Beautiful Days 2011 review

Overall: 8/10

Click for the best Beautiful Days photos.

Now in its ninth year and clearly over the exuberant, but troubled beginnings that dog any of the smaller events in their fist few years, Beautiful Days sits a fully formed, assured entity. Picking sagely from the now lengthy list of late 80s and 90’s indie bands has always served it well, but this year the Levellers (for it is they) have selected a particularly fine cast and it is this, along with the relaxed spirit of the event, that make this such a worthwhile festival.

Getting there is a walk in the park and Beautiful Days has a natural advantage, the shallow valley in which it sets up every year forms a natural amphitheatre allowing almost the whole site to see what is going on the main stage. This makes it difficult to not feel part of the party, wherever you are on the site.

Tickets sold out weeks in advance and that may have something to do with the line-up. Friday really kicks off with an assured set from ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell (8/10) who wisely shuffles the set between old and new material – he still has that unmistakable quiver in his voice that’s a hook all of it’s own. I Am Kloot (7/10) follow later on Friday before Gogol Bordello (9/10) take the stage in all their ragtag glory, their theatrical, non-ironical traditionalism going down a treat with a festival crowd that’s tailor made for them

Big Audio Dynamite (6/10) fail to ignite in a manner many are hoping for. They aren’t do anything wrong, it’s just they aren’t capturing the moment or making it. Until, that is, they play their masterpiece, ‘E=MC2’. It comes too late to save the set but what a song.

Saturday brings a morning of showers and the hard ground has trouble absorbing the water, it gets slippy, but by the time The Blockheads (8/10) take the main stage in the afternoon the sun’s pouring down like honey again. Paul Heaton (8/10) proves what an impact he’s had on UK pop with a peerless performance before the abject mess that is Pop Will Eat Itself (6/10) take the stage – a raucous, silly and mostly enjoyable performance from them paves the way perfectly for Carter USM (9/10). Carter have long threatened a proper reunion and it was worth the wait. A host of 40-somethings gather at the front of the stage in 30-something shirts –the irony perhaps not lost on them.

The smaller stages on Saturday have some killer acts. Prime amongst those at the Big Top being Dizraeli (9/10) with his Small Gods in tow. This boy has a likeable lilt and a patois all his own, he should go far. Eddi Reader (5/10) disappoints everyone by starting her set with the words, “This is the song that made me famous” and breaking into ‘Perfect’. Unfortunately, it’s far from.

Sunday brings a scorcher and across the site, the leafy boughs are swaying and local ale is flowing, no corporate sponsorship or advertising here you understand – it’s the Levellers way. Their ethos, which seems to be relaxed, with an anti-establishment edge is part of what makes Beautiful Days so pleasant to be at – but do they have to headline it every year? They take the stage after a festival defining performance from a rejuvenated, re-invigorated Stereo MC’s (10/10) destroy the field with their infectious brand of dance and soul – after that The Levellers (6/10) can only satisfy their own acolytes, of which, of course there are many.

These were beautiful days indeed and this festival has lost none of its charm over nine years, even if it’s character may have worn a little.

By Jon Wright.