Beautiful Days 2012 festival review

'The tenth birthday is celebrated in style'

Photographer:Sara Bowrey

Joe Taylor - 20 August 2012

It has been a decade since Beautiful Days festival first graced the glorious Devonshire site that is Escot Park. Spawned from the imagination of folk-punks The Levellers, the festival provides a great blend of family-friendly fun combined with a debauched dark side that will leave a few parents with more than just a headache in the morning. With this year marking its tenth birthday, the usual crowd were out in full force to make sure the anniversary of their favourite party was celebrated in style.

Despite being a beautiful venue, Escot Park does tend to repeatedly attract rain, as with this year’s Thursday night, and its sloping hills make for some hard stumbling, but also hilarious slips and trips abound. As usual, the festival became bogged down in mud but was eventually dried, in part, by the baking sun that followed and which somehow, managed to prevail over the remainder of the festival.

Toots and the Maytals (9/10) saw Friday nights musical offerings off to an excellent start, with their essential reggae classics that never fail to disappoint. A firm crowd pleaser, the perennially professional band warmed up nicely for headliner Frank Turner – a man on top of his game after monumental gigs at Wembley and the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Turner has seen a meteoric rise to fame since he decided to go solo following the split of his former band, London hardcore punks Million Dead. Returning with his 'Campfire Punkrock' he has captured the hearts of a legion of adoring teenagers who show up to the night’s final set in their masses. An impressively genuine and sincere show, Turner does not fail to deliver.

The Little Big Top provides the electronic music at Beautiful Days, and Friday night gives us drum and bass legend Shy Fx accompioned by Stamina Mc (5/10). Try as they might, both DJ and MC try to poke life into the small and uncertain crowd, but this is a festival that is almost unwilling to fully embrace dance music and it all feels distinctly underwhelming – a status that solid, punchy drum and bass rarely achieves.

More fitting was Saturday’s line-up of New Model Army (8/10) and John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd (7/10), who, following Billy Bragg’s celebration of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday over at the Big Top, continue the anti-establishment feel in style. New Model Army provide a suitably aggressive set to their 'Christian Militia' fans, who have dressed in kilts and clogs to suit the occasion.

Reel Big Fish (8/10) put a spin on Sunday’s talent, with their lively brand of US college-ska that never fails to blast us back to our cider-fuelled teenage years. Whipping the crowd into a sweating, skanking frenzy, they please with enthusiastic renditions of Van Morrison’s 'Brown-eyed Girl' and Metallica’s 'Enter Sandman' with plenty of their own, brash originals such as 'Sell Out' and 'Beer' to please our inner teenager.

As for the last ten years, The Levellers (9/10) close the final night of the festival that is paid for out of the own pockets in the name of having a good old fashion knees-up. As ever they do so in style, bashing out a host of classics with new material from their latest album, 'Static on the Airwaves', proving that they still have plenty new to offer.

Some might argue that The Levellers’ Sunday night set is growing a little stale, and that it could be time for some new bands to help the festival progress as it grows older, but they are the band that every loyal fan has come to see and after giving everyone a weekend of well-organised yet suitably chaotic fun, they definitely deserve some time in the limelight.


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