Larmer Tree Festival
Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
16th – 19th July 2015
The Larmer Tree Festival takes place at Larmer Tree Gardens near Tollard Royal on the Dorset – Wiltshire border. This year saw the boutique 5,000 capacity festival celebrate its 25th Anniversary, as he does most years, Louder Than War’s Alan Ewart went along to enjoy the unique vibe and to see what was on offer musically.
For the best part of 20-years the Larmer Tree festival has been a five day event. By tradition the opening night has featured a set by either Van Morrison or Jools Holland. Last year saw a new departure for the festival when veteran crooner Sir Tom Jones was invited to open the festival. Jones proved to be so popular that he was invited back again this year and once again he proved a popular choice. Wednesday night sold out quickly and the decision was made to add a second performance by Sir Tom on Tuesday extending the festival to six days.
The decision was made to include a second performance by Tom Jones was made some time after tickets went on sale so holders of 5-day tickets were faced with a decision. The choice was to stick with a 5-day festival or to purchase an additional day ticket. As a result the second performance was not a sell out though it did draw a healthy first night crowd as the largely local audience came out to enjoy music in a beautiful setting on a delightful summer evening.
I joined the festivities on Wednesday. Now I can’t say that I am a fan of Tom Jones but I must confess I did thoroughly enjoy his set. The man was on great form and at 75 years old he really can still hold a tune. Besides Jones Wednesday treated us to a fantastic set from The Shires, a Country band who have already cracked the pop charts and give us a fresh interpretation on the genre. As seems to be more and more the case these days The Shires may hold true to Country and Western sensibilities but their take on it adds pop melodies and infectious chorus lines to the mix. For those staying on-site for the whole weekend early and late evening entertainment was provided by the brilliant Ben Waters whose late night set was a blinder.
For me Thursday provided the strongest musical line-up the whole weekend with Bellowhead and The Levellers gracing the main stage and The Beat playing a brilliant late-night set in the Big-Top. The musical undercard on Thursday saw excellent performances from Meadowlark, Drew Allen and both Larmer Tree Breakthrough music award winners, The Villanova’s and The Drystones.
For me the music action on both Friday and Saturday was away from the main stage. Friday’s line-up in the Arc was very good indeed. Tobias Ben Jacob & Lukas Drinkwater were fantastic, these two really compliment each other with Lukas’s percussive Double Bass adding texture and depth to Tobias’ excellent songs and very skilled guitar playing. Acoustic Troubadour Gaz Brookfield had the entire audience on their feet at the end of his usual passionate and heartfelt set. Blair Dunlop’s folk songs were highly appreciated by an audience who were totally enthralled by his performance and the Keston Cobblers club delighted the audience with their high energy brand of musical mayhem.
Saturday saw Show of Hands play two entirely different sets. Their afternoon set on the Garden stage was perfect for the mid afternoon crowd who wanted a sing-along to the bands best loved songs and the evening set in the Arc saw a more serious set with material drawn from Centenary and their more traditional English folk songs. The back to back lineup of Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six, Pronghorn and Chainska Brassika in the Big-Top must have left the dancers on their knees.
Sunday saw a return to the main stages for me with a great set by Molotov Jukebox followed by Coco and The Butterfield’s both of whom had the audience on their feet and dancing. I was unsure about the decision to put Bill Bailey on the main stage for a solo performance of comedy mixed with music. I’m not a big fan of Bailey at the best of times, I found him amusing for about 15 minutes and then wandered off to find some dinner and have a sit-down. The verdict amongst my friends was the same. Some found him very funny, others not so much but all agreed he would have been better in the Arc’s late-night comedy club.
The festival on the main stage was closed out by Jimmy Cliff who at almost 70 years of age put many artists half his age to shame. The energy that Cliff brings to his performances is astounding and he had the whole crowd on their feet dancing and singing along to a set that was just perfect for a warm summer’s evening. Aside from The Levellers Cliff was, in my opinion, the best main stage act of the weekend by a distance.
Of course the Larmer Tree is about much more than the music. There was a huge amount going on away from the music stages with a wide range of workshops and activities for both children and adults. My nephew had a great time at the drumming and reggae dance workshops and loved getting stuck into the crafting workshops whilst making his costume for Sunday’s carnival procession. The late night revelry in the Lost Woods went down really well with those friends who had the energy to stay up into the wee small hours.
As always at the Larmer Tree the atmosphere was great all weekend. This is a festival that has a unique, friendly and safe atmosphere. I spent some time chatting to a variety of kind souls who gave up their time to steward the event and all agreed that the Larmer Tree is one of the best events they have worked at.
It is a delight to be at a festival where you can let older children wander off to do their own thing safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to get lost or to come to any harm. The Larmer Tree is relaxing and restorative, a long way from the exhausting experience you have at some of the big festivals. It is an ideal opportunity to get together with friends and family to have a fun weekend together, when the sun shines as it did this week it is hard to imagine being anywhere better.
At the Larmer Tree it isn’t unusual to see three generations of a family enjoying the festival together. If you are wondering if festival life is for you or are looking for a festival to provide an introduction to festivals for your children The Larmer Tree is ideal.
As a longtime festival fan and a longtime Larmer Tree Festival fan I don’t think I will ever tire of the little festival that sits just a few miles from home. I will certainly be there again next year.