August, a month that is commonly the hottest of the year hosts one of the finest medium sized festivals based in the depths of the Devon countryside. Unfortunately, August also has a habit of becoming one of the wettest months of the year, I mean, as if looking after kids during dry weather isn’t enough of a ball-ache, why not do it with persistent rain and drizzle? Would ‘Beautiful Days’ be a wash out or would the bands and acts on offer bring with them a ray of sunshine to lift the spirits of us hardy Brits…..?
The weather on the way to Escot was dreary, it was that misty rain that, whilst it wasn’t as hard hitting as what I refer to as ‘proper rain’, it still soaked you to the skin in next to no time and I hoped that Beautiful Days had invested in that technology where you can freeze clouds and prevent the rain from falling on the site. We arrived and parked up and started the long descent into the main area where the 6 stages, kids area, various food establishments and around 25000 people were swarming about like wasps around a can of Orange Tango. We had arrived at what is quite possibly THE best festival in the Southwest.
It was a little damp on arrival so I’m glad I wore my welly boots, trainers would have been a big no-no and with the forecast looking decidedly gloomy, I feared that I may require some of those spikes that mountaineers wear to get better grip in the ice (in my case, mud!), fingers crossed!
After collecting our passes and papers, we were free to roam the site at our leisure. It took us a good hour to wander round all of the stages, 6 in all, predominantly music but also a theatre tent and a very quaint bandstand, which hosted some great acts over the weekend. The choice of shops was great, if you wanted a pair of quirky sunglasses to go with a pair of rainbow welly boots, you were in luck! As for food, well, I think there was something for everyone ranging from huge bowls of roasted potatoes to a wild boar burger, take your pick!
Having arrived in the early evening on Friday, we had missed the amazingly talented aussie one man band Kim Churchill, the fusion of Hip Hop and folk courtesy of Coco & The Butterfields and the all out circus themed madness of Slamboree but after chatting to the photographers, they said that all had done a great job in keeping the audience entertained with their varied music and amazing stage presence. We might have missed them but we managed to get some killer pics....
We entered the main arena just as The Dhol Foundation were launching into their set, this talented bunch of musicians are headed up by Johnny Kalsi who founded the dhol school way back in 1989 where he teaches the dhol drums which are a traditional percussion instrument in the Punjab Province in North India. Kalsi experimented with dance beats and electronic music, which he mixes with the traditional bhangra style in his own music. From start to finish, they captivated the large crowd who had formed at the main stage to see this amazing spectacle.
House of Pain were up next, having come all the way from Los Angeles, I prayed that the weather would hold out for them and it did so at least they can’t moan about how awful the British weather was! This trio consisting of Everlast, Danny Boy O'Connor and DJ Lethal took to the stage and soon had the audience whooping and hollering along to their classic hip Hop. EVERLAST (Erik Schrody) has come a long way after making his mark in Hip Hop history books in the 1980's, where he became a front line "Syndicate Soldier" in ICE T's ‘Rhyme Syndicate’. After releasing his debut album in 1990, he decided to form House of Pain who went on to have phenomenal success with the highly infectious track ‘Jump Around’.
Using this as a platform, they were soon elevated to worldwide superstars rather than a relatively unknown all white hip hop act. Midway through their set, Everlast pulled out an acoustic guitar and ran through a few of his solo bluesy numbers which were far detached from the bouncing Hip Hop numbers that you associate him with.
The audience was up for a party and these guys certainly delivered one with party poppers and streamers, just what you needed to whip up a frenzy prior to the headline act taking to the stage!
So, onto the Friday headline act on the main stage, I don’t really think they need any introduction, if you’ve watched the movie ’24 Hour Party People’, you’ll know what shenanigans they got up to in the late 80’s and early 90’s and no doubt you’re familiar with the time that they took an extended holiday in the Bahamas to write a new album, delivering only the music (Shaun hadn’t recorded any lyrics) to a very annoyed Tony Wilson in Manchester some months later. Yes folks, The Happy Mondays were here to take you back to the time when ‘baggy’ was very much the flavour of the day, curtain haircuts were all the rage and the popularity of a little white pill called ‘Ecstacy’ was all you needed to get yourself through the night ….
Bez took to the stage to slur his way through the introduction, looking very summery in his straw hat and maracas, he introduced the rest of the band and they launched into their ‘Best of’ set including some classics such as ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Loose Fit’ with it’s swaggering Manc guitar and swaying basslines that instilled a bit of Bez in you and had you dancing along in similar fashion tout suite along with Rowetta’s ever present booming soulful vocals.
In my eyes The Happy Mondays were never the finest export that Manchester had to offer, sharing the limelight with acts such as the Stone Roses, it was always going to be a one horse race though without them, I can’t help but feel that we would have missed an important part of the Madchester scene that they were so key in building and transporting to clubs all over the world along with the early heady days of rave culture. Towards the end of the set, Bez bought on some of his kids (they might have actually been grandkids) who danced like loons on stage to ‘Step On’ whilst the band lit up the Beautiful Days arena.
All in all, a great set full of classic dance floorfillers, which kept you bouncing along from start to finish!
Onto Saturday, we arrived with hints of blue sky overhead, Rob decided to leave his wellies in the car and wear his converse trainers, I opted for a sturdy pair of Blundstones in case the weather turned. On the way to the main arena, we dropped into the bandstand to see John Robb chatting to the world famous DJ, Chris Tofu. The heavens opened, they really did! Children screamed as the thunder roared and the Lightning struck, we foolishly took shelter under a large tree hoping the extremities would pass us by....
The weather soon broke and we made a beeline to the main stage where The Skints were just kicking off their set, they're a 4 piece act from London who just flew in after playing 2 dates in Italy, their blend of heavy dub beats combined with razor sharp lyrics made for a captivating spectacle, the bass was sparring with the thunder and ultimately won as the rain soon packed up and went away to bother another town.
The rain did wash a few revellers away but there seemed to be a hardcore audience who were up for anything regardless of what the big man decided to throw our way.
We wandered off to the Little Big Top to see what was going down and en-route, we bumped into a couple who made the giant flowers that were on display around the site, they told us all about them and that we should come back and check them out after dark, anyone who did was in for a treat as they looked brilliant.
Whilst up at the Little Big Top, we did drop in on Cornish reggae act Backbeat Soundsystem who were mid way through their set which consisted of their trademark mix of summery ska and dub beats complimented by a very strong brass section. These guys are a must see act, brilliant music and a very strong fanbase who love their work.
Hudson Taylor took to the stage bang on schedule and launched into their appealing blend of folk tinged pop which the audience lapped up, their vocal harmonies were sublime as was the chemistry between Harry and his brylcreemed little brother who did a grand job of wooing the ladies with his boyish young looks and cheeky Irish charm. Their set was full of energetic tracks, mainly lifted from their recent debut album ‘Singing for Strangers’. The rain held off but did make an appearance later in the set where Alfie commented on a rainbow that had appeared, when the audience turned to see it, it mysteriously disappeared, the old joker!
Off to the Big Top next to check out the huge vocal range of the very lovely Eddi Reader, it wasn't until a few years back that I discovered it was her behind the talents of hit 80's band Fairground Attraction (remember the track 'Perfect'?). She took to the stage alongside ace guitarist Boo Hewerdine, an accordion player, a double bass player and a mandolin player, all of which I have forgotten the names of....
With no setlist in sight, she said that they'll "see how things go" and off they went into their first track. As I said at the start, her vocal range is immense and this was demonstrated very early in her set, I'm still unsure how everyone's glasses remained intact when she hit those high note, ear piercing stuff but in a good way!
Hoffmaestro are a multi genre band from Sweden who brought with them an energy that made the audience forget about the weather and just let their hair down and enjoy themselves for the afternoon. Their blend of rock, pop, rap and just about every other style you can think of coupled with the general madness of their performance really was the antidote needed to while away the wet weather blues and boy did the crowd lap it up. Setting records in their native country for attendees at festivals and live shows, you can see why the fans love them so much, these guys really know how to put the ‘P’ in PARTY!
Idlewild followed on the main stage and although very good musically, I felt that they didn't bring about the excitement that Hudson Taylor and Hoffmaestro had done before them. Saying that, their set was peppered with some familiar material such as ‘You Held the World in Your Arms’ and ‘American English’, some of the tracks got proper heavy, allowing some revelers to vent some steam prior to the Dropkick Murphys coming along to mop the floor with anyone left standing towards the end of a very entertaining set.
Over in the Big Top, Rich Hall was delighting the audience with his 'Hoedown' show which has been garnering some serious kudos since he took the show on the road. Rich, a grouchy, deadpan, comic genius quit his job as a hurricane namer for the United States Meteorological Service two decades ago and hasn’t looked back.
Acting under his created character Otis Lee Crenshaw, a redneck jailbird from Tennessee, who has been married seven times, all to women named Brenda, Otis writes bourbon-soaked, Tom Waitsian tunes and blends this with audience banter, producing a perfect fusion of music and comedy.
We checked out the first half of Boston (USA) based 6 piece Dropkick Murphys set, kicking things off with a long moody intro in near darkness was enough to get the audience revved up and ready to go the minute the band spilled out onto the stage to kick start their performance with ‘The Boys are Back’ which was a real fuel filled anthem that set the stage alight.
Their Celtic roots blended with the classic blend of blue collar rock was evident with hit after hit that kept the energy levels up despite the heavens having opened and the capacity crowd receiving a liberal soaking!
We thought we’d be brave and endure the short yomp to the Big Top to finish off the evening with a set from the Dr Feelgood guitarist, sometimes actor and general all round legend Wilko Johnson.
He rocked the roof off the Big Top with his blend of pub rock and R&B, backed by the solid Norman Watt-Roy on bass and the drumming prowess of Dylan Howe. Johnson owned the stage from start to finish, dressed head to toe in black with his Fender strat, wowing the audience with his trademark choppy guitar lines and jerky ‘duck walk’ dance, he couldn’t get that far as his coiled guitar lead kept on pulling him back to his on stage amp which gave a real classic and cool look. Norman Watt-Roy is such a classic bass player, having been a member of The Blockheads alongside Ian Dury, Madness and Nick Cave.
This really was a treat for any fan of R&B and classic rock, Wilko managed to inject a bit of his own magic into the tent tonight, proving that he remains a well loved and revered musician.
I arrived onsite on the Sunday and parked up. Whilst sat listening to the rain hammering down in the roof of my car, a band from California called Mad Caddies were on the main stage, I wished I was there as I sat willing the fowl weather to leave us in peace, having been rained on heavily on the Saturday, I just wasn't in the mood! I could just make out blue sky on the horizon, should I wait a while and see if it clears up or should I go home and start my write up based on the Friday and Saturday of the event? I thought I'd stick it out a little longer and wait for a break and then do a runner to the main arena and take shelter until it dried up, if it ever would of course!
I saw a break in the clouds, some light piercing through, I had everything crossed that it was heading our way as, after 20 mins of playing Juice Cubes, I was still sat in the car, listening to the repetitive tones of rain hitting the windscreen which was quite therapeutic in a twisted kind of way! The rain finally stopped and it was all systems go!
First stop, off to the bandstand to see John Robb performing with The Membranes, it was refreshing to see him at the front of the stage NOT introducing the next band as he had been doing on the main stage for the past couple of days. Introducing them as a bunch of middle aged men in a post-punk punk band, they did a sterling job of entertaining the large crowd that formed to celebrate the fact that the sun had come out whilst enjoying some songs about the universe and everything in between! Robb acting as frontman and bass player did a great job of keeping the audience on their toes, ducking and diving around the bandstand, willing people to come on stage and dance like it was the last day on earth! He even offered a money back guarantee if it rained again before 11pm on the Sunday, a brave move, despite there only being a few hours left of BD2015! Their set ended with a full on stage (bandstand) invasion!
The Beat were nailing their flag to the main stage, Ranking Roger introduced his daughter from Cork in Southern Ireland, Miss Saffron who joined the band onstage for a couple of tracks. Roger looked amazing, dressed all in black with chains decorating his strides, Ranking Junior was in a sharp looking light grey suit with a white shirt unbuttoned to the waist revealing his chiselled midriff, not that I'm jealous at all! Roger announced a track called ‘Return of the dread eye’ for all the ‘ska wars’ fans, made me smile. Their set consisted of the classic tracks that they are renowned for including ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ and ‘Tears of a Clown’ which were lapped up by the audience that were now filing into the main arena for the remainder of the festival.
We headed off to the Big Top to check out Duke Special, we were due to see him in Exeter a few months back but we had double booked with another show in Bristol so I was glad to finally catch him live. When we entered the tent, he was knocking out a song on his piano, a healthy crowd had gathered, I was surprised not to see more but I guess we were ramping up towards the end of the event and people were staking their claim for prime real estate for the headline act over at the main arena. There is something really appealing about his music, the piano, his voice with a light drum backing, so tender, fragile even but never melancholy, he played a fantastic take on Neil Young’s classic track ‘Harvest Moon’ (in the mud and the sludge)! His in between banter was amusing and as he had been camping onsite since Friday he just wanted to let people know that he's been through exactly the same as everybody else has!
It was great to see that so many had made the effort for Beautiful Day’s Sunday theme (the garden), I saw a large number of bees, gnomes and butterflies buzzing about the site, I never knew that bees smoked weed and drunk Jaegermeister though, every day's a school day I guess!
Katzenjammer is a 4 piece Norwegian female band from Oslo consisting of super talented multi instrumentalists, I recall an interesting looking bass guitar, looked like a cross between a standup double bass and a lute (I’m sure it has a proper name…) They played their trademark blend of gypsy folk whilst jumping about from pillar to post, swapping instruments throughout their set. There were some great vocal harmonies from the ladies and the bass was heavy enough to rattle the fillings in your mouth! These ladies really are a great festival band, they look like they’re having FUN up there on stage which is great to see. Their set was really well received and they did a great job of warming the crowd up for Gogol Bordello, who were up next!
I'm not sure if you can actually attach a genre to Gogol Bordello, I've seen them described as everything from gypsy folk, alternative and circus, the last time I saw them was at Glastonbury way back in 2007 (when I was still in short trousers), 8 years later it was good to see that they're as still as mad as a bag of frogs and still possess the ability to drive the crowd to fevered levels of excitement with their super energised brand of, well, I don't know what to call it if I'm honest with you!
I thought I recognized the accordion player from The Membranes set earlier on at the bandstand, I'm sure they introduced him as an American guy and I since found out that the band are from New York (though I did hear a rumour that they actually run a chip shop in Manchester....). I have since been corrected by the guy (Roy Harter) who played accordion with The Membranes and he IS from New York but ISN'T the accordion player from Gogol Bordello, sorry Roy!
They injected a magnitude of colour, sound and energy into their set and the near capacity crowd really fed off it, creating an amazing spectacle as the sun started to set on BD 2015.
The Levellers took to the stage at 9:30 sharp, keen to make use of their 90 minutes to cram in as many of their classic tracks as they could. Having seen them at Chagstock a few weeks back, I hoped that their set would at least be along similar lines and they didn't disappoint, opening with the anthemic tones of England My Home really set the scene for the rest of their show. The use of the paper cannons during their opening track really added to the overall celebration of the event which, in my opinion was absolutely excellent, if the weather had behaved itself, it would have been perfect but come on folks, we live in the UK and seeing as it's August, who are we to expect anything other but rain!
halfway through the set, the crowd roared when the opening lines to what is probably their most popular track, 'One Way' really hit the spot, throw into the mix a colourful character playing the wooden trumpet (didgeridoo) and people were leaping about, singing along and really having a great time.
Their set ended with a phenomenal display of fireworks that kept the audience entertained for a good few minutes prior to the lights dropping to rapturous applause, Beautiful Days 2015 was officially over!
Beautiful Days is by far the biggest and best local festival that I have ever attended, the size of the site, the choice of acts and bands was amazing, there really was something for everyone, okay, the weather was at times bordering on biblical but as I said above, it's August and we're in England, suck it up!
If you are reading this and thinking that Beautiful Days might be for you, please don't hesitate to get tickets next year, as it says on the official website, owing to having NO corporate sponsorship at all, it's the only festival that sells out by NOT selling out, tell your friends and bring them along too, I guarantee that it'll be the best 3 days that you spend in the Devon countryside, well, until the next time you attend!