19th-22nd September 2013
Alchemy festival started as the vision of a few hippies coming to camp in a field. Five years on it’s one of the best small festivals, bringing a variety of music, old and new, to a field in Lincolnshire, whilst retaining the feel of what I’d imagine festivals were like “back in the day”.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, mostly because those I travelled up with were stewarding, but also because gates opened early to five hundred people this year. On first arrival there were only about three tents in the field and the site definitely had an unfinished feel to it, indeed the ‘build’ didn’t really seem to finish until Sunday! But this meant the site was ever evolving.
Once we’d pitched up and drank a few beverages it was time to wander into the “arena”. This is the first year Alchemy have ever had fences separating the campsite from the stages, but once you were used to it you barely noticed, and even started automatically holding your wristband up for inspection (not that the stewards were overly bothered about what was round your wrist!). There was a bit of music on the Kaplick Solar Stage on the first night, with Doozer McDooze of Deferred Sucess playing a nice little set of covers, and ZubZub headlining. ZubZub are the side project of Ozric Tentacle’s bass player, playing a variety of styles dance music styles with a bassline that’s guaranteed to get even the most sober person dancing. As night set in and the food stalls started to open we spend some time in the Alchemy Café tent with a hot chocolate watching some incredibly variable open mic, which might not be rock and roll but that’s the first not-quite-night of a festival for you.
We awoke Friday morning to a much nicer day than the previous, with several people pitching camp around us. We were treated to the annual Alchemy air show courtesy of RAF Coningsby on this morning: we saw the VC10 making its last flight, a seriously impressive Eurofighter Typhoon display and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight from the campsite. Not strictly a festival act but a perk none the less! Once that was all over the music slowly began to start, with the persistent bass from the Toadstall stage and some distant dub permeating the campsite as it would continue to all weekend.
Our first stop was the Kaplick Stage as we’d heard Flutatious were playing, but when we arrived it turned out to be an acoustic set by Tarantism, who still sounded rather good with just a tin whistle and a guitar, playing a mix of their own tunes and crowd pleasers such as Funky Town. Much of the music played earlier in the day on the Friday was a bit impromptu, with bands playing additional sets to those billed, but this element of surprise was quite fun.
After Tarantism and a lot of wandering in the lovely woods that run alongside the site, it was time to see Skiprat, a punk reggae ska band from Wakefield who played some very danceable music with just the right balance of each of their genres, genres which are, it has to be said, not in short supply at Alchemy. And then we all gathered to see DJ Denzileo, a funky DJ living his dream of playing the main stage of a festival. He kept the crowd going with favourites such as “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer and made the wait between bands much more bearable. After DJ Denzileo came The Skraelings, a rather vicious sounding punk band, who were very tight and fantastically shouty, but unfortunately they didn’t have the vibe I was looking for at that exact moment in time. So we wandered off to try out some of the fantastic and cheap food stalls. Highlights this year included a fantastic stall selling chicken and paneer tikka wraps with large chunks of both and the return of It’s All Greek To Me, serving delicious greek flatbreads (halloumi!) and, of course, Huggy’s Pizza and Puppets, where you could get a handmade, stonebaked pizza for a fiver. In fact, very little food cost more than a fiver and that’s been the case the whole time the festival has been going. Alongside this, a pint was only £3.50, with a good selection of ales and cider. The guys who run Alchemy want it to be as affordable as possible, which is great for those of us waiting for pay day!
Then it was off to the fire show, which was really good this year, with fire spinning, juggling, breathing and eating. It was everything you could want from a fire show.
Food eaten, fire show watched and hammocks laid in, we followed a recommendation to see one Captain Hotknives, a comedy guitarist who sang funny, but also oddly sad songs about, well, hating babies, smoking hash meant for your nana and how you’re better off with glue. One person at camp described him as a “one trick pony” but he was very funny all the same, and a great story teller. And who knew so many people hated babies… Except for the one guy in front of us who insisted on singing “I rather like babies”. Bless.
After that it was over to the Mushroom Stage (dance tent) to catch the end of Astralasia, who I’m informed played an amazing set with Flutatious as guests. You’ll have to take my friends’ word for it though. And then we stuck around for a bit of Monster who I think played something psy-trancey and bassy but all I have scribbled in my notebook is their name. They were ok though, I think, for psy-trance. Truth be told I didn’t go near the mushroom stage for much of the festival because psy-trance isn’t really my bag, but I can assure you that a lot of people seemed to be really enjoying it.
And then I went and sat around a fire and talked rubbish into the night. An unfortunate consequence of licensing laws this year was that all the music stopped at 1am, something which definitely was not the case back in 2011. However, plenty of people enjoyed the communal campfire, which is always the best way to finish off a festival night.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, warming the tent in ways reminiscent of high summer. We lazily wandered off to get a crepe and then sat at camp for quite a long while. One of the great things about Alchemy is that you can spend ages sitting talking at camp and not feel guilty that you’re missing music, as you can hear music from the campsite and you haven’t paid a ridiculous amount for your ticket. Obviously though, the music is the point of a festival and a bit more woodland wandering brought us to an excellent cover band called Dave and the Four Strings who played all sorts of great songs on stringed instruments, such as La Bamba and Sultans of Swing. Judge me if you like but I had a really lovely time dancing to them in the sun, stone cold sober at two in the afternoon.
Sometime later we bumped into The Sporadics on the Philosophers Stone stage, who played some fantastic ska punk that was great fun to dance to, although it appears I am not so adept at running on the spot to music as I used to be. In a similar vein on the Liberty Stage were The Defekters, hailing from Stevenage (where I was born!), a female fronted psychedelic reggae ska punk band who I’d managed never to see before. Their set was great, it got everyone dancing, even if the lead singer did say quite a lot of rubbish about us all being one and that sort of thing. The general consensus was that they were a pleasant surprise, although one of my friend’s only comments was “nice tights”.
We also caught a bit of Ephexis, who play some very happy hardcore. Dancing whilst eating a pizza is quite hard by the way.
Tarantism played their full, non-acoustic set, playing their unique funky Celtic-ska music to a healthy crowd (notice how no band at alchemy sticks to one genre?). The lead singer wowed the audience with both her voice and her double tin-whistle playing and performed much of their back catalogue alongside brand new, tongue in cheek song “We Drank The Leveller’s Rider”.
Last, but by no means least on Saturday night came festival regulars Zion Train, playing what seemed to be a far more electronic based dub reggae set than I remember. They’re the biggest cliché in dub reggae, but they’re good at what they do.
Sunday was a quiet day really, if you can have a quiet day at a festival. There was a lot of bumbling and eating veggie breakfasts before we headed off to see Deferred Sucess. Which turned out to be Doozer McDooze minus the rest of the band. Given that he was running the open mic stage and heavily involved in the Kaplick stage I don’t think any long period of time went by without seeing Doozer. However, his set was pretty brilliant, playing his new song about putting politicians on minimum wage, covering Green Day’s Basketcase and, of course, festival favourite “I don’t wanna go home” which could be heard around the site for hours afterwards.
After Doozer came Jon Gomm, another Alchemy regular, who plays his guitar in a most unusual (but highly entertaining way). I was certainly impressed, although I would certainly follow the advice on a T shirt I spotted: “Don’t let Jon Gomm play your guitar!”
Another tip off and pleasant surprise lead us to see Two Man Ting, who are, as the name suggests, a two piece band consisting of a guitarist with clever loop pedals and a percussionist. Singing in a mix of English and Creole they played beautiful music on the Kaplick stage and eventually everybody was dragged up to dance. Great fun.
Finally, after a trip back to camp to stock up on the last dregs of our alcohol, it was time for the act many of us had been waiting for: Ferocious Dog. The celtic folk punk band occupied the same spot on the Kaplick stage last year but were tragically cut short by licensing and technical difficulties, so this year we were all hoping for a full set. We weren’t disappointed as our ears were regaled with their intricate tales and riotous melodies that caused a lot of unsteady jumping and dancing about. There was a distinct lack of Hell Hounds (Ferocious Dog’s die hard followers) this year so moshing was at a minimum, but it was still great fun.
And then the music went off, as it always does on the Sunday night at Alchemy, and finally just the sound of a distant portable sound system and far too many drums could be heard.
This was my third Alchemy and this year the festival seemed to be completely right. It was still a bit disorganised, but on the whole the organisation was much better this time around and things ran a lot more smoothly, indeed without an element of disorganisation the festival would not be as fun! Organisational highlights this year included a printed programme, which whilst only received on the Saturday made it much harder to miss bands (previously you had to trek around blackboards by each stage) and much improved toilets. Last year the toilets were terrible, with doors that swung open mid-flow and seats so far back that holding the door and squatting and doing anything else was near impossible. Thankfully comments were taken on board and the doors mostly locked and the seats were in the right place, and in the campsite there was even a large supply of toilet paper! They were still rather grim near the stages though, and a bit dark inside even in daylight.
Only minor, minor gripes are to be had. One might comment that the line-up doesn’t really change year on year. It doesn’t, but that, again, is a part of Alchemy’s charm, although it would be nice to see a band headline that is not Zion Train or RDF! I also wasn’t so fond of the fence between the stage and the campsite, but this didn’t really feel restrictive and it’s not as though you were stopped bringing anything in except glass. On that, far too many people had glass bottles, there’s pretty much one rule guys…
Alchemy has been going from strength to strength each year and it’s great to have been able to watch it grow in even the 3 years I’ve been going. It’s a festival that, apart from the line-up, is full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.