Just over two months ago, Cheltenham hosted the biggest horseracing event of the year but there's something much more exciting than that going on just off the track. Every year since 2005, Wychwood Festival has been entertaining the crowds of Gloucestershire and beyond with a magical little escape, to kick off the beginning of every summer.
I'd heard of Wychwood but I always imagined it to be a very small gathering with a few local bands and not much else. How could I be so wrong, I've been missing out on this gem for so long despite it being on my doorstep! This place is fantastic, it offers so much, it's established itself as one of the must visit festivals of the summer. The perfect way to start off your festival season. Beautiful countryside, close to the town centre (if you want to cheat and stay at a hotel), welcoming atmosphere and the loo's are regularly checked. Hurray!
As I entered though the gates, the first thing I was greeted with was a blue cow, a crafts tent, the smell of delicious food and then...hot tubs. This is a first for me and I've been to a lot of festivals. The sun was out, people were sitting in hot tubs over looking the main stage. This is possibly the best idea anyone has ever come up with. There were looks of pure joy on people's faces as they sat there, watching the world go by with a glass of wine. In the same tent, there were showers and it all looked really well looked after in there. As a high maintenance woman I think even I would be happy to camp here. It's all rather luxurious.
Music poured from the Hobgoblin stage, Pomme stage, Main stage and Wychwood's iconic Big Top tent. Legendary talent played to the audience each night. There were up and coming BBC Introducing acts, a comedy tent, over 100 free workshops, dance classes, poets, craft stalls, food from all over the world. Yet still it kept an intimate, electric atmosphere. It's been described as a "bijou Glastonbury", it has everything a large festival has but with a much more friendly and relaxed feel. Nominated best family festival every year since it began, it's an ideal place to take your children. There are loads of them. No need to worry about facilities either as everything you could possibly need is there, even a baby changing tent, which every festival should have. Despite it being a family festival, those night owls amongst you who would rather extend your evening with a few more cheeky drinks and a little more music, you are also catered for. There is a silent disco on until 3am where you can carry on your partying (in a quiet way) which solves the curfew problem immediately. Even better, the music doesn't start until 11am the next day, so you won't be woken up by metal/folk/rock/pop/electro. Maybe just the waft of coffee and toast coming from the big red bus parked in the middle of the site (which is excellently priced by the way).
Every stage was bursting with talent and the eclectic mix of music ensured everyone had something to keep themselves happy. There is a sense of community involvement at Wychwood with the local stalls and poets, the University students running the Pomme stage but also, the amount of local talent in Gloucestershire is enormous. Cheltenham's lucky to have Wychwood as a platform for these artists as there is no arts centre for these talented musicians to go since the Axiom closed down many moons ago. If you want to see for yourself these amazing local musicians, head to the Pomme stage or BBC Introducing stage for a listen.
The headline act on the first night were Soul II Soul. They were straight in there with 'the' song everyone wanted to hear. What a way to kick off the festival. It was pretty quiet the first day but by the evening it had come 'Back To Life'. (excuse the pun) Crowds of people flocked to relive their late 80's youth and sing along to Soul II Soul's hits. Spreading their message 'A happy face, a thumpin’ bass, for a lovin' race' It filled the crowd with excitement and anticipation for the rest of the weekend. The set was slick and the bass pounded the grass while their soulful vocals and strings filled the air. More than just one hit wonders, it was the perfect act to start the weekend.
Other headline acts were Toploader, The Beat, The Human League, The Wedding Present, Caravan Palace, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Sadie and the Hotheads and the wonderful Ben Faulks who plays CBeebies Mr Bloom. Sadly his veggies were at home seeing as half term was nearly over and they had school the next day. Without them, he managed just fine, interacting with the audience and performing the songs from his show. He brought sheer delight to the hundreds of children and I imagine quite a lot of the mums too.
6 Music DJ Craig Charles filled the big top with funky soul and you couldn't move for people dancing. He gets so in to the music you feel you have to go with him on his journey to funky town. The shapes being thrown on the dance floor were spectacular. If you haven't heard or you're not that bothered about funky soul, this will change your mind. You will immediately want to buy some. Even if just to relive that little escape he created in there for the duration of his set. He is more than Lister from Red Dwarf, or that bloke off Coronation Street. He’s a superstar DJ. Whoever booked him deserves a medal and many members of the audience said that they hope he returns next year.
Bill Bailey was one of the last acts on the main stage on Sunday night and he was of course, hilarious. He began by telling the audience why he’s no longer on the Buzzcocks and kept everyone laughing for the entire time he was on stage. His warped humour was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Wychwood have the balance just right with the acts that they choose, bringing quality comedians like Bill and entertainment to suit everyone’s tastes.
We left on a high, laughing and taking in everything that we’d seen over the weekend. I will certainly be back next year and will never miss another Wychwood.
Published on 04 June 2013 by clairesen