Winterwell Festival is a small independent festival held in a secret location in the rolling hills of the Gloucestershire countryside. Promoted through word of mouth and via use of a website that you can only access through the use of a password, it may on first impressions sound a little elitist. However Winterwell is far from that. If anything it breaks down barriers between people, with a friendly atmosphere more akin to a big party in someone’s back garden than your typical festival. With virtually no backstage area, no artists wristbands, laid back security, and full on space themed fancy dress on the Saturday afternoon, Winterwell presents an eclectic mix of live bands and DJ’s that make you wish that every festival was like this. Add in a vintage clothes stall, an old fashioned 1920’s glamour cup cake shop and tea room, a restaurant with a roof terrace serving Sunday roasts, big white letters up on the hill spelling out the festivals name Hollywood style and free hot showers, and you are all set for a fine weekend.
Like any other good festival the backbone of Winterwell is fine music, with both Moshi Moshi Records and the Electroacoustic Club helping to curate the line up. Then early on Saturday evening legendary DJ Norman Jay lands in the field dressed as a space hopper to bring big cosmic party tunes and sun to the assembled aliens, storm troopers and intergalactic groovers (video clip from the back of the site below - planets courtesy of Breaking More Waves ) following a well received saucy burlesque routine from Agent Lynch , who from being dressed as an astronaut quickly stripped down to her saucy space boots, showed us the moon and some strategically placed silver stars.
“It’s lovely to be in this secret location that only the military know about,” jokes Brain Briggs, lead singer of Stornoway, referencing the military jets passing by during their set. The planes are not the only things flying though. Stornoway positively soar into the air with their pitch perfect pastoral pop. Every song they play is economically endearing, from the tranquil Fuel Up to the groovy bass of I Saw You Blink. Mixing acoustic agility with trumpets, cello and the occasional banjo on We Are The Battery Human, Stornoway have no weak link whatsoever.
Breaking More Waves has gushed excessively elsewhere on this blog about Slow Club , and at Winterwell whilst musically they are effective with their twangy tweeness they seem a little non-plussed with the whole affair. It's almost as if the band are keener to get off stage than stay on it, asking how long they have left with twenty minutes still to go. However, Wild Blue Milk is beguiling and tender with its call of “Come take me home,” and It Doesn’t Have To Be Beautiful is the kind of song that in an alternate raw country pop world would be number one for three months.
Fanfarlo arrive late, but soon catch up with a big broad sound encompassing sweeping trumpets, swaying fiddles and regal double drumming. Their brand of noble indie folk pop is rich and full, occasionally hinting of Arcade Fire without the bombast. Later, over in the Sizzle Suite yurt UFO’s fly overhead whilst John Crampton brings stomping tequila soaked blues from steel guitar and harmonica to a totally up for it crowd. It’s one of those moments when performer and audience feed off each other, every song a sweaty and a hollerin’ vein busting swagger to the stars. For something of a less tense nature Shona Foster sings with a mature, elegant and warm vocal, like a more earthy Beth Gibbons from Portishead with added soul. She plays dark jazzy quirky and enchanting songs with a very English feel against a backdrop of precise vaudeville circus instrumentation and wins several hearts.
Earlier in the day for those who like a more mainstream guitar band, Animal Kingdom satisfy neatly adding a vocal somewhere between Mercury Rev and Keane to set them apart from some of their peer group, although for Breaking More Waves it is only their Sigur Ros meets Snow Patrol song Chalk Stars that moves. It could be their Run or Hoppipolla. We wonder how long it will be before the tune is picked up on a TV advert or suchlike and played to death until it becomes intensely annoying.
One of the many beauties of Winterwell is its musical diversity. For example, from folk, blues, rock and soul we move on to rebellious lap top ravers Teeth !!! with their space ball crushing sound. The're a band who are bound to divide opinion and many make a quick exit as they start, but amongst those who remain there are several who dance like mentalists on an electrocuted dance floor. They are a riot of spazzy energy, with lead singer / shouter Veronica spending as much time spinning herself round in dizzying circles in the audience as on stage. Despite being a complete mess, we like them. A lot.
Winterwell also has its fair share of dance action that continues late in to the night. We were disappointed with Metronomy a few weeks ago at the Great Escape Festival and not keen on their new line up, but after the sun has set, fairly lights twinkle and a hedonistic sliver space suited crowd jerks and stutters like raving chickens. There's still life in these dance dudes. Don't beam them up yet. Late night party thrills are also provided by the Moshi Moshi crew bringing all manner of tunes and vibes to the mix for a full on disco in the Bar-Barella tent. Further crazy shake your hips madness is witnessed when Smerins Anti Social Club play the outdoor stage and create brass-a-plenty chaos, mixing it with a collection of festival friendly vibes from ska to funk to drum and bass. Bodies are seen flying all over the place with big smiles cushioning the flailing limbs. Phew.
Based on an ethos of like minded people coming together to share a great weekend, Winterwell succeeds as a true secret independent boutique festival. It is the opposite of the mass media influenced corporate beasts that thousands of punters will attend this year, and is all the better for it. Shhh, just don’t tell anybody else. Ok ?