Back earlier this year I picked up that the Levellers were playing a gig in North Dorset, just an hour or so from home. A little investigation revealed that the gig was at a brand new one day festival, behind Sherborne Castle. it soon became apparent that the lineup was going to be superb, not just The Levellers but Paul Brady, Newton Faulkner and Seth Lakeman on the main stage. Add to this Cara Dillon, Steve Knightley , Ninebarrow and more and it all looked like a great day out, it was also scheduled for the day before my wives birthday. I bought tickets and followed the build up with increasing excitement.
I was disappointed to find that there was no camping at the site but managed to get the camper van booked onto a farm just a couple of miles away. We decided to travel up on Friday evening and had a very enjoyable supper in the evening sun. We even managed to find time to finish adding a few additions to our Van 🙂
To our delight Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. It looked like we were in for a hot day. After a leisurely breakfast we strolled from the campsite to the festival site. It was a pleasant walk but was partly on a stretch of the very busy A30 without a footpath I really did not fancy a return walk in the dark. We arrived on site in good time but whilst there were plenty of brown tourist roadsigns I was surprised to see that there were no signs directing traffic to the festival site. Entry was very painless though there were people ticking your name off on a list as you entered. I really didn’t see the point in this and it could have caused long queues to get in. I was struck by the beauty of the site, it was a real delight. The three stages were within 2 minutes walk of each other and the site was beautifully laid out.
So what of the festival? Well it really has to be borne in mind that this was the first year of this little festival and I am sure the organisers were unsure as to how many people would turn up. As might be expected there were a few issues but more of that in a moment.
Firstly the site was stunning. This was a really beautiful site. It was very well laid out, everything was close together and the atmosphere was great. I also found a first for me, an inflatable main stage. Seriously the stage was like a giant bouncy castle with a wooden floor. Brilliant! Security was fairly low key and on the whole the security people were pretty friendly. I always make a point of talking to security staff at festivals as they are often volunteers who are giving up their time to help make the experience a safe one for us. I did however see one security guard acting in a totally over-the-top manner with a guy who had a two year old on his shoulders. The side stages were in ‘big tops’ that were of a very decent size. The bar was at one end of the big top dubbed the 2nd stage. The toilets deserve a special mention. There seemed to be plenty of them and it must be said they were of the ‘posh loo’ variety and were absolutely spotlessly clean.
There were a few hiccups. In my view the worst of these was the bar. As stated elsewhere the bar was in the 2nd stage tent. To be polite it was a shambles! Bearing in mind the site opened at 11.30 the bar had run out of all but one real ale by 3PM. Seriously. The bar was understaffed and the staff just could not cope. There were only 6 or 7 servers and on one occasion I queued for 45 minutes to get a drink. This was especially annoying as we were not allowed to take any alcohol into the arena. I cannot understand this attitude. Its not like no-one will buy anything from the bar. If you look at Bearded Theory, Fairports Cropredy and Beautiful Days the bars do a roaring trade despite people being allowed to take alcohol in. This seems to be an issue at all the Dorset Festivals. It is a totally unnecessary restriction. Its not like these festivals attract the gangs of 18years olds looking to get wasted and cause trouble! There was only about 6 food stalls and a times the queues for food were hideous. We managed to grab some Taco’s from a big red double decker bus these were inoffensive, fairly tasteless but not nasty. One comment I would make is that there didn’t seem to be anything for children, either by way of food or entertainment. It seems to me that the most successful festivals are the ones that are aimed at families.
So to the main event. The music. As we arrived the 2nd stage was occupied by Jack McNeil and Charlie Heys. This duo put a slightly quirky slant on traditional folk music introducing clarinet, bass clarinet into folk tunes. These guys were new to me but I very much liked their sound. Its really nice to see fresh young folk groups stretching the boundaries. I especially liked ‘A hymn to the Wolves’, have a listen on Soundcloud and see what you think.
I managed to catch about half of singer songwriter Lizzyspits’ set after a long queue at the bar. This young lady looks great and has a brilliant voice. Her enthusiasm was very infectious and I really enjoyed her songs especially the bizarrely named Goodbye (to the ones who screwed you over). I hope she has great future as she is very talented and that kind of talent deserves a break.
The second stage was the scene of two real highlights for me. Steve Knightley and Cara Dillon. I have seen Steve on a number of occasions and he is one of those artists who always gives his all and never disappoints. Steve is currently engaged on a really innovative project called ‘Grow your own Gig‘. Steve is travelling the length and breadth of the country playing solo sets in village halls, churches and small venues. The idea is that you book Steve and sell the tickets. Steve provides himself, lights a sound desk etc. A wonderful idea and so popular that it will be repeated next year. Steve’s set was largely from the set list for these gigs and included old favourites like Cousin Jack, Red Diesel, Yeovil Town and his wonderful cover of Pink’s ‘Try’ and Dylan’s ‘Boots of Spanish leather’ joined together in folk style.
The wonderful Cara Dillon’s set was simply gorgeous. Cara was joined on stage by husband Sam Lakeman and other musicians who play on her brilliant new album ‘A Thousand Hearts’. Cara’s voice is simply perfection, clear as crystal, beautifully enunciated, surely the most beautiful voice in modern folk music. Cara’s set consisted mostly of songs from her new album and it was a real pleasure to see her three children spellbound at the foot of the stage, little daughter Elizabeth was dancing and clapping along and giving mummy a double thumbs up after every song.
The last act I saw away from the main stage was Texan singer songwriter Rodney Branigan who had some very clever party tricks up his sleeve. This guy has an incredible amount of musical talent. He managed to play two instruments at the same time for most of the set. He played his guitar with his left hand using a combination of ‘Hammer on’s, & ‘Pull Off’s’ whilst playing a drum with his right hand. He played two guitars at once one playing the baseline whilst the other played the melody. Don’t be fooled into thinking this was all gimmick though. This was a supremely talents musician singing beautifully crafted songs.
At last we get to the main event, the artists on the main stage. The afternoon opened with Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady. Paul has long been a favourite of mine. He writes beautiful songs that often have an Irish theme and many of his best known songs were included in his set. These included Paradise is here, Nothing but the same old story, nobody knows and the Island. This was a perfect backdrop to a hot and sunny saturday afternoon. Paul seems to enjoy the crowd and the crowd most definitely enjoyed him.
Next up was Newton Faulkner. I have been aware of this guy for a while now and love his most recent album Studio Zoo. I had however never managed to see him live so I was really looking forward to his set. This guy is a simply amazing guitarist and went down a storm with the crowd, especially, it must be said, the young female element in the crowd. Newton’s popularity was amply illustrated by the length of the queue at the merchandise stall after his set. You have to admire a man who stood in the hot sun for over two hours after his set signing autographs and CD’s and generously allowing his young fans to have their photograph taken with him. I will most certainly be keeping a close eye out for the opportunity to see him again.
Seth Lakeman needs no introduction to anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with folk music. Seth ad his band took the stage at around 6.15pm and played a set lasting just over an hour. The crowd were on their feet dancing singing and enjoying a great band which is driven along by Seth’s virtuoso fiddle playing. I and very one else in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed his set.
After Seth’s set the festival organisers had made what I thought perhaps the most bizarre decisions of the Day. Seth finished his set shortly after 7.15pm and headliners ‘The Levellers’ were not due on stage until 9.30pm. In all the festivals I have attended I have never seen such a long gap in the main stage proceedings. Admittedly it allowed me to see a couple of artists that I may have missed otherwise but many people camp out the main stage and don’t move for fear of losing a prime spot at the front of the stage. By the time The Levellers came on stage the crowd was buzzing and the side stages had closed down for the finale.
I have seen the Levellers on numerous occasions over the past 25 years and in my opinion they are the ultimate festival band. This is a band that always gives 100%, always seem to enjoy themselves and endeavour to ensure the audience does too. It as to be said that The Levellers stole the show. They absolutely smashed it. Perennial favourites such as ‘One Way’, ‘It’s a Beautiful day’, ‘Shadow on the sun’, ‘Dog Train’ and a storming version of ‘Dirty Davy’, had the crowd in an absolute frenzy dancing, leaping and punching clenched fits into the air. Front man Mark Chadwick was quickly dripping in sweat and Bass player Jez quickly lost his rather natty hairstyle reverting to the long swinging dreadlocks we know and love. This was one of the best Levellers gigs I have seen. Had the set included ‘English Civil War’, ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ and a visit from didgeridoo player Steven Boakes then it would have been perfection. The set finished with the customary festival encore song ‘The Devil went down to Georgia’ and the roar from the crowd was deafening as the last notes brought a fantastic day to a close.
Yes there were a few hiccups but this was the first time this festival had been put together and organiser Ian Lyster deserves a huge amount of credit for putting on a brilliant day in the most perfect of locations. Ian did announce that the festival would return next year. I would love to see it run over a full weekend with camping. For next year I hope they will attract more food stalls, improve the bar service and allow people to take a sensible amount of their own alcohol into the festival.