Now firmly established as one of the late fixtures on the summer gig calendar, Weyfest is a festival with a very distinct vibe. The wooded setting, in an olde worlde museum of rural life with reconstructions of old buildings, could best be described as rustic, and as you might expect from a festival based on the Surrey-Hampshire borders the clientele have the middle class air of tea and sandwiches at the vicarage.
Owners bring well behaved dogs, Barbour jackets are in as much evidence as leather jackets, and the idea of a mosh pit among the lawn chairs is unthinkable. The stage names- the Beekepers stage, the Village Green –add to this charming ambience and even the main stage announcer in his straw hat and boater and old school humour looks as if he should be introducing a charity cricket match.
And yet this bucolic image disguises the fact that every year Weyfest put together an eclectic mix of bands from the past four decades, including a decent chunk of classic rock and some fairly big names you would never expect to see in this environment.
Things got under way on the Friday night and I was able to head down from work to catch the last two of three acts. As with so many bands over the weekend, Eddie and the Hot Rods are down to a sole original member but it is easy to warm to singer Barrie Masters, with his geezerish Essex humour and a grey Weller-esque feather cut.
Indeed some of their old classics- ‘Life On The Line’, ‘Quit This Town’ and ‘Telephone Girl’, also reminded me of the punchy, maximum R and B urgency of the early years of the most famous musical export from nearby Woking.
The band were tight with some crisp solos from Chris Taylor but I was surprised at quite how many covers peppered the set, from ‘You Better Run’ (popularised by Pat Benatar) and old favourites like ‘Woolly Bully’ to the over used standards ‘Gloria’ and even ‘Born To Be Wild’.
Nevertheless ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ still stands proud as one of the classics of the punk and new wave era, even if it did eclipse the rest of their set. The sense of enjoyment on both sides of the stage could not be denied as they encored with a couple more covers in ‘Stepping Stone’ and – just as I feared they wouldn’t play i t- a storming ‘Get Out of Denver’, bringing back memories of the days when their sheer energy shocked pre-punk Top of the Pops viewers.
Around the same time, a band with a very different sound, 10cc were chart regulars and, now regulars on the nostalgia circuit, they were headlining Weyfest for the second time in three years.
Of their one time four main songwriters, only the gentlemanly Graham Gouldman still keeps the flag flying, but their line up not only boasts guitarist and drummer Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess who also date back to the seventies, but co-vocalist Mick Wilson has a wonderfully pure voice that can handle the Eric Stewart parts with ease.
It was a hit packed set from the openers of ‘Wall Street Shuffle’, the Wings-esque ‘Things We Do For Love’ and ‘Good Morning Judge’ where they got into a swampy groove with some fine slide guitar from Rick.
However what made 10cc such an interesting proposition in those days was the way they combined poppy melodies with off the wall lyrics and interesting arrangements. So ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ had so many changes of tempo it was almost a mini symphony, while the parade of clever hits such as ‘Life Is A Minestrone’ and ‘Art For Arts Sake’ (plus, it has to be said, the same anecdotes and introductions as last time) was broken up by a couple of album tracks to give the band’s more progressive tendencies free reign, in ‘Singing For The Last Supper’, and ‘Feel The Benefit’ with Mick’s McCartney-esque vocals leading into bass and guitar solo slots from Graham and Rick.
Mick’s singing and the accompanying vocal harmonies on ‘I’m Not In Love’ were exquisite and the crowd lapped up ‘The Dean And I’ and ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, not least when Graham inserted ‘I don’t like Weyfest, I love it’ at the end.
The encores also showed off their versatility with four band members doing ‘Donna’ in acapella fashion, before ‘Rubber Bullets’ rocked out in more conventionally entertaining fashion with multi instrumentalist Mike Stevens coming forward with his entertaining sax playing and jamming with Rick. An unashamed nostalgia show but one of pure class, 10cc were the perfect Friday headliners for this discerning crowd.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Saturday, but a diverse mix of acts was again on show from Chas and Dave and Ian Anderson, to even reformed versions of the Undertones and the Move, albeit without their main men. Moving into slightly more contemporary fields, the headliners were The Orb and The Feeling, whose share the same gilded background as the Weyfest demographic.
I was back for more on Sunday, beginning with Deborah Bonham. I’d caught her doing support slots before but for the first time that I have seen her I felt she carried the show on talent alone, not needing to rely on the family pedigree. Her band of seasoned musicians provided a sensitive backing to her raunchy bluesy voice, showcased on songs like the lazy, lengthy ‘I Need You’, and ‘Fly’ from latest album Spirit.
‘Take Me Down’, with Deborah strumming an acoustic, even saw the band heading into country rock territory while they marked the presence of ex-Humble Pie legend Jerry Shirley on drums with a cover of ‘Get Down To It’.
‘Devil In New Orleans’ had a very satisfying groove, helped by some harmonica playing from John Diamond, the Pie connection continued with a closer in ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’, perfectly suiting Deborah’s raunchy voice.
I popped over to the Village Green stage to catch some of Sons of Icarus, rather out of place on the bill on account of both their youth and a 90’s inspired grungey sound (they even covered Alice in Chains’ ‘Man In The Box’). Nevertheless they are excellent musicians with some fine songs like ‘Falling’, and still seemed well appreciated. Add them to the growing list of a new generation of promising home grown hard rock talent.
In total contrast, on the main stage, Jo Harman, strikingly blonde and in a tight black dress, showed why she is one of the rising stars of the current blues scene. Her cool, sassy style is on the jazzier end of the blues spectrum and would not be my music of choice, embodied by a stripped back version of ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City’, but it was the perfect soundtrack to a warm late summer’s day at a festival.
The arrangements not only showcased her voice but gave her fine band, notably guitarist Terry Lewis and keyboard player Steve Watts, the chance to stretch out and jam and on this evidence she is destined to follow the likes of Beth Hart into the big time.
I returned to the Village Green stage to catch the first part of Jackie Lynton, thinking to myself, is he still alive? Well, even though the Hedgehog song was absent, the old character was still there and in fine fettle, wisecracking from his trademark lectern and teasing the band of seasoned blues rock veterans he has assembled for an enjoyable and well delivered if unchallenging set of standards such as ‘Mess Of Blues’ and ‘Old Time Rock n Roll’.
When he played songs like ‘Rock n Roll Whiskey Blues’ and ‘Train Comin Mama’, with audience participation, just at the moment the model railway that runs around the site trundled round, all was well with the world.
Back to more serious musical fare and, despite being one of my long time favourites, I was in two minds about Big Country. My initial excitement a few years back that they reformed to pay tribute to Stuart Adamson’s legacy had worn off with the departures of Tony Butler and even Mike Peters, who had done such a sterling job, leaving me fearful they too were turning into one of the glorified covers bands with few original members.
However from the moment they opened with fan favourite ‘Harvest Home’ I was won over, particularly by ever smiling new singer Simon Hough whose vocal tone bore a remarkable resemblance to Stuart in spite of being an Englishman, and to an extent the trademark Big Country sound was back.
Bruce Watson, who I remember being rather withdrawn figure on stage, seemed rejuvenated and even did the majority of between song intros as well as some great guitar interplay with son Jamie. The setlist was also shaken up with relative obscurities like ‘River Of Hope’ and a song from their recent album In A Broken Promise Land. along the old favourites like ‘Look Away’.
Bruce announced that they were marking the 30th anniversary of Steeltown and the set featured two fantastic songs from that often neglected album, ‘Just A Shadow’ and ‘Where The Rose Is Sown’, combing political lyrics with some superb guitar playing.
The crowd had initially been slow to assemble at the front of the stage but a good number were singing along to ‘Chance’ and dancing to’ In A Big Country’. After a teasing snatch of Waterfront from ex-Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes, in a kilt and looking like an extra from Braveheart, the often underrated ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Fields Of Fire’ sparked outbreaks of dancing, and there was even time to sneak in an encore of ‘Inwards’. I was left eating humble pie as the names may have changed but the new line up very much honour the classic BC sound.
That should have been a nice warm up for me for Squeeze, who I was equally looking forward to – another band who like 10cc were a great headlining choice with a back catalogue everyone knows of clever songs.
Unfortunately despite constantly calling from mid-afternoon, every single taxi firm was booked up (unknown to me, one of Europe’s largest Muslim festivals was taking place with 30,000 converging on the neighbouring town) so the only option was to head off before it got dark and hike the four miles back to Farnham Station.
Despite this personal disappointment, my overall impression of Weyfest was a charming and enchanting festival, with an expertly curated selection of bands of a much higher pedigree than you would expect from such a boutique festival. Time to book the cabs ahead for next year…
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 20 December., imbued with a festive flavour to raise the spirits
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