Solfest 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | 03 September 2009

Overall - 9/10

Despite persistently missing out on prolonged periods of sunshine, tiny little Solfest remains one of the best solutions in the whole year for festival lovers desperate not to succumb to the ever more corporate Leeds/Reading alternatives. The line-up ranges from excellent lesser known bands to huge favourites from yesteryear and promotes a consistently high level of singer songwriters. But it’s really not about the music, it’s about enjoying the weekend and for that reason, you can’t buy day tickets, and you won’t find out when your favourite bands are on until you’re at the site.

Getting There - 5/10

Trundling along through little villages and down B-roads, the festival is actually pretty easy to find. There’s a shuttle bus should you find yourself at the local train station, and there’s a link to Freewheelers to encourage people to share lifts, something people really need to start doing in the future. In anticipation of the hoards, the organisers have allocated an extra six overspill parking areas but by 6pm Friday, not only are they all full but people are being asked to camp in a further overspill too. As a last minute extra, there’s little atmosphere in the new row of tents, it’s a little bit far from the main site, and there’s a big soggy mound to get the car over on your way out again.

The Site - 9/10

Despite the incessant rain and wind, Solfest is set on sandy ground which steadfastly refuses to turn into a full on mud bath. Stages are set at two sides of a hill which has the double effect of blocking out music from elsewhere, while providing a great view wherever you’re watching from. There’s tents to dance or chill out in, cafés to drink chai or take part in the permanent jamming sessions and all manner of random little paths and people that take you into magical worlds lit by firelight and candles. But one of the things that Solfest does the best is cater for children. There are so many well thought out little spaces for little’uns to play in or learn something new that it makes you wish you were still small yourself.

Atmosphere - 9/10

For the most part, Solfest is the breeziest, most laidback and friendly festival that a site, drenched in continuous drizzle, can possibly be home to. It really doesn’t matter who you are or why you’re there, you will meet new people and you will smile all weekend long, especially on Saturday when everyone dresses like a banana, Humpty Dumpty or something made from a box for compulsory fancy dress day. It’s not uncommon to see Beetlejuice, a giant squid or one of a huge collection of pirates stumbling out of a toilet. Nor is it hard to answer the question ‘Where’s Wally?’ when an entire family of six of them tend to pop up everywhere.


Uppersiddley Squat - 10/10

With their enthusiastic mix of ska, reggae and a touch of dub, Diddley Squat make the party come alive in a random tent at Friday midnight and again on the Drystone stage on Saturday. They are perhaps the tightest band of the festival and get everyone grinning and bopping away like drunken loons. Their animated higgledy-piggledy appearance on Saturday night adds to their shenanigans as their lead singer jumps around in skin coloured tights while their mouse in a red showman’s jacket plucks along jubilantly on the ukulele.

Dhol Foundation - 8/10

You can always count on the Dhol Foundation for an energetic hour of upbeat grinning. Johnny Kalsi and his band consistently defy exhaustion by jumping to every beat they hit on their huge shoulder-slung dhol drums, making everyone want to learn how to play too. It’s a further credit to the band that when the first of Saturday’s rains come slashing down towards the end, the audience remains where they are rather than running for cover in the nearby beer tent that Johnny had lured them out of earlier.

Solfest Ceilidh with The Wierdstring Band - 10/10

The rain buckets down on Sunday but dancing a ceilidh to ‘the Time Warp’ is just too much fun for the dripping audience to notice. When the band suggests a whole selection of dance moves, the audience cheerily tries them out. “Now Ballroom! Macarena, Riverdance, Dance like Morrisey! Do the Moonwalk” they all have a go. The suggestion of “lap-dancing” followed by “pole-dancing” inspires confused looks from small children as they watch their parents contort in a peculiar effort to get those moves down. But “Dance like your dad” has the kids up and grooving again, shaking rainwater out of their hair until the very end.


Rebecca Sharp and Sofie Roberts - 5/10

Celtic harp and cello sounds like a divine mixture to spirit you away from the mud and rain and into somewhere more heavenly. But despite the beautiful tones, there are pitch problems between the two performers who face away from each other to concentrate on their own sounds rather than producing the melodious delights they might otherwise have done.

The anti-fun Police at Nerina Pallot - 1/10

Nerina Pallot is doing her thing dressed as a giant rabbit. Her music is a little bland, but the vibes are good, so much so that one giggly prankster chooses this moment to prance around nervously in his green mankini. He’s lauded from the stage and his confidence grows but as he runs around to the side of the audience, he’s told off by the anti-fun police and made to cover up. Not that seeing his pubic hair is any less than obscene but it’s freezing cold so he must be about to put a woolly jumper on anyway and why spoil the gleeful spirit when the rain’s already putting in a good effort?

Random events

A drunk guy wearing studded denim from top to toe is clearly only at the festival for the punk experience alone. Every few minutes he stumbles to the stage with increasing levels of impatience to enquire when Vice Squad are coming on. “Tell em to ‘urry up” he finally says exasperated before flopping down on a chair nearby and promptly falling asleep. Another minute or two and the band explode into the first song but no amount of vigorous shaking can rouse the poor reveller who presumably remains asleep for the entire set.

People look so confused as random farty/mooing noises buzz out of the seat they’re sitting on; they can’t work out what’s going on. But the little girl wearing a pink rain jacket and a cheeky grin knows as she strategically presses the solitary button nearby.
By Kate Rose.

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Send to my phone!Photographer: Bob Rose

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