What a brilliant way to kick off Wychwood Festival; the Roving Crows start with a beautiful slice of folk whimsy called ‘Long Time Dead’ that is a clarion call to enjoy life. ‘Nancy Valentine’ is an anecdotal tale of the trials and tribulations of motherhood with elegant backing vocals and a triumphant trumpet overlaying folk fiddle melodies. The party mood is accentuated during ‘Love Is The Finest Thing’ a ska influenced bouncy trumpeting danceable ditty and the frolicking does not finish there as Celtic fiddle player of the year, Caitlin, plays a beautiful fiddle led melody that starts off sounding like a lonely lament and then builds up to a jiggling jolly reel that has the audience smiling and moving. A bluesy opening leads into some frenetic fiddling for ‘That Was Then’ and then a melancholy muse on the matter of mortality; ‘Brother’ has added poignancy here where news of the untimely death was received. With instrumental ‘White Petticoat’ creating a vibrant vibe throughout the crowd and ‘Dirty Habits’ a frenzied jig with lyrics about wild living ensuring plenty to dance to, the crowd are excited to hear that the Roving Crows will be playing an additional set over on the BBC stage. Ending with the fiery fiddle fervour of Charlie Daniel’s cover ‘Devil Went To Georgia’, the Roving Crows show Wychwood Festival that fiddle laden folk can really paint a field red.
Over at the Big Top tent, Jenny Hallam offers a kaleidoscope of beautiful melodies such as ‘Zoo’ that joins the dots somewhere between Kate Nash and Florence and The Machine. ‘Time’ is a piano led twinkling tune that builds up to an anthemic chorus that I would have enjoyed more if a rather inexpert man playing with poi sticks next to me had realised his own ineptitude a little sooner. After some fierce glaring at the aforementioned deluded individual led to him removing himself somewhat from my vicinity, much to the alarm of an elderly women that he stationed himself next to in his continuing attempts to take the juggling world by storm, Hallam entertained the crowd with a stripped down and chilled out version of ‘Price Tag’ which was a vast improvement on the original.
After a brief stop of at Cottage drinks for a delicious hot plum potion, we welcome the arrival of The Damned. Captain Sensible never fails to disappoint with some vibrant visuals and today is no exception as he strides onto the stage in furry orange trousers and a red beret and the band launch straight into the driving juggernaut of ‘Stretcher Case Baby.’ A rocketing race through ‘Love Song’ leaves fans gasping for breath as synthy sounds sparkle through the air and the booming bass line of ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ allows a change in tempo; the melancholy muse illustrating how eclectic The Damned’s back catalogue proves to be. During the performance of ‘New Rose’, I become mesmerised by Monty’s maniacal dancing as he seems to embody the all or nothing attitude of punk rock and the crowd are equally exuberant.
The soulfully serious vocals of ‘Limit Club’ add a touch of poignancy to the performance before we start rock and rolling with real attitude to ‘C’mon Everybody’ and the crowd are crazily dancing. Mad Monty’s organ is then illuminated as the band unleash ‘History Of The World, Part One’ to very enthusiastic dancing in the audience and then ‘Under The Floor Again’ is performed as the sun starts to dip on the horizon. ‘Eloise’ echoes across the stunning landscape as Vanian falls to his knees in an impassioned performance of this ode to obsessive love. ‘Fan Club’ has Monty pogoing around his instrument and it is clear that here is a band that came to give a performance as the crowd ‘woohoo’ along with the heavy riffs of ‘Ignite.’ The beautiful guitar melody of ‘Alone Again’ almost brings the evening to a close, but the set would not be complete without the shouty ‘Smash It Up’ with the crowd dancing away under a rather incongruous sea of bubbles that are emanating from soapy sphere gunslingers…very pretty and all but we are watching a punk band don’t you know!
Rounding off the Main Stage with a feast of frenetic folk is Bellowhead. The crowd are jigging along to a cautionary ode to whisky and then transported by the tragedy of an anecdotal tale of the agony of everlasting love during the performance of ‘Cold Blows The Wind.’ Bellowhead ply poetic lyrics with an astonishing array of sounds but best of all they deliver an energetic and engaging set that has Cheltenham on its feet and dancing.
Wychwood also has a cornucopia of comedy on offer over at the BBC Introducing Stage. The first comedian on the Friday was not the one listed on our line up list and as he had already started, we did not catch his name. I decided to be a bit Sherlock Holmes and use Google to aid me in identification but quickly discovered after putting comedian with glasses Wychwood into my search engine and looking at loads of pictures of Silky, Dan Mitchell and Jared Christmas that Wychwood seem to have booked loads of bespectacled comedians and therefore I am going to review his set and put this photograph in the review hoping that one of my lovely readers will email me with his identity at some point. So, mystery man had us loudly laughing with gags relating to the fascinating rhetorical question ‘Who Ate All The Pies?’ and its grammatically idiosyncrasy and then entertained us with some musical comedy, my favourite of which was an anti-James Blunt song that was brilliantly hilarious.
Compere Nick Page was on top form as always, obliterating a very drunk heckler with his dead pan observations and intelligent insights and kept the hilarity rolling between the acts. Steve Day was next up, Britain’s only deaf comedian entertaining us with the stupidity of some subtitles and the trials and tribulations of trying to be humorous on a cruise ship for the elderly. A very funny man with some excellent original material.
Keeping us chortling into the early hours was headliner Dan Mitchell with observations on the dangers of self-diagnosis of illness using the internet and the subsequent stress caused by reading the side-effects leaflets provided by pill producers. Ending with a stalker song addressed to one of the audience with had us laughing uproariously and we walked away from the tent still chuckling and hoping fervently that the Welsh for microwave really is popty-ping.
The dancing starts early in the Saturday sunshine courtesy of the Outcast Band. ‘Blood And Soil’ is performed with energy and enthusiasm and has the crowd bopping away. A fiddle led sea shanty follows and then ‘Tired’, dedicated to friends of the band who are about to have twins, is a fearsomely frenzied Celtic jig and the upbeat tempo is continued with ‘Don’t Go Home’, a Levellers’ style anthem with an infectious finger picking melody. A diverse set that includes beautiful melancholic ballads and racing Celtic rock style reels, the Outcast band certainly start the day on a harmonious high.
It is then time to sample the literary side of the festival with a reading and q & a session with legendary ‘Mr Nice’ Howard Marks. Pointing out that forgetfulness can be the germ of creativity, he regales us with tales of hoodwinking customs officials and the relative smuggling capacity of various sizes of animal and is hilariously engaging.
Back over to the Main Stage to see the field transformed into an eighties themed disco courtesy of the always entertaining Dr and the Medics. An ever present sense of fun is evident from the start as a cyberman appears and starts sweeping the stage until the Dr, rocking a checkered trench coat, launches into ‘You Spin Me Round.’ A theatrical version of ‘White Wedding’, complete with mock ceremony, has the crowd dancing around and we are having a party in a sunshine soaked field. A rocked up version of ‘Loveshack’ has the women in the crowd making a ‘fist of love’ and banging on the door; this is live music at its participatory best. Next we are watching prison garb clad dancing and bouncing around a huge gold balloon around the crowd and absolutely everybody is smiling making you realise that Dr and the Medics are the perfect festival band as ‘I Fought The Law’ reverberates across the field. Singer Melissa then sings a soulful version of ‘Proud Mary’ that builds up to a pounding ending with the crowd clapping along. ‘Wonderful World’ is fabulous as a rocked up danceable rendition before the Dr yells ‘Do you want to hear one of our songs?’ and to a resounding ‘yes’ replies with a smile ‘Name one then.’ The song ‘I Do It ‘Cause It Makes My Hair Grow’ has a great reception with the crowd dancing crazily to the driving beat and followed swiftly by ‘Kids In America’ with the audience woo-hooing wildly and children shrieking as they are blasted with a super soaker by Captain American from the stage.
A fantastically frenetic version ‘She Sell Sanctuary’ shows Dr and the Medics passion for performance that makes them such a joy to watch and then the crowd mood becomes stratospheric with a ‘Spirit In The Sky’ sing along. Ending with ‘A Whole Lotta Rosie’ with dancer Paul resplendent in a crimson ball gown, Dr and the Medics certainly know how to put on a show and prepare the crowd to party!
Catching the end of Gary Armstrong’s set as we get ready to have our intelligence intensified with Robin Ince’s ‘festival of the spoken nerd’ comedy/science splice, we decide to definitely keep our ear out in the future for this indie balladeer whose call to dispose of cds and go back to vinyl proves him to be a man with my own musical musings. Ince has us laughing along with his witty swipes at charlatan scientists and their fallibility in confusing quantum physics with popular television show ‘Quantum Leap’ and his defence of David Attenborough (he didn’t exactly white up a grizzly bear and pass it off as a polar variety) is hysterically if only for the subsequent imagery that conjures. Max Parker, ‘number ninja’, then takes to the stage and solves a Rubix cube whilst explaining the mathematics of homeopathic ‘medicine’. Helen Arney sings ukulele based science songs and then Blue Peter scientific advisor Steve Malk has me pretending to be a human polymer and then throws his balls in my face (squashy sodium ones, that is!) After showing us a cool floaty silver shiny something, we come away feeling like we have been entertained and educated at the same time by these scintillating scientists.
The Main Stage prepares from some spacey rock vibes and a veritable vista of visuals as Hawkwind take to the stage. With dancers that have luscious green locks cascading over purple lycra outfits writhing to ethereal tunes followed by a dancer in a red and yellow dragon costume creating a backdrop to the psychedelic prog of ‘The Hills Have Ears’, Hawkwind are ever interesting musical theatre. The space war start to ‘Seasons’ turns into a solid driving rock epic and Hawkwind have a new fan as a very young girl in front of me starts head banging furiously to the tune. Swirling sounds surround the audience as a snake bedecked scantily clad devil girl dances across the stage to be replaced by aquamarine Medusas Bollywood dancing to Hawkwind’s ‘Prometheus’ and the crowd join in with some of their own moves. ‘Golden Void’ has a giant green goddess cavorting on the stage with vocals that take us on a bizarre journey with a background of sonic surrealism. Epic ‘Damnation Alley’ ends the set with its genre bending sounds as Charlie from Essex, who happens to be standing next to me says ‘Hawkwind are the godfathers of psychedelia…so epic my ears are bleeding!’
Headline act on the Main Stage, James actually declare that three of their seven members saw Hawkwind as their first ever live band so playing the same stage as them must be an experience. Starting with mellow ‘I Wanna Go Home’, Booth starts his trademark dancing as the building chorus kicks in. ‘Heavens’ is a twinkling tune combined with soaring vocals and is accompanied by a sinking sun that momentarily illuminates the green countryside. The bouncy tune of ‘Waltzing Along’ has Booth dancing and many members of the crowd singing along with the chorus. Beautiful heartfelt ballad ‘Sometimes’ has the crowd waving their arms from side to side and reminds us why James have had such success over the years. A huge crowd reaction follows the opening of ‘Tomorrow’ and the audience is dancing exuberantly. ‘P.S.’ is an ode of understated anger with its gentle melody followed by ‘Johnny Yen’ a song about a tortured artist which was additionally poignant towards the end as Booth mentioned the names of Winehouse and Cobain, reminding us of the dark side of the music industry.
A slowly strummed guitar with a trumpet solo start heralds ‘Lose Control’ and Booth is on top form delivering a beautiful vocal and then indie disco classic ‘Sit Down’ is performed in a stripped down soulful version that reverberates through the darkening sky. The militaristic ‘Medieval’ has the crowd clapping along and ‘Ring The Bells’ breaks out some more dancing before the crowd go absolutely crazy for the awesome indie anthem ‘Laid’, chanting the words along with Booth and jumping around like we have been transported back to the mid-nineties. Booth then picks up a loudspeaker for the introduction to ‘Sound’ which has the crowd clapping along under strobe lights and Booth dancing away during the extended instrumental until the set ends on a real high after the jangling guitar of ‘Getting Away With It All’ has the crowd singing and dancing along with Booth and the field is definitely on fire with passion and love for these indie pioneers.
The evening is not over, however, with some top comedy acts on over at the BBC Introducing stage including the charismatic compere Silky with his funny observations on the festival experience, character commentary regarding jobs you shouldn’t drink during and a couple of delightful guitar ditties including a comedic composition about a boy in the audience that showed Silky’s ready wit. Our comedic highlight of the festival season so far, although weeks later I am still woken in the middle of the night with images of a pig’s head on a stick. Memorable indeed! Matt Richardson was equally entertaining with his passionate polemic against posh girls and Oxford’s inappropriate signage. Wychwood is a good festival for those seeking plenty of laughs.
Sunday starts with a soulful folk tinged indie ballad from Stylusboy in the form of ‘Jigsaw’. Following with the foot tapping festival summer song ‘Whole Picture’, Stylusboy seamlessly continue with ‘Left To Hide’, a beautiful ballad with soaring vocals and heavenly harmonies with a gentle percussive background that lulls the listener with its loveliness. ‘Beyond The Flags’ is initially dedicated to the Queen, until the implications of opening line ‘take all you clothes off’ sink in and the endorsement is swiftly withdrawn; an elegant ballad that builds to a bouncy chorus and reminds us of Snow Patrol. A gently crashing cymbal and cajon are the basis for ‘Eyes Form Tears’, a folk influenced tune and is followed by ‘Love’s Tale’ which is a gentle melody perfect for chilling out in the summer sunshine. Stylusboy then show that they are fan focused by declaring that they will treat tweeters to a tent side performance. Ending the set with a delightful duet, ‘Lantern’, ‘Dave’s Song’ an uplifting ode to the continuation of life in the face of tragedy and the quietly beautiful ‘Song For Noah’, Stylusboy have a clutch of gorgeous songs that should secure their future on the festival circuit. Watch out for them!
Over in the Big Top tent, Urusen entertain with upbeat folk harmonies with indie influences that soon have the crowd clapping along and interspersing this with a selection of beautiful ballads.
Delighted, I make my way over to the Main Stage to witness the return of Dodgy to the festival scene. One of my favourite bands during the nineties, I have high hopes for this performance and I am not disappointed. ‘So Let Me Go Far’ is still a slice of indie rock perfect for the festival season and ‘What Became Of You?’ with its elegant finger picking opener show that their new songs are just as infectiously brilliant as their back catalogue. The bouncy vibe of ‘Staying Out For The Summer’ has the crowd dancing and is followed by lovely lullaby ‘Shadows’ with Luke from Oomph accompanying on harmonica adding a bluesy feel to the performance. ‘Only A Heartbeat’ is lyrical loveliness with its piano to guitar melody and ‘If You’re Thinking Of Me’ sees Nigel Clarke playing the keyboard to one of the most achingly beautiful ballads of the 1990s, with a clever segue into ‘Dear Prudence’. The rocking rhythms of ‘In A Room’ have the crowd dancing delightedly and ‘Good Enough’ has everybody singing along and clapping as the sun makes a reappearance and the field feels fun of festival fun. ‘Waiting For The Sun’ is a chilled indie tune which shows the strength of Dodgy’s latest album. A cover of Northern Soul track ‘Do I Love You?’ keeps people on their feet and indicates Dodgy’s ability to entertain an eclectic crowd. ‘Happy Ending’ concludes the concert with a marvellous melody that builds to a roaring end and leaves the crowd clapping crazily and absolutely loving Dodgy.
Show of Hands bring an array of instruments to the stage to perform acoustic folk with wit and whimsy. ‘Stop Copying Me’ is a clever call for real social contact in the face of virtualisation of friendship and the cover of Springsteen’s ‘Youngstown’ is fantastic. ‘Cruel River’ is a hauntingly lovely ballad and ‘Country Life’ is a plea for protection of the beautiful land around us and is particularly poignant against the rolling green backdrop of Cheltenham and has the crowd swaying in sympathy with the sentiments expressed so elegantly. The solemn harmonies and melancholy melody of ‘The Innocents’ has the crowd dancing as it builds to a reeling crescendo and is followed by a clap along cover of Seth Lakeman’s ‘I’ll Haunt You’. The passionate intensity and intelligent lyrics of ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ receives an extremely enthusiastic reception and the crowd’s appreciation continues for ‘The Galway Farmer’. The infectious energy of Show of Hands is evident throughout ‘Now You Know’ which has the crowd clapping cheerfully along and the massive demand for an encore is answered with ‘Cousin Jack’. Show of Hands really are purveyors of fantastically frenzied folk and beautiful ballads; this is music with meaning and a performance with real passion.
My personal highlight of the festival, however, has to be the stupendous Saw Doctors. The rock and rolling rhythms of ‘N17’ have the crowd dancing and singing along right from the start. ‘Takin’ The Train’ is a riotously rocking track that keeps the atmosphere at a high octane and the fun just keeps on coming with the distinctive opening indicating a dance off during ‘Tommy K’ with the audience copying the chorus moves and everyone dancing freestyle during the instrumental. The reverberating riff of ‘Why Do I Always Want You?’ takes us into the territory of upbeat indie and the crowd is singing along and bouncing to the beat. An indie rock version of ‘Downtown’ is delightful and the Saw Doctors show why they are absolute kings of live music by performing with zeal, exuberance and a huge amount of talent. ‘State of the Nation’ is a racing number performed under the purple lights that are the fitting colour for rock and roll royalty and then we are straight into ‘Never Mind The Strangers’, a perfect slice of Celtic inspired rock with a bouncy guitar riff that has random members of the audience linking arms and dancing joyfully to this chirpy chant to companionship.
Soulful vocals make ‘Someone Loves You’ an excellent ode to individuality and the marvellous melody echoes across the field and has the crowd singing along. Witty banter between songs keeps the audience laughing and ‘Share The Darkness’ is pure poetry put to music with its gorgeous guitar and soaring vocals. ‘Galway and Mayo’ takes us on a lyrical journey into the past and has the crowd dancing towards a driving drum ending and ‘Green and Red of Mayo’ has the crowd ringing their bell and smiling at one another. The beautiful Irish tune of ‘Clare Island’ with its saxophone symphony fluttering across the field has the crowd linking arms and swaying and is followed by awesome anthem ‘About You Now’ which has everyone dancing wildly and is performed at full pelt by the band. ‘Goodbye Again’ is a moving melody and a call to love life that resonates with me after a friend’s recent death; the power of the Saw Doctors’ music to move is testament to the strength of their songs. On to the jolly jig of ‘Joyce Country Ceili Band’ and the crowd is again dancing like there is no work tomorrow and all that matters in the world if the music of the Saw Doctors.
The catchy rhythm and witty words of ‘Bless Me Father’ have everyone grinning and ‘That’s What She Said Last Night’ has the crowd singing and then laughing as we witness a falsetto segue into ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ Finally we are warned that ‘a farm is not a place to play’ whilst participating in a finger wagging frenzy to ‘Hay Wrap’ or is it ‘Money’ by the Beatles? The band are line dancing and so are we in the crowd. The Saw Doctors are a stupendous live act that guarantee to entertain you whilst also including songs of sentiment and beauty in a set that leaves you breathless. If you are going to watch one band this year, you probably want it to be The Saw Doctors.