Weyfest celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Rural Life Centre, a rustic setting that suits its ambience as one of the more laid back of festivals. Situated on the Surrey/Hampshire borders in what was once known as the stockbroker belt, their website boasts of the gilded social demographic, yet there are also a sprinkling of free spirited hippy types, as can be evidenced from the clothes and craft and jewellery stalls.
The festival is also friendly to families – indeed a six year old airguitaring enthusiastically was an enduring image of the weekend- and even dogs. The music policy is very eclectic, primarily acts with nostalgic appeal but also some rising stars, which meant to see I got to see a broader range of bands that I might at a more conventionally classic rock festival.
DAY 1- FROM THE JAM, THE BEAT, REBECCA DOWNES
The first evening- where only the main stage of the four is used- got under way with Rebecca Downes. Her name had previously escaped my attention and while I was expecting some kind of fey folksy singer-songwriter, in truth she can be added to what seems an ever growing roster of female blues stars. With a shock of frizzy hair and a down to earth Brummie manner, she was powerful of voice and a very confident performer, well backed by a smartly dressed band of seasoned performers.
With a broad blues spectrum she covered a variety of bases from the jazzy feel of ‘Fever in the Night’ and the funky ‘Night Train’ to the lengthy slow blues of ‘Sailing on a Pool of Tears’, while ‘Its That Easy’ and a cover of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Baby Get it On’ rocked in up tempo fashion.
‘100 Years’, with Rick Benton’s rolling piano lines, also impressed though among the primarily original material, it was her cover of ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’, guitarist Steve Birkett duetting on the vocals, that left the most lasting impression. She is certainly someone to keep an eye on and got the festival off to a flying start.
The Beat were a more familiar name to most and indeed the first of several hitmakers from the late seventies and early eighties that dominated this year’s line up. Of their original frontmen only Ranking Roger, resplendent in purple and black coat, is still there, now joined as vocal partner by his son Ranking Junior. Opener ‘Rough Rider’ had more of a reggae feel than I expected but we were swiftly onto familiar hits in ‘Too Nice to Talk To’ and ‘Hands Off She’s Mine’.
In among the hits there were surprising moments- a cover of ‘Rock the Casbah’ in tribute to Joe Strummer and at least three new songs from a forthcoming album. I did wonder how ‘Stand Down Margaret’ was being received in this Tory heartland but then again they were not the only left-leaning band all weekend.
Inevitably ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’, which people had been shouting for from an early stage, closed proceedings, but was extended including a lengthy saxophone break. Preferring more guitar-heavy sounds, they were not particularly my cup of tea but they went down extremely well with several people grooving at the front.
I changed trains at Woking to reach the festival so in a way it was appropriate that From the Jam headlined. Sadly the town’s second most famous son after HG Wells, Paul Weller, has long left his Jam past behind but Bruce Foxton, still with exactly the same haircut after all these years, got things off to a flying start with his distinctive bass intro and a swirling Hammond organ leading into ‘A Town Called Malice’, and a surprisingly large Friday crowd was already going crazy, with a punchy ‘David Watts’ keeping the momentum going.
Although at first glance he looked like Stuart Pearce, long-time From the Jam singer and guitarist Russell Hastings did a remarkable job sounding like the articulate but angry young Weller. They also delighted diehards with a string of album tracks which I was less familiar with, though the ‘Butterfly Collector’, ‘Smithers-Jones’, with Bruce singing, and ‘Man in the Corner Shop’ all impressed, and even one of their own songs in ‘Time Has Come’. The punchy R n B esque ‘Slow Down’, with prominent Hammond organ, was another highlight.
At the intro to ‘Beat Surrender’, suddenly a number of fifty-ish former punks began to surge forward to create an atmosphere rarely seen in these parts, and as the set wore on there were more reminders of their hitmaking past- including ‘That’s Entertainment’ with Russell spitting out the sardonic lyrics over an acoustic backing, ‘Start’, and a couple of classics in ‘Strange Town’ and ‘Eton Rifles’ where the band cleverly arranged the instrumentation to create a dramatic sound.
By now I was wondering why it had taken me so long to see them, and a first encore of ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ was another reminder of the precocious lyrical talent of the young Weller, the current band again adding to the drama with dynamic sound effects. Indeed ‘In the City’ had me joining in jumping up and down and reminding me of the old Top of the Pops episode where Kid Jensen, as he was then known, strums an air powerchord and tells viewers they were part of a movement called the new wave. ‘Going Underground’, complete with another trademark bass intro from Bruce, was a suitably participatory end to a set that had been a personal revelation.
DAY 2- THE DARKNESS, BAD MANNERS, SLIM CHANCE, WISHBONE ASH, JOHN OTWAY, THE WURZELS
In Weyfest’s agrarian surroundings it was appropriate that The Wurzels were the first band when I arrived, with reassuringly familiar parodies like ‘I was Farmer Bill’s Cowman’ and ‘I am a Cider Drinker’, though the single joke of putting ‘ooh-arr’ into every chorus began to pall after a while and other West Countrymen must tire of this stereotype.
Yet one of the frontmen spoke with a broad Scottish accent and the other, sacrilegiously, was swigging not from a can of Scrumpy, but John Smiths. Moving their routine more up to date, the Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘Ruby’ was accompanied by more ‘ooh-arr’ ing, while I and doubtless most of those present had been eagerly awaiting ‘I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester’ but the way it was accompanied by a dance-style backing track was a bitter disappointment.
It was off to the Village Green stage, the second largest on site, for another act to combine music and humour, albeit in a rock context, in John Otway with his band. It was impossible to get anywhere near the stage, demonstrating that his loveable madcap persona still draws an army of loyal fans, but in a brief trip I couldn’t really get into his routine.
Instead one of my long time personal favourites Wishbone Ash were standard bearers for classic rock at the festival and given a generous set length on the main stage. I feared for them as, unlike most of the other main acts, they never had hit singles that the casual fan can remember, but they showed some courage in opening with ‘Deep Blues’, a relatively new song but a good primer for those unfamiliar with the Wishbone sound as founder member Andy Powell and his inscrutable, Viking like guitar partner Muddy Manninen traded melodic solos before combining in harmony.
‘Argus’ of course is their crowning glory and it was particularly appropriate that it should feature given that a Darth Vader from the collection of Dr Who characters that are housed on the site was roaming the crowd earlier.
Four straight numbers from it began with a surprisingly early ‘Blowing Free’ and ‘The King Will Come’ with some nifty mid-section bass work as well as harmony singing from Bob Skeat, and then the traditional back to back pair of ‘Warrior’ and ‘Throw Down the Sword’, the latter featuring an exquisite closing solo from Andy. It was though discombobulating for me to be in an audience without the usual Wishbone diehards with their timed claps and counting in of the band.
A newer song ‘Heavy Weather’ did drag somewhat but ‘Living Proof’ was lively and ‘Open Road’ had a southern rock feel, both lyrically and in the lengthy trading of solos between Andy and Muddy, the latter impressing with his slide guitar work.
While never the most visually exciting of bands, Andy was a genial host, drawing on his near half century in the band as he contrasted the old days of Reading festival with the creperie stand here, and related how they wrote what he described as the esoteric ‘Phoenix’ which closed the main set in epic 16 minute style with some mid song improvisation.
More conventionally, ‘Jailbait’ served as the encore with yet more twin guitars and some audience call and response to end a very solid set which showed Wishbone’s traditional professionalism and hopefully won some new friends.
After a short break I wandered over to catch the last two thirds of Slim Chance’s set. Most of Ronnie Lane’s post-Faces band have recently reformed and their pleasing mix of fiddles, accordions and mandolins allied to keyboards and acoustic guitar was perfectly suited to such pastoral surroundings. Ronnie Lane trademarks like ‘The Poacher’ and ‘Debris’ got an airing, plus the inevitable ‘How Come’.
Better still, the old boys on stage, who also shared vocal duties, appeared to be having the time of their lives and created a real feel good atmosphere, notably on ‘One for the Road’. After paying tribute to Ronnie and Ian McLagan they ended with a couple of Faces songs in ‘You’re So Rude’ and of course ‘Ooh La La’ which no-one could resist singing along to. Slim Chance were perhaps my biggest pleasant surprise of the Festival and I would thoroughly recommend them.
Back on the main stage Bad Manners had just started another crowd-pleasing Ska set, much like The Beat the previous day. Like a cut-price Madness the hits came coming with ‘Walking in the Sunshine’ and ‘Just A Feeling’ among others, together with a few instrumentals (I am sure I heard the ‘Animal Magic’ theme tune at some point) and they gave ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’ their own distinctive twist.
Buster Bloodvessel is a charismatic band leader who can pull off a festival performance in his sleep and the way much of the crowd were dancing demonstrated they were a good fit for the festival. As a non-fan, after a while one song did segue into another and by the time they ended with ‘Lip Up Fatty’ and ‘CanCan’, either side of ‘Special Brew’, I wondered if the real ale was talking or if I hadn’t actually already heard them earlier in the set.
A quick trip to the Village Green stage saw me catch the last 15 minutes of one of the newer bands Wildflowers who like many of their contemporaries (The Staves, Ward Thomas) featured siblings in hippyish singer Siddy Bennett and her keyboard playing sister Kit. They played more modern, folk-influenced pop, but impressed with the originality of their material.
Judging from the way I arrived 15 minutes before show time to find the whole of the front of stage area jam packed, the signing of The Darkness was a coup for a festival whose headliners usually tread the ‘scampi in a basket’ nostalgia circuit. Mind you, it is now a full 13 years since that initial short but sensational burst of Darkness-mania stunned the pop world.
Indeed other than the shorter hairstyles the opening 10 minutes was like being in a time warp. Justin Hawkins falsettoed his way through ‘Black Shuck’ before archly saying he’d been dying to say ‘good evening Weyfest’ and resurrecting his old ‘Gimme a D, Gimme an Arkness’ routine before going into another first album classic in ‘Growing On Me’.
However the tracks from the most recent album ‘Last of Our Kind’, ‘Mudslide’ and ‘Roaring Waters’ were rather dull, confirming that a ‘Permission to Land’ dominated set was the right decision. ‘Barbarian’ was played later, but I was puzzled that the standout title track failed to make the live set.
The stunts are less spectacular and even Justin’s eccentricity was toned down a tad on this occasion, a handstand in front of the drum kit notwithstanding, but the Darkness are now more reliable live performers than they were in their heyday and the likes of ‘Giving Up’, with the F word emblazoned in lights, ‘Friday Night ‘with its twin guitars from Justin and brother Dan and underrated power ballad ‘Love is Only a Feeling’ complete with audience hands waving were very enjoyable.
After some very exaggerated cowbell banging from bassist Frankie Poullain, ‘One Way Ticket to Hell and Back’ was quite simply a great rock anthem and it was pleasing that their reunion album ‘Hot Cakes’ also got an airing with ‘Every Inch of You’.
From then on in it was back to the heady days of 2003 with a slightly bowdlerised ‘Get Your Hands off My Woman’ and ‘Stuck in a Rut’ before the crowd erupted to the classic mix of guitar crunch and falsetto singing that is ‘I Believe in A Thing Called Love’. There was no encore as such but Justin was not joking when he said they would spin out the last number ‘Love on the Rocks With No Ice’ as long as possible. However it made for great entertainment when he rode deep into the crowd on a roadie’s shoulders guitaring and was a suitably spectacular end to an enjoyable headlining set.
DAY 3- BOOMTOWN RATS, BIG COUNTRY, JACKIE LYNTON, BROKEN WITT REBELS, JO HARMAN
I arrived a little earlier on the Sunday to catch another of the rising tide of female blues singers, Jo Harman, who had impressed me on my last trip to Weyfest two years ago. Easy on the eye and with a marvellously rich soulful voice, she was perfect listening from the grass on a Surrey summer’s day. Her band were skilled players with Bradley Wiggins-lookalike Steve Watts given full reign to show off some great Hammond organ playing.
She played a mix of songs including covers of Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’, and ‘How I Got to Memphis’ , but also previewed a number from her forthcoming album including ‘Lend Me Your Love’. Recorded in Nashville it was not surprising that these had a soulful feel as she retraced the steps of Dusty in Memphis. A more up tempo cover of the Isley Brothers ‘Work to Do’ as an encore got a few people dancing and ended an impressive set.
One of the acts I had been most looking forward had been Inglorious, not least as heavy rock was almost absent from the line up, but sadly they cancelled through illness at very short notice. However another band making waves on the classic rock scene, Broken Witt Rebels stepped in at very short notice and had a fund of goodwill behind them.
Sporting a fashionable hipster-style look, they followed in the footsteps of the Temperance Movement with a bluesy but original sound, with singer Danny Core coming over like a gravel-voiced R and B veteran with hints of Eric Burdon, Joe Cocker and (on ‘Queen Bee’) John Fogerty rather than a young West Midlander. Against that, they had a very static stage presence compared to some of the more veteran acts on the bill.
They also boldly debuted some songs they had never played live before including ‘Night Call’. Mid set, the songs were in danger of blending into one another but they excelled themselves with a closing trio of an epic ‘Getaway Man’, ‘I Got Mine’ which was a long bluesy workout with a hint of Zeppelin and ‘Guns’ with its ‘Burned Out Like a Cigarette’ refrain and some U2-isms, all of which confirmed they are a band to watch.
At completely the other end of the age spectrum, I forsook the Blow Monkeys on the main stage to see Jackie Lynton, who seems to be a Weyfest mainstay. Now a sprightly 76 he amused and delighted with his old school jokes and bluesy standards such as ‘Old Time Rock n Roll’ and ‘One More Drink’ which felt like a cross between Status Quo and Chas and Dave.
Even better (and having asked him about it the night before I would like to claim some modest credit), he played a version, albeit with the most offensive word missing, of his famous ‘Hedgehog Song’ whose obscene call and response became such a legend at Reading Rock, as it then was, in the early eighties.
Another running gag was trying, with limited success, to synchronise a whistle at the end of ‘Train Coming Mama’ with the progress of the actual steam train that takes customers on rides through the forest bordering the site. His band were also the target of his mickey taking although they were a skilled bunch of players, notably on a cover of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ with guitarist Chris Bryant doing a fine job on the vocals.
The rest of my day was spent on the main stage with Big Country the third act who had also played on my last trip two years ago. The front of the stage was initially slow to fill up with the weather poor but ‘Harvest Home’ was a great opener, epitomising their chiming celtic-themed guitars of father and son pair Bruce and Jamie Watson, the former very much the visual focal point of the band these days with his entertaining crazy-legged moves.
‘Look Away’ got a fair few people jumping around before a trio from ‘Steeltown’ , and after the slow burning title track and a slightly below par ‘When the Rose is Sown’, ‘Just a Shadow’ was as classic as ever with the Watsons guitars intertwining on the closing solo. Singer Simon Hough does an admirable job of recapturing the much-missed Stuart Adamson’s vocal phrasing, although I noticed on this occasion he was supported by various bandmates at different times, and surprisingly early he led the crowd in a rendition of ‘Chance’, doing so again when it got to the chorus proper.
When BC first reformed a few years ago, their set focused largely on such songs from ‘The Crossing’ debut but the best thing for me about this generous 80 minute set was that it covered a wider phase of their career, from the commercialised Americanisms of ‘King of Emotion’, and ‘Remembrance Day’ serving as a taster for the autumn tour where ‘The Seer’ will be played in its entirety, to a pair of what Bruce called dark songs in ‘We’re not in Kansas Anymore’ and ‘Ships’, the latter featuring a beautifully mournful, country rock like guitar solo from him.
However we were all waiting for the traditional climax to a Big Country show and sure enough the eponymous ‘In A Big Country’ complete with singalong had me and others jumping. ‘Wonderland’ only suffered from being sandwiched between two classics as they ended with the atmosphere truly cooking during ‘Fields of Fire’, before an encore of ‘Inwards’ with more trademark celtic guitar. Big Country’s continuing vitality is the biggest tribute that can be paid to Stuart Adamson’s memory.
Weyfest’s headliners were also something of a coup, as it is not every day that a band that had two Number 1’s and are led by one of the world’s most famous men play a festival in rural Surrey. However the Boomtown Rats were not without controversy and I am sure I heard their announcement earlier in the day generate a few boos, probably from people who had read media reports of Sir Bob Geldof allegedly trash talking the audience at a recent festival in Essex. Moreover it was slightly incongruous that such a family festival had booked as their weekend headliners two bands with notoriously potty mouthed frontmen.
However, a healthy crowd at the front suspended moral judgments when they came on with an impressive stage show and Bob working every inch of the front of the stage, as they opened with ‘I Never Loved Eva Braun’ with the crowd joining in on the ‘na-na’na’ refrain followed by a punchy ‘Like Clockwork’.
During ‘Neon Heart’ I noticed how the keyboards and slide guitar of Darren Beale, one of two newer members accompanying four original Rats, were as much in a classic rock as a punk tradition, and indeed a lengthy ‘She’s Gonna Do You In’, with Bob playing blues harp, harked back to earlier Irish pioneers like Them and Taste.
The crowd then held its collective breath as Sir Bob addressed them but his tone was one of respectful joshing at their middle-class nature, allied to a broadside at the Daily Mail. I also like to think that this discerning audience took his bragging about the band being ‘mega’ and his pretend snakeskin suit with a pinch of salt as part of his stage persona.
‘Someone’s Looking at You’ was superb, but the reggae rhythms of the political ‘Banana Republic’ less so. Fortunately the bulk of the songs were from the first three albums before their experimentation began to lose the plot, epitomised by ‘She’s So Modern’, and as I shouted ‘Its a Tonic for the Troops’ my mind was taken back to heady days of seeing them on Top of the Pops as an impressionable 11 year old.
‘I Don’t like Mondays’ was slightly rearranged and saw bassist Pete Briquette adding a second set of keyboards, but it was the faster, more aggressive numbers that were better suited to the live environment including ‘Close as You’ll Ever Be’ and ‘Looking Out for Number 1’.
However the impact of ‘Mary of the 4th Form’ was diluted by a long mid-song rap with Bob singing snatches of other songs including ‘Radar Love’. It did though provide one of the funniest moments of the weekend when he rhetorically asked how long it had taken the band to travel from London, and someone in at the front must have shouted ‘ about an hour and a half’ to which he retorted ‘stop being so f—ing practical’!
‘Rat Trap’ ended the main set and remains their signature classic and I was singing every word, though was disappointed the saxophone break was provided by a machine. The first encore ‘Diamond Smiles’ also confirmed my thoughts during the gig, similar to those that occurred to me during From the Jam, that the punk and new wave era of the late seventies produced some superb songwriting, combining literacy with youthful anger, that is underrated by those fixated on a more conventional definition of classic rock.
However the set closed on a down note with an inexplicable ‘We are the Boomtown Rats’, set to a dreadful rave style dance rhythm, as I beat a premature retreat to wait for a taxi homewards. However the way the audience were bouncing up and down more than they had all weekend suggested I was in a minority.
From Weyfest’s point of view, the reaction fully justified their gamble on the Rats and brought to a suitably upbeat conclusion a marvellous weekend in this bucolic setting where for three days the outside world seems to stand still.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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