We checked the most important thing first, the weather forecast….. We were of course crossing our fingers and hoping for 3 days of pleasant sunshine, maybe a nice breeze to keep the heat off our necks but what we saw somewhat annoyed us.... rain, lots of it! Not only rain but also an amber weather warning with gusts up to 60mph were on the way to bring even more displeasure to the thousands of revellers who had made the annual pilgrimage to Escot Park in Exeter for 3 days of fun and frivolity at the BEST festival in the Southwest, BEAUTIFUL DAYS.
We covered the festival last year and had an amazing time so when the accreditation window opened for this years event, we were first in line to secure a couple of passes, enabling us free reign around the site and into the photo pits to capture images of some of the finest bands and acts on offer in 2016.
Upon arriving on the Friday, we quickly found our feet, the layout being no different from the previous year (if it ain’t broken, why fix it!) and most importantly, located the backstage production cabin where we were able to catch up with the stage managers and find out the times of acts and arrange our interviews.
Beautiful Days is a family friendly festival that happens in mid August every year, the site is just the right size, not too small but also not like Glastonbury where you just find yourself wandering around all day long! Entering the site, you were hit with a medley of smells and sounds and you just knew that you were at a festival. The variety of food on offer was mesmerising, fancy some paella, not a problem, a roasted wild boar bap you say sir? coming right up, would you like ketchup or mustard on that? There really was something to tickle every tastebud and satisfy even the biggest appetite out there.
As well as music, there are always loads of activities at the festival including basket weaving, the chance to make your own flower headband and the chance to try out your circus skills including hula hooping, plate spinning and juggling, plenty to keep the younger generation happy whilst the oldies are stood with a pint watching an act or two.
Being the organised type of person that I am, I had arranged a number of interviews ahead of the festival and had a busy schedule covering the 3 days before setting foot onsite! I knew Friday wasn’t going to allow me a great deal of time to catch bands as we had to erect the tent and get our camping stuff together but even so, I managed to catch Ezra Furman on the main stage knocking out his unique blend of American indie rock, we chatted to Hannah and Abbe from Sound of the Sirens (the interview will be online soon), caught most of Seth Lakeman’s spellbinding set where he was accompanied by the wonderfully talented Wildwood Kin who are doing so well at the moment. I was particularly looking forward to seeing John Robb interviewing CUD, ahead of their acoustic performance at the Bandstand, sadly, John was stuck on a delayed train and never made it in time to interview the band but we WILL catch up with him tomorrow for a chat and see what he’s been up to lately.
We stuck around the Band Stand to catch a blisteringly energetic set from female duo REWS who seemed to have acquired a new member to the band, this being a little lad who was on stage with a miniature guitar, jumping around like he was having the time of his life! By the end of the set, they had half of the audience on stage with them, leaping about and generally having an awesome time. We caught up with the ladies after the set and chatted about all sorts including their new album which will be landing early in 2017.
It wasn’t long until it was time for the headline act to take to the main stage. Leftfield are an act that I recall from years ago having purchased their debut album ‘Leftfism’, they took to the stage and blew the audience away with their mix of beats, bleeps and all out techno craziness, the light show doing a great job of keeping the masses entertained as some hard rain drove down from the heavens.
I heard that a fabulous Irish 5 piece called The Eskies were about to strike up in the Bimble Inn so it was up over the top of the site to catch them. I caught up with the guys minutes before the show and watched from side of stage as the congregated masses danced, weaved and bobbed up and down to their brilliant music. Midway through the set, the vocalist had an issue with his guitar and thanks to the fast thinking action of the roadie (might have been the manager), he managed to repair the fault and get him back up and playing in next to no time at all!
After the set, I wandered back to the backstage bar and took shelter from more rain in the chill out area where a bunch of very refreshed people were seeing how many of the large floor cushions they could vault over at a time, very amusing and no doubt some sore heads, knees and elbows in the morning!
I retired to my tent at around 12:30am, I know, I should have been out partying all night, if I were 20 years younger this would have most definitely been the case, as I’m not, I was sipping on a can of cider, reflecting on the day and checking the programme of events to see what Saturday had in store, by the looks of things, it was going to be another busy day!
After a night of wind (not from me I hasten to add!) and a light smattering of rain, I awoke at the semi reasonable hour of 7:30am to the sound of a baby crying in the tent next door, I thought about getting up and making breakfast, instead, I pulled the sleeping bag over my face and managed another hour of sleep before more voices could be heard, forcing me to bite the bullet and drag my backside out of bed and start the day. After a wet wipe wash (WWW) and a visit to wash up last nights pots and pans, I pulled together a breakfast even Ray Mears would have been proud of, okay, I didn't have to forage for wild berries or kill any animals to get the ingredients together but I will say that it's amazing how good some sautéed potatoes, bacon and scrambled eggs taste when cooked together in the same pan! I checked the weather forecast again, much of the same, wind, rain, amber warnings, typical festival stuff so pulled out a poncho, stuffed it into my camera bag and made haste to the backstage bar where I found a seat and started to prep for the day's activities.
First up today was an appointment with Sound of the Sirens at the Big Top, I made sure that I was there in plenty of time to get into the photo pit (I was threatened with a fate worse than death had I not turned up!) Hannah and Abbe looked surprisingly chipper seeing as I’d seen them both in the backstage bar on Friday night looking somewhat….refreshed! Their set was received really well with the near capacity audience that had flocked to the Big Top early to catch this exciting Exeter based duo who have had one hell of a year so far, we chatted on Friday night and they both said that 2017 was their year for world domination, judging by the reception they received after every song, they won’t have to try very hard to succeed! We stuck around at the Big Top as the insanely talented and super friendly Ward Thomas twins were about to take to the stage. Their set sounded nothing short of brilliant, how they can sound so good on stage is beyond me, I swear, take a CD and play it at the same time and you’d struggle to tell the difference, their vocal harmonies hit the spot every time and their backing band….well, let's just say that they are two lucky ladies! We chatted to Catherine and Lizzie after the performance and talked about their recent TV appearance on the ‘Lorraine’ show (hosted by Gaby Roslyn – I think Lorraine must have been on holiday), we even managed to score a photo of us all with their dogs that they bought along with them for the day!
It was great to see Hollie Cook tearing up the main stage with her unique, refreshing blend of modern pop music and reggae, labelled ‘Tropical Pop’, she did a great job of keeping the spirits up in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a shame that we couldn’t stick around for her entire set as I was really feeling what she was doing but I had an appointment with another young lady at another stage!
We hot footed it over to The Bimble Inn to catch the tail end of the set from She Makes War, it was refreshing to hear her play in front of a packed venue and judging the amount of time she was chatting to her fans after the performance, proves that she is a really popular artist. We chatted to Laura afterwards about a show that she streamed live on the web as well as selling physical tickets for, I personally think that this is a concept that other bands should offer.
We stuck around at The Bimble Inn to see Exeter heavyweights Stella Martyr inject a little something special into the proceedings, these guys sound as good live as they do on record and with the added benefit of Annie Rew Shaw providing keys and backing vocals, their performance sounded even better than usual with the capacity crowd that had amassed to watch their hometown heroes bring it all back home.
We headed to the Big Top where The Membranes were just about to unleash a sonic explosion on anyone who had congregated to watch them perform, their tracks consisted of some killer bass lines and driving guitar courtesy of the band, fronted by none other than Mr John Robb who was having a great time at Beautiful Days, even if his train was heavily delayed on the Friday!
Dreadzone did a terrific job of keeping the masses happy with their bouncy variety of dub laced tracks, in a matter of seconds after kicking into their opening number, the field was bobbing along in unison, a great sight to see!
I headed up to the Little Big Top to interview Too Many T’s who I’d seen before at another local festival a couple of years ago, they were running a little late so I had to chat to them whilst they were changing into their stage gear, regardless, they answered all my questions and I stuck around to watch their high octane set consisting of some machine gun speed rhyming delivered perfectly to the beats that were being dropped by their DJ, epic stuff. It was also great to see some proper Hip Hop at a festival, you normally get a gut full of summer tinged reggae acts that, although being nice to watch and listen to, do sound a little similar to other acts delivering the same.
We chatted to Gary Stringer from REEF backstage ahead of their performance and I asked him why he had decided to trim his beard that had grown to epic proportions last year when we saw him perform at Boardmasters Festival in 2015, he explained that he only shaves every now and then and it maybe another 6 months before he does do again! We caught their set on the main stage and along with the crowd pleasing tracks from the days of old, it was great to see them perform a cover of The Rolling Stones ‘Paint it Black’, Gary playing the part of Mick Jagger really well, strutting about the stage whilst the rest of the band delivered the music to pinpoint accuracy.
I headed off to the Bandstand next to check out a band that I had seen live in the early 90’s, hailing from Cork in Ireland, The Frank and Walters did a tremendous job of pleasing the massive crowd that had formed around the stage whilst they delivered a set consisting of some classics including ‘Fashion Crisis Hits New York’ and ‘After All’ which saw a stage invasion with people trying to avoid being soaked by a sudden downpour!
It was back to the Big Top again for our 5th visit of the day to check out how The Damned would fair in an indoor environment after playing on the main stage on Friday afternoon. Think back if you would to the late 70’s, imagine that you’re in a club, punk rock had just become a ‘thing’ and then imagine that you’re in a sweaty little club in London and a bunch of rockers take to the stage, this is how I felt tonight as The Damned took to the stage and blasted through their classic 1977 album ‘Damned Damned Damned’. The energy that Vannion and the Captain gave on stage was beyond measure, I see bands half their age failing to keep up with the pace that they set and come the end, they still had more to give. The audience were there for a party and a party they got! Even after 40 years in the business, they’ve STILL got what it takes to keep the fans engaged and entertained throughout their set.
It was time to catch another pair of twins (we covered Ward Thomas earlier on) so it was off to the main stage where The Proclaimers were just about to launch into their set. They delivered a great set, digging deep from their rich back catalogue, all the classics were there, ‘Sunshine on Leith’, ‘Letter from America’ and ‘5000 Miles’ which they saved until the end of their set, cue a mass sing along complete with the actions, great to see that despite the pending bad weather, the audience were up for a bit of participation!
The weather had turned at this point of the evening and I took refuge side of stage prior to the headliners JAMES taking to the stage. Bang on time, Tim Booth led his band onstage and we were treated to 90 minutes of classic tracks that bobbed and weaved through the 90’s to present day, all the hits were there, ‘Star’, ‘Sit Down’ and the track that turned me on to the band in the early days ‘Come Home’ which sounded as good tonight as it did back in 1990 when I bought the CD single from my local record shops when I was a we nipper (okay, I was 19….) Tim did a great job of keeping the crowd entertained despite the heavy rain that was now falling, he hopped up precariously onto the barrier to perform one song, being held up by a couple of burly looking chaps on the front row, fans scrambling to get a picture of him leaning into the audience.
I wandered back to the Big Top for the final time to catch the start of Tricky’s set only to be told that he had called in to say that owing to illness, he wouldn’t be performing at the festival. The Damned kindly agreed to play a few more songs in order to soften the blow and once they had exited the stage, the announcement went out to all in attendance, dampening the mood a little but hey, this is show business, what else can you do?
Saturday had come to a close, my feet were aching like crazy, I was hungry, wet and very tired so it was off to my 5 star camping facilities (pop up tent) to rest my feet and grab a cheeky cider before turning the lights out on day 2 of Beautiful Days.
Sunday morning, up early to pack the tent away and get the car loaded ahead of the bands kicking things off at midday, after a homemade breakfast consisting of beans on toast with some dodgy looking eggs, I was off to the main stage to meet with Rory Graham AKA Rag n’ Bone man who had kindly agreed to let me interview him ahead of his main stage performance in the afternoon. We chatted for a good 10 minutes and covered a range of topics from touring, festival life and of course, his debut album which is 80% ready and will be landing in early 2017. More on him later!
We missed the opening main stage act ‘Flight Brigade’ as I was busy prepping and chatting to Rory but from what I heard, they delivered a killer set to the late morning revellers that were up and about and getting ready to settle in for another day. I hung around to catch Oh My God, It’s The Church perform, we saw these guys at Lemonfest earlier in the year and they were JUST what Beautiful Days needed on the Sunday morning to get everyone’s spirits up and their backsides shaking to the tracks that they performed. In-between the songs, they injected some rather risqué and very saucy humour, I’ll never be able to think of an un-lubricated religious finger in the same way again!
My photographer called to say that he was onsite and heading down to the Big Top to catch The Lounge Kittens, I had heard great things about this trio so off I went to meet up with him and check them out. They played a variety of popular songs but performed in a ‘lounge’ style which added a new slant on the original. Favourites for me included a very glammed up version of Limp Biscuit’s ‘Rollin’ which sounded great, stripped right back to basics with the amazing vocals and keyboards performing the backing music And a tremendous version of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ which got the audience jumping to in no time. They also played a medley of songs based on the performers who were appearing at Beautiful Days including REEF, Billy Bragg and The Proclaimers which went down really well.
I chatted to Rory Graham (aka Rag n’ Bone Man) just before lunch and having watched a few videos online, I was keen to see his live show. The band struck up and on he walked to rapturous applause, a large crowd had formed to witness his set and boy were they in for a treat. Looking at him, you’d think that he was either going to tear you apart or give you a big bear hug, after interviewing him this morning, I was firmly in the hug camp, he couldn’t have been nicer and was a joy to speak to. Having cut his teeth in a Drum n’ Bass crew as an MC, I was interested to find out how he moved from this to the soulful, blues tinged sound that he produces now. His latest track ‘Human’ has been picking up some major AirPlay of late and has even featured as the soundtrack to Many of he featured races at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, most notably the 200m Butterfly final the Michael Phelps won recently. He wowed the crowd with his amazing, deep and soulful tones, I think that the majority of people were surprised at what was coming out of his mouth! His debut album drops in early 2017, keep your eyes on his social media channels for more information as it becomes available.
We headed over to the Big Top to see if Mad Dog Mcrea could still whip the audience into a frenzy with their blend of high energy celtic-folk-Rock, glad to see that they certainly delivered! We caught up with Michael ahead of the show and it was good to see that he was on form having indulged in a hearty breakfast (which normally consists of some port) and was in high spirits. Their set was received superbly by the eager crowd who were soaking up the atmosphere, keep an eye out for this bunch at a festival near you soon or on the live circuit.
We had a wander around the site, took a few pictures of people making the best they could out of the weather that the big man had decided to throw at us, the kids didn't seem to mind this at all, 2 young girls were busy running through a nice sloppy muddy puddle, causing chaos to all that came within a metre or so of their makeshift playground, if only adults were as easily pleased, though saying that, I’m not saying that they won’t have setup a mud slide in the main arena area for people to take turns sliding down, whatever passes the time of day!
The Selecter were doing a great job of keeping the audiences spirits up, the weather had taken a bit of a break and coupled with the tracks that they were belting out such as ‘On My Radio’ and ‘Too Much Pressure’, the atmosphere was perfect. It was great to see Pauline Black on stage, bouncing around like someone with far fewer candles on her cake, younger female vocalists please take note, this is HOW you front a band!
The next act to take to the main stage were a complete assault on the senses….not in a bad way I must add! Ibibio Sound Machine. fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams, weaved an intricate blend of electro music around the arena as Eno chanted her words, creating a fusion of African and electronic elements that the band are renowned for.
Being a little jaded form a weekend of kipping in a tent, we decided that we’d bring things down a notch or two and have a more leisurely evening, catching the main stage acts and just having a wander around capturing some more images of people enjoying the final day of what has become THE best Devon based music festival.
We had an interview arranged with Calling All Astronauts at the Bandstand so it was there we trotted to catch up with lead vocalist David, we managed to grab 10 minutes behind the stage and chatted about world leaders, Donald Trump and his likes and dislikes about larger scale music festivals, all his comments will be made available soon once I get around to transcribing them from my voice recorder! We stuck around to watch their set which consisted of an interesting mixture of electro goth/punk electronica, some tracks bordering on the edge of the industrial genre, akin to Nine Inch Nails and the like.
The only brush with a Mariachi band that I’ve had was the one that appeared on the Dorito’s TV advert playing a dodgy version of ‘Don’t You Want me Baby’ by The Human League so to be stood in the photo pit, 10 feet away from a bonafide Mariachi band was something pretty special. Mariachi El Bronx are an LA based outfit who deliver their immense sound all over the world and have amassed a HUGE fan base in the process. They started out as a hardcore band called The Bronx but also work under the alter ego ‘Mariachi El Bronx’. Their set was well received form the crowd that was rapidly growing as the evening wore on and as they left the stage to rapturous applause, it was apparent that they had managed to win a few more fans during their high energy set.
Next up on the main stage were a Merseyside band that formed back in 1996 but only came to the attention of the UK’s public in 2002 after the release of their eponymous debut album. Racking up 8 studio albums since 2002 (the latest being this year), The Coral produced a blistering set that took you on a ride through their early years right up to present day. Highlights of their set for me included ‘Pass it On’ and ‘In the Morning’ which had the capacity crowd singing along with every word. It’s great to see that a band that formed so many years ago are not only still going but are actively producing new material, they looked good too, clearly doing something right!
After another wander about to see what was happening at the backstage VIP bar, we decided it was time to get in the queue to enter the press pit for the last time to see the headline act close the curtains on Beautiful Days 2016. It’s hard to put a finger on why The Levellers are so popular, I guess if you speak to anyone over the age of 40 who was interested in alternative music in the late 80’s they’ll all agree that their debut long player ‘Levelling the Land’ had a real impact on them, this for me is the reason WHY they deserve to be the final act at the festival, well, this and because it’s THEIR festival! Kicking off with paper cannons to get the crowd in the mood, they played a crowd-pleasing set consisting of classics such as ‘What a Beautiful Day’, ‘One Way’ and ‘Liberty Song’. The set culminated in a spectacular firework display, marking the end of yet another hugely successful and very well loved Beautiful Days Festival.
We had an absolute ball this year, granted, there were loads of acts that we didn’t get to see but that’s always the gamble at a larger scale festival, if anyone has photographs of acts that we didn’t cover, please feel free to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be sure to add them to the gallery.
Lastly, a HUGE thanks to all the amazing people at DMF Music who spent months arranging the festival, all the staff who worked tirelessly to ensure that safety was maintained at all times, the stages ran to time and that the crew were fed on a regular basis! The acts who were once again amazing and lastly YOU, the audience for coming along and helping to create the atmosphere that keeps people coming back time and time again!
The 2017 event is going to take place from 18th – 20th August, no ticket information will be available until the new year, in the meantime, head over to the official website and join the mailing list and you will be amongst the first to know all about it once the news breaks.
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird and Steve Muscutt
For more pictures from the festival, please choose from the list below
For Friday images (The Damned, Ezra Furman, Leftfield, Billy Bragg) click HERE
For Saturday images (Terrorvision, Dreadzone, Reef, The Proclaimers, James, Ward Thomas, The Damned) click HERE
For Sunday images (Rag n' Bone Man, The Selecter, Mariachi El Bronx, The Coral, Levellers) click HERE