Wychwood Festival is a relatively new festival on the scene – although now in its seventh year, it is hopefully over those difficult first few years. Held at Cheltenham racecourse, it has been awarded best family festival 6 years running and is currently listed under ‘best family festivals’ in the Guardian and Observer 2011 music season.
Wychwood definitely deserves this title. Not only did the music programming hold a range of interests and tastes for all ages, there were multiple family based activities to take part in on the Green. The Green, having grown over the last few years from being purely ‘workshop’ based, is now divided into several named areas; from arts and crafts in the Forest area, to ukulele and human beat boxing in the Mountainside area. Punch and Judy and the Ace of diamonds magic show and all things ‘puppet’ were to be found at the Seasidearea of the festival; whilst in the City area groups took part in Jazz and Lindy hop to belly dancing,Bhangra, Flamenco and Bollywood, making this an eclectic cultural feast for all ages.
Unfortunately, this year’s festival did not sell out – and this is a shame, as the offerings made this a great music event as well as a family weekend! To be honest, my teenage daughter was probably less excited to be going to Wychwood, than perhaps Reading or Glastonbury; but as a parent wanting to share the great experience that is a ‘music festival’ with a 16 and 10 year old simultaneously, whilst also preparing her for her own independent festival experiences in the future, this was more than great! The festival has all the best bits, without any of the, lets say, less desirable aspects that some of the larger festivals have! The additional benefit is also that a smaller festival like Wychwood allows a spirit of discovery to occur. This is what happened for my teenager, who had decidedly changed her mind by the end of the weekend.
The different music stages provided a great balance of different music to choose from. Main stage headliners like The Charlatans, The Bluetones, and The Waterboys, were preceded by some of the great singer songwriters (in my opinion) like Eddi Reader and ElizaCarthy. All bands and artists that have stood the test of time, and that mums and dads will remember from chart successes in their (is it really that distant) past! Eliza Carthy warrants special mention here, as she was an advocate and major source of support and helped in getting fellow artists to sponsor Wychwood Festival in its formative years, when it is most difficult for any new festival to accrue interest amongst performers. A testament to Eliza, and her love of music – and moreover her commitment to helping create venues and places for live music to flourish. Humble and talented, adorned and adored – for good reason, Eliza shares songs born of personal experience, and becomes the storyteller as in ‘blood on my boots’. Combining these with traditional ditties and her familiar and friendly banter, and she leaves you feeling that you just spent an hour with one of the gals down the road, or maybe even your best mate. One of the most fabulous groups to play the main stage, albeit earlier in the day, was 3 daft monkeys. Their compelling foot tapping and pulsating music encouraged spontaneous outbursts of whirling and twirling amongst the festivalgoers. They were a definite favourite with us, and our children. It seemed to me, as our family sat on the grass in front of the stage, with the sun blazing down upon us, that the whole crowd had become one organism, moving in time with the rhythms and melodies of this Cornish band.
In true festival vibe there was an assortment of the many varied and colourful people we come to expect at our festivals. Weaving snake-like amongst the more laid back onlookers, children adorned in floppy hats, beads, ribbons and face paints enthused by the atmosphere. However, festival-goers that are a little more serious about their music, and particularly teens and those who have a healthy interest in the new emerging talents of our generation were also well served by the BBC introducing stage, where talented unsigned artists could be heard. This was a chance to see those ‘under the radar’ acts that had been nominated from the local BBC introducing shows to play live at some of the UK’s biggest festivals. Well done BBC and Wychwood for keeping it real! In today’s TV led ‘star finding’ shows, it is soup for the soul to see the traditional long haul of real artists and musicians ‘getting out there’ by touring and playing live, whether it is at a festival, or over a local radio station or on the net. Achievement travelled by this road is a testament to building great musicians and performers.
The 7.20’s were definitely one on my books to keep an eye on. They have distilled a sound influenced by such as Jimmi Hendrix, Stone Roses, Led Zeppelin and bits of all your favourite 90’s indies bands all rolled in to one. Ed Wright was enigmatic in his performance and reminiscent of The Verve’s Tricky Dickey Ashcroft in his bare-footed performance, when we spoke to him after the gig, he denied any connection but explained that he likes to feel close to nature. Whatever the reason, we like!
Another singer songwriter to mention is Devon’s Alice Jemima, who is just 17 years old. She has been selected as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad project and will perform as part of the unveiling of the Olympic Rings. Compared to Norah Jones in the festival programme, she has a gentle disposition and sings hauntingly whilst playing a simple jazz guitar accompaniment. I suspect we might be seeing some more of her…
The Big Top stage heralded more established artists. Fridays favored band here was Birmingham’s Arcadian Kicks. Tom Holloway (guitar) started the gig by being fashionably late, due to an untimely ‘toilet break’ we were filled in by Rebecca Wilson (lead singer). He arrived to calls from the audience of “c’mon Tom” – all in good humour, and they then went on to wow the crowd. A particular hit with the teens and twenty something’s; even the ancients agreed they had ‘something’. As the gig progressed, it became more obvious that the hidden gem was Harry Grainger. He is one wicked drummer!
I have to say that my biggest surprise and favoured experience of the whole festival was in the big top stage, on the Saturday, when the Titi Robin Trio performed to a packed audience. These 3 musicians were true masters of their instruments and the genre, which was the product of combined gypsy and Eastern musical influences upon Titi during his youth. A duelling Guitar and accordion held us enraptured for several minutes, as torrents ofscalic passages were hurled between the performers, before agreeing a truce and continuing on. The drummer showcased a solo and together the three brought the tent down! Amazingly, French born Titi is self-taught on guitar and the oud. His music is a mixture of Django meets Ravi Shankar.
Denise Bass was a silent star. She devoted a great deal of her time to my son, who she taught to use a tjanting tool first on cardboard, and later on some beautiful silks that she had prepared for anyone who wanted to try out her batik. She was patient and took the time, one to one, to teach him and eventually he made his own silk batik design, which we were able to collect on the Sunday, for him to bring home. There was no cost for this, just a genuine love of what she does and of sharing this skill with anyone who would take the time to learn. Thank you Denise.
Perhaps boringly, we did not stay up to the early hours, maybe a sign of age? Maybe, that a family festival entails much running around to fulfil everyone’s wish list and to keep everyone happy; but there were many comments to be heard about the silent disco, which was appreciated by those wanting to remain up beyond the end of the live performances. The Comedy festival held in the BBC introducing tent was late in the evenings, and had packed audiences around little table and chair arrangements which very were much appreciated after a full day of running between music stages, art spaces and workshops.
Sunday morning was such a contrast to the previous days. Light rain hung over the festival all morning and much of the afternoon. In traditional style the festival-goers took it all in their stride. Half the crowd seemed to have brought camping chairs with them and there were stalls either giving out or selling plastic ponchos. All the indoor stages and the workshop areas were much busier but the main stage was still pulling in the crowds. Predictably we hung around the indoor areas more on Sunday. Sarah Edwards at Spare room arts was looking after the kids with impromptu art work and the popup newspaper hat stall was very popular too. There was plenty of energy spent preparing for the afternoon parade around the festival site as well. Sunday felt like a rush between stages with not much time to sit down and just chill out to the sounds. We managed to catch a few songs from Gary Armstrong in the Big Top and thanks Gary for the download cards to get your new songs free of charge from Myspace.Capelier Fou were playing Electornica in the big top, which my 10 year old declared as his favourite act of the whole festival.
It seems to be a tradition at festivals to put an act on the main stage on the last day that appears to be out of place. This year it was the turn of the Wurzels. However, as is often the case they did not disappoint. There was a cheer when the “79 year old local boy” Amos Morgan of the Forest of Dean was introduced to the crowd and the band when on to belt out a set of cider fuelled crowd pleasers. Charlie Baxter was very popular on the BBC Introducing stage. Despite being an up and coming local performer there was a large and vocal crowd for his techno guitar fusion beats. Charlie was full of energy and the crowd lapped it up. On the main stage the Christians had the best of the weather and their songs went down well.
For me, however, the highlight of Sunday was always going to be Eddi Reader, joined by partner John and long time favorite Boo Hewerdine (ex of the Bible for those old enough to remember and well worth checking out). Eddi, like Eliza the previous day is a story teller as well as a musician and the little tales between the songs make their live performances so much more personal. The set was perfect if you excuse the pun.
To top my day Eddi then spent an age in the rise records tent, signing CDs, just as did, it has to be said, just about every performer at the festival. This is a really nice touch – and brings a friendly character to your relationship with the big guys on stage! A big thanks goes out to Rise for having a great stock of well priced CDs sourced from most of the performing acts including a few freebies. A quick run across to the BBC Introducing stage to catch the last number by Pink Grudge Caravan who even had a mosh pit going in front of the stage. It was soon time to pack up and head home but Wychwood gets a big thumbs up from us.