There’s a lot to be said about Beautiful Days festival.
It’s perhaps the biggest non-mainstream festival in the UK with nearly 30 000 attending. For many it’s where the Glastonbury spirit went and the fact that it is on the same weekend as V fesival is a beautiful coincidence- underling the good and bad and ugly of festival culture in the UK.
V is another one of those indie fests that get all the press and TV with loads of pictures of non celebs hanging out backstage sipping champagne and a line up of dullard indie or ironic girl bands gurning and miming amongst the corporate hoardings.
That may be mainstream festival culture in the UK now, a hijacking of an ideal, turning it into the usual corporate mush of 21st century UK. What once meant something now means nothing but there are still pockets of idealism out there.
It’s more than forty years since the counter culture made it’s move into the heart of pop. It was a simple yet brilliant idea, harnessing all that was good about the human spirit and combining it with the wild and beautiful optimism of the Beatles and sixties music.
For some it was chance to grow their hair a little bit, for others it was a full on life changing experience. Friends in Russia tell me the very sound of the hard to get Beatles singles in the sixties were the sound of freedom and they swear that the power of rock n roll was what brought down the grey men and their regime.
The counter culture may have been flawed but when it was winning it was the best idea in the world. As I wander around Beautiful Days I still feel it’s ideas and ideals and in my in-conversation, on stage interview events on the Beautiful Days bandstand we talk about it from several different angles.
With Jeremy, The Levellers dreadlocked bass player, it’s the whole idea of the free festivals that the Levellers played in their early days that forged his band. The last of the free festivals in the late eighties with the idealism, the camaraderie and the politics of freedom that were started by the hippies and cranked up a gear by punk rock.
For the next interview, Dave Brock- the Hawkwind mainman, it was the same thing but generation earlier, Brock recalled those early days of the festivals and counter culture- the endless all nighters, the drug fired madness, the idea of a brave new world, TV presenter Matthew Wright, Hawkwind’s uber fan sitting in on the interview, recalled Stonehenge 1984 and the thousands of people who somehow organized themselves into a huge sprawling event without the corporate control and the mobile phone adverts that dominate the modern festival.
All these different people, all still feeling idealistic, all still touched by the possibilities presented by the counter culture and this is important to this story because Beautiful Days is one of the few beacons left of this ideal.
Pop culture has been assimilated by the mainstream, what was once an electric, empowering idea has been turned into X Factor, what was once the sex, style and subversion of punk rock ended up being a queue for a burger van.
Of course Beautiful Days is a business, someone has to make these things work, but it’s a big festival that is the direct opposite of the V festival that is on the same weekend, Jeremy from the Levellers notes that it was playing at V festival with the his band that made the band want to start their own festival, noting that the backstage at V was bigger than the main arena!
The Levellers, with all their experience of the free festival circuit, plotted the perfect festival and have got pretty close here. The band are always on site, hanging out, wandering around, listening to what people want, trying to make Beautiful Days work perfectly for the people that go there.
Everyone talks about how friendly the festival is and that’s true and the eclectic nature of the bands that play there is a celebration of a folk music. That is folk that goes from diddly diddly folk to punk to dance music, that is folk as in music made by people for the people. There is no corporate crap here, no star tripping, this is about music and the music community. The festival which is hosted by the Levellers captures the band’s folk and punk roots. On the Sunday it would have been Joe Strummer’s 59th birthday and his shadow hangs over the event. He was going to be the co-host for the first one nine years ago and Strummer, like the Levellers, had an eclectic musical mind and strong roots in the counter culture and an idea that music was about community and not just about the money
The Levellers always close the show on the Sunday and this year they play their debut ”ËLevelling Of The Land’ album that has stood the test of time. It was a record that sound tracked a very specific period of time, a time of flux in the UK, a time of clampdown on the festival circuit because of the dread acid house and the tabloid rave scares. It was one of those rare times when pop culture slipped out of the shackles of the majors and ran away with it’s own possibilities. The Levellers were not a rave band, they played traditional British folk allied to punk rock and specifically the Clash with a dash of Crass. It was ribald and rabble rousing and a long way from the epicenter of indie cool. This was not Madchester or grunge, there was a vague connection with the Wonder Stuff and Carter axis of bands but the Levellers were very much on their own and beautifully it connected.
And as they play tonight you can see why. It’s down to the songs that are so damn catchy and lyrics that document this period and meant something to people. Someone had to make a stand whilst everyone else was getting stoned and the Levellers did and their songs have become part of people’s lives. The rag tag band of varying styles and degrees of ruffian attire look like they have probably stayed up for the whole festival so far but when they hit the stage there is a real woosh of excitement, 20 000 people singing along to songs that the mainstream media try their best to ignore.
It’s a powerful proof of the power of the underground and the power of great music, The Levellers festival is a real triumph and the apex of the post Glastonbury festivals- the clutch of events like Bearded Theory, Endorse It and Wickerman and countless others that that represent the true spirit of the festival.
The sort of festival where you can go to and get more than a wallet hammering hangover, the sort of festival that could change your life, for the better.
The Levellers, keep on powering their way though the album, they have the power of punk rock and the true heart of English folk rebels, their very existence represents the victory for something that goes beyond the shiny, dull world of 21st century pop culture.