautiful, intricate 'To Take You Home' as well as one of his most epic tracks 'I Am Disappeared'. However, it did feel like something was missing – which could have been something as simple as what are to me, some of his strongest, boldest tracks not being included in the set, such as 'The Real Damage', 'Wessex Boy', 'Reasons Not to Be an Idiot' or 'Peggy Sang Blues' or something harder to identify. Overall though, Turner remains one of the best, if not the best current songwriter guitar music has to offer – I've seen him countless times, and I can't wait to see him again soon.
The three other stages were the Little Big top, Theatre Tent and the Rebel Tent. Sadly, an act I was looking forward to the Correspondents cancelled however a truly great moment came when many packed in the tent to see the legendary writer, DJ and director Don Letts play. While many could rock a crowd with classics such as Dawn Penn's 'No, No, No', nobody else could do it with the credibility of Don, which I think was suitably reflected in the respect the crowd gave him. Other highlights from the little Big Top line up included Craig Charles, the silent disco and Barry Ashworth.
2017 also played host to a brand new stage – the Rebel Tent. It is places like this tent that elevate Beautiful Days to the all-incorporating festival atmosphere it achieves. There were talks over the weekend such as 'This is What Democracy Looks Like: 21st Century Socialism', a question time with Red Pepper Magazine editor Hilary Wainwright and even a play about the Chicago Teachers Strike. The Rebel Tent also played host to an acoustic set from Levellers' frontman Mark Chadwick, who promised the Rebel Tent would be back again in 2018 during the Levellers' Sunday night set.
The Theatre Tent was another great venue to give festival-goers a taste of something different, with acts such as poet Murray Lachlan Young, comedy hero Bob Mills and stuff for the little ones too including Mrs H & the Singalong Band.
Some of the acts I was gutted to miss after hearing so much about their brilliant sets were Eliza Carthy, Lau, the Lightening Seeds and Alison Moyet. However, my other personal highlights were the impressively, powerful sounding the Sisters of Mercy, the brilliantly received, defiant main stage set from Ferocious Dog, the visceral Public Service Broadcasting, Turin Brakes' moving melodies and the raw, stripped back showcasing of Andy Cairns' songwriting in Therapy?'s acoustic Big Top show.
The Levellers close the festival as they have done 14 times before, however tonight they seem fresher than ever. Anticipation builds before the band walk on to a reception from the crowd which was rewarded to no other act over the weekend. World class violinist Jon Sevink holds his bow up defiantly before the band and he burst into show opener 'Liberty' – from this moment it is clear that tonight's set will be electrifying. As frontman Mark Chadwick gives his most undeniable, on-point vocal performance in years and with highlights such as 'Carry Me', the raucous, raw 'One Way', as well as fitting set-closer 'Beautiful Day' among many others, even those who momentarily lost faith know this is a band on top form performing at the festival they built to a 17,000 strong crowd who tonight, despite the mud, don't want to be anywhere else but here.
Published on 23 August 2017 by Ned Dylan