Beautiful Days Festival: live review

Beautiful Days festival
Escot Park, Exeter
August 2103

In 2013 there is a festival for everybody.

If you want to go gonzoid crazy, take loads of drugs, shag a half washed droog and sleep in a ditch because your tent has been nicked then there is a festival for you, you could probably do all this at Beautiful Days as well but you are unlikely to have your tent nicked.

Saying that this is a friendly festival is an understatement; this is one of those weekends where everyone seems to know everyone else and if not they soon will. It may not have the manic Ketamine element because it’s more about the music and the good times than the chemical landslide.

I guess any festival put on by festival veterans is always going to very good. Years of living on the eighties festival circuit and then watching in despair as the festival vibe was gobbled up by the corporates have really affected the Levellers who created this very special festival as an attempt to put right all the wrongs of the modern festival.

And it’s worked.

This year is yet another triumph- even the weather is good for most of the weekend.

There are also plenty of musical highlights.

On Friday the Selector own the main stage- in the hot sunshine the ska veterans pack the field out to the back and have everyone skanking to their well loved but endlessly tireless set of two tone classic that they have honed down to a fine art. The great thing about the band is that they took the ska revival and twisted it on their own terms and their music has fascinating tangents and angles.

They certainly get the party going and the reformed ska heavyweights Arrested Development pick up the baton and have everyone bouncing to their southern hip hop that grinds along on its big fat groove and good old fashioned southern vibe. A few years ago they were hit makers and then they seemed to disappear but their influence lingers on in a way that makes them feel utterly contemporary on their return.

Sinead O’Conner has a reputation for being difficult but then that comes with the artiste territory and her voice cuts through the night air with a rare and powerful beauty that makes it all worth while. It’s the stand out quality of the set that peaks with an early rendition of Prince’s Nothing Compares To You which she made very much her own all those years ago when she took a powerfully emotional version of the song to number one and still pumps it with the same kind of emotion.

Beautiful Days Festival: live review

Headliners Ocean Colour Scene are an interesting choice for the festival, a bit of a curveball but have more hits than you remember and enough bounce in their songs to close the Friday night.

Saturday is the day the rains decide to come obviously it rains when I take the stage with Goldblade obviously we can’t review the gig but please follow the link to Goldblade facebook for more info on the band.


By the evening they have backed off for 65Days Of Static. The Sheffield based band play a great post rock with tectonic electronic undertones – a fascinating mixture that creates great soundscapes that are really original. They have the ebb and flow of Mogwai and yet the pulse and electronic soundscapes of prime time Warp Records and also the grinding groove of early 21st century metal that they were birthed in. It’s a great mixture and really effective.

The Living End are a raucous, stomping, crush collision between Green Day and the Stray Cats- the band, who are massive down under (so to speak!) have played Beautiful Days before and been around for some time now but have never lost their fire and their musicianship is as thrilling as their fiery punkabilly.

The Wonder Stuff are still an eight-legged groove machine. These days they are built around Miles Hunt who was always the main creative forces in the band and with Brum legend drummer Fuzz Townshend on the drums they were never going to be slack and the band have become a jukebox of hits with new tracks added to the set list that don’t sound out of place in their celebration of midlands rocking pop.

During the day I conduct an in conversation with Miles Hunt who is funny and acerbic and painfully honest- the perfect interview and also with Howard Marks- arch raconteur who opens up a bit more than usual and couches his conversation with the hostly of thee drug culture.

We have already reviewed Primal Scream separately, but would like to say again what a great band they really are and their Saturday night show is one of the summer  festival highlights.

Sunday kicks off with Electric River’s tight anthemic rock and then Citizen Fish get the place bouncing with their beautifuly ragged punk rock/ska crossover sung by the charismatic Dick from the Subhumans. Like the Subhumans the musicianship is more than perfect- it’s like a machine of tight riffs and razor tight switches- thrilling stuff.

Dodgy are far better than I remembered – in my mind they were top blokes with a good line in catchy as fuck post Stone Roses melodic pop- live they have endless songs of the same ilk with new songs as good as the old songs mixed into the set. Mathew Priest is a great drummer and I watch him from the stage side and thrill to his take on the Reni from the Roses loose drumming and exquisite harmonies as the band power through honey dripping melodic songs.

Steve Harley comes over as being a bit grouchy and his set sags in the middle with endless slow songs but those old hits are pure gold- Mr Soft, Make Me Smile and the hit cover of Here Comes The Sun are some of the great moments of the seventies and sound as great today as they did then.

The Skatalites understand how to play a festival and their infectious ska, which they pretty well invented, has the whole place dancing and it does that most perfect of tricks- it has made no effort to change its sound or update itself but sounds more perfect and more modern because of this. There is always something great about watching old timers making music sound this alive and the Skaltiltes are one of the festival favourites.

Imelda May is stylised retro pop in its most perfect form. She has a great voice and her band deal out the fifties inflection perfectly, a mixture of swooning ballads and bouncing rockabilly rockers works very well in the festival environment.

Special mention goes out to Viv Albertine whose set in the big top is one of the highlights of the weekend. Great, scratchy, stripped dow,n post punk – her set is like a Peel session from 1979 at its very best- brilliant lyrics that are deeply personal, sardonic and funny as well as rewriting the rule book of guitar playing. Viv has a plaintive and great voice and her excellent deconstructions of trad music yet with still great pop songs sounds thrilling. The ageless Viv is at the front in her too tight rubber top with its protective liquid leaking out – ‘it’s not spunk’ cackles the woman who went out with Sid Vicious and Mick Jones and was a key part of the 1976 UK punk scene before joining the Slits. Her current music is her best yet and well worth checking out.

As the Levellers fireworks end the festival it’s smiles all round as the night fades away into the Devon horizon and another victory for the endless possibilities of DIY.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. It’s a pity that you didn’t catch two other up and coming acts for review. Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun who opened up the main stage on Saturday (I’ll let you off, you were playing after them John!!) and also the triumphant gig by Gaz Brookfield in the Big Top on Sunday. He’s picked up a lot of fans off the back of supporting the Levellers a few times this year and it really showed. Just over 2 weeks ago I saw him play a pub gig for over 2 hours to about 40 people, Sunday he played to a nearly full Big Top and had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked out, with most of the crowd singing along to one man and his guitar. Well worth checking out both of these if you get chance!!


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