Bucolic heaven delivers wholesome festival weekend at Valley Fest

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valley fest review

Bucolic heaven delivers wholesome festival weekend despite rain and gales.

There surely can’t be many more beautiful settings for a festival than this. Set on the gentle bucolic slopes of a homespun organic farm, pretty much all of the site overlooks the gorgeous Chew Valley lake and its surrounding hills. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend much time admiring this view though as a good deal of the weekend was marred by rain and gales, which meant I spent most of my time in one wind-battered tent after another.  

The weather could easily have been a disaster for the festival, and numbers did seem low, but somehow the extra-wholesome spirit of the weekend survived intact. It’s an organic food and alternative energy sort of affair, very friendly with lots of kids, some in bonnets, and a mixed age range of teens and adults who speak with a great surfeit of soft zs. At times I felt like I’d joined the Amish for the weekend, albeit they’re not big on soft zs as far as I know, and I was very happy with that. I think I’ll get my neighbours over to build me a wooden house soon, yee ha.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating. 

In truth this is a lovely festival, small to mid sized, well run, beautifully sited, and with a band line up that without being ground breaking merged seamlessly with the general chilled out good spirited vibe. Highlights for me included The Blockheads, who managed an excellent set for a bunch of old stagers in virtually a tribute band (at times it felt like the ghost of Ian Drury was up there with them), and headliner Stereo MC’s, who provided a nice little bit of urban contrast to the so rural setting. There was also something heartwarming in the solidarity in the smallish crowd as we huddled as close as we could to the stage and each other to avoid the lashing rain and wind, like king penguins in a blizzard. 

It very much wasn’t all about the main stage though. There were plenty of decent bands in the tents too and I saw a fair few of them, what with the rain and all. The highlight of these, in fact the highlight of the whole weekend for me by (aptly) a country mile, was three piece My Baby who were godsmackingly and unexpectedly – I’d never heard of them - fantastic. Theirs was a proper high intensity set, so good it seemed to have been beamed down as a festival blessing from some sort of John Peel heaven. They meant it, they really meant it; look out for them.

Another highlight of the weekend for me was the first outing of the Zutopia Collective, which has grown out of the now legendary and sadly deceased artists studios and all round hedonism party venue in Lewes, Sussex. I spent a fair bit of time in this tent just enjoying the wonderfully inclusive and giving vibe so synonymous over the years with Zu. This collective is only going to grow, even over the weekend the numbers in the tent swelled impressively. Perhaps they’ll stage their very own festival next year? 

That’s pretty much it. In short, Valleyfest is a little gem of a festival with a whole lot of heart. Do make the effort to go next year, it definitely deserves more punters and, with a bit of decent weather, you will be rewarded for your effort in spades…or do I mean in organic vegetables? 

Published on 11 September 2016 by Neil del Strother

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