Beautiful Days Festival
There’s a lot of festivals in the UK these days.
Someone said there are nearly 700 of the mucky beasts of all various sizes from 50 crazed droogs in a frozen peat bog to the huge corporate affairs – whatever you want someone is out there doing it in the muddy fields of England.
There’s a festival for every niche from ones that sell phones to ones that have music on and somehow, there is still a clutch of festivals that attempt to hold onto the original spirit- the mythical counter culture thingy.
When Glastonbury started to change some of the diehards took their version of the spirit and created their own spaces- Beautiful Days is one of those and has become a firm favourite on the circuit with an instant sellout 16 000 crowd making it one of the larger with a booking policy that doesn’t play the trend game/ It’s a festival that doesn’t use sponsors and exists a long way away from the trad media. There is none of the 400 people here in a huge spotless media compound and there is no garish mobile phone stuff all over the place.
The eclectic bill seems to have been plucked from the host band the Levellers record collection and lurches brilliantly from folk to punk to world to indie but somehow maintains a narrative. We have already reviewed some of the bigger bands separately but here’s a bunch of the rest of the bands at the festival
Chris TT and the Hoodrats are rocking out the main stage in the bright late August sunshine. Chris TT has made a name for himself on the singer songwriter circuit but when armed with a band is a very different beast. The songs sound huge and fierce and there’s some interesting guitar noise jammed up against his songs from his guitar player Jen Macro. The band make a big wall of sound that leans closer to the Sonic Youth/My Bloody Valentine end of things but with a sensitivity hidden underneath the cranked up filth.
Tinarewen have the most unusual history of any band on the bill- the former desert rebels haviong swopped machine guns for guitars in Mali are dealing out their hypnotic, desert blues dressed in full tribal regalia. They, of course, sound fantastic, the guitar playing is is so insanely fluid- like Jimi Hendrix at his most relaxed and the polyrhythms of the eternal, shapeshifting desert landscape sound as hypnotic as ever. Even on the gloomy damp of an English summer evening they bring their own warmth.
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott are a real surprise- if you thought the songs were crafted radio spectaculars that may not be suited to the fields of England then you are caught out as they change into something tougher live. Of course the harmonies are perfect- that and the lyrics are their calling cards and the sweet voices are steeped in soul and the pitch perfect end of indie but the added live edge gives them a certain toughness and their very fish and chip English vignettes stand out.
Dreadzone are virtually the house band here- it may be the Levellers festival but every two years the funk/dub/soul/techno punk crew turn up and make the whole field dance. Perhaps the perfect festival band they seem to have assimilated every form of dance music in the world into a perfect and throbbing whole and their anthems sound huge. It’s hard to believe that it’s about 20 odd years since they spun away from Big Audio Dynamite to start morphing into this huge beast but they have honed their craft down to perfection and there can’t be a festival anywhere in the world that won’t succumb to their tough and serious, yet good time, urban jams.
Treetop Flyers play a pristine power pop with perfect crystalline harmonies whilst The Undertones get the sunshine and deliver the hits- like the Buzzcocks they are a prime example of punk’s adherence to perfect pop- that craft of guitar plus timeless, heart melting, melody but with a tough kick. When they first appeared out of Derry all those years ago they were like a breath of fresh air in the tail end of the punk explosion and their down at home scruffy look and deceptively scruffy songs were part of the glorious soundtrack. Decades later and without Feargal’s charismatic voice and off kilter stage presence they still deliver- these songs are so pop perfect that nothing can rob them of their potency and Paul Mcloone does a stand up job of delivering the vocals- it’s always a tough job to step into a band with a distinctive and charismatic vocalist but he has the voice and the presence to make it work and holds centre stage with the O’Neill brothers timelessly darting round on either side of him.
Easy Star All Stars play a dubbed up version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon which works far better than you would think- the easy skanking has its own glow and every now and then you get a familiar snatch of melody that reminds you of something, only to remember that it’s the Floyd epic that they are working their way through.
There’s a lot of reggae on this year- unlike many other festivals the music here is not so white boy indie – Jimmy Cliff belies his age with a classic set of crowd pleasers and bounces around the stage with the joy of someone who still can’t quite believe that he is still able to do this in such style. His band is slick and the vibes are good and he earns his legendary status.
Ruts DC were born out of the The Ruts- one of the greatest punk bands- and struck out on their own when frontman man Malcolm Owen died all those years ago- now without guitar player Foxy they have reformed and have grown into a beast of band- the musicianship is stunning- how Segs can play those complex but danceable bass lines and sing at the same time is quite something to watch.
They play Ruts classics dotted around into their DC stuff but with a modern twist and the set is fantastic exercise in rhythm and power. Ruts DC have been captivating at every festival I’ve seen them at in the last twelve months- they have the songs and the playing to make this work and sometimes look surprised at themselves at just how good they really are.
They are the perfect example of the beautiful Days band- the classic that remains creative, music with an edge and reason.