Dance Before, During and After the Storm
Between Friday 18th and Sunday 20th August 2017 the bizarre, the wonderful and the contradictions of the norm gathered in the grounds of Escot Park to embrace the eclectic bohemian eccentricity that is Beautiful Days Festival.
Founded in 2003 and originally called Green Blade Fayre, Beautiful Days Festival is the creation of The Levellers and they continue to manage the event along with their live agents, DMF music who organise the event.
With an increased capacity of 17,500 that sold out months before the festival, three festival awards and many nominations under their belt the Beautiful Days team have a huge task on their hands to best themselves each year and maintain the feel of Beautiful Days and what sets it apart from other festivals. And so, on Thursday 17th August the camper was loaded and we headed to Devon to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
Friday 18 August
There were some sore heads at the campsite on Friday morning but nothing a cup of tea and a shower couldn’t fix, and of course, Levellers. The weekend begins proper at 2pm at The Big Top with a Levellers acoustic set. This is always met with cheers and smiles and fans singing Levellers songs at the tops of their voices. A great way to kick off a great weekend.
Time to go for a walkabout. The Beautiful Days crew always provide interesting things for us to do and to admire, this year a boat and sand pit were a great addition for families who wanted to hear the music at The Big Top but whose children were restless and eager to play. There were also the usual willow sculptures, colourful art installations, witty signage and much more besides.
Later that afternoon at The Main Stage Zion Train swept a sun and cider soaked audience up onto our wellington boot clad feet, and with their booming dub bass beats and lead singer, Dubdadda’s high spirits they reminded us of what our feet are for; dancing in fields.
On Friday evening punks of all ages gathered together to fill the main arena for Stiff Little Fingers. During their set, the band played 2014 release ‘My Dark Places’ from the album ‘No Going Back’, which is based upon lead singer, Jake Burns’, own mental health problems.
He openly shared his own experience with the audience before performing the song and received rapturous applause for speaking freely and openly in the hope of encouraging others to open up about their own mental health issues. It really was quite a moving moment.
The day ended with a stellar performance from Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott at The Main Stage. The indie pop duo charmed the audience and most of us joined in singing along to past hits from their former band The Beautiful South, and recent hits which have seen chart success, their latest album, ‘Crooked Calypso’ reaching number two in the album charts. We were even treated to a rendition of ‘Happy Hour’, chart topper from Paul Heaton’s former band The House Martins, which was very well received by a hoarse and croaky crowd.
Saturday 19 August
Patchy rain showers were the order of the day on Saturday so Talisman at The Main Stage were an obvious choice to provide some sunshine with their music. Some lazy laid-back dancing to some Roots Reggae that makes you bob and sway is never a bad thing and seemed to please those of us gathered in the main arena.
This was at around lunchtime so a wander around the food stalls to seek out some festival deliciousness was a no brainer. There are a wide range of food stalls at Beautiful Days to cater for many different tastes; fish and chips, Caribbean food, Mexican food, Indian food, simple toasties, pizza, veggie and vegan food, there was something for everyone.
Later that afternoon it was the turn of Nottinghamshire based folk punks Ferocious Dog to fill the main arena with people, their sound and their stage presence. Ferocious Dog have been working the festival circuit for several years now and have progressed from the smaller tents to now appearing on main stages when festival organisers realised that they and their loyal following cannot be contained within a tent.
Ferocious Dog performed with passion and vigour as always and their love of their music and what they do was evident in their performance. Ken Bonsall, lead singer, spent time after their set in the press pit chatting and hugging the Ferocious Dog faithful and taking part in the obligatory selfies.
This may be one of the reasons the band have built up an ever-increasing fan base, because they care about the people who buy their music and take the time to see them live either at festivals or at their own gigs. This band really are a bunch of genuinely lovely gents.
As a slightly obsessive New Model Army fan-girl their performance on Saturday evening at the main stage was not something I was going to miss. The current New Model Army line-up is one of the best the band have ever had, if not the best.
The influence of each band member is evident in all their recent material and the combination of all their personalities within their music is a formula that has evolved the band into something quite magical.
Justin Sullivan still sings with passion and conviction for his beliefs but he now also sings with the voice of experience. Closing their set with ‘I Love the World’ left our ears ringing and our hearts pumping. Outstanding.
After such a passionate performance from New Model Army it was difficult not to be a bit underwhelmed by The Sisters of Mercy‘s performance which followed. Unfortunately, the band were plagued with sound issues throughout their set which didn’t help, but neither did not actually being able to see the band on stage. They may be known for their dark and gothic music and performances but sensory deprivation was not what I was looking for.
Hayseed Dixie at The Big Top on the other hand were the polar opposite. I’d never seen Hayseed Dixie live and they had come highly recommended by people I’d spoken to over the weekend, so I was looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was all about. I was far from disappointed and was rather pleasantly surprised by what I found, proper belly laughs and something to dance about.
These rednecks certainly know how to capture an audience with their humorous country songs and hilarious tales. That night the treck up The Hill to the campsite was made a little bit easier with a light heart, Hayseed Dixie were my favourite find of the festival.
Sunday 20 August
On Sunday, the heavens opened and after a rather cold, soggy morning with no sign of the rain letting up I needed an injection of happiness; I found it at The Band Stand in the form of The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. I’m not going to mince my words, I adore this band! I’ve seen them dozens of times, know the lyrics to a good deal of their songs, but every time I hear them performed live I laugh like it’s the first time I’ve heard them.
Torrential rain poured from a sky thick with black clouds but The Band Stand was full of colour, both literally and metaphorically. So much so that rather than seeking shelter elsewhere people simply put up hoods and put on rain coats and carried on singing and enjoying the wonderful spectacal that is The Bar-Stewards.
A true measure of the love for the band and how their warmth and humour manage to capture and engage audiences.
But as great as the weekend had been so far something had happened to Beautiful Days this year, for me it seemed to have lost a little of its sparkle. Whether this was due to the increased capacity or because this ageing hippie is stuck in her ways, I don’t know, but I missed the Beautiful Days that I had visited every year for the last six years.
Litter seemed to be more of a problem this year too, at the end of the evenings entertainments the main arena was left looking like something from one of the more commercial festivals, including tents being left behind after the Levellers set on Sunday evening. It was disappointing to see and made extra work for an already exhausted crew. Not on.
After a day of schlepping about in the mud and rain Alison Moyet at The Big Top was a soothing balm. She has a commanding and utterly charming stage presence and she wooed us with a slowed down ballroom jazz version of ‘Is This Love?’, an absolutely delicious treat and a highlight of the weekend for many. Ms Moyet may have lost some weight but her voice certainly hasn’t.
Before we knew it, the weekend was fast approaching the end, but first, what the weekend had been building up to, Levellers closing set and the fireworks extravaganza. The main arena is always packed for this with what seems like every single person at the festival in attendance.
We may have been tired, cold and wet from the storms over the weekend but our spirits weren’t dampened, the whole field singing and dancing from down in front of the stage to all the way at the back of arena.
A field full of happy-sad, we stood and watched the fireworks, faces glowing with delight in the colourful lights. We were sad because the weekend was over and we had to wait another year to do it all again, and happy because despite everything, we had had an awesome weekend.
So, ask me if I’ll be returning to those hallowed fields in Devon again next year and I’ll grin and ask, “When do tickets go on sale?”.
Review and photos by Hollie Latham
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