Sensible shoes, check…..waterproof jacket (just in case it rains), check…..suncream (just in case the sun shines all day long), check……I was ready for another UK music festival! Of course, there’s plenty of planning and preparation to be done prior to leaving your house and rocking up at a local music festival, more so if you run a popular music news and review website as I do.
Lemonfest is a local family friendly boutique festival that has taken place for the last 6 years at the Newton Abbot Racecourse in sunny(ish) Devon, I am attending more and more local events every year but this was different to others, it somehow had a bigger festival feel despite its footprint being quite petite in comparison to the more corporate affairs. Maybe it was the quality and the mix of the bands on the bill, there really was something for everyone, a proper opportunity to dip your toes into a myriad of genres and not feel short changed at the end.
After I contacted the promoter of the event to request to be added to the guest list, spoke to the organizer, got hold of a backstage pass, ran about like a deranged lunatic for 10 hours catching as many acts as I could, interviewing far more acts than I had planned to and getting very wet in the process, I was ready for a nice cold beer and a sit down (which actually turned into a nice warm mug of milky Horlicks – Rock n’ Roll baby!)…..
That was a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the event, let’s rewind back to earlier in the day (11:30am) when I arrived at Newton Abbot Racecourse and joined an orderly queue to go through ‘security’ prior to being admitted to the 2015 Lemonfest event and go into a little more detail so you can see exactly what went on throughout the day. Now, I’ll tell you now that owing to the sheer size of the event, I didn’t get to see every act that performed at the festival, logistically, this was never going to happen as I was only able to be in one place at a time and with us needing a break every few hours, meant that we were going to miss something along the way, SO, I will apologise now if I have not included an act or a band that DID perform at the event, I have listed them all at the end so you can see just how many there were.
So, I had been frisked and searched to make sure I wasn’t bringing any contraband into the festival, despite taking a little time, it was great to see that everyone was being asked to go through the same process as random searches for me have always been a bit hit and miss. The security staff were absolutely brilliant, despite them having to do their job, they injected a bit of fun into the task and made it as painless as possible. Once inside the inner sanctum, I was presented with an Access All Areas (AAA) pass which, as it said on the tin, would allow me access to any nook and cranny on the site including the VIP backstage bar area which came in super useful later on in the day for storing things and chatting to bands in a nice cosy, comfy environment.
I had 10 minutes to get my bearings and work out who was performing at which stage and when. For those not so fortunate to have the time to explore, programmes were being sold for the princely sum of just £1 and they had the running order and times printed for all to see. Looking around the site, I could see fairground rides, many stalls littered about the place selling all sorts of wonderful things such as silly festival head gear, ‘Design your own Sunglasses’, more food stalls that you could shake a stick at (not that I would ever shake a stick at a food stall) and even a mobile body piercing centre….I did contemplate having that long awaited ‘Prince Albert’ but the lovely young lady inside the van refused and said that she would do my nipples and that was as far as she would go, I left, dejected but considerably better off! Anyway, I digress…..
Opening up the proceedings on the Locally Grown stage was Dan Fraser, he’s a Bovey Tracey based 17 year old singer songwriter who mixed up his set with a blend of classic tracks as well as throwing in a few of his own tracks which allowed the audience to see that whilst he can knock out a good cover, he also has the ability to produce some quality self penned material which I am sure will stand him in good stead for the future. Dan is hoping to move into a full time career as a singer songwriter and judging from his set today, I’m sure he’ll do very well. We managed to catch up with Dan after his set, check the Introducing section soon for the interview.
Over on the main stage, the winner of a competition held recently between 10 acts to see who would open up the main stage, The Rupees were tearing things up, injecting the audience with a dose of their highly infectious rock n’ roll which I was really getting into, I particularly loved their closing number ‘Catch 22’ which is a damn fine track and really showcased how tight and professional they are. The Rupees are a Bristol based 5 piece rock n roll band and are certainly an act to be remembered for the future.
I took another wander around the site and this time checked out the food area, I was amazed at the sheer choice on offer, a real tantalizing mix ranging from Thai food, sausages, gourmet burgers, the famous Big Pot Kitchen which was knocking out some lush new potatoes, cooked in scrumpy alongside a huge sausage and a side helping of coleslaw, I earmarked this stall as one to visit later on when my stomach told me it was time for food, meanwhile….
The main stage was now playing host to an Exeter alt-rock quartet called Evenu who were working hard, knocking out some fast, catchy hooks accompanied with some sublime, anthemic guitar lines which kept the crowd engaged until the end of their set. I enjoyed a new track called ‘Bite’ and loved their beefed up version of ‘Treasure’ by Bruno Mars, just what you wanted to hear at a festival! Not bad for a band who were only told that they were to be playing at the festival a couple of days prior to the date owing to a Dawlish band called Seven Cities dropping out at short notice.
I wandered back over to the Locally Grown stage to check out a band called The New Project who looked like a trio of youngsters who were loving every second of being on the stage, the guitarist reminded me of a young Matt Bellamy when we used to put gigs on for the kids of Teignmouth back in the early 90’s.
Matthew & Me were getting ready to take to the main stage and once their time came, James Santer (BBC Radio Devon) took to the stage and introduced them saying to keep an eye on their social media channels as they’ll be making a BIG announcement later this week (I made a note to quiz Matt about this later on….) They immediately lit up the stage with their very unique blend of ethereal indie pop. It looked like it was clouding over a little but the sound that emanated from those speakers was enough to make you think you were lying on an idyllic island, the water lapping at your feet whilst you were sipping on a local cocktail, back in the room Steve, you’re in Newton Abbot not the Bahamas! Matthew & Me’s output really does radiate sunshine, something about his voice and the way that the sound gently caresses your ears means that they are so likeable and have been so well received whenever I have seen them in the past. I caught up with Matt after their set and quizzed him about the ‘big announcement’, he wasn’t going to budge, so I bunged in all the money in my pocket (£5.27) a can of cider and a bite on my Fry’s Turkish Delight, still no movement…..oh well, I’ll just have to wait until later this week I guess to see what it is!
NEWSFLASH - I have just seen that they have bagged a slot at Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing stage, great news and thoroughly deserved, these guys really are one of the hardest working bands in the Southwest! (that'll be the big announcement then....)
My photographer arrived just after I had spoken to Matt from Matthew & Me, we had a quick chat backstage to agree our tactics and headed off for a wander around so I could introduce him to the sights and sounds of Lemonfest….
Whilst on our travels, I received a call from Barry Ashworth (founding member and frontman of Dub Pistols) to see if I wanted to have a chat (I did email him before the event), we dashed backstage and spent a good 20 minutes chatting to him and Seannie T from the band, absolute diamonds the pair of them, so honest and happy to talk about anything I asked them, really made my job a lot easier on the day, more about Dub Pistols later on….
Too Many T’s took to the stage and from the word go were whipping the audience into a frenzy with their turbo charged hip hop including some amazing rapping and DJ skills. People were arriving in their droves and making a beeline to the main stage to see what the fuss was all about and when they did get there, were fully immersed in their music, this is EXACTLY what a music festival should offer, a good range of varied styles to cater to everyone’s tastes, granted, you’re never gonna please everyone but hell, you’d be hard pushed to not bounce around to these guys, they were kicking it big time and everyone was loving it!
We headed over to the Drum n’ Bass tent to see what was going on, now, being a little older than most of the revelers inside the tent, you’d probably associate with me if I were to say that the noise coming from those speakers was enough to rattle the fillings in my teeth which was amusing to me as these very fillings were probably older than most of the youngsters inside the tent. We managed as long as we could in the tent, got some decent crowd shots and got out of there, leaving the youth of today to get down to the DnB vibes and relish the poetry pouring from the mouths of the various MC’s which were doing a blinding job of keeping the spirits (and hands) high.
Towards the back of the event was a section called ‘Downtown Newton Abbot’ which, upon crossing the border, you were asked to show your passport. If you didn’t have one, a very helpful but stern looking lady frisked you, checked you for metallic objects and drew a picture of you in a new passport prior to letting you into the area. We went back later with my wife and 2 kids who had a whale of a time copying their various dance moves before they would let them in, this in itself was a real highlight of the festival for them and something I’m sure they will remember. Once inside this new land, you were treated to some funky house vibes that were being delivered from inside a Mr Whippy ice cream van whilst ladies dressed in wigs and tutu’s danced about on a small stage, there was plenty of space to chill out and chat and even a smaller version of Ye Olde Cider Bar from Newton Abbot itself.
Torbay based alt rock trio A$$munch were tearing the Locally Grown stage a new hole when we wandered past, making their Lemonfest debut, we watched them play a sterling version of The White Stripes ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’ which sounded phenomenal and seeing them blasting it out from the back of a trailer was a brilliant sight. I hope that these guys manage to hit the festival next year as I’d love to be able to watch their entire set! We caught up with the guys in the backstage VIP army mess tent and had a chat, more on this over in our Introducing section very soon.
Back to the main stage, 3 Daft Monkeys had just kicked off and were doing a grand job of entertaining the throng with their unique take on alternative folk music, having released 6 studio albums since forming in 2000 and picking up awards along the way for ‘Best Live Act’ and ‘Best Album’, one could think of no better act to carry on the festival festivities in a way only they can, brilliant stuff, a real crowd pleasing act that had them shouting for more once their set had come to an end.
We headed over to the Locally Grown stage to checkout a Sassy Post-Hardcore band from Devon going by the name Your Last Day, highlights from their set included their debut single ‘Shipwreck’ which is available on their latest EP and also when the singer jumped down off the stage, strapped on a cinema style usherette’s box and wandered about the crowd dishing out free choc ices whilst the remaining members of the band played some great ‘intermission’ music. After a few minutes, he took to the stage and burst into the next song, as if it had never happened, I thought this was a brilliant touch at a family festival and no doubt won a few more fans as a result!
We ventured once again to the main stage where Beans on Toast was playing, for anyone who has never heard of this guy, you should check him out, he plays a great mix of songs covering subjects such as festivals, chickens, drugs and other such topical events. I do have one thing to say to him though, my 2 kids (6 & 9) were in the audience watching him and on the way back to the car, they asked me a load of questions such as;
- Daddy, what’s MDMA?
- Daddy, will that man with the beard and cap really kill David Cameron?
- Daddy, will I really get eaten by a 12 foot monster chicken who gives birth to Zinger Tower Burgers?
So, Mr Toast, you have some explaining to do! I will be writing to you separately so that you can pen a response to my 2 kids who only answer to their new names ‘Cheese on Toast’ and ‘Eggs on Toast’….thanks!
BackBeat Sound System are an 8 headed Cornish reggae/dub/roots band who have played at Lemonfest in the past but only on the ‘back of a truck’, so were more than happy when they were told that they’d be able to spread their wings on the main stage. Their blend of summery reggae vibes were enough to keep the audience bobbing along gently in time to their music and really put a large smile on their faces.
We ventured back to the ‘Downtown Newton Abbot’ area, having to go through passport control again but this time, we were able to produce our papers and gained access a lot faster than before. The Mr Whippy van was bouncing with some sublime cheesy house music that seemed to be doing its job, keeping the punters happy. At the side of the stage were 2 young ladies demonstrating their skills with hula hoops (is that what you still call them?), very talented indeed!
We wandered through the food area again and it was nearing the time when I was going to have to succumb, food however would have to wait as a band called Tiny Folds were just about to kick off on the Locally Grown stage and we heard that they’re pretty good so off we went!
Tiny Folds are a Teignmouth based trio who did a sterling job of turning the whole stage area into a massive hay fight during their killer track ‘Amplitude’, James Santer from BBC Radio was there and said that their set was the highlight of the festival, definitely an act to watch out for in the future. If you’d like to check out the track I mentioned above, you can get it as a free download from their website.
Back to the main stage where DJ Yoda and his entourage were in the process of tuning up, it sounded like an orchestra on the stage as there were about 10 of them each checking their levels and microphones. Playing tracks from their latest album ‘Breakfast of Champions’, Yoda showcased his exemplary DJ skills whilst the rest of the band accompanied with some ace brass work and rapping. The heavens suddenly opened, despite this, they pulled a great crowd who were more than happy to take the rain in their stride and enjoy the music, whereas, in Europe, you’d probably see people running for shelter, we are a hardy bunch of festival goers here in the UK (not through choice I will add!). Later on in the set, the trombone player was having a go on a very futuristic upright double bass, proving that they were multi instrumentalists as well as being super talented in the first place, don’t you just hate them! All in all, a superb set that ended with Yoda spinning a few festival floor fillers whilst the rest of the band took a well-earned break, the rain had also subsided (for now), which was nice!
We headed back to the Drum n’ Bass arena and stuck our heads in, saw that it was cooking on all 4 rings and promptly left again as my whole body was shaking and to be honest, I started to feel a little unwell! Time for some food I think, where’s that guy with the huge frying pan?
We checked out an 8 piece Reggae/Ska band called The Reggaskas on the Locally Grown stage, the band formed 12 months ago (but have been together with the current members for 7 months) and are in the process of finalising a 12 track album of their own material which should be available towards the end of the year. They’re one hell of a solid act with a fab female singer who adds a nice mellow slant to their sound, some ska bands can come across as quite aggressive with a bloke at the helm so this was a nice diversion from the style I am used to hearing/seeing. If you want to see these guys again or maybe you missed them at Lemonfest, you can catch them at the Plymouth Respect Festival on June 20th - 21st
They've recorded a cover version of Redemption Song for the 'Specialized 4' album which is released next month, more info HERE
Only a couple of main acts left to go on the main stage now. On our jaunt back from the Locally Grown stage we saw that the Lords of Lightning were just taking to their podiums to perform their act, we didn’t know what to expect and when they started off, they literally blew me away! Now, I’m no scientist but what they were up to looked very dangerous, from where I was stood, it looked like a dude in blue and a dude in red stood on their own tesla coils and were generally firing bolts of lightning at each other, it was certainly a spectacle and one that would look a bit better as the light fell upon the site.
We saw The Subways’ tour bus arrive earlier in the day, a huge behemoth of a vehicle that had a few problems turning around once it was inside the compound, it eventually got maneuvered to a safe place and they wheeled in their trailer which I assume was full of their guitars and amps and technical wizardry that makes them sound so god-damned cool! At approximately 9pm, we took our places side of the main stage and waited for them to take to the stage to shake things up a bit with their brand of alternative rock. They burst onto the stage amongst a sea of dry ice and forced feedback and launched into their set. They were literally giving it 110% and I was surprised to see that after the best par of 45 minutes, they were still at it, leaping about, Charlotte weaving about like a cat on heat, Billy performing 2, yes 2, MASSIVE leaps from the bass drum and the crowd lapping up everything they had to offer. I wasn’t able to get hold of a set-list but I recall a few songs lifted from their recently released 4th studio album, highlights included ‘Taking all the Blame’ and ‘Good Times’ with some older tracks such as ‘Mary’ making it onto the list, one of the finest moments for me was when they ripped into ‘Rock n’ Roll Queen’ which sent the first few rows wild and conjured one of the best live sing-a-longs I have seen in a many years. Yes folks, The Subways were here to ROCK the main stage and they did just that, they truly are one of the UK’s finest, tightest and polished alt rock acts on the scene and after 10 years and 4 studio albums they show NO signs of slowing up! They ended up by playing ‘With You’ which they dedicated to the audience “for being so awesome”, definitely a band worth checking out on the live scene if you get the chance. We caught up with Billy after their set, you can read all about what we chatted about over in the ‘Introducing’ section once I have had time to pull it together!
We stayed backstage and after a few minutes of hanging about, were busy helping move The Subways’ gear off and the gear for Dub Pistols onto the stage, the view from up there was awesome, I felt for just one second that this is what it feels like to be up there in front of a few thousand people, one day folks, one day!
So, it was time for the main act of the evening, we were fortunate enough to see Dub Pistols in Exeter in 2014 and they absolutely raised the roof back then, so how would they sound on an outdoor stage in what was looking like a very wet evening….well, read on to find out!
From the moment the lone trumpet player took to the stage to play the opening notes of their first track to the moment they took a bow and left the stage, they had the place bouncing, I don’t mean a couple of people bobbing their heads, I’m talking about the whole place jumping about! Dub Pistols are THE party band and if you have ever heard any of their material you’ll understand why, they rock! Effortlessly fusing Dub, Jungle, Hip Hop, Disco & Electronica they have been dazzling audiences all over the world for years. As well as being the driving force behind the band, Barry Ashworth is also a renowned DJ who has graced many turntables in countries such as Australia, Singapore, Serbia, Dubai, Thailand, Germany, Croatia, Italy and France. We chatted to Barry earlier in the day and I asked him what kept the band so tight and on form as every time we have seen them play, they look like they’re having a right royal knees up on the stage, he politely declined to answer the question, must just be a good heady dose of adrenalin, energy and the desire to give the crowd a kick ass show that they’ll be talking and reminiscing about for many months to come. Highlights for me included some of their legendary tracks such as ‘Mucky Weekend’, ‘Back to Daylight’ and a few lifted form their new album ‘Return of the Pistoleros’, released on June 1st which is available now as a signed CD or LP via Rob Da Bank’s label Sunday Best Recordings.
What started off as a project 18 years ago with various musicians jamming over the top of Barry’s output has slowly but very surely metamorphosed into a super tight, festival loving live machine that has fans the whole world over coming back for more year after year. They arrived, the played, they conquered, all hail Barry Ashworth and Seanie Tee and what is becoming one of the finest back lines of musicians in the industry, go forth and buy their new album, hell, buy all of their albums, they’re all brilliant and I bet you’ll be up and grooving to the output in no time at all! They left the rain soaked stage to rapturous applause and cheers, no doubt looking forward to playing more festivals throughout the land in the coming months….
So, that was Lemonfest, or was it? I know that Moriaty were to kick things off just before 11pm over on the Locally Grown stage and it was there we trudged to see if the hay fight that was kicked off by Tiny Folds earlier in the day was still in progress, luckily for us it wasn’t! We took shelter as best we could in front of the trailer and waited for Jordan and Matt to take to the stage to pull the curtain down on Lemonfest 2015. Moriaty play a beefy mix of the filthiest blues you’ve ever heard, think tight guitar riffs complemented by the fattest heaviest beats and you’re well on your way to imagining what their live performances are like, in order to really take it all in, you have to be stood in front of the stage to soak it all up, a bit like an oily sponge, sucking up the decibels of their filth laden output, truly amazing stuff. Stood there in the pouring rain watching this formidable duo was actually quite refreshing, it was like the rains had come to cleanse you after being found guilty of watching and loving every second of this quality, heavy, loud and downright awe inspiring material. I chatted to Matt partridge earlier on in the afternoon (come to think about it, it was pissing down when I spoke to him so maybe it’s me….maybe I am the god of rain?).
They did a fabulous job of closing the festival and left the fans wanting more, Matt did say that they were working on some new material in the next few weeks, Jordan’s other half recently had a baby so that has been keeping him somewhat busy but do keep your eyes on their website for news of a AA side single which should be released quite soon!
So, ladies and gentlemen, that was Lemonfest 2015 in a short, concise and easy to read report. What were the highlights for us? Well, apart from some of the best bands that I have ever seen at a small local festival, I think my hat has to go off to the staff who made the festival work as well as it did, Matt Freemantle did a great job of keeping that perma-smile going all day long, the security team were polite, friendly and made everyone feel at home. I loved the variation in music on offer and the fact that if you wanted to get away and have a boogie in the Downtown Newton Abbot section you could do just that, once you were safely through passport control of course!
All in all, a well planned and executed event, everyone I spoke to about the day had only great things to say about it, I think if the weather had been a little kinder to us, it would have gone down as one of my all time favourite festivals and boy, have I been to a few festivals in my time! I look forward to 2016 but cannot see how they can improve on what they have already delivered this year, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
Throughout the day, we chatted to loads of people, interviewed some amazing bands and covered as much as we possibly could, as I said at the start of the write up, I apologise if you played and we weren’t able to get along to see you. For the full lineup from the festival, click HERE and select 'Lineup' from the top menu, go check the bands out, I’m sure they’d appreciate a few ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ in exchange for their hard work in keeping you entertained all day and night!
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Bruce Benson www.241photography.co.uk