Another weekend, another festival….we’ve been really busy this year, Lemonfest in May, Glas-Denbury earlier in July and now Chagstock. This was our first year here and judging from feedback I had read on their website and from speaking to previous years attendees, it seemed like THE local festival to attend. Starting out in 2003 with less than a hundred people in a garden, the festival has grown into a public event that attracts 5000 people every year and has hosted some of the finest musical talent including The Saw Doctors, The Hothouse Flowers, Squeeze, Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, The Hoosiers, The Magic Numbers, The Boomtown Rats and The Waterboys (to name just a few).
The 2015 line-up looked excellent; a varied mix of genres to ensure that there really would be something for everyone! I was personally looking forward to seeing new model Army, Levellers, Molotov Jukebox and The Eskies and no doubt other bands that I am not so familiar with. We weren’t camping so no need to pack the wet wipes, we did however check the weather forecast and leading up to the event it all looked good, a little cloud but best of all, NO RAIN! Let’s see if the MET office were telling the truth!
So, we arrived on the Friday night, parked up, got our wristbands and press passes and were shown a site map, it didn’t take us long to figure out the lie of the land, the main stage and marquee tent being positioned quite close together with a ‘Live lounge’ tent over the other side of the site. There was a healthy spread of traders littered across the site selling all sorts of things that you would expect to find at festivals as well as some not so expected items. The food area was more than impressive, ranging from organic burgers and hog roasts to the more exotic Thai style offerings with just about everything in-between, I won’t tell you the sum total of what we ate between us but I think that Tom’s Pies, Lemon Jelli (crepes) and the wood fired pizza shack won’t be running out of money in the near future!
The way that Chagstock run their stages is brilliant, whilst one act is performing, the next act are setting up on the other stage, this means that as soon as the band finishes, all you have to do is make your way over to the other stage and the next band are just about to start, this is a much better idea than having 4-5 stages and having acts running on them all the time as you’re stood watching them sound check, tune up and generally set things up. It was also good to see that they were sticking rigidly to the timings, nothing worse than a band over-running, causing the next act to cut their set short, this only happened with one band and that was due to a late arrival and they played a slightly shorter set to ensure that the next act did not suffer as a result.
The main stage was alive with the sounds of Martha Tilston and the eager crowd were listening intently to her soulful sounds. As we wandered about the site we got a real sense of how appealing the Chagstock festival is to everyone. There were families, couples, hardcore music fans and party-goers all in together, sharing this great experience. And despite the large number of people present it never felt cramped or crowded.
When Police Dog Hogan took to the marquee stage they delivered the perfect mix of country and folk music to the eager Friday evening crowd. The sound produced by this 7 piece band was enough to get people jigging and dancing along to some of their more upbeat offerings.
For those who were just getting in the mood, The Neville Staple Band over on the main stage really turned things up a notch. For those not in the know (or as old as me), Neville Staple was one of the original 'rude boys' who formed the Midlands band The Specials who shot to notoriety in the early 80's on the classic 2 Tone label alongside other British Ska revival acts such as The Selecter and The Beat. Their unique and energetic sound was delivered with style and class, showing the masses that Mr Staple still had what it took to get people up and moving.
Mad Dog Mcrea were the headline act of the marquee tent and came bounding on stage to a rapturous and up for it crowd. Maybe the enthusiasm was in support for this local band but I suspect the blend of rock, folk and gypsy jazz were the perfect sound for the Friday night festival crowd. With hands in the air and lots of dancing feet the tent had the atmosphere of a giant jig!
After all the dancing and jigging throughout the evening, a large crowd had gathered in front of the main stage to check out Bradford legend's New Model Army. These guys really are heavyweights of the music scene after forming way back in 1980 and picking up a cult following from the off. Kicking things off with 'Stormclouds' the crowd went wild for the heavy guitar and rock vocals of Justin Sullivan. Their set consisted of material lifted from more recent albums, there were a couple of gems that got an airing in the form of 'No Greater Love' which was present on their 1985 album 'No Rest for the Wicked' and the set closer 'I Love the World' which featured on their 1989 album 'Thunder and Consolation'. They very much deserved the headline slot and the audience loved every second of their performance.
So folks, that was Friday night over and done with, Saturday really had something to beat, read on to see how we got on during day 2 of this fab local festival.
We arrived around 12:30 on the Saturday and after parking up, made our way straight into the marquee stage where Cornish singer songwriter Kezia was midway through her set, mixing up acoustic songs with piano led numbers which really demonstrated her talents on both instruments. We saw Kezia a couple of years ago in Totnes and her song-writing has come on leaps and bounds since then, as has her confidence which allowed a much stronger stage presence. She wowed the audience with her piano led cover version of Joy Divisions’ ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, the gentle tinkling of ivories coupled with her lush, smoky voice really added a new slant to this classic albeit, rather melancholy track. She played a song called ‘America’ which I recall from the last time I saw her, sung about her hometown and how she thinks that her life would be so much better if she was somewhere else. News soon spread that the band who were due to follow her on the main stage had not yet arrived so the compere asked her if she would be able to perform a few more tracks, it took her all of a few nanoseconds to say that she’d love to and carried on. Suggestions of ‘Let it Go’ from the kids movie ‘Frozen’ were shouted up to the stage but soon laughed off as she didn’t know the chords! She ended with a beautifully stripped down acoustic version of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, which I feel went down a lot better than ‘Let it Go’ would have done! She received rapturous applause from the audience and took time to chat to her established fans as well as few new ones that were won over by her talents on the day.
Over to the main stage to check out Backbeat Sound System, NOT The Backstreet Boys as the compere had told me…. They were busy injecting a nice slice of summery ska/reggae into the mix with the audience lapping it up. We saw these guys at another local festival a few weeks back and they nailed it then and they nailed it here at Chagstock. It was a shame they had a late start as I’d have loved to have heard more from this quality act.
We poked our heads into the Live Lounge tent to catch a four piece act called The Bunny Boilers knocking out a song featuring a catchy chorus of ‘Homicide’, I checked and am glad to say that they ARE available for family celebrations and kids parties! They then went on to blast out a cover of Foo Fighters’ ‘Times Like These’ which had a few people up and dancing at the front whilst others seemed more than content in their chairs, leaning back with a beer in their hands.
We headed back to the Marquee stage where Rosie and the Goldbug were just getting started. RATG are a Cornish sexually charged electro-indie-pop trio headed up by the super talented Rosie Vanier who did a sterling job of steering the ship, picking up new fans throughout their set which consisted of some killer keyboard led pop tunes that would get even the stiffest bodies up and moving to their hypnotic music in no time at all. Described by The Guardian as ‘Kate Bush on crack’, I thought this was a little harsh, I dare say that Ms Bush has never been near the pipe and if you asked me for a comparison, I would have said that Rosie was the love child of Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux (neither of them on crack I hasten to add!) RATG release a new single ‘Hey You’ in August and are playing some live dates in and around Cornwall which culminate in an appearance at the Looe Music Festival in September. If you get to see this young lady and her comrades, make EVERY effort to do so.
Female fronted reggae/jazz collective Dojo were mixing it up on the main stage, this London based band soon made it clear that they had what it took to take the crowd to a higher level during their set which comprised of some smooth grooves and great beats. We saw them perform a track called ‘Wasteland’ which sound superb with the 3 female singers and quality musicians including a 2 piece horn section which really added to the overall summery vibe.
We wandered back to the Marquee tent where Bristol based acoustic singer songwriter Gaz Brookfield was about to launch into his set. Gaz won Acoustic magazine's 2010 Singer Songwriter of the year award and since then has spent his time on the road, touring the UK and Europe. In this time he has shared the stage with the likes of The Levellers, Frank Turner, New Model Army, Nick Harper, Newton Faulkner, Miles Hunt and many more, racking up over 1000 gigs to date. His set kicked off with a song about not being able to drink cider anymore, which really appealed to the scrumpy swilling yokels at Chagstock! His witty banter inbetween songs won him some new followers including me, I particularly liked when he asked the audience how they were doing and they responded with a ‘whoo’, he laughed and said that we should do that when a friend asks how you are in the street, just shout ‘whoo’ at the top of your voice and walk off! His songs blend humour, great lyrics and brilliant music that you’ll instantly fall in love with, catch him on tour with the mighty Ferocious Dog later this year.
We bumped into Tom Hyland (guitarist from The Electric Swing Circus) backstage just after we had chatted to Seth Lakeman, we saw these guys play at another local festival in 2014 and we were excited to see them again as they really do bring the party atmosphere with them, wherever they play! Tom said that they’d recently played a show in Switzerland and Seth Lakeman played there shortly afterwards, we laughed and said that Seth just wanted to be in the band….
A few minutes later they took to the stage. From the off they had the audience up and dancing to their saucy 20’s swing and stomping electro beats, they showed the audience what it was to be a festival heavyweight band. The leading ladies taking it in turn to tantalize the fans with their sublime vocals whilst the band did a superb job of keeping things moving along. They are what I’d call an ‘active’ band, not in the sense that they are still working but in a way that they don’t stand still for 2 seconds on stage, the guitarist was constantly running on the spot, the ladies dancing away like there was no tomorrow and even the bass player and the man on keys bopping away like their lives depended on it. TESC really are a great festival band, I’ve never seen them play a show where every member of the audience isn’t jumping about like a loon by the end of their set. If you want more of this act, head to their website to check the other festivals that they’re playing this year.
We indulged in a little walk around the site to snap some interesting characters, I’ve peppered the write up with a few of them, more will be available in the gallery that will be uploaded shortly. The theme was ‘Gangsters and Molls’ so expect to see some sinister looking mobsters and their significant others…
From the all out aural attack that The Electric Swing Circus brought to the main stage, it was now time to kick things down a peg or two and enjoy some laid back output from Ireland’s Ciaran Lavery. Hailing from the small Irish village of Aghagallon, alt-folk Ciaran Lavery brought his alt-folk vibe, channeling the quiet despair of isolation into timeless songs of beauty and heartache, reminding me of Conor O’ Brien from Irish band ‘Villagers’. The audience was captivated by this man and the 3 stunning musicians that he stood with on stage, his astonishing voice, echoing passion and desire, complimented by acoustic guitar, cello and violin was exquisite and as I said before, a far cry from the melee that TESC were knocking out 20 minutes before!
I chatted to his band after the set and they admitted that they were tired after a 2am start from Ireland that morning, a ferry crossing from Rosslare to Pembroke and then a lengthy drive following caravans down the M5 to reach the festival, I said how much I enjoyed the set and thanked them for making the journey! You can catch Ciaran at loads of dates throughout the UK prior to him playing a handful of dates in Germany later on in the year.
Earlier on in the day, I met up with Si Ford who has the painstaking job of organizing Chagstock every year with his team of assistants, I had no idea that he too was in a band and that they were playing on the main stage….
New Crisis is headed up by Si Ford and are referred to as ‘the Chagstock house band’, opening with a killer version of JJ Cale’s ‘Call me the Breeze’ and kept up the momentum with tracks from The Clash, Billy Ray Cyrus, Green Day and Status Quo. Towards the end of their set, they played a tribute to Amy Winehouse and knocked out a superb version of ‘Monkey Man’ by The Specials, I guess they would have chatted to Neville Staple on Friday night and paid him the royalties owed….
They ended with a killer cover of The Stones’ It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It) which had everyone bouncing along nicely, what a way to warm up the crowd for the evening session that was about to kick off!
The Eskies were up next in the Marquee tent, this Dublin based 5 piece promised a blend of sea soaked gypsy folk and they were more than happy to provide a killer set for the audience who were getting excited as the evening wore on, waiting for the heavyweights of the festival to make an appearance. Highlights of their set for me included ‘Eloise’ and the very catchy ‘Jesus Don’t Save Me’, which has been in my head for days now, thanks guys!
They were only down in Devon for a couple of shows, we hope to see them back over on these shores soon. We caught up with the band after they had beaten away their army of fans and sold all their CD’s where we had a chat about their fantastic facial furniture (beards) and how they weren’t looking forward to the trip back home. Looking at their Facebook page, it appears their van broke down on the way back up North and had to be towed by the AA, hopefully this won’t affect their decision to come and see us again!
We met Seth Lakeman earlier in the afternoon and chatted about an Aussie singer songwriter called Kim Churchill who toured with Seth in 2014, a couple of hours later, he was on the main stage, kicking off his set with a fiddle/violin in his hands accompanied by his troupe of talented multi instrumentalists. Most of Seth’s songs are centred around Dartmoor but he introduced a track that was written about his hometown of Tavistock which he holds dear to his heart.
Seth is such a talented performer, he can literally pick up any instrument and play it, I heard a couple of years back that he wrote every track, played every instrument, mixed and produced his ‘Tales from the Barrelhouse’ album, quite a feat I’m sure you’ll agree, I guess the difficult time comes when you want to take the show on the road, unless you are literally a ‘One Man Band’ with cymbals between your knew, you’re going to have a tough time blending it all together, this is where his able companions came in. His music is steeped in tradition and features contemporary folk music for which he has become a household name over the past few years, picking up fans across the globe. His latest album ‘Word of Mouth’ is a natural successor to 2011’s aforementioned ‘Tales from the Barrelhouse’, retaining its stripped back story-telling style but dripping in Seth’s hauntingly melodic style. A far cry from the energetic performance delivered by The Eskies, Seth was here to play world-class folk which bought the people flocking to the main stage to enjoy his mesmerizing set. A great way to keep the energy levels up high for the next act….
Molotov Jukebox is an explosive London based 6 piece Tropical-Gypsy-Dance band who don’t just bring the cocktails to the party, they bring the entire bar! Fronted by no other than super talented singer/accordion player Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones/Harry Potter), she did a grand job of administering a healthy dose of what can only be described as ‘Gyp-Step’ for the masses to enjoy. The bands tight music coupled with Natalia’s velvet tones created a cacophony of sound that the near capacity audience in the Marquee tent could not get enough of. I think that the reception that they received overwhelmed them somewhat as after every song, Natalia thanked them continually and commented on how ‘lovely’ they all were. The fans were after a party and BOY did they get a party, by the time they fired into their last song, the place was literally jumping, young kids, students, middle-agers and even a few more mature festival goers were absolutely loving it, you could really feel the energy coming from the tent!
We had a few minutes to kill after Molotov Jukebox finished up so we headed back to the food area as Julian’s belly was starting to rumble (which I found hard to believe seeing what he’d tucked away that day) but even so, he was lining up for a pizza when it became obvious that he was going to miss the start of the main act so that idea was abandoned and we left empty handed….It was for his own good!
So, over to the main stage for the last time to watch the main event....
I recall seeing The Levellers in October 1991 at The Great Hall in Exeter, it would have been around the release of their seminal album ‘Levelling the Land’ and I fondly recall having quite a rough time in the mosh pit when they burst onto the stage nearly 24 years ago, would I get the same feeling in 2015, would my body allow me to get in the pit and thrash it out with the scary men with Mohawks and tattered Levellers shirts that have just about survived a lifetime of boil washes to get the sweat and stains out of them caused from the torturous treatment at venues up and down this land of ours?
We were stood right next to the ramp that led to the main stage, the compere took to the stage and introduced them to the audience, rapturous applause from the 5000 fans could be heard as they strode confidently into their domain where they would spend the next 90 minutes knocking out hit after hit that took you on a roller coaster ride through their colourful and varied career.
We were warned that some pyrotechnics were going to be used during their opening track so we were not allowed in the pit until these had been launched, right as rain, immediately after they flew into ‘England my Home’, 2 massive paper canons exploded into the air, the audience screamed with joy as ticker-tape style discharge was blown through the air, covering the majority of the crowd.
From here on in, they led the charge with a set that was peppered with tracks from the 1991 released platinum selling album ‘Levelling the Land’ to the later ‘Zeitgeist’ and ‘Static on the Airwaves’, each song rewarded with huge applause, this Devon audience really were lapping up everything that The Levellers had to throw at them. We had the benefit of watching their performance from the side of the stage and from this vantage point we could see each of the band members having an absolute ball up there, jumping around, dancing and entertaining the masses with their catchy blend of ‘crusty-rock’.
Their time was nearly up, the fans had been taken on a ride through their career, which song would be suitable to end their set? As soon as the guitar started, the bass drum kicked in and the fiddle started to squeal, it was apparent that their 1991 offering ‘Liberty Song’ was to be their final song, what a way to close the curtains on Chagstock 2015!
It had been a roaring success, we had a ball and would like to thank Si Ford and Michael Eccleshall for making it possible for us to attend and cover the event, we apologise to any acts that we were not able to cover, it was quite a big field and our legs aren’t as long as they used to be, or is it that we’re getting a little older….. As local festivals go, this has been the best one that we have covered so far, everything about it was spot on, the management of the stages, the security, the varied music on offer, the food, the stalls, it really is THE family festival and if you’ve been sat on the fence deciding whether or not to buy tickets, please do, you’ll have an absolute whale of a time and look back on it in years to come and smile at all the memories that you made over the course of the weekend in a field, drinking ale and munching pies, watching some world class bands do their thing, ladies and gentlemen, I bid you a good night!