Beautiful Days returned, but was it a stunning success or a Levellers let down? John Bownas found out...
Overall - 9/10
Beautiful Days had fantastic food: from delicious and filling mashed potato creations to perfectly fried whitebait and chips - and not a low-grade burger in sight.
There were clean loos that you could have eaten your falafel off, real ale at realistic prices from Otter brewery and local ciders that could have launched the space shuttle, plus they boasted more things for the kids to do than ever before. There were farting flying balloons falling from the sky every 30 seconds and stewards who really seemed to care.
And everywhere you went, there was a Leveller or two wandering around, grinning like loons, clearly proud of what they have created. Fly in the ointment? Wasps in your pint and mosquitoes in your pants. Music – oh yes, some of that too – read on!
Getting There and Back – 8.5/10
Devon is a long way from a lot of the country, but if you are a west country dweller it’s the festival on your doorstep. Traffic management and parking was a breeze, and the station is nearby. Some of the signage from Exeter off the A30 was a bit random, but follow your nose and you can’t go wrong.
Getting home was a doddle if you left Sunday night. There were nasty roads on Monday morning, but caused by an accident rather than poor planning...
The Site – 9/10
Nestled in a valley makes for a great visual feast, with plenty of views across the grounds of Escot Park to let you drink in the flags, sculptures and tents. Nothing is too far away with a 12,000 capacity event and a stroll from the Bimble Inn to the Big Top was no more than 15 minutes...or maybe 30 on the way back after a few pints of SuiCider!
Atmosphere – 9/10
Every great party atmosphere is about the guests. So who’s-who at Escot Park? Certainly it’s not all about people with wardrobes full of 20 year old Levellers tour t-shirts...
The alternative lifestyle post-nuclear family: they arrive by bicycle with the kids and tents in hi-tech trailers, by battered campervan or by ecologically sound, dual-fuel family saloon. Their eight-year old son’s have long hair and surfer tans and their daughters look like an illustration from a fairy story.
The aging punk: unsure how he managed to get here at all, and may indeed have spent the last 12 months sleeping off the last festival under a bush. He is certainly still wearing the same Crass t-shirt that he had on at 2008’s event. Find him by the bar next to the strong local cider with wasps in it.
The young party-things: who knows how they travel, but it is certainly in packs. Let loose on the world with teen hormones rushing through their veins, the girls carry ‘lemonade’ bottles and dress like Britney, the boys tag along willingly, like lambs to the slaughter.
Mid-life crisis: now that 40 has arrived and heralded the slow but inexorable slide into decrepitude it’s time to regain that lost youth – and festivals provide the perfect setting. Travelling with all the comforts of home and with plenty of disposable income they congregate outside the bars and food stalls, paying the wages of the hard-working staff.
Over the hill and far away: not so much children of the revolution, more like its grandparents. Uber-cool because their hippy clothes are not just rented for the weekend, but are what they wear to the shops and were bought from thrift stores on the road to Woodstock. Typically the last people standing every night.
All the rest: (With no apologies to Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine...)
I've teamed up with the hippies now
I've got my fringe unfurled
I want to give peace, love and kisses out
to this whole stinking world
The gypsies, the travellers and the thieves
The good, the bad, the average and unique
The grebos the crusties and the goths
And the only living boy in New Cross
Music – 8/10
It is of course unfair on the rest of the bands who play Beautiful Days to say that the event is all about Levellers fans. What the festival has achieved however is the ability to programme acts not because they need big names to sell tickets, but because they know their crowd and they know what will work.
Opening on Friday with their acoustic show and closing Sunday fully electrified, a Levellers performance will nearly always deliver the goods. And certainly the Big Top unplugged show (9/10 – could have been louder) made that abundantly clear. With nowhere to hide, the band unleashed a storming tirade that set the tone for the rest of the fest.
Messageboard traffic after the festival shows a split decision on the closing set (8/10 – not enough hippy flower power fancy dress commitment!) – but Levellers purists would agree that it was a rare treat to have the whole of the band’s first album (‘Weapon Called The world’) played through in its entirety, including a rare live version of ‘Social Insecurity’ (from the second release of the record in 1996). With Simon hamming it up in full Willy Nelson hippy garb and the band all just clearly enjoying themselves, who else but Levellers could possibly fill that closing slot at their own event?
If you were brave enough to scale down the cliff-face descent that took you to The Bimble Inn then depending on when you arrived you were in for a trick or a treat. For a real treat, Dan Donnelly (9/10 – two more songs would have been perfect) and The Big V (9/10 – how can we give 10/10 for a first gig?) blew away a packed tent with deliciously crafted tunes, passion, energy and more talent than you should be able to cram into a space so small and cozy.
Dan has been gigging furiously up and down the country for the last few months having just relocated from New York. Playing anything from living rooms upwards, the new songs that have recently been added to his set come from somewhere deep inside, and his open and easy personality flood out of every show, winning him new friends every time he takes to the stage.
On the other hand The Big V were showcasing all of their material for the very first time, with this their debut live show - which is frankly amazing! Big and bluesy with undercurrents of something more soulful, there was immense depth and texture to the 30 minute set. Scoring the perfect combination of striking looks and artful hooks, if you don’t hear more from this band then there is no justice in the world.
Back over at The Big Top and the Main Stage, Les Truttes (8/10) and The Fabulous Good Time Party (8/10) boys came in joint first place for all-round feel-good fun, whilst Frank Turner (9/10), Barbar Luck (8/10) and The King Blues (9/10) brought in just the right note of contemporary credibility – flavoured with the sort of social commentary that made them perfect choices for a Levellers crowd. The Wonderstuff (9/10) delighted with a short greatest-hits set and Seth Lakeman (7.5/10) valiantly stepped into the breach to replace Richard Thompson at the very last minute after a cricket accident took him out of the picture.
If any one band other than Levellers was responsible for substantial ticket sales this weekend it was The Pogues (4/10 – what a Shane!). But what they offer in expectation they failed to deliver in reality. Shane’s permanent inebriate state may be in no small part responsible for his legendary status, but it has completely wrecked his ability to perform. Out of tune, out of time and generally out to lunch, the vocal mixture of gravel and fortified wine left many disappointed ex-fans wondering where it all went wrong.
Falling squarely into the ‘trick’ category at the Bimble Inn were ‘The Unbelievable Freeloaders from Mars’ (2/10 – so bad they are amazing!) – made up a of a ragtaggle group of familiar festival faces, the ‘performance’ had to be experienced to be genuinely appreciated in its fully plane-crash catastrophic awfulness. (Quote from drummer: “Why did I keep stopping? Because I needed a rest...”)
Last seen at Guilfest in the Unison tent (where the show rapidly descended into a literal bun-fight, with food being thrown both by and at the audience) – this is one that really does have to be seen to be believed. Recommended if for no other reason than to leave you laughing for the rest of the weekend.
Also on the Bimble programme Rum Shebean (0/10 – where were they?) got the goat of anyone who made the time to go and see them by not turning up. No news on why, but let’s just hope they pull it together for the next show! Pendulum DJs (3/10 – lost the plot) in the Little Big Top too.
The Village Disco scores a massive 10/10 for it’s completely genius parody of every provincial mobile DJ who has ever stopped a song just as the party has got into full swing.
The tightrope walker on the slackrope who managed to get virtually the entire Levellers contingent into his audience as he dropped his trousers gets 8.5/10 in our book.
Leviticus tent – great name, and busy at night, but probably 3/10 for drowning out the Tiny Tea Tent all afternoon when people want to chill.
For wonderful bargain basement sheepskin coats, then it’s 10/10 for warm and full-length sheepskin coats at only £5 on Sunday night from Pratt in a Hat.
Who was that photographer balanced on the main stage barrier during Sonic Boom Six’s set? Oh yes, it was VF’s very own John. 10/10 for the people who held his ankles to stop him breaking his neck, and 10/10 for the kids who made him feel like a rockstar by asking him to sign their arms at the end of the set!
Tuesday 8 September :
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