Wychwood is a well executed family affair that offers as much for the children as it does for the adults. It's just a shame it ran out of steam by the Sunday says Daniel Fahey.
Overall – 7/10
Wychwood Festival, held at Cheltenham’s Racecourse, is quaint and candid splice of both WOMAD and Cambridge Folk festivals delivering an idyllic blend of world music, an abundance of fiddle-friendly folk acts and a well executed, and rather extensive, children’s area. However, with most ticket-holders taking in the most glorious weather of the year, fans may be forgiven for not noticing that this year’s event sadly fell at the last hurdle, running out of steam by the Sunday.
Early energetic sets from Hoodlums and an opulent Orphans And Vandals, made sure the festival was quick out of the gates and even The Wonder Stuff omitting big hit ‘Dizzy’ and a rather dour and lacklustre outing from Super Furry Animals couldn’t stop the festival from entering Saturday in good steed. Free Peace, The Beat and headliners Supergrass were among the second day highlights before Sunday’s pedestrian showing was only interrupted by The Travelling Band, the ever-excellent Bellowhead and the surprisingly popular, but wildly unpalatable, Shtetl Superstars.
A few regulars bemoaned the line-up for not being as strong as previous editions, but the festival excels in allowing crowds to get completely immersed in other activities away from the music. Hours could be wiled away at the Roald Dahl Museum stall listening to ‘Revolting Rhymes’, colouring and crafting; adults and children could easily get lost listening to the Poet Laureate or time could tick by simply picking through the excellent food stalls.
The festival offers families an affordable weekend away with enough on show to keep parents and children equally entertained. Beer and cider prices are generally £3, the new addition of a tasteful Victorian-style funfair fits nicely and it’s all over, bar a silent disco, by 11pm, so the little ones can get some sleep too.
Getting there and back – 7/10
Cheltenham Racecourse is about a mile from the town centre, which, with camping equipment, isn’t really walking distance, but a taxi shouldn’t cost too much. Those driving are able to park in the campsite to unpack and set up before leaving the car in the Racecourse car park, which is extremely close and has ample space for thousands of vehicles. Trains from London take about two hours with regular services to Cheltenham Spa Station available from Swindon.
The site – 8/10
Ideal for little legs, the festival site is compact and can easily be covered end to end in around five minutes. Regularly cleaned toilets in the Racecourse’s stand takes out the daunting prospect of portaloos, but there is a lack of mobile toilets at the opposite of the festival, which becomes more noticeable as the evenings draw in.
Unfortunately for traders, the Healing Fields are somewhat hidden away behind some stalls and the gentleman with the Scalextric racing stall may as well been on a permanent pit shop with his lack of customers. The small real ale hole, The Hooky Bar, provides respite from sun and aching legs and the area in front of the main stage has more room for sunbathers than Brighton Beach. The children’s arena resides at the top of the festival with seven tents of indoor activities available along with space for outdoor hula-hooping, storytelling and walkabouts.
Atmosphere – 6/10
Far from a heart pulsating day at the races, the atmosphere at Wychwood is very relaxed and laidback to the point that some acts can feel like a distraction to the sunbathing crowd and their newspapers. There’s a more lively response at Bellowhead and Supergrass but many acts in the Big Top perform to only a handful of people, which isn’t particularly good for band or punter. However from a family perspective there are very few lager louts to worry about and at times the festival can feel like a mini holiday.
The Travelling Band – 8/10
With Fleet Foxes breaking through last year, it shouldn’t be long until The Travelling Band follow suit. Their wonderfully crafted, slow building Americana delights the Hooky Bar crowd, earning the five-piece a standing ovation at the end of their set. The group creep around the small stage flaunting the melodic harmonies of tracks like ‘Lonely Day To Take The Train’ and ‘High Five’ with charming personalities to boot.
Supergrass – 8/10
After some time out Supergrass’ triumphant live return proves to be worth the wait. As always Danny Goffey is the driving engine for the Saturday night headliners with Gaz Coombes, who is looking suspiciously like Angus Young, also on fine form. ‘Time’ from their first album is a wonderful addition to a set that spends a lot of time dipping in and out of their Britpop best with ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ sounding typically cartoonish. 2008 single ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Man’ gives the set a grittier side but, to the disappointment of some fans, ‘Alright’ is the track left to memory for the evening.
The Beat – 7/10
With two of the original members gone, The Beat draft in Ranking Roger’s son, Ranking Junior, to help out on vocals. Not to be outdone by his younger counterpart, Ranking senior is equally energetic as the pair mesmerisingly move around the stage in perfect unison. ‘Too Nice To Talk To’ and ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ are both nearly outdone by a kicking cover of The Clash’s ‘Rock The Casbah’, as the Birmingham ska troupe prove there’s life left in them yet.
Free Peace – 7/10
Perhaps encapsulating the Wychwood open musical policy the most, trip hoppers Free Peace are a remarkable melting pot of funk, calypso and hip hop whose influences flicker between the sounds of US3, Foreign Beggars and the Lion King. ‘Wake Up’ is a chunk of African calypso that is as refreshing as a pint of cider in the beating sunshine, while ‘Turn Your Life Around’ shows maturity beyond their years.
Little Boots – 4/10
On the eve on scoring her first number one single, Little Boots’ live showing is still a far cry from her chart success. Despite writing her own tracks, the singer, backed by a drummer and synth player, is left with little more to do onstage than sing. However, unlike her soundsake, modern-era Madonna, Ms Boots lacks stage presence. ‘Stuck On Repeat’ is addictive, but flat to watch and while ‘New In Town’ receives the best response, the star’s unusual Tenori-On instrument, which plays pre-programmed hooks, takes away the excitement of watching a track come together live.
Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds – 4/10
Pulling one of the biggest Big Top crowds of the weekend, Ade ‘Bottom’ Edmondson and his Bad Shepherds – “there’s no sheep on stage, that’s how bad we are,” – spend their set glossing up punks tracks to make them more accessible and inoffensive for an audience that lived through the pins and Pistols era. The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law’ and Tom Robinson Band’s ‘Up Against The Wall’ are among the songs to get mandarin and flute makeovers, but with what punk stood for, the band seem to miss the point?
Super Furry Animals – 3/10
Uninterested and uninteresting, Super Furry Animals’ Friday night headline slot is an off putting hour or so of self-indulgence with the bearded Welsh cartel choosing to rely heavily on their new album ‘Dark Days/Light Years’. Even their homemade prompts for the audience of ‘Woah!’ and other television studio nuances fail to rouse the crowd as old favourites like ‘Juxtaposed With U’ are few and far between.
The dancing steward
One weekend worker found it hard to not join in during Shtetl Superstars’ set. The steward with unbelievably high-waisted flares and award-winning musketeer moustache pulled out some highly entertaining dance moves that could of only been though up by someone like CS Lewis – highly entertaining.