With a stellar line-up consisting of The Hives, Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, Calexico, Richard Thompson and of course, Levellers, this year’s Beautiful Days Festival looked like it was going to be a fantastic affair, all we needed was some good weather! Read on to see how the weekend unfolded for us.
I arrived late to the party on Friday owing to a family holiday getting in the way (already noted for 2019) and as I exchanged my ticket for my wristband and wandered down to the site, I was greeted with the tones of REWS, an alt-rock duo who we last saw on the Bandstand a couple of years ago where they incited a riot and the stage was overcome by little people, chaos it was, pure chaos! This year, they had been selected to open the festival on the main stage and they NAILED it. If you missed their set, you should check out their debut long played Pyro which is available from their website.
THE DUALERS hit the man stage and did a tremendous job from all accounts. I headed off to the Big Top to have a quick chat to Daisy Durham from KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS before strolling back over to the main stage to catch Amsterdam based trio My Baby who I can only describe as a cross between Chemical Brothers and Evanescance (remember them?) They really got the place bouncing and struggled to leave the stage after shouts for an encore!
I faced a dilemma, should I go and check out KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS at the Big Top or stick around the main stage to catch VINTAGE TROUBLE? I flipped a coin and I headed off back to the Big Top to catch the first half of the KD&L set which featured my all-time favourite track “Don’t Make a Fool Out of Me” and an appearance from Eddie "Tan Tan" Thornton (all the way from Jamaica) on trumpet. It didn’t take long for the tent to start bobbing along to their effortlessly super-cool output which still amazes me to this day. Their latest album Superscope is available to buy/stream/download now.
On the way out of the Big Top I bumped into JUSTIN SULLIVAN from New Model Army and we chatted about his solo performance earlier in the day, I asked him what he was up to after the festival and he said that he was really looking forward to spending a few days on the North coast of Cornwall, just him and his guitar and some well-deserved R&R. We got onto the subject of second homeowners around Devon and Cornwall and he told me an interesting story about a Welsh Nationalist movement called Sons of Glyndwr who were responsible for burning down English owned holiday homes in Wales between 1979 – mid 90’s, an interesting topic of conversation at a music festival!
I managed to catch half an hour of VINTAGE TROUBLE on the main stage, well, there were 3 of them on stage, the singer couldn’t be seen anywhere but I managed to spot him, crowd surfing all the way to the mixing desk and back again, must have been a 100 metre round trip so respect to him! He took to the stage and finished off their set with a bunch of soulful, bluesy rock tracks that sounded immense and looked even better, this is a band that don’t travel to the UK very often so think yourselves lucky if you caught their set!
Welsh indie-rockers FEEDER were on top form as they took to the main stage and blew the audience away with tracks such as Pushing the Senses and of course ‘Buck Rogers’ (drink cider from a lemon?!) These guys give 110% on stage and really deserved to be near the top of the bill, a great band to see at a festival too!
The Big Top was hosting an act from France called LES NEGRESSES VERTES, I was intrigued and decided to pop along to check them out, their punk approach to globally infused dance music was incredible, all of them were getting down on stage and the plethora of instruments including a very active brass section kept everyone moving until it was time to leave the stage, an interesting act that I am definitely going to look into.
SUZANNE VEGA was about to take to the Big Top stage and I thought it would be rude not to see a true superstar perform so I hung around and managed to catch her play two of my favourite tracks, first up was an a capella version of “Tom’s Diner” followed up with her classic “Luka” which evoked beautiful memories of watching Evan Dando from The Lemonheads playing in a dressing room in Glasgow years ago!
There was just enough time for me to head back to the main stage to check out the Swedish rockers THE HIVES, their live shows are a real spectacle, both visually and sonically so I braced myself for a feast of the senses and they didn’t fail to deliver. Dressed in their trademark black and white stage outfits, they turned the volume knobs up to 11 and encouraged the crowd to jump along to their hits. A great way to close Friday at Beautiful Days Festival.
I walked up the hill towards the car park, looking back every few paces to see the lights and sounds booming out of the festival site, half of me wished I could have camped there whilst the other half of me, including my sore feet, pined for my bed, a decent shower and a nice bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes!
I arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday to catch the dying minutes of DREADZONE on the main stage, I caught up with MC Spee after their set and thanked him for sparing the time to chat to us ahead of the festival, we shared a beer and chatted about the remaining festivals they have on their calendar and also the previous night’s show at The Pig’s Nose in East Prawle which saw 250 fans crammed into a small country pub to watch a tremendous performance!
I saw Bruce Watson (Big Country/The Skids) frantically playing his guitar whilst leant against a tour bus and joked that if he didn’t know the songs by now, it was a little late as they were due on stage in 15 minutes, he laughed and commented that he’d only started re-learning The Skids material earlier in the week and he was simply ‘brushing up’ on some of the more intricate parts of the songs! This didn’t show as THE SKIDS took to the stage and performed an immense set which covered tracks dating right back to the late 70’s including “Into The Valley” and “The Saints Are Coming”. During the set, Richard Jobson (vocals) commented on how many women there in the audience, he told everyone of a time when they played in Newcastle and the tour manager burst into the dressing room to announce that there were 300 people waiting for them to come out to the merch stand to meet them, they asked how many women were there and he replied, “none, they’re all big sweaty Geordies”….this was followed up with hugs a plenty and a lot of happy faces all round (they love it really!)
ELEPHANT SESSIONS played an awesome set in the Big Top, their standout track for us was Misty Badger which was inspired by a tale of local Inverness drink ‘The Misty Badger’ which is half tequila, half absinthe beloved of city revellers in Inverness! From around 20 people at the start of their set to a full tent come the end, this fiddle fuelled folk rock quintet were EXCATLY what the people wanted on an early Saturday evening!
The foliage started to get attached to the front barrier and I spotted a couple of bears wandering about the site, this could only mean one thing, BRITISH SEA POWER were about to take to the stage and play their lush blend of indie-rock. Their epic tracks, complimented with sweeping guitar and a viola backdrop lent itself perfectly to being stood in a field in Devon, if there was ever a band that you’d wish to see at a festival, this is the one!
An American man approached me asking where he needed to go for the artist catering and I offered to take him to the right marquee, we chatted for a couple of minutes and I failed to ask him which band he was with, 20 minutes later, another photographer commented that the drummer from Blondie (Clem Burke) was on site as his band were playing in the Big Top in place of Nadine Shah who was unable to perform due to illness, it turned out to be him! DOH!
I had a wander around the site and checked out THE LITTLE UNSAID in The Bimble Inn, the place was rammed and I think that most of the people there were planning on staying firmly routed to the spot as MAD DOG MCREA were due to perform later on in the evening.
I sneaked a peak inside the Little Big Top to catch legendary Devon based DJ KEV WALTERS spinning some choice tunes, but the strangest thing was, he was mixing records together! Kids, take note, THIS is how you do it, none of this MP3 jiggery pokery for Kev! He had the tent jumping throughout his set and there were some proper classics in his record boxes which went down a storm!
I got back to the main stage just in time for indie legends SHED SEVEN to grace the main stage with their presence. It’s been at least 20 years since I last saw these guys perform and they didn’t disappoint at all. “Chasing Rainbows” sounded as present today as it did over 20 years ago and with a brass section in place on stage, they launched into a beautiful version of “Going For Gold” which had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as I recollected hearing this for the first time with my floppy fringe and multi coloured doc marten boots forming my main wardrobe of the era! I chatted to Rick Witter after their set about festivals and I was surprised to hear that they don’t play that many European events, he said that they never really took off in this part of the world but are making up for it by playing some incredible festivals in the UK and are looking forward to playing the Shiiine On Weekender later on this year along with a ton of bands from the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Rick had to dash off to top up his red wine at the same time that Nicky Wire from MANIC STREET PREACHERS was walking into the dressing room, I collared him for a chat and mentioned that I had seen them play at the English Riviera Centre in Torquay way back in 1993 on their Gold Against The Soul tour, he laughed and said that he recalled playing there but couldn’t recall the venue. We laughed about the time they played at Westpoint in a large cattle shed and he said that he was really looking forward to playing at Beautiful Days, I wished him all the best and made my way to the main stage to catch their set. They strode on and launched straight into “Motorcycle Emptiness”, really taking things up a few notched and showing everyone how a band such as theirs deserved to be up on stage closing day two of the festival. The tracks flowed thick and fast, “Kevin Carter”, “Little Baby Nothing” and “If You Tolerate This” which culminated in confetti cannons firing at the end of the track. To think that these guys formed 32 years ago in Wales and are still going strong is incredible and was a brilliant way to end the evening!
I woke to the sound of rain, I live about 40 miles away from site so had my fingers crossed that it hadn’t reached Escot Park…. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded either way as you need a bit of rain at a festival, it almost doesn’t make it right if you get away with 3 days of plain sailing weather!
I arrived onsite to the sound of DUCKING PUNCHES who were kicking out some raw but melodic punk rock to blow away the hangovers that the many revellers had no doubt received after a night of enjoyment from Saturday! I chatted to Dan after their set and thanked him for taking the time to chat to us ahead of the festival, great bunch of lads who deserve to be heard.
I’d heard that the next act HENGE were from a different planet, imagine the look on my face when two aliens wandered on stage, one sat in the drum stool, the other a keyboard (or some intergalactic wizardry), the frontman came out looking like a cross between Emporer Zod and a cast member of Rent-a-Ghost. Their set consisted of some very impressive space-age sounds that really stretched the imagination. I likened the music to something Primus might have pulled together after a night of LSD and vodka! Two mushroom hatted dancers joined them on stage and remained as part of the main act until the close of their set. An interesting act that did wonders for the audience who might have all still been on another planet after enjoying Saturday night a little too much!
We saw DUB PISTOLS arrive onsite earlier in the day and I made a beeline to chat to Barry Ashworth who told me that they had just played at an incredible festival in Italy and was looking forward to tearing up Beautiful Days in the only way that Dub Pistols can! I was handed a cold beer in their dressing room as the band proceeded to get changed into their stage gear, I took a seat and continued our conversation, Barry chatting about how he’s had a hectic but enjoyable year and the rest of the band saying how much they’d been looking forward to today’s show. They took to the stage bang on schedule and performed a tremendous set, the entire field was bouncing along to their music. Their final offering just HAD to be “Mucky Weekend” and it literally WENT OFF! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people leaping around like crazed animals at 4:30pm on a Sunday!
It was time for things to get even more exciting when THE WILDHEARTS took to the stage, their high octane set was jammed full of punk infused rock n’ roll which pleased the many Wildhearts fans around the main arena. They gave us photographers plenty to snap in the pit and the energy levels didn’t dip at all throughout the performance. I read that Frank Turner had done something with Ginger Wildheart a while ago, that perked my interest in the band and after seeing them live, I’m going to check out their back catalogue as soon as I get home, I strongly suggest you do the same!
With GOGOL BORDELLO and LEVELLERS left to shoot, we decided it was time for food so it was off to ‘Paellaria’ for what MUST have been the best chicken & chorizo paella that the festival could muster, it was HEAVENLY and it’s not that often I say that about festival food! We scoffed and chatted to some people who were working at the festival and it was clear that they absolutely love it and keep coming back year after year!
The last time we saw GOGOL BORDELLO was at Glastonbury on the Pyramid Stage in 2007, I chatted to my colleague about this and he said that the frontman would probably have ‘slowed down’ a little by now, how wrong he was! From the get go, the entire band were leaping about on stage, red wine was being thrown all over the place and I had to duck and dodge about in the photo pit to avoid a soaking! The music and energy booming out from the stage was the ideal way of carrying on the excitement that THE WILDHEARTS had injected into the crowd an hour before and was a tremendous way to get everyone revved up for the final band of the weekend.
Between the final two acts, three dinosaurs/dragons/large ducks took to the main arena for a wander round, inside these elaborate costumes which were lit by LED’s were 3 people, on stilts, luckily the ground was dry so there was no mud to contend with but seeing them in the main field was a sight to behold and certainly turned a few heads as they strode past, looking like a pack of hunting velociraptors seeking out their next meal!
It was nearly time for Beautiful Days to say goodbye for another year but this couldn’t happen until THE LEVELLERS had taken to the stage to play a tremendous set which spanned their 30 year career. Hits such as “One Way”, “World Freak Show” and “Liberty Song” ang out across the Devon landscape, soaked up by the thousands of revellers that had amassed in one place to hear their heroes close another brilliant Beautiful Days Festival. The night culminated in a fabulous extended firework display which lit up the night sky!
Looking back over the 3 day event, I couldn’t help thinking that this was way more than just a music festival, it incorporates art, theatre, comedy, poetry and a feeling of togetherness. Many folk come every year and see it as a place to escape the hum-drum of normal life, others use it as a meeting place to catch up with old friends that they have met over the years, whatever the reason for attending, everyone I chatted to had an amazing time and are already really excited about 2019, let’s hope that they can once again surpass all expectations and put on a diverse range of acts to cater for everyone.
We're sorry that we weren't able to catch anymore bands in action, we only had 2 pairs of legs this weekend and trying to get around to all of the stages can be hard with so many people moving around the site.
We’d like to thank all of the crew, the security guards, the stage managers, the caterers, the health and safety team (including the one and only Lady Alex) the nice bloke who was ferrying us around at the end of the night in his minibus and everyone else who worked tirelessly ahead of, during and no doubt after the festival to ensure that it is a safe, friendly and exciting event that caters for people aged from 6 weeks to 96 years old, give yourselves a HUGE pat on the back and we’ll see you again next year!
To see ALL of the photos that we took at the festival, please click on the links below.
Words by Steve Muscutt.