What makes a good music festival? Not an easy question to answer, but for Breaking More Waves some of the essential ingredients include great weather, well structured organisation, good infrastructure and a relaxed and happy vibe where a true sense of community comes through. Add in some good music, other enjoyable non music related activities and a spot of uniqueness and the event can be verging on greatness. With the best weather in the UK for the year so far, Wychwood 2009 achieved all of our requirements.
This is a festival for those who like convenience. How many music festivals do you know where you can pull up in your car, choose your spot to pitch your tent, off-load your equipment and set up and only then return your car to the car park ? It certainly beats those long sweaty journeys lugging camping gear miles across a site. Toilets are nearly always an issue at festivals, but not at Wychwood. The festival portaloos are kept remarkably clean and fragrant, and if you don’t fancy them, as the event is set in the grounds of Cheltenham racecourse you can use the venues permanent toilets. And as you wander towards the music, tarmac pathways meander through the site, giving a civilised, very un-dirty feel to the occasion.
Wychwood is also a culturally enriched and diverse festival, with a laid back feel, where children and adults combine in an area known simply as ‘The Green’. Here you will find workshops, performances, poetry, cinema, demonstrations and other events taking place, giving a true sense of community. From the new Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reading and performing a selection of her work with musician John Sampson to a mixed crowd of all ages, to a magical fire show late at night where choreographed performers battle with flaming torches and thrill with burning skipping ropes, whilst green fingered lasers dance in the darkness. Wychwood provides excitement for all ages. During the day we enjoy a huge number of activities taking place, from circus skills (where Breaking More Waves shows significant talent in hula hooping) to the Roald Dahl Museum giving a fascinating and insightful audio visual presentation on the life of the author.
And then of course there is the music. We were having such a good time elsewhere, we almost forgot.
Headliners Super Furry Animals play to a crowd showered with bubbles, encouraging the audience by holding up signs saying Woah, Applause, and Danke. After wading through material from their new album Dark Days / Light Years they finally deliver some crowd pleasers such as The Man Don’t Give A F*@k. The bands longevity is a testament to their creative nuance, however for Breaking More Waves even when they add a bassy groove and clattering percussion to the wonderfully named The Very Best Of Neil Diamond, they fail to really move or engage, rather to be admired from afar.
On Saturday the Breaking More Waves approved Bjork goes fairytale orchestrated pop of The Mummers is just right for a crowd basking in the sun. Wonderland is well, wonderful, the bands cover version of Passion Pits Sleepyhead is dizzying and mystical. Then there is closing song This Is Heaven which is a string laden piece of godliness. The Mummers are another one of those bands who could be in contention for a Mercury nomination.
Goldheart Assembly are slightly ramshackle and beardy in a musical sense. With autoharp and acoustic guitar combining with organic harmonies one can hear hints of something American, breezy and melodious in their tunes which please the small relaxed crowd in the darkness of the Big Top.
Later in the day Little Boots (pictured) brings her blend of synth pop to the masses. With all the attention that she has received over the last few months following her No.1 slot in the BBC Sound of 2009, it is easy to be cynical about her. However the facts are that Victoria Hesketh is a confident, sassy and ever so slightly sexy performer, a UK Kylie with keyboards if you want. Stuck On Repeat, Mathematics and the stylophone strangeness of Meddle mark the point where pop, disco and electronica merge to great effect, quirky enough to be cool, danceable enough to make you want to work up a sweat. However those tunes were the first that brought our attention to Little Boots last winter, and some of the newer tracks played today such as current Top 20 single New In Town and future single Remedy lack the pulsing uniqueness to be anything more than just another tune rolled out by the pop machine.
In the evening a host of bands play in the Old Hooky Bar as part of Tom Robinsons 6 Music Fresh on the Net sessions, a chance for new and unsigned talents to display their wares. The highlight is the comedy chap hop of Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. Armed with a banjo and a beatbox Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer is “Straight out of Surrey,” wearing a pin striped suit and delivering raps in an upper class accent. “Tim Westwood it’s time to own up, and say how do you do, rather than yo what’s up,” he raps before asking the audience to join in and to conjugate a chorus in Latin. Wiping his sweating face on a toilet tissue he announces “There goes my last chance of having a poo.” Comedy, dare we say it, genius moment of the weekend.
We wrote about Stornoway very recently here and on Sunday it’s their chance to play in the Old Hooky Bar. Despite a few technical hitches and the wide eyed and intense staring singer Brian Briggs looking as nervous as a small boy on his first day of school, Stornoway produce a set of beautifully judged folk pop. Tightly focussed on producing clear and concise melodies, their set is short and sweet as a sugar cube. Stornoway are probably the only band that you will ever hear say “Some good news, beavers have returned to Scotland for the first time in four hundred years,” and genuinely mean the good news, before adding “Did you know that beavers have internal testicles?” Later the zoological references continue when the band state that the banjo led We Are The Battery Humans is about “Acknowledging your inner monkey.” This is no ape like tom foolery though, each tune that Stornoway play is ecologically haunting and uplifting. Stornoways songs are warm and gentle, and the moment when the trumpet kicks in on Zorbing takes the song to a whole new level. It’s the best trumpet middle section since Belle And Sebastians Judy And The Dream Of Horses, which it shares a certain musical marriage with. It’s official, Stornoway are our new favourite pastoral indie folk pop band.
With all of the attributes that we look for in such an event, Wychwood 2009 marked a magical start for Breaking More Waves festival season. Let’s hope it continues.