Things weren’t looking good, with a yellow weather warning issued by the Met Office a couple of days ahead of BEAUTIFUL DAYS FESTIVAL threatening a month’s worth of rain in a day. Everyone packed for storm force conditions, Noah started work on his ark and Pete’s Ponchos were completely cleared out. But we’re talking about an event where a drop of the wet stuff wasn’t going to deter the hardy festival goers, many of which treat this as an annual pilgrimage, a place to catch up with old friends, sink a cider or five and enjoy some of the finest music there is to offer. Was it to be a complete wash out? or would the sun finally come out shining and dry up all mud, only time would tell!
We arrived later in the afternoon on Friday owing to work commitments but managed to catch CABBAGE performing a raucous and dare I say it, somewhat ‘off-kilter’ set. We saw these guys a couple of years ago when they were doing the rounds of smaller venues around the country and I am pleased to see that they have gone on to amass a large fan base, after their performance at BDF, no doubt more will be hitting up Spotify to see what they’re all about.
SETH LAKEMAN took to the stage as the rain started to pour but managed to inject some sunshine into the sky creating a wonderful sonic rainbow that took people’s minds off the weather and took them to another place with his unique blend of traditional folk music. Seth has played the festival a number of times and always goes down really well, maybe something to do with the fact that he is a Devon born and bred superstar! We caught up With Seth after his set and chatted about his recent stint playing alongside Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on the ‘Sensational Space Shifters’ tour which spanned the globe for 6 months, “It was an amazing time” said Seth about the experience, “It was tough learning the songs at first but once I’d mastered them, it was great fun playing them live”. Seth also contributed on Robert Plant’s 2017 album ‘Carry Fire’ and has no doubt been welcomed into his inner circle as a performer to be called upon for future live events.
Next up on the main stage were Liverpool’s finest CAST, John Power looked like he was ready to rock despite telling everyone that he was having “a bad hair day”, his blonde curly locks flying all over the place as he kicked into his set comprising classic indie tunes including ‘Sandstorm’, ‘Beat Mama’ and the singalong classic ‘Walk Away’. I am old enough to have seen CAST when they formed way back in ’92 and I must say that aside from looking a few years older, they still had the scouse swagger and cheeky quips that made them what they were 27 years ago!
I was asked by a man backstage if he could go into the dressing rooms to see THE STRANGLERS, I explained that it wasn’t my decision but directed him towards the artist liaison officer who found out that he used to be the tour manager for the band years ago, with that Baz Warne (vocals/guitar) poked his head out and invited him in for a chat. Later on stage, they performed a crowd pleasing set which suited the audience to a tee, this is the music that the fans had come for and tracks such as ‘Golden Brown, ‘Peaches’, ‘Always the Sun’ (performed during one of the worst downpours that Friday had to offer) and the classic ‘No More Heroes’ echoed around the arena with almost everyone singing along to the songs at the top of their voices, proving that they have pretty much been the soundtracks of their younger selves.
You’re probably seeing a bit of a trend reading my write up, why hadn’t we ventured to other stages yet? How come we hadn’t mentioned the children’s area or The Bimble Inn? Well folks, remember I mentioned that yellow weather warning at the start of the piece, THAT is the reason we were either in the photo pit in front of the main stage battling to keep our equipment dry or holed up in the unofficial press tent (under the stage) in an attempt to dry out as best we could before our next foray into the elements, it really was foul and there was just no way that we could have safely walked from stage to stage without our equipment receiving a complete soaking in the process!
Earlier in the evening, I saw Deborah Dyer (aka Skin) from the headline act SKUNK ANANSIE, she was dressed in her pre-show baggies and looked a far cry from the cyber-goth, PVC clad dominatrix that took to the stage a couple of hours later on! Their set was electrifying, she came on stage dressed in a hooded gown which covered her face and tore it off as the opening track kicked in. She took to the photo pit and mounted the barrier prior to launching herself into the crowd for some impromptu crowd surfing which took the security team and photographers by surprise but made for some great shots as she was held aloft by the capacity crowd who had congregated to see one of the finest bands on the circuit perform their classic back catalogue. The set consisted of tracks lifted from their arsenal of six albums including ‘Weak’, ‘Brazen (Weep)’ and ‘Because of You’ which sounded as good as they did when they first did the rounds 25 years ago! I was chatting to people who suggested that maybe The Stranglers should have headlined on Friday night but after watching both shows, it was clear to me who the winner was and the decision was the right one!
As we trudged back to the car, we looked forward to Saturday and (hopefully) no rain! Looking at the forecast, there was nothing on the horizon so fingers crossed!
Saturday arrived with NO RAIN, bonus……
I arrived onsite around 2pm, just as SHE DREW THE GUN were midway through their set, Louisa Roach and her band played a great set with tracks from their 2 albums Memories of Another Future and Revolution of Mind despite the guitarist breaking a string earlier on and had to rely on a backup guitar, oh, and forgetting to adjust his foot pedals for 4 of the songs, I explained that nobody would have noticed apart from him (and everyone reading this!) I managed to placate him by saying that they sounded great (that seemed to work!). Shortly after their set, they loaded up their minibus and made a hasty exit, no doubt to spread the word at another festival somewhere!
I took a walk around the site and despite there being a bit of mud, it wasn’t too treacherous so managed to get around in record time. The children’s area was full of people having THE BEST time ever, there was so much to do, face painting, arts and crafts, fairground rides, I just about managed to steer clear of the glitter tent as I didn’t fancy a glittery beard (again). I bumped into some good friends including PATTERN PUSHER (more on them later), BARRY ASHWORTH from Dub Pistols (again, more on him later) and a few regular festival goers who looked to be having a great time. I popped my head into The Rebel Tent where ‘Punk, Reggae and Rave Fusion’ was in full effect, I stayed to hear everyone singing along to ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by The Sex Pistols and left just as ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by The Clash started to burst out of the sound system. I took a picture of the Beautiful Days sign and managed a few people shots on my way back to the main arena.
I headed back to The Little Big Top where the bohemian powerhouse LUCY GALLANT was just about to perform. I contacted her a few months ago and included her in our ‘Introducing’ feature ahead of her performance at Boardmasters festival (which was cancelled owing to bad weather – pah, no sign of cancellations here at BDF!) so it was nice to be able to put a face to a name and introduce myself to her. Her music spanned multiple styles including gypsy folk, reggae, soul, latin and even hints of jazz. To see her perform was a magical experience and everyone in the tent was treated to a very special performance. She refuses to repeat any one performance so each time you see her, you’re guaranteed a unique experience, this is something that I admire about her and suggest that other bands and artists take on this approach too.
THE CELTIC SOCIAL CLUB are a European supergroup comprising some of the leading lights in the folk rock world. Fronted by Dan Donnelly, the band formed in 2013 under the watchful eye of Manu Masko who plays drums and percussion and also heads up the artistic direction of the band. Other members include Jimme O’Neill on guitar, Ronan Le Bars on pipes and whistle and Pierre Stephan on fiddle. It was difficult to categorise the sound produced by these fine musicians and after reading up on them, I was fascinated to see that they draw influence from Celtic music from all over the world including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. The set was peppered with contemporary adaptations of traditional Celtic tunes performed by musicians that come from a multitude of backgrounds including rock, folk, blues, reggae and even hip hop. Their set was packed full of high energy songs that got the crowd up and dancing along like no one was watching!
From the main stage, I ventured back to The Little Big Top to catch Cornish indie rocker THE REZNER do their thing. I first got introduced to these guys via a mutual friend who manages a bunch of Cornish acts and he suggested I pop along to watch them play in Totnes a few months back, I did, I was very impressed with what I saw and found myself wanting more. Chatting to the lads ahead of the show, they seemed in high spirit, confident and really excited about playing Beautiful Days Festival. With their amps turned up to ‘11’, they took to the stage and immediately drew an impressive crowd who had come into the tent to see what all the fuss was about. They all looked completely in tune with each other, the songs really hitting the spot and gave the audience some classic indie rock to get their teeth into! Sadly, I was only able to stick around for the first 3 songs as I had other places to be but what I saw cemented the fact that this band is one that will stand the test of time, if you’ve yet to become acquainted with them, do so now, you can thank me later!
I literally stumbled upon PETER HOOK (of New order) stood backstage with his top off catching some rays, I introduced myself and joked about him needing a knotted handkerchief for his head to turn him into a proper ‘British holidaymaker’, I guess the sunshine here in Devon is a bit different from that in Oldham! Moments later, he took to the main stage accompanied by his band to belt out some classic hits from Joy Division and New Order including ‘Digital’, ‘Blue Monday’ and of course, the timeless tones of “Love Will Never Tear Us Apart’, which, despite being released in 1980, still sounds as fresh today as it did 39 years ago…. ‘Hooky’ went down a storm and it was an added bonus having met him before the show, a true legend in every sense!
I yomped back up to The Little Big Top to catch the opening tracks from Exeter’s 3 piece electro pop wizards PATTERN PUSHER, I was saddened to miss them performing with their trio of backing singers which included Becky Grinham and Sadie Horler and also the super talented sax played from Datura Collective but I did manage to see Ben (guitar/bass) walking onstage with a handful of flowers that he handed out to the ladies in the audience (the old charmer) before turning up the heat alongside Alex on keys and Ben on drums to produce what I feel was one of the finest performances at the festival.
ASH always deliver, whether it be an indoor show or an outdoor festival, there’s just something about their music that really hits the spot. Today was no different. They took to the stage and ran through their back catalogue of classic hits including ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’, ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Oh Yeah’. We managed to catch up with bass player Mark Hamilton after the show and chatted about the future of the band, he hinted at new material but wouldn’t tell us much more than that! I also wanted to ask him why he only has 3 strings on his Gibson bass, I must remember to do that next time I see him!
After Ash’s set came to a close, I could hear ‘junglistic rumblings’ coming from The Little Big Top, could it be? Was it time? I checked, IT WAS, Mr BARRY ASHWORTH of Dub Pistols had kicked off his DJ set and I for one was LATE…I ran (okay, I walked as quickly as I could with two cameras battering my knees) up to the tent alongside my partner in crime Andy Hobbs and took to the stage to photograph Barry in action. Now Barry is certainly no stranger when a camera comes out and before long, we found him in the pit, leaning into the audience having his picture taken. The sounds that came from the speakers during his set were hard and heavy, 100% jungle, break-beat and drum ‘n bass, EXACTLY what the people of Beautiful Days desired and Barry was only too happy to oblige! The party NEVER starts without Barry and come the end of his set, I think that most of the audience were glad of a sit down, I know I certainly was!
As the day wore on, we were getting excited for the final few bands including the next act that, if I’m honest, I’d say that they were the headliners of the day. SLEAFORD MODS have been an act that have fascinated me from the very first time I saw them in Exeter in 2015. Their approach to music is simple, 2 men, 1 voice and a laptop, what more do you need? No electronic effects, no pyrotechnics or dancing girls and despite the minimal setup, their show is absolutely incredible. Their music is brutal and abrasive, bringing forth the voice of austerity-era Britain, their songs cover topics such as unemployment, zero hour contracts and pop culture. Jason Williamson’s delivery is blunt and very much to the point, his lyrics peppered with obscenities, which, whilst some people find this offensive, in the scheme of things, fit very well with the subject matter that they cover. Having released their eleventh long player Eton Alive in 2019, there is no sign of them slowing down anytime soon and that my friends, is a very good thing!
Owing to, well, let’s just call it ‘a clerical anomaly’, we weren’t ‘approved’ to photograph ZIGGY MARLEY, so it is at this point that our Beautiful Days journey comes to an end, I did think about sticking around to see HOTHOUSE FLOWERS but it would have meant a 2 hour wait before they took to the stage and seeing as I’d been there nearly 12 hours and my feet were starting to throb, I decided to pack up and call it a day.
My photographer did attend on Sunday and managed to snap a lot of people throughout the day in their fancy dress. He said that he really enjoyed the energy that FEROCIOUS DOG injected into the mid-afternoon main stage slot, especially a crowd surfing incident where the member of the band couldn’t get back onto the main stage! NOFX caused a bit of a stir on stage, resulting in heckling coming at them from all angles but it all ended amicably in the end. THE LEVELLERS would have raised the roof (had there been one) with their rebel rousing anthems that have become a mainstay of BDF over the years, the fireworks were, as expected, a feast for the senses.
We had an absolutely amazing time over the weekend, okay, it rained on Friday, you sort of have to expect that at a UK festival and although it didn’t dry up the mud, the remainder of the weekend remained mainly dry which was a relief for campers throughout the site. I’d personally like to thank Laura and Dave for allowing us to attend the festival and shoot some amazing acts over the weekend, the security team for keeping us all safe and the lovely lady on the paella stall who served me on at least 2 occasions, I think she remembered me from last year, I hope she’s there again in 2020!
You can see all of the pictures we took at the festival by clicking on the links below (We took a ton of people shots on Sunday so please click that link and see if you can spot yourselves!)
Friday - http://bit.ly/2z6nvPQ
Saturday - http://bit.ly/31XBjIO
Sunday - http://bit.ly/2TULKu5
Here’s counting down the days until 21st August 2020…..
Review by Steve Muscutt