Another wonderful weekend at this superb festival. Enough has been said about the wonders of this event in other reviews - in short it is a staple in the summer calendar for us. The selection of music on offer make for endless difficult choices aside from the plentiful poetry, comedy, literature, film and pop-up activities going on. Our focus is on the bands - these are the ones we enjoyed this weekend.
Day 1 – Thursday (evening music as a backdrop to the main event)
Bas Jan (Tipi Tent) – Sera (Serafina Steer) with Emma (of Meilyr Jones’ band) & Rachel – giving us quirky pop with almost spoken vocal. Still the only act I know to name-check Essex seaside town Walton-On-The-Naze
Yo Lo Tengo – (Woods Stage) – Remarkable range, giving hints of BSP to Belle & Sebastian with funk guitars thrown in from time to time
Kiran Leonard (Tipi Tent) –His left-handed guitar style looks somehow clumsy but this is classy guitar playing, with a tight 3-strong band in support. A young man becoming a master of his craft. Song to look out for ‘Unaffected Life’ the second single from his forthcoming album.
Day 2 – Friday
Penelope Isles (Big Top) – Unquestionably a quality band, hailing from the Isle Of Man, now based in Brighton. Comparisons aplenty.... Tame Impala, Pavement, Magic Numbers. Threw in some new songs to add to ‘Cut Your Hair’, ‘Gnarbone’ and other selections from their debut EP ‘Comfortably Swell’. Excited and humbled to be on the bill – bass/keyboard player Lily saying with utmost sincerity “Playing here is a dream come true”
Stella Donnelly (Tipi Tent) - Australian songstress from Freemantle. Some pundits have been heard to comment that she is like Courtney Barnett but with a better voice. She certainly has it all, and gave a wonderful set comprising her numerous fragile songs. Half apologising for her bad language she observed that it’s never children that complain about bad language, only the adults.... ‘so for all you adults out there, just to let you know, the kid’s don’t fucking care !’
Du Blonde (Woods Stage) – only did a 35 minute set made up mostly of songs from ‘to be released’ next album. I must admit I was disappointed she didn’t extend the performance a little to include some numbers from the first Du Blonde album
Hiss Golden Messenger (Garden Stage) - slightly melancholic acoustic tunes.
The Weather Station (Tipi tent) – at this point I was looking for something to lift my flagging spirits, but wandering in to the tent for Weather Station, a band not known to me, was given more laid back melancholia.
Lucy Dacus – (Woods Stage) – with full band, and packed real punch. Her second album ‘Historian’ released earlier this year is crammed with belting tunes, none more so that ‘Pillar Of Truth’ which provided the centrepiece of a stunning set
The Low Anthem (Garden Stage) - one of the weekend’s highlights. They bravely played new album ‘The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea’ in its entirety - a concept album charting the underwater venturings of a creature thousands of years old. For me a superb moment though I can see how for others this could be a tough listen as the album is high on apparently improvised meanderings and shorter on the melodic tunes this band is renowned for; but the climax of the final song ‘Final Transmission From The Diving Umbrella’ was both spine tingling and beautiful. So a suggestion here – why doesn’t the festival programme state ‘The Low Anthem – playing The Salt Doll.... in full’ ? This would avoid disappointment for the casual listener (or any band fans who simply want to hear the better known songs) and might even prompt people to listen to the album beforehand.
Big Thief (Garden Stage) – a strong selection of anthemic indie guitar tunes
Orielles (Big Top) – Lively guitar work particularly from Henry Carlyle Wade who bounced around the stage from the opening minute of the set. Great visually and aurally
St Vincent (Woods Stage) – spread in a line across the stage with Anne Erin Clarke far left and lighting panels behind each of the four performers. Grace Jones for the new generation. Crowd pleasing
Scorpios (Tipi Tent) - part of the Radio 3 Late Junction showcase. Usually a troupe of 10 (8 tonight) - from war-torn 1980s Sudan. A mind-boggling fusion of jazz, blues, soul supplemented with plenty of Western influences, all performed around a warm Sudanese-percussion centre.
Lucy Dacus (Tipi Tent) - a wonderful ‘extra’ to see Lucy again in this secret set; this time supported by Bristolian banjo-master Jim Cruikshank and joined by Julien Baker for a superb vocal duet.
Day 3 – Saturday
Hater (Tipi Tent) – from Sweden. Top notch indie guitar tunes. Intense vocal matched with equally intense beats from sticks-man. 11.30 a.m slot but garnered a good crowd. Lots of love for hater.
Stealing Sheep (side of Garden Stage auditorium) - beating out their ‘Suffragette Tribute’. I overheard one wag comment “stop the drumming and I’ll give you the vote!”
Boy Azooga (Garden Stage) - one of the few sets of the weekend that over-ran; and glad it did as the (expected) set closer was Loner Boogie. Best song of 2018, but not the only belter from this Welsh band that had the Garden dancing in the afternoon sunshine.
Shannon & The Clams (Woods Stage) - perfect rockabilly accompaniment to the Rock Club Gin Bar Experience (courtesy of Sally)
Flatworms (Big Top) - find of the weekend. Really kick-started the remainder of the day. Excellent in-yer-face guitars
Shame (Woods Stage) - the greatest showman of the weekend, unquestionably, with a classy band. Crowd surfing aplenty.
Sunflower Bean (Big Top) - lead singer and guitarist Julia Cumming bedecked in white jump suit. The band played an excellent set with a good sprinkling of tunes from recently-released second album ‘Twentytwo In Blue’. Dedicated third song in to Tame Impala.
Vampire Weekend (Woods Stage) - great performance and their less well-known tunes were equally enjoyable as their string of hits. Mention must go to a highlight moment when they played Solsbury Hill in homage to Peter Gabriel who of course is name-checked in song ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’. (In true geeky style so becoming of this band, they were at pains to point out they'd done their geographical research and knew ‘Solsbury’ wasn’t a reference to nearby Salisbury). Great to see this band in full flow again. Had the vast crowd jumping all the way to the back of the arena to their hits A-punk, Mansard Roof, Walcott, and Oxford Comma.
Day 4 – Sunday
Haley Hendrickx (Garden Stage) - personal and humorous lyrics and amusing chat between songs including a tale of how she got lost driving to the festival and on stopping to ask a random cyclist he offered to get in her car to direct her. So with cyclist aboard and bike in the boot she reached the site and was able to sneak him into the festival !
Plastic Mermaids (Woods Stage) – First class band and the most striking set of the weekend. Drums, assorted keys and guitars, with plenty of guitar bowing going on. Were joined for their third by a 6-strong female choir. At first peering through their gold tinsel costumes they looked like unwilling schoolchildren who had been forced onto the stage for the end-of-term production, but as they burst into song they came truly alive and provided us with a wonderful polyphonic spree-esque moment. The choir stayed as an integral part of the performance for the remainder of the set, one that was truly comparable with Flaming Lips in their pomp. In one song the choir carried out a unison hand dance – the girl in front of me was really into it and soon joined in with the movements so I was easily able to join by following her. At the end of the number I thanked her for being my unbeknowing teacher, to be told she was a member of the choir but had a cold that day so couldn’t join in. A superb festival set.
Anna Burch (Tipi Tent) - with band made up from Ben (drums), Sophie (bass) and Mike on guitar who provided superb vocal harmonies as AB took us through tunes from her excellent 2018 album ‘Quit The Curse’. But wasn’t afraid to confront some difficult issues in her song, as in ‘Asking For a Friend’ on having a relationship with your drug dealer.
Jim White (Piano Stage) - Wonderfully weird stories to introduce his songs which included Alabama Chrome a slow drooly number with double bass accompaniment. Shades of Bill Callahan ‘Smog’
Sweaty Palms (Ferris Wheel Stage) – this set had a continuing them of ‘facing your fears’ - went on a little too long for my liking
Jonathan Wilson (Garden Stage) – Superb set from this maestro
Cutworms (Tipi Tent) – 4 members, one more than Flatworms, but made only a quarter of the noise of their earth-dwelling namesakes. Superb nonetheless. Country tinged tunes. Excellent vocal
Ezra Furman (Woods Stage) – We’ve seen EF graduate through the last few years of EOTR from the Tipi Tent through a Garden Stage performance to his rightful place on the main Woods Stage. Tonight was perfect timing, starting in daylight and ending with a showbiz style light show as dusk fell. Multiple touching moments including a song dedicated to transsexual who had tragically committed suicide a few days previously, and the worldwide refugee crisis. Thought provoking messages woven into his show which nonetheless had the crowd dancing throughout.
Idles (Big Top) – A very welcome juxtaposition to most of the other bands today. Customary noisy vocal and challenging lyrics from surely one of the most relevant bands of the moment
Black Midi (Tipi Tent) – a lot of anticipation for this ‘secret set’ and we were treated to full on youthful exuberance, and a rather odd vocal. A band definitely to keep on the radar, something of a force of nature
AK/DK (Big Top) – ..... and so to bed with electronic beats reverberating in our heads.
A simply fantastic weekend on a magical site, with wonderful friends and an abundance of music that leaves our hearts singing for weeks to come.
A final minor brush with fame, late Monday morning after the final tiring walk back to the car, I found myself directing Anna Burch and her small band as they manoeuvred their large van in the car park. Rock n Roll !
Early Bird tickets in the bag for 2019