United Kingdom | 23 June 2009
Take the boutique mayhem of Bestival, divide it by thirty, cross breed it with a village fete and you'll get Winterwell. says Kae Karadelis.
Overall - 8/10
Three years after its birth, the festival is still tiny (population approx. 1,000), unadvertised and held in a secret location divulged only to ticket holders. The organisers rely on word of mouth for their publicity and it makes for an atmosphere that’s a bit like a private party in your back garden - with all of your mates. But with ElectroAcoustic Club, the London promoters who discovered Jack Penate, and Moshi Moshi DJ’s who brought us Hot Chip and Bloc Party, curating all the music.
Ignoring the customary scheduling rules that see newcomers to headliners grace the stage in succession, Winterwell revolves around a Saturday afternoon slot when everyone dons fancy dress, poses in a group photo and dances to Norman Jay (MBE) for over two hours. The rest is a haphazard and eclectic musical line-up, interrupted by activities like an impromptu meatball eating contest that give it a quaint, eccentric, home-made feel.
The fancy dress theme was outer space this year. Most innovative was the man who had sculpted a very convincing 3D alien head, munching its way through bloody intestines, to the front of his t-shirt. Face-painting and hula-hoops kept the big kids busy and a rock karaoke filled any timetabling gaps. There was also five-a-side football and a burlesque lady who took to the stage as an astronaut and finished up in moon boots and nipple-tassels.
Beginning late on Friday, the crowds and momentum were petering out by early Sunday evening. It’s an ideal festival if you want to leave work, go crazy in clandestine fashion for 48 hours, and get back in time on a school night. The Winterwell website sums it up best: Winterwell is your party, or rather a party put on for you. All you need to do is turn up and enjoy.
Getting there and back - 6/10
When Winterwell’s organisers say secret location, they mean it. Held in rural Gloucestershire (let’s not give it away now), road signage is last-minute and low key. The nearest train station is seven miles away and with no shuttle buses, festival-goers are advised to pre-book a cab.
The site - 4/10
There’s a heart-attack inducing hill from arena to campsite and the two stages located next to each other ensure that any acts in the Yurt are drowned out the minute someone performs on the Main Stage. With just two hot food outlets (though admittedly both awesome) you have a choice of pie, champagne breakfast or fish-finger sandwich, and not a great deal else.
Atmosphere - 10/10
Chilling on the grass in the day and partying at night, with the friendliest bunch of people on the festival scene. A sense of community really grows around you because it’s so small. You’re bound to make friends - and see them again and again.
Music - 8/10
There are no barriers between the Main Stage and the crowd, which is quite unique and reinforces the communal experience. From blues to punk and world to indie pop, this festival covered a little bit of everything.
Definitely worthy of a mention are Stornoway, who fill the emptiness left behind by the dismantling of The Divine Comedy, as well as eight-piece gypsy punk band The Severed Limb and diva Becca Langford with blues guitar accompaniment Vince Lee. Norman Jay went on too long, but the anticipation of seeing Metronomy later on Saturday night pulled spirits through, and they did not disappoint.
There were a number of no-shows and latecomers that let the side down. Ex-Monkey Swallows the Universe frontwoman Nat Johnson failed to appear Sunday morning. Meanwhile, mandolin and trumpet-toting Fanfarlo had to swap slots with boy-girl duo Slow Club, because the former were delayed. Maybe the bad road signage was to blame.
Lail Arad - 9/10
Brilliant female singer-pianist-guitarist whose upbeat, comic tales of middle-class discomfort (“maybe if I’d had it harder/ maybe I’d be prouder”) and boyfriends who refuse contraception, are tinged with heartfelt humour by her shape-shifting voice which goes from breathy jazz to country.
Manos de Dios - 9/10
Think: The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan in a Mexican mariachi band playing flamenco.
Shona Foster - 9/10
The programme said Tom Waits meets Ella Fitzgerald. But this truly haunting force to be reckoned with and her band replete with tinkling classical pianist sound like nobody else. A must-see.
DJ El Nino - 8/10
Classic vintage sounds from dusty 20s vinyl to big, brassy 60s swing keep the Yurt jam-packed till 3am. When the set finishes, the audience noisily demands more.
Hoss - 7/10
These unsigned funksters won their chance to play at Winterwell through The Music League competitionby scoring the largest audience vote in a series of gigs across London. Despite not being in the festival programme, their catchy rhythms attract a fair turnout, and steal the last bop on Sunday from many a hung-over head.
Hazel Mills in The Sizzle Suite
This girl could multi-task for England, looping live samples of keyboard, vocals, percussion and bubblewrap (yes, really) to an amazing climax. Shame that just as she’s getting to the impressive bit, a soundcheck from the main stage that’s aurally equivalent to a pneumatic drill in the brain, completely drowns her out.
Hands up to the organisers for bravely putting experimental art-punk on after two hours of Norman Jay, but it did empty the site. The singer looked bored and passed the time by mopping the stage with a towel. Later, she climbed down amongst her five to 10 hardcore fans going nuts on the ground, seemingly having given up her own day-job.
Where to start? The whole festival feels like it happened by happy accident. The contemporary dance suite in lycra to Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ choreographed by two of the festival’s male staff was unmissable. Part of a government initiative to get more dudes dancing, apparently. Or more Dad-dancing, perhaps.
By Kae Karadelis
Tuesday 23 June :
Ha ha! Top work Kae, summed it up nicely! Although I think the site should earn a couple of extra marks for its beauty - the heart-attack inducing hill may have had something to do with beer and pies I believe!
Well done Hoss - shame everybody was too hungover!