Lemonfest is an eclectic festival taking place at the Racecourse, Newton Abbot, Devon during the month of June. Organised and run by a group of local people the festival is now in its 8th year and has successfully expanded into a two-day event.
On arrival I was greeted by two friendly teenagers directing the cars and people and further smiling ticket and security staff. There was a definite air of excitement as the lines of jolly, predominantly youthful, festival goers made their way into the main field.
Lemonfest consists of a Main Stage hosting a variety of artists with Gentlemen’s Dub Club and Shy FX + MC Stamina headlining Friday night then Dreadzone followed by New York’s We Are Scientists closing Saturday night. The Locally Grown stage showcasing Devon’s own, The Big Top is where the DJs could be found mixing up a storm, The Shack hosted by Apex, then over the stream to the Downtown area with Mr Whompy in his Whippy van on the decks. In the Downtown area is The Hairy Beaver, described as ‘not your normal boozer’ with comedians, Latino dance instructors, bands and an array of performers taking to the stage.
Around the ground interspersed with the music and entertainment is a delectable delight of food outlets, various stalls, fairground rides and beer tent (always a popular place at any festival).
I headed first to the Locally Grown stage and happened upon an Exeter three-piece Dead Ground. What a delightful surprise they were, rocking out, giving it their all with riffs and an intensity to frontman Ollie Harris’ vocals. Drummer Jake Friese-Greene and bassist Ed Tucker complete the band and all perform with gusto and heartfelt melodies.
The only disappointment was the small audience as the gates had not long been open. I chatted to their parents’ and met Jake’s brother who was busy taking photos. There was something of their sound reminiscent of 90’s band Mansun. I was glad I managed to catch some of their act.
Before ‘Oh My God! It’s The Church’ took to the main stage I had a chance to visit the Big Top with Chubby Panda + Pragamatik on the decks warming up the early arriving crowd. It was lovely to see children dancing about enjoying the sounds and lights – this might have been the only chance the really young had a chance to dominate the floor as every other time I popped over to the Big Top it was absolutely heaving with teenagers and older festival goers transfixed by the beats.
The Shack is as it says – a shack, all geared up and ready to be hosted by the Apex resident DJs. With huge shade sails overhead these provided a welcome haven when the weather went bad on the Saturday, so this area had a continual good crowd dancing and covering from the rain.
In the Downtown area the indoor pub The Hairy Beaver provides tradition publican house interior and seating with a stage that hosted a variety of acts. Due to unfortunate weather this venue was far busier than expected, which was great for artists to have such considerable audience size who were appreciating the ale, remaining dry and being entertained!
It was in this area that the marvellous Mr Whompy could be found, in his pimped out Mr Whippy ice cream van spinning top tunes on his decks. With no overhead cover the weather definitely dampened the turnout for his music, which was a great shame as the concept is super and the DJ I caught was all fun and smiles as he posed for some pictures (this was Friday and pre-downpours).
‘Oh My God! It’s The Church’ opened the main stage with their completely unique, fun and quite literally inspirational act. In their own words; 'The Church' is a non-stop party church service featuring the best soul, blues and disco tunes fronted by insane Pastor and Pentecostal pervert Rev. Michael Alabama Jackson. By the end you'll be on your knees praying for more - think Sister Act on speed!’ – that would seem pretty spot on! Immensely fun, you would be hard pushed not to smile and dance along as the Reverend calls you to his service. With his 3 beautiful gospel singers who whip off their traditional wear mid-performance when they let their inner Tina Turner take hold, they were a perfect act to bring the energy and kick everything off.
Later backstage I had a chance to spend some time with the band and asks them about playing Lemonfest, in their thick South American accents this is what they said;
“I am the Right Reverend Michael Alabama Jackson coming here to bless your arses in Devon. This is Sister Mary-Lou – ‘Yeah we are from Birmingham, Alabama in the United States.’ We had a nice time. We battled some traffic to get here, but we made it and ran on stage and blessed everyone at Lemonfest. I think it went really well. They were full of sin when we arrived, but we have cleansed them. Now they’re blessed from their arsehole to their soul – that means they can go along and enjoy the rest of the festival. Clean.”
They are dedicated musicians with a passion for their business. They also know how to let their hair down and enjoy dancing and supporting the other performers as I discovered later on when we were all leaping about to Shy FX.
Next up were eight piece London based Chainska Brassika, winners of the ‘World Reggae Contest' 2015, this band are the rising stars of the London Ska Scene. They all went to school together and there is a real closeness between them both on and off stage. It is always a delight to see multiple instruments and with Lucas Petter on Trombone, Rory Pagan and Tom Keel both on Saxophones, James Howell on Trumpet, Henry Freestone on Guitar, Toby Keel on Bass, Seth Wallis on Drums and the beautiful vocals of Shman- this band deliver the goods with their irresistible catchy horns, harmonies, uplifting Ska beats motivating the crowd with their rhythm. I could happily have watched more and will definitely make an effort to see them live again.
Before they performed I caught up with Lucas and Tom for a quick chat
"We are Chainska Brassika from South London, just travelled down. We play Ska music and we put our own little style on it – Chainska. We’ve been together a long time, we are getting a bit old now, we met each other when we were 15. We put Lemonfest as one of the highlights of our careers, it’s got to be! I’ve been coming to Devon on holiday since I was about 6. We pretty much do all our own original music. We are into all different bands from The Specials to Red Hot Chilli Peppers, there are so many."
Whilst Chainska Brassika were performing the very lovely Gentlemen’s Dub Club were all watching at the side. I managed to grab a few minutes with their rather charismatic handsome lead singer Jonathan Scratchley in his dressing room before they headed on stage.
“This is our second time playing Lemonfest, so we are very excited to go on stage. We just watched Chainska Brassika and they absolutely killed it. We’ve been playing together for 10 years and it’s never been a chore, just getting together with a group of mates and playing music together. We’ve been really fortunate with that and it’s such a pleasure to still do it. I feel like we can still develop and release our 3rd album and we’ve done 2 EPs a couple of months before. I just feel completely blessed to do this and go around the world and see so many different types of people and environments but be the constant that brings everyone up to the same level, and everyone can buy into it as it’s that type of music. It’s an honour. Coming up we have 2 performances at Glastonbury, about 20 festivals and we are working on some new material that is going to come out soon. We are writing it and recording it now, so it will be out in about a year. And yeah, just keeping the train going.”
Gentleman’s Dub Club is a nine-piece band mixing ska, dub with reggae roots. Vocals - Jonathan Scratchley, Saxophone - Kieren Gallagher, Trumpet/Trombone - Matt Roberts, Keys - Luke Allwood, Guitar - Nick Tyson, Bass - Toby Davies, Drums - Tommy Evans, Percussion - Niall Lavelle and Sound - Harry Devenish. They are a big band with fantastic musical ability, incredible high energy and tight tunes. Jonathan is a charismatic frontman building the crowd to a dancing frenzy. Together there is a real vibrancy to them and Lemonfest has loved them. If you get a chance go see them.
I managed a quick chat with Craig Charles, who was doing a two hour set in the Big Top, and grab a quick photo with him before he headed on stage. He played to a packed tent that was bouncing and grooving to his beats. A James Brown track was being re-mixed when I stopped by, proving to be really popular and a big hit with the dancers.
Quick dash back to the Main Stage for the Friday headliner SHY FX + MC Stamina. SHY FX (Andre Williams) hails from London and specialises in drum, bass and jungle music. Producing and remixing many artists over the years like Dizzee Rascal, Naughty Boy, Ms Dynamite, Chase & Status to name but a few. SHY FX has a massive following and people were running over to the stage ready to await his arrival. He played to a huge crowd who were leaping about dancing and singing along from the moment he took to the stage. MC Stamina was at the front rapping and vocalizing, whipping up the audience.
I stayed for most of the show, dancing about with the previous performers at the side of stage; everyone was having a fabulous time. When I felt like it was my time to leave to beat the crowds, (also a little tired as I had been awake for over 42 hours having stayed up the previous night watching the election results), it made me smile watching all the youthful crowd absolutely loving the performance. I thought what a wonderful opportunity to see such high quality acts here in Newton Abbot.
Day One of Lemonfest - a tremendous success.
Sadly the weather had turned and rain was coming down as I arrived on site for day two. We do like to talk about the weather here in Devon!
I spent a couple of hours walking around talking with the various stall holders. Lemonfest provided an abundance of food stalls to cater for every taste, without the usual over inflated festival food prices. There was the Vegan Pyramid which was being manned by two lovely young teenage lads as I stopped by for a chat, one studying to be a furniture maker the other covering the whole festival season with their meat and dairy-free delights. Cornish Pasties, Gourmet Hot Dogs, Sourdough Pizzas (these were very popular with the bands playing the festival), Fish and Chips, The Green Brownies, Thai Food, Persian Kitchen and many more.
The Hog Roast boys sampled me some of their deliciously moist pork that is kept from drying out by adding some cheeky cider, giving it a perfect apple-tastic flavour. But be warned if you want crackling then get there early as the entire lot was snapped up by midday.
If you like a burger then you can’t go wrong with the fabulous Meat 59 team. Michael the main chief is passionate about his product and the sourcing of the meat. Part steamed and griddled for the perfect texture you can add extras like black pepper and chorizo. Meat 59 is a local company from Torquay (which have recently opened a restaurant in Exeter), it was a pleasure to spend some time hearing from the team about their joy of sharing their products – well worth a visit if you see them at a festival near you. The chips hit the spot too! The food was so tasty that we stopped by again in the evening when my youngest son joined me!
Michael said, “What makes our burgers special is our secret recipe, and the percentage of beef and pork we use. We pride ourselves on making everything fresh when we do the outside catering. All of our burgers come from Paignton, all of our chicken comes from Paignton or Totnes and we are really proud to stick to that.”
Oh and if you need a sweet treat then my absolute favourites of the festival are the Donut Dollies. With their gorgeous retro 1950’s style look, they ooze beauty and charm. I was so taken with their stand and the ladies themselves – really just so friendly and delightful. The fresh donuts are rolled in cinnamon or sugar with the added treat of mini marshmallows too – so indulgent. My son was in heaven and whilst backstage 2 cheeky members of a band happened to happily grab one each out of his bag (we did offer)!
In the Downtown area I met the very lovely owners of the newly opened Newton Abbot Sports Clinic and Wellness Rooms, Charlotte, Nick and Scott. They were offering treatments at their stand. I thought it was great that we have this sort of place in our town, so if you would like to know more then pop along to 2 Wharf Road, Newton Abbot.
By the time I had walked around the festival chatting to lots of stall holders and dancing about in the Big Top, I didn’t make it over to the Main Stage until Reigning Days were starting their set.
Local band Reigning Days hailing from Torquay/Teignmouth are a rock band made up of Dan Steer, Joe Sansome & Jonny Finnis. Considering the weather I was very impressed with the energy they put into their performance and the passion that exuded from them.
Speaking to Dan and Joe after their set they had a very positive take on the weather, “We are Reigning Days, as in the Queens Reign not like the rain out there. I’ve always found playing in the rain that you always tend to get a better connection with the audience. If you are playing a festival that is nice and sunny, it’s great and everyone is having a nice day in the sun. But there is a real connection with the people that are standing there in the rain, you know that they want to be there. They are getting wet, and you are getting wet and it is an instant leveller. It puts everyone on the same playing field, whether you are in the band or the audience. You are all going through the same thing and you tend to get a better reaction. That is what I’ve always thought. We have got a new record coming out later this year. We’ve got it recorded and just waiting to organise with the label when it will be released but probably at the end of the summer. Then get back out touring again.”
During their energetic set I was talking to the stage manager who had just come back from doing the same job on the Dr Hook tour across Australia and New Zealand. We were talking about how a band like Reigning Days have all the talent to go far and perform as well as any more successful band, but they just need their lucky break to catapult them higher. You can see a video for their track Empire on their website.
Next to take to the stage is a band who met whilst studying music at Westminster University, Shanty. As a fellow alumni we talked a lot about university days – admittedly my time there was a couple of decades earlier, yikes maybe even before some of them were born! But it provided a nice shared experience.
Ben Willis, the lead singer, has a beautiful soulful tone, with Levi Gordon on MC and vocals, Sam Raywood on Guitar, Mindaugas Juozapavicius - Keys & Sounds, Jake Butler – Bass, Luke Bunce – Beats, Kenneth Brown – Trumpet, David Lindsay – Saxophone, Vij Prakash – Trombone. Described as a mash-up of genres from Dubwise, bass & rhythms, the group has a modern twist on classis roots reggae. Thoroughly enjoyable set with great energy and loved the sax, trombone and trumpet playing.
The rain was really coming down when Nottingham’s Liam Bailey performed, which unfortunately affected the audience size, such a shame as Liam has a stunning voice. In 2011 he co-wrote sang on the Chase & Status track ‘Blind Faith’ as well as collaborating with Friday’s headliner SHY FX, DJ Fresh, Delilah and others. Liam has a real soul and reggae feel to his voice and has been compared to Bob Marley, Sam Cooke and Otis Reading.
As the rain lashed down I have a feeling Liam Bailey’s set was cut short for health and safety reasons as the stage was becoming too water logged. I missed him coming off stage as I had popped over to visit The Big Top which was ram packed with raving revellers for Exeter based Neuroth – MC Jolla. There was a gaggle of girls at the front who seemed quite taken with his MC skills, at one point the manager asking them to calm down as they kept grabbing at him! Everyone was certainly having fun in this tent.
As I approached the main stage it was quiet and backstage there were worries about whether any more acts could go on due to the rain. Both Little Comets and Fenech Soler were waiting to see if they would get to play as well as Dreadzone and We Are Scientists arriving at the same time. Anxious conversations were taking place with the organisers and stage crew.
I welcomed Keith Murray and Chris Cain from We Are Scientists to the backstage bar area and felt I needed to apologise for the weather as they had arrived direct from sunny Madrid playing to a sold out crowd the previous night! They were friendly and good sports though. To try and lift the mood I went into action getting food and refreshments for the bands so they could remain dry.
After a few food runs to the various eating stalls for Dreadzone and the other musicians, the mood began to lift when it was announced Little Comets should be able to go on, a bit delayed but they would play. Fenech Solar were debating what to do as they did not want to get their keyboards and equipment wet. So we had to wait and see what they decided.
With various backstage crew members we took to the stage armed not with instruments and mics but mops and towels to dry everything the best we could. Not perfect but a darn site better than when we first went up there.
Little Comets took the stage and commanded a nice size audience all things considering. From Newcastle upon Tyne, described as playing ‘kitchen sink indie music’- Little Comets are Robert Coles, Michael Cole, Matthew Hall, Matt Saxon and Nathan Greene. Their third album ‘Hope Is Just A State Of Mind’ made it into the top 40 when released in February 2015. I had a great time leaping about at the front with some of the other local bands to ‘Dancing Song’ with its immediately catchy chorus.
Thankfully Northamptonshire duo Fenech Soler made it onto the stage. Ben Duffy and Ross Duffy blend their indie pop, synthpop style into an array of dance-inflected melodies. A good size crowd had gathered to dance and sing along – I didn’t realise until I saw them that I recognised a fair few of their tunes from hearing them on the radio. A great mix of catchy tunes like ‘Night Time TV’ and ‘Last Forever’ with Ben bounding about dancing and Ross giving it his all on keyboards and guitar.
We made a quick dash back onto the stage for more mopping and drying with towels to prepare for one of my all-time favourite bands, the mighty Dreadzone. To say I was just a little excited to see them playing in my hometown is a bit of an understatement. No rain could dampen my spirits, nor that of the large crowd gathering at the front of the stage, who found our mopping immensely entertaining!
Dreadzone are seen as forerunners of dub and bass with a unique blend of electro and reggae with their music incorporating dance, classical, folk and film soundtrack sound bites. Greg Dread recently described their music to me as, "You could say it is dub orientated dance. It’s always got that energy of dance music. But it is Dread music, with a capital D."
The band originally formed by ex-Big Audio Dynamite members Greg Roberts (Greg Dread), Tim Bran and Leo Williams in 1993. Today Greg is on drums, with Leo on Bass, the melodically mesmerizing Jamaican singer Earl 16, the ever charismatic Mc Spee also on vocals, with Chris Compton on guitar and Bazil mixing and sampling.
Earlier in the year Dreadzone released their fantastic 8th studio album Dread Times landing them back in the top 40 album chart for the first time in 20 years, tonight we are treated to ‘16 Holes’ from this latest album and a section of classics from their extensive back catalogue. Dreadzone to me always sound fantastic, but I am used to seeing them at their own sell-out gigs, so it came as shock when their set ended way too early for my liking.
It was lovely to see the Dread-family filling the audience, an older generation to the youthful SHY FX crowd – but the fantastic thing is that so many of the fans had bought their children with them too, really adding to the family feel their following has.
I bought my youngest son along as we listen to Dreadzone together all the time. ‘Rise Up’ from the album Escapades is a particular favourite of ours, so it was a real delight to be dancing about with my son singing our hearts out when they played it. A special moment for him when MC Spee gave him a shout out too!
It might have been wet and the set was far too short for my liking – but they still bought the large audience to life and we all danced and sang in unison and joy.
After running around getting some ‘food for the road’ for the bands, we made it back to catch We Are Scientists going down a storm as the headline act bringing the fantastic festival to a close.
Formed in Berkeley, California in 2000, Keith Murray – guitar and vocals and Chris Cain on bass guitar, now live in New York. The indie rock band has released six studio albums and both singles and albums have charted in the UK. They produce fabulous videos and definitely entertained the large audience who were rocking out.
So yes it rained, and very sadly this might have kept a lot of people away on the Saturday, which is such a shame after all the work the organisers have put into creating such a great local festival. But nothing can take away what a fabulous time everyone had at Lemonfest. There are multiple stages and areas to enjoy acts, a great mix of music, food stalls and all-round entertainment.
Massive thanks to Matt Freemantle - Festival Director for welcoming us so warmly, to Rob who oversaw everything backstage and Lisa the lovely lady behind the bar for keeping us and the bands refreshed. Will I be back next year…most definitely. Would I recommend it to others – yes, yes and triple yes!
Review by Molly-Mole Povey
Photography by Rob Pete French & Alex Sydenham