Beautiful Days 2013 festival review

'Another sold out Beautiful Days - the festival that refuses to sell out'

Beautiful Days 2013 festival review

Photographer:Sara Bowrey

John Bownas - 21 August 2013

It's the festival that sells out every year – by simply not selling out.

Beautiful Days 2013 was the 11th annual Levellers-run party-in-a-field, and it's certainly lost none of its independent edge.

Forget corporate branding, big-name breweries charging hefty mark-ups and draconian 'don't bring your own beer' restrictions.

Think instead zero sponsorship, good local real ales (courtesy of Otter) at sensible prices and an open door policy on what you want to bring with you – avoiding glass of course, which makes sense not only in terms of safety and the environment, but also because bottles are so darned heavy why would you want to carry them anyway?

As Beautiful Days nears its teens it's become a real force to be reckoned with on the circuit, riding out the economic storm that has already claimed several festivals as victims. With no traditional marketing and a loyal fanbase it achieves capacity crowds year-on-year and there's a genuine sense of being at an annual family gathering as hugs are exchanged and the campsites fill up with familiar faces.

And the crew who run things are as much a part of that family as the fans. The same people can be seen every year stewarding, painting fences, running stages and doing all of the other many jobs needed to keep the event operating smoothly.

The festival formula that the Levellers have concocted is one that develops organically – and as ever the band members are regularly to be spotted wandering the site...paying for their kids to enjoy the rides and mixing comfortably with the crowds.

Knowing what they wanted from day one, each event that passes hangs onto the original concept but still sees new additions and refinements. Most notably this year was the padding out of the theatre and bandstand area with the addition of the Redwoods Bar (flatpacked straight from Glastonbury's Avalon field) which created a mini festival-within-a-festival vibe just across the bridge from the main site at the foot of the family camping area.

The theatre was a new addition last year and is already a firm favourite with families and adults alike. It kicked off every day with some kid-friendly fun and had regular queues around the block for top-quality shows by the crème of the theatrical and comedy touring circuit.

Musically-speaking Beautiful Days once again retained its mildly eclectic booking policy and pulled in both big-hitters and bands who are – simply put – very good.

By providing stage space in the Bimble Inn and on the Bandstand for performers who raised smiles and lifted spirits it also embraced the quirky and the fun alongside those more serious and established acts who claimed the top spots.

So those who witnessed the Barsteward Sons of Val Doonican's singer (10) crowdsurfing from the bandstand into the bar and returning with two full(ish) pints will walk away with an enduring memory. As will anyone who took part in the fancy dress parade and got to enjoy the longest ever remix version of the Lambeth Walk ever performed – courtesy of The Mrs Mills Experience (10).

The Barstewards also repeated their feat from last year and attempted to play more gigs over the weekend that even Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs ever managed. The only act to try and keep pace with them was Homebrood (10), whose hardcore folk was regularly to be heard lilting from many-a-stall.

Over the hill at Bimble, Dan Donnelly (10) is a festival favourite of many years' standing. Often found on the live circuit playing with The Oysterband or the Levellers' Jon Sevink, this year he was up with his own band and, in the wings, a bouncing baby who is certain to be leading the next generation of touring troubadours. She got the dedication of the night – 'Cecelia', Dan's anthem for testicular cancer checks.

Neck (10) were back after seven years and seemed overwhelmed by the number of band t-shirts evident in the crowd – but they still managed to squeeze in their traditional encore despite the best efforts of the timekeeping stage manager.

Up on the big stages the big(ger) names dominated, but didn't always hit the perfect notes every time. Sinead O'Connor (7) proved something of a diva backstage by all accounts and took a few songs of 'soundcheck' to finally hit her stride. But once she did – clad in a floating Victoriana mourning gown – her renowned vocals truly kicked in for 'Nothing Compares to You' and she didn't have to look back.

Goldblade (9) played to the rain and challenged the crowd to make enough noise to stop it. However the Met Office's predictions held, and the downpour left punters a little more subdued than an energised John Robb would have liked, despite his best efforts at launching himself at them from the word go.

Viv Albertine (8), in black drainpipes, a ruby-red top and stiletto cowboy boots announced she hadn't been to a festival since Glastonbury in 1978 where she hated the bogs – but that now she'd shit anywhere. Singing confused songs about believing (or not) in love she went on to explain the three life stages of needles...heroin, IVF and knitting...and cracked through a punk set scrawled on a torn up paper cup.

And finally – going right back to the start of the weekend (putting the Levellers' firework-finale headline set to one side) – the event's masterminds repeated their tradition of opening the event with an intimately honest acoustic set (10) on the Big Top stage. The crowd were almost as loud as the band, and anyone planning to see them in acoustic mode in Croydon in October is definitely in for a treat if the band can stay on the same 'unplugged' form.

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