Category Archives: Festivals

Beat-Herder 2015 – festival review

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A Ribble runs through it.

Just to be absolutely clear, the Ribble Valley is a real place. I did not make it up. It is not where the forebears of Officer Dibble lived before they crossed the Atlantic to constabulary glory. It’s north of Manchester and south of Scotland, with steep slopes on either side and wide pastures dotted with sheep and old fashioned looking black and white cows like the ones that lived on the toy farm you had when you were a child. It’s one of those places where you drive through it and think – “I should live here.” And it’s just about the perfect place to hold a music festival.

They’re having a traffic festival on the M62 and the fringe event is all the way up the M66 and A56. It’s a hundred and fifty miles from my house to Beat-Herder and it takes me four hours. I spend the last hour in a traffic jam behind a churlish looking llama. It peers disdainfully at me from the back of its horse box, chewing languidly and weighing up whether or not I am worth the effort of expectoration. It has a way of looking at me as if it had a second pair of eyes situated right up the back of its nostrils. I gaze back, trying not to look intimidated. ‘This is mental,’ I think. ‘I am in my car in a hard staring competition with a camelid. Beat-Herder will have to go it some to be madder than this …’

But Beat-Herder is madder than a hard staring llama, much, much madder.

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It’s the tenth anniversary of what started out as a rave in the woods for a few friends and all twelve thousand tickets are sold out in advance, which is not so surprising because Beat-Herder has acquired a reputation for being one of the best weekends in the festival calendar, a place where you’re always sure to see and hear something new. Impressive stuff considering that they resolutely refuse to accept corporate sponsorship and take pride in staying small but perfectly put together. As you drive up it looks as though it fills the whole valley for miles on either side, but that’s because they steer clear of that thing where the festival is just a big field ringed with tents. The site is laid out with considerable cunning, making the most of the natural contours and forestry to maximize the view of the main stage, and to hide other parts until you go seeking them out, so it’s constantly full of surprises.

There are so many stages and arenas that it’s hard to keep track. At the end of three days I still haven’t found them all. Where are the Scandinavian swimming pool and the underground bar? Maybe I’ll find out next time. There’s a Working Men’s Club with red velvet snug furniture, a doughnut shaped earth ring with huge slabs of ironstone forming henges at the entrance, a corrugated iron eastern fort guarded by a huge dog of foh and with walls surmounted by fire jets so fierce that I spend thirty minutes taking pictures and came away with half a beard. In the woods there’s a stage surrounded with light boxes that project moving patterns onto tree trunks, buildings and dancers. There’s also a manor house, with a stage in its colonnaded entrance that played host to two really rather creepy pole dancing automata. They have all the moves but I will admit to liking my Stepford Wives with a little more meat on them.

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The list could go on forever so I’ll be quick. There’s a funfair, a reggae tent, a comedy venue, a place called the Perfumed Garden that is probably neither but I never get there, a church with decks in the pulpit, a tattoo shop, a garage with cars for dancing on, a western bar, a teleport between two sylvan phone boxes (which I suspected was really a tunnel but I am too fat to investigate further), a funfair and more street food vendors than you can shake an authentic Tibetan goats meat curry at. Did I mention the funfair? I like funfairs.

You have to take a wander at night to appreciate the place in it full glory. The forest is hung with illuminated globes, strange waxy colour patterns rotate across the manor, the trees are lit with pulsating circles and squares of light and shadow, the fortress glows like a huge fire pit. It’s a bizarre and magical experience, like falling down the rabbit hole and coming out in a world filled with people whose controls are set permanently to “dance and have good time”. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to find a team of anthropologists hiding in the trees doing some observational research, or David Attenborough leading a camera crew softly through the undergrowth. It makes an hour spent eye to nostril with a llama seem like the most natural thing in the world.

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There’s plenty of fancy dress of course. The theme for the year is the letter E, which might be asking for trouble, but there are lots of elephants, Egyptians, elderly people and even a six person emergency ambulance whose attempts to enter an already packed out circle pit provide one of the most bizarre spectacles of the weekend. There are also a lot of people who either haven’t got the E message or who can’t spell. As I walk past a man wearing black plastic overcoat a woman accosts him and asks loudly, “Why are you here in that attire?” “It’s not a tyre,” he replies, “It’s a rain mac.”

And there’s music, of course. Where do we start? Perhaps by saying that what I know about dance music could be engraved in large letters along the side of a perforated eardrum. So don’t expect anything clever here, and I’m not going to attempt any kind of judgement on anybody’s DJing or MCing skills. Suffice it to say that almost every venue that I visit has some thumpingly huge beat filled music banging out, the iron of the fortress rattles like a proverbial door in a storm and the earth circle is packed so tight with moving bodies that it seems that the crowd has actually blended into a single rhythmic organism. Sometimes the bass is so heavy the whole field seemed to be shaking (yeah, I know, I sound like your granny) …, and it imparts a curiously reverberative sensation to the seats of the backstage portaloos, which could possibly catch on, like those clockwork motel beds you see in films.

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It seems only right that Beat-Herder should have a unique stage and of course it has indeed, being equipped with a large herbaceous border at the front of the apron that adds a whole new level of complexity to shooting music photos, because it is necessary to stalk views of the stage between fronds of lupin and loosestrife while the autofocus on the camera goes into meltdown as it switches between the performer and the intervening foliage. There’s also a smoke machine right at the front that blows huge casts of fog right across the pit, rendering the action all but invisible most of the time. Its like shooting stills for a jungle warfare documentary and it’s noticeable how quickly many of the photographers just give up on visiting the main stage, which is a shame because there are some great performances there, as we can hear and intermittently see.

There’s so much going on it’s almost impossible to catch whole sets, but I make sure I see Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ because, well, because it’s Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. What more reason could you want? She’s still got plenty of vocal power and bucket loads of charisma and she really knows how to play and audience. “I am a mature woman,” she announces, “And I am not leaving this stage until I am good and ready.” Whether anyone is really trying to get her off stage, and why they might have been doing so, remains a mystery, but whatever the background it’s pretty clear that the lady is not going anywhere until she decides to. Her set is full of hits from the golden age when rock and soul were two sides of the same coin – Jimmy Mack, Live Wire, Nowhere To Run and of course Dancing In the Street. Back catalogues don’t get much better than that.

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There’s plenty of variety on the main stage with Leeds based trip hop outfit Nightmares On Wax showing that they can really do it live on the Friday night prior to a storming set from Basement Jaxx, whose career spanning set includes material from their latest dancing robot inspired offering Junto, although it’s old favourites like closer Bingo Bango that really get the crowd dancing. Saturday night sees an uproarious show from The Levellers and a fine music and light display from Leftfield, but the main stage highlight of the weekend is Saturday night’s closing set from The Parov Stelar Band, all the way from upper Austria. Stelar is usually credited with inventing the electro-swing genre and it’s pretty clear that he is thoroughly steeped in in the jazz and swing music of the 1920s and ‘30s, which he combines with electro beats and effects to astonishing effect. My personal favourite, Booty Swing, arrives early but it’s a great performance throughout. Elsewhere there were pictures of people dancing while dressed as Scrabble tiles to be taken, but I was happy just sit down and enjoy.

Add in some great dub punk from Dub Pistols, disco house from Crazy P, wry northerness from the Lancashire Hotpots and soulful funk pop from Grinny Grandad and you should have the idea that there’s something for everyone and all of it very good. Away from the main stage my highlights are Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, who combine Dixieland musical stylings and Sergeant Pepper tailoring with all your favourite club classics, Dream Themes whose high kicking, arm punching stadium rock set is comprised entirely of TV theme tunes including Star Trek and The Good Life, and my favourite band of the weekend, the punky, folky, rockish Faux Foxes. Definitely one to watch out for.

So there you go. If you missed it you missed a weekend of inspired madness and you should try and get there next year when the woods and fields of the Ribble Valley will once again echo to the sound of people staying up well past their bedtimes to enjoy great music in some of the strangest and wildest venues you’ll ever see. You’ve got fifty one weeks to try and figure out what big surprises are in store. My guess is a guanaco.

~

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Bingley Music Live 2014

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Bingley Music Live 2014
Myrtle Park, Bingley
29th – 31st August 2014

One of the best weekends of the year, family atmosphere, great music, warm beer – it’s Bingley time!

Bingley always seems like an unlikely place to hold a music festival. For those scrabbling for their atlases it’s on the River Aire, just north of Bradford, with a skyline that bears witness to both its roots as a mill town and its status as the home of the Bradford and Bingley Building Society whose epic brutalist head office squats like a brown concrete toad in the town centre. It also boasts a curious tower with a pergola on top which looks like it could have been the inspiration for the hiding places in Assassin’s Creed.

Bingley Music Live, sponsored by Bradford Council and held annually at Myrtle Park is a proper old fashioned pop festival which since 2008 has offered three days (originally two) of quality music at ridiculously good value prices. There are no pretensions to high art here. It isn’t full of bearded hipsters or street performers reciting fragments of Shakespeare at bemused passers by or aging hippies or crazy retro people with staring eyes, it’s just families looking for a great day out listening to music in the company of their children and some warm beer.

Image gallery

QRO review and images

R’n’B

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This year’s line up was a little more chart orientated then previously which meant doing a bit of research in advance (no bad thing for us aging photographers desperately trying to be down with the kids) but the crowds loved it all, or almost all anyway.

My previous experiences with contemporary R’n’B had led me to think that it chiefly consisted of a man pretending to be working some sort of sound desk while another man (or woman) shouted “Come on now (insert name of venue here) make some noise” and then jumping up and down in a very silly way and clapping. For extra emphasis the phrase could be varied by the addition of adjectives, for example “Come on now (insert name of venue here) make some fucking noise”. For even more emphasis the jumping and clapping could be made very silly indeed.

Excellent sets from MNEK, Jess Glynne and Chloe Howl went some way towards dispelling that view although there were outbreaks of clappy, shouty dancey stuff at other times through the weekend, but I won’t dwell on them. There was a lot of great music on offer and I’ll concentrate on that instead.

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Discoveries of the weekend

The Strypes have been blazing a trail through the music scene for the past couple of years and gathering reviews so good that I’d started getting a bit suspicious and thinking that they couldn’t possibly be that wonderful, but of course they are that wonderful. I had intended to listen for ten minutes and then go take some photos on the other stage but I didn’t because their reinvented 60s rock pop just grabs you. Judging by the squeals in the crowd it works on girls too. It doesn’t matter who you say they remind you of because they’ve clearly done their homework and they sound like a whole generation but it’s between The Who and the Beatles and Bo Diddley and The Yardbirds and all the rest. Hailing from Cavan in Northern Ireland they are simply ridiculously good and they’re all younger than my car.

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Less well known as yet but equally good was Emma Garrett and her band on the top stage. In a fortnight when I have spent hours listening to my Kate Bush albums and seen St Vincent live at Leeds the last thing I expected on the small stage at Bingley was a female vocal that threatened to make them other two seem just a little bit ordinary. Emma has been compared to both the aforementioned singers and to Florence Welch and lots of others and she can mix rock, soul, jazz and folk into one song with just a hint of musical theatre showmanship and it sounds just perfect. Check out her SoundCloud immediately.

And an outside pick. It’s not often anyone gets booed at Bingley but Etta Bond appeared to misjudge what was required from her at a family festival and delivered a set loaded with sexual detail and other varieties of bad language and the crowd hated her and let her know about it. That’s Yorkshire for ya. Her performance and on stage demeanour didn’t do her any favours either – whether it was the fault of the sound system or whatever she sounded as flat as a pancake. Since getting home I’ve spent a couple of hours listening to her stuff and she’s a talented writer and performer who I’ve no doubt we’ll hear more of in future and in fairness to her the booking people might have figured out that a woman who tweets as C.U.N.T. is probably not going to go down well with the mums and dads.

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Old friends of the weekend

Not friends in the sense that I’ve been round their house for tea or anything but among the bands that I was already familiar with there were two standouts.

Firstly The Selecter who, legal difficulties with rivals having been dealt with are now entitled to use that name. They have original vocalists Pauline Black and Arthur Gaps Hendrickson and they delivered a set that sounded as streetwise and energetic as if it was a teenage tribute band and not the real thing at all, finishing with On My Radio and Too Much Pressure/Pressure Drop – one of the major highlights of the weekend.

As were the opening songs of the set by The South. It’s no secret that I have a fondness for elegantly witty pop and at their best The Beautiful South could deliver that in spades. They are now fronted by Alison Wheeler and Dave Hemingway and I had everything planned so I could catch the whole of their set but difficulties with the sound meant that I only got the first few songs, (which sounded wonderful). They’re on tour this autumn however so watch this space.

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Headliners

Friday night saw Shed Seven make the journey all the way from York for a set of their greatest hits that served to remind us that even if the whole Britpop thing is now seen as a cultural disaster on an epic scale there were good bands around at the time who never quite got the recognition they deserved. Shed Seven were a lot smarter than some of their more illustrious contemporaries and the dry wit of frontman Rick Witters was much in evidence during their set. They also played the most energetic set of the weekend and no sooner had they taken the stage than Witter’s natural exuberance saw him almost disappear into the crowd over the barriers. Their set featured classics like Dolphin, Disco Down and Rainbows as well as a storming cover of Born To Run, a song by former rock god and now Butlin’s redcoat Bruce Springsteen.

It was the turn of rnb to take centre stage on Saturday with Example heading the bill. There’s not much point in me pretending to comment on his set except to say that the multitude loved it, there was lots of audience participation – “Come on now Bingley make some noise, jump, clap – and it culminated in a spectacular light show.

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Rounding off the weekend were Sunday night’s headliners The Pet Shop Boys who brought their Electric World Tour show to the Bingley stage complete with spectacular lights, a whole stage projection screen, dancing orange minotaurs (my favourite flavour of minotaur as it happens), massive feathered power shoulders, projection beds (really), and pzazz and razzamatazz than you can shake the z key on your keyboard at. It was a show that walked the finest of lines between superlative showmanship and embarrassing nonsense and always stayed exactly on the right side. If any greatest hits were missing I didn’t notice and nobody seemed to care and the explosion of confetti that accompanied It’s A Sin brought the festival to a fittingly spectacular close.

Same time next year?

Yes please.

The Lincolnshire Food Festival 2013

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Down at Meridian Point there were some seriously good aromas wafting on the breeze and plenty of entertainment too with top chefs like Franck Pontais and Nigel Brown presenting giving masterclasses and musician and entrepreneur Levi Roots telling his story, singing songs and rustling up some tasty West Indian delicacies.

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Exhibitors included top local producers and retailers including Peaks Top Farm of New Waltham with some amazing locally produced fruit wines, Spinney Kitchen of Brigg with their amazing selection of teas and coffees (and especially a fabulously smokey Lapsang Souchong, and Katies Cupcakes of Cleethorpes with lots of delicious baked goodies for weddings, parties and other functions!

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There were so many good things on offer it would takje forever to list them all them all but we took home some fantastic cookies from the Real Tea & Coffee Company of Ruskington and of course some great recipe books signed by their authors including none other than Mr Levi Roots himself. Levi had brought his guitar along and treated us to a rousing chorus of the Reggae Reggae Sauce song as well as sharing his story and advising everyone to go out and confront the dragon’s in their own lives.

So if you’re getting sound advice and good food all at once that’s got to be a day well spent hasn’t it? We look forward to next year with anticipation.

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