Solfest is a small festival with a big heart. It’s a celebration of music and community. Solfest feels like an enormous family reunion and perhaps even more so this year as it was Solfests 10th Anniversary.
To celebrate the occasion the sun shone and the Solway Firth provided a gentle breeze for perfect festival weather. Solfest is set apart from other small festivals by it’s a combination of all the little things……
You can happily park right next to your tent and have a camp fire. Solfest has a BYO alcohol policy in the arena, yet still the bars were jam packed every night. And for those who wanted to party for 24 hrs there were ‘chill-out’ tents open from Friday until 8:30am Monday morning….non stop !
The music at Solfest is eclectic, diverse, unpredictable and often surprising. Big names from the past 30 yrs alongside new and upcoming Bands from all over the UK. Local Cumbrian bands are interspersed with big names from Ireland, Wales, Denmark and Canada.
There is no set Genre and Solfest has something to cater to everybody’s taste, from Gentle Folk ballads to Crusty Post Punk.
In the Solfest Arena the live music is spread over three stages, the main stage, a suitably festival type large set, worthy of any of the countries larger festivals.
The Bar Stage, set in a very large tent with a bar housing a wide variety of musical talent from Punk to Reggae to Ska. And The Drystone stage which is pretty much a mini festival in it’s own right, with a line up of local and international, inspirational singer songwriters and unique, weird and wonderful performers.
The main stage uses the natural geography of the site to enable festival goers to sit on a natural hill overlooking the stage. The Bar Stage sits on the top of the hill and the Drystone has it’s own little amphitheater surrounding the stage.
Friday 23 August
Friday started out with a beautiful sunrise over the Cumbrian Mountains and a relaxed lead up to the evenings line up.
Sporting a massive line up of ten people, the fantastically named Victorian Trout Conspiracy from Edinburgh brought their funky ska sound to the Solfest masses and got the afternoon main stage off to a fun start with their bouncy likeability.
Manchester indie rock band Twisted Wheel followed with a totally different genre and style. The band played the punchy hits ‘You Stole the Sun’ and ‘She’s a Weapon’ and whipped up the tempo and the into a minor punk guitar frenzy!
Over on the Drystone Stage from Denmark is Rod Sinclair the Scots singer and Guitar virtuoso in a rare solo set. On the Bar Stage, the superb Happy Daggers can only make you happy. This North Leeds four piece, who formed in 2010, produced well crafted songs driven by a thumping rhythm section, soul drenched vocals, and melodic guitars. Real feel good music.
The Drystone stage hosted Holy Moly and the Crackers, a Newcastle folk-indie outfit. Brought together by an eclectic taste in folk music Holy Moly and the Crackers formed in 2011 and have never looked back. They played a homebrew mix of whiskey galore sea shanties, hillbilly lullabies, bin-fire blues, gypsy dances and spectral soul-searching ballads.
Charismatic front-man Conrad Bird got the crowd jumping with his foot-stomping guitar style backed with a beat from Ash Etchells Butler on the various drums hanging, tied, strapped, wrapped onto the Holy Moly busking drum kit – all string and feathers and pots and pans – they made a memorable rhythm section.
Rosie Bristow on the Accordion was unforgettable in her versatility and Ruth Patterson crystal-cut vocals on songs like Bluebell Wood and Comfort and Lies, melted the hearts of the crowds. Along with Conrad’s engaging, bones and bourbon singing style, Holy Moly produced a vibrant interesting sound that kept the crowd dancing.
Back to the Main stage and Joy Formidable. If, according to idle and gullible stat-analysers, rock really is dead, then someone forgot to tell Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas.
The Welsh power trio filled the arena with unpredictability and unbridled rock emotion. Ritzy Bryan was something to behold as she Jettisoned across the stage and rocked with reckless abandon, prodding her bandmates in the process (drummer Matt Thomas was a frequent foil as she took nearly every opportunity to kick his kit or hammer a cymbal with her guitar as she passed).
The set list included “Cholla” from the latest album Wolf’s Law, “Austere” from their aptly titled 2011 full length debut The Big Roar and the driving guitar of the new single “This Ladder is Ours.” It’s impressive just how much sound this band gets from only three players.
“The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie” with a focus on the incredible drumming of Matthew Thomas and guitar playing prowess of Bryan. Thomas’s fills were energetic, continuing virtually nonstop over the duration of one of the evening’s longest songs, and Bryan emitted a sonic wave of guitar so wall of sound-like that it was hard to believe only one person was responsible for creating it.
“Wolf’s Law” slowed things down a little, focusing not on buzzsaw guitar but on delicate vocals over keyboard accompaniment and arguably one of the band’s biggest hits “Whirring,” picked the pace back up.
At one point Rhydian Dafydd left the stage and moving to the barrier handed his guitar to a surprised fan who seemed almost terrified at the prospect. By the end, the closing track left everyone safe in the knowledge that most of us have got a few decades left in us to rock hard.
Following on the mainstage Friday night’s headliners are Maximo Park, for those who don’t know, Maximo are a Tyne and Wear-based alternative rock band formed in 2000. Paul Smith, frontman and vocalist of is accompanied by Duncan Lloyd on guitar, Lukas Wooller on keyboard, Archus Tiku on bass and Tom English on drums.
It’s no secret that Maximo Park are a near-perfect live band. Opening with ‘The National Health’, the energy is infectious and the crowd catch on immediately, as the band blast through a couple more from the album, leaving no space for breath.
It’s when the crunchy chord-work of ‘Graffiti’ enters that the vibrating crowd become a mess of arms and smiling faces, as captivating frontman Paul Smith leads them through a chorus which firmly set them on the scene many years ago.
‘The Undercurrents’ marginally slower pace gives fans a chance to rest their dancing legs, just briefly, before more of the brash guitar and Pulp-esque structure flies around the arean, as rousing as it was when ‘A Certain Trigger’ was released years ago.
The response only grows louder and wilder as the intro to ‘Going Missing’ plays, a dedicated fanbase swooning under the five-piece’s force. ‘Apply Some Pressure’ pulls the whole set back in, and Solfest goes mad with teenage fans screaming and not so teenage fans, well screaming…. I Want You To Stay’ allows yet another singalong, before the band leave with ‘Our Velocity’, and a sense of satisfaction from band and crowd.
Maximo Park are still as relevant and electrifying as they were all those years ago. Over on the Bar Stage Roughneck Riot are raising the roof. The band were formed in Warrington in late 2005 and influenced by traditional folk music from across the globe, but then adding their own influence – reinventing and rewriting folk music to make sense to their lives in the world today.
They have created a frantic raucous and energetic sound with elements of the Pogues and the Clash, These were crafted songs that allowed each instrument the space to be heard alongside the hollered yet measured vocals.
This was frenetic, folk-punk of the finest order and had the Bar Stage packed and the audience engaged.
Saturday 24 August
Happy campers woke to another glorious sunny day and the chilled relaxed and totally fun feel of a holiday in the sun, this carnival atmosphere was heightened by the Saturday fancy dress experience. With so much obvious time, effort and imagination going into the weird, wonderful and very diverse themes. Everyone entered into the spirit of things from babies to band members even some of the press photographers!
On the Main Stage By The Rivers are an original 6 piece Reggae band, formed in Leicester in the Spring of 2010. Coming onto the Stage at 3pm they fitted well with the laid back sunny day feel around the Main Stage. But after a few of their more melodic and easy going tracks they had the audience up and dancing.
It was a very relaxed and chilled out feeling but for those who listened to the lyrics the social comment and positive messages provided hidden depths to this Talented band. “Did someone order a party?”
Delhi to Dublin are a Canadian band formed in Vancover in 2006. They have been described as a fusion of Bhangra and Celtic but are so much more than that. Imagine the energy and cultural fervor of Bollywood colliding with a bunch of drunken Irishmen with fiddles!
Throw in some gritty hip hop and electronic beats and you have a band which made the audience get up and dance. With their high energy, infectious and enthusiastic approach, this band was pure party and perfectly complimented Saturday’s carnival atmosphere.
Alabama 3 were formed in 1995, the boys from Brixton made their third appearance at Solfest, and as previously had the audience roaring for more. The band describe the genre of their music as ‘Sweet Mutherfucking Country Acid House’.
The music was a fusion of styles with lyrics full of ironic intent. The humorous and often outrageous performance had the entire arena buzzing with energy.
The Undertones drew in a crowd that the Bar Stage could not contain, The huge tent was bursting at the seams with enthusiastic fans, many of which would not have been born when the Undertones emerged from Derry in 1978.
The energy produced from the band and the enthusiasm of the audience combined with Paul McLoone electric onstage presence made for an explosive performance with a set list including classic hits such as ‘Here Comes The Summer’, ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’, ‘My Perfect Cousin’ and ‘Thrill Me’, and by popular request from the younger audience……Teenage Kicks Twice !
On the Drystone stage Pikey Beatz the 7 piece band from Northumberland provided some informal, feel-good Ska/Reggae which had the crowd moving and put a smile on everyone’s face
Sunday 25 August
Sunday brought another beautiful sunny dayand starting the day on the main stage were Tako Lako with their visionary mix of trashy world beats and psychedelic gypsy tunes, the critically acclaimed Danish / Serbian act have achieved cult status in Scandinavia.
The lead-singer Ognjen Curcic’s has an evocative presence and energy on stage. They have coined the phrase which is ‘psychedelic gypsy beat’. Tako Lako are melting pot of fierce experiments, where one track fuses intense Balkan-accordion with trashy dance hall, while another combines the epic melody with bombastic, otherworldly drums.
Following Tako Lako were local band Birds vs Planes. Formed in Carlisle, Cumbria in 2006. This alt-indie band from the North of England with their mix of grunge, brit pop and post punk belted out a very strong sound.
Consisting of Adam, Ben, Blake, Jenny & Neil. Their mix of angular jangle & lyrical melody but surely drew a crowd. Spiky, angular guitars jump out at you from the the very first seconds, and relative worth, burst in to life and set a pace and tone that never really gave up during the whole set. ‘Little Blue’ was a strong assured and confident melody, which showed the strength and range of Jenny’s voice. Definitely a band to watch out for!
With their background in Traditional Irish Music and the London Punk scene, the six piece band Neck were ‘Born in a bottle’ during late-night drinking sessions in 1994.
Their music reflects this in it’s blended brew of uplifting Irish swirl and ballsy punk swagger. This is a band that has to be seen live. They have enough explosive stage presence to blow away a small country.
The song ‘Always Upsetting Somebody’ had the entire arena bouncing and the raucous high energy tune ‘the star of the county Down’ was passionate, defiant and uplifting.
Gently intoducing the song ‘Psycho Ceildh Mayhem set’, Sara-Lou Bowrey played her evocative tin whistle, James Gavin joined in with the Fiddle, Brendan ‘Stitch’ Hartley on bass guitar and Hugh O’Neill on tenor banjo accompanied by Jed Finkelstein on drums, the tempo increased more to the point of rapture and Leeson O’Keeffe raucous hoolah kicked in at which point the entire band and the audience went wild.
New Model Army were next up on the main stage and fans gathered well in advance. Formed in Bradford in 1980 New Model Army’s earliest material on their debut album Vengeance (1984) was described as “crusty-punk” After over 30 years of constant touring and recording New Model Army haven’t grown tired.
The band are renowned for their fans, with an extensive following travelling to as many shows as they can and a fair few had made the trip to Solfest. Their hard work was rewarded with a belter of a show.
The Army soon whipped their fans into a frenzy, with several sightings of guys and girls perched on each other shoulders with their dramatic sweeping arm gestures accompanying the music.
Things really moved up a gear when they threw first album classic “Vengeance” into the mix. There were tracks pulled from every stage of the band’s career during the show. ‘Today is a good day’, got a great crowd reaction and ‘Lust for Power’ provided fuel for the fires in the mosh pit ….yes Solfest had a mosh pit !
The band retained their energy and the audience’s appreciation throughout. Probably the most outstanding moment of the evening was when the band played a delectable version of “Green and Gray”. The entire arena seemed to sigh and sway at the evocative lyrics. That they were still be able to profoundly affect so many people with their music was a testament to their ongoing talent.
New Model Army is a remarkable band – as hungry and focused as ever, with a continually regenerating audience and insatiable creative ambition.
The final act on stage bringing the festival to a climax was Flogging Molly the seven-piece Irish-band from Los-Angels, California who came out with enthusiasm and kept that energy the whole show and put on a great performance.
Fierce, fast and loud, with a banjo, accordion, bodhrán and tin whistle in tow to complement the guitars, bass and drums. The seven-member band whipped up a frenzy before a boisterous crowd Sunday night.
The crowd loved everything Dave King and the band cranked out. In classic punk rock fashion, the songs were excuses to release energy in any form. From the top of the hill surrounding the stage the movement looked like continuous waves that crashed and ebbed in wild appreciation.
Flogging Molly got the throng singing along immediately. Or should I say hollering along? The tunes have a fist-pumping, chant-at-the-top-of-your-lungs effect on people. Whether it was “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “The Likes of You Again” or “Swagger,” the roar of the audience threatened to overpower the headliners.
That gave King plenty of chest-pounding pride and sent Casey into a rumble with his six-string. Charismatic and energetic King was busy high-stepping and jumping around the stage, smiling wide through every second of it all. Solfests 10th Aniversay had been a roaring success. People from all over the country came together for sensational music, laughter and good old peace and love.
Review and photos by Anna Studholme
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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Featured Albums w/c 3 August (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 LIONVILLE Magic Is Alive (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 MAD MAX Stormchild Rising (SPV)
14:00-16:00 MARY COUGHLAN Life Stories (2020)
Power Plays w/c 3 August (Mon-Fri)
SOUTH OF SALEM Cold Day In Hell (indie)
BLACK LESION Sins (indie)
CAROLINE JONES All Of The Boys (Social Family Records)
BLACK SUN Resist (Rockshot Records)
THE JAILBIRDS Dull My Brain (Golden Robot Records)
FROM ASHES TO NEW Scars That I’m Hiding (Better Noise Records)
THE GEORGIA THUNDERBOLTS Spirit Of A Workin’ Man (Mascot)
THE BEAUTY OF GEMINA Apologise (TBOG Music)
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