Beautiful Days Festival
Escott Park Devon
(see what the whole crowd looks like from the stage here!)
Whilst the government flounders around like a headless chicken and allows the national infrastructure to decay and crash it’s events like Beautiful Days that, ironically, are nailed by an organisational perfection with an added dose of good times.
This year was the 19th and a great curtain opener for a special 20th anniversary next year. As ever twenty thousand plus people relocated to the magical fields near Exeter and there was an ageless array of bands of which your correspondent could not possibly catch all of.
Poignantly this event was also the 70th birthday of the great Joe Strummer – the former Clash frontman whose presence and rocking ghost hangs over proceedings. With its mixture of rock n roll classic, impassioned deliveries, political idealism, old folk, punk rock and fast forward to the future new musics Beautiful Days remains very much a Strummer fest with his long bequiffed shadow everywhere you look.
I can’t get everywhere so the new band Bimble Inn stage was untouched and the second stage with the likes of headlining Billy Bragg was several steps too far away as was the dance tent headlined by the likes of the maverick Gaudi – the summer of disco tent before the incoming winter of discontent.
Friday fickers into view before crashing into Cam Cole who is a busker deluxe in that he takes the street music and cranks it through a clump of cranked distress pedals and delivers a very rock n roll take on the form. With an added drummer this is a stripped yet explosive take and brings the big anthems onto the stage with the raw blues oozing out of every pore and his slightly dusty, faded, rock n roll glam look matching his musical swampland.
Hollie Cook comes from a punk royalty lineage but has very much chosen her own idiosyncratic path. With her Day-Glo cool and stunning threads, Hollie is every inch the alternative star as she leads her band through a perfect set of bubblegum dub and street reggae-infused pop with a twist. It’s captivating stuff and her effortless cool is the prime conductor of these great songs.
Originally from Sydney Australia, The Rumjacks, have brought their punky post-Dropkick Murphy’s take on the Irish folk to the big stages. The band, who broke through with their funny and darkly poignant take on the popularity of Irish theme pubs with “An Irish Pub Song”, have a whole set full of raucous anthems with the trad instruments mixing with the tsunami of big slam dunk punk guitars which goes down a storm.
Lars Frederiksen from Rancid has breezed into the festival with a solo set that picks classics from that band and a host of other tunes from his endless other projects building his set. With just him and his guitar he makes it work with sheer willpower, a punk rock attitude and lots of swearing! The songs are of course killer, Rancid and all the other projects were never short of a tune and there is an easy case to be made for them all to be the best strand of the big American punk explosion from the nineties. Not only did the ‘cid have the best songs, the most passion and the street rat survival mode of all classic punk they also walked it like they talked it and Lars’s set is a reminder of the potent power of those rough-arsed songs and their diamond melodies and their romantic hearts hidden behind the caustic delivery.
The Dandy Warhols are a revelation – somehow still on fire and still pushing their trip envelope, the band hypnotise the audience with a mesmerising set of psyche drones that the huge crowd get immersed in. Bunched together on stage they are deep in the communal mind as they lock tight playing almost mesmerising jam type pieces that hook around Ray Manzarek-style keyboard bass lines and loose almost jazzy drums. Somehow they turn this tripped out ooze into a left-field pop perfection – especially when they dust down their two biggest hits at the end of the set that somehow fit into their lysergic adventures.
Flogging Molly are still the kings of the tight professional post Pogues punk rock celtic workout. The band, like all American bands, know how to put on a tight professional show and it’s an almost choreographed workout from the collective that knows how to strike the core nerves of an audience that wants to dance in the moonlight.
Saturday starts at 11 and blinks sleepily into view as the previous night’s shenanigans in the green fields of England have their expected burnout on the senses. Formed in Bristol, IDestroy bring their raucous anthems from their debut ‘We Are Girls’ album to the stage and are a timely wake-up call. The band’s take on the bubblegum punk of a Joan Jett is given an added intensity in big songs that augur well for a future.
With their horn-fueled filth-funk, the punk jazz of Brighton-based Opus Kink creates a shimmering shenanigan whilst Coventry-based, Feet bring their wonky woozy touched grooves to the party adding a charming quark to the mix.
The Lovely Eggs, are of course wonderful. The Lancaster DIY duo have built up a hefty following with their hard gig circuit graft and their knack of writing great songs that entwine the energy of punk rock with a FX pedal-loving twist of strange. Added to this is a thrilling sense of humour and a knack for tuning the domestic into pop psychodrama. For two people they make a lot of noise and the songs sound enormous as they hang in the festival air. It’s only recently that they have been getting these kind of big stage gigs and the larger the space the better they sound and the reaction to them is a big full-on embrace – it can’t be long before they start headlining some of these affairs?
Snapped Ankles arrive in the knick of time from an overnight gig in Paris, they assemble their backline and then their foliage and delve a set of intriguing mish-mash of left field wonk that combines krautrock with obstinate death to trad rock UK underground adventures. There is defiantly a quark strangeness and charm about the band that deliver the high decibel whilst steeped in forest mysticism and costume-laden oddness.
Neds Atomic Dustbin musical bonhomie is welcomed with open arms. Most of the audience here have grown up with the so-called Grebo scene – a spurious music press concoction that corralled fellow Stroubridge bands like the Wonder Stuff and the Poppies into some vague notion of a Pop Culture.
Decades later and the youngest of all the bands from that fables town have finally started to sprout middle age in their follicles and demeanour but still display the joyful rush of youth in their music. Purely here for the hell of it, the Neds play a couple of times a year with the odd tour added to celebrate that moment in time when they were one of the biggest UK bands in the world with an unlikely big American following. The twin bass-driven songs still pulverise and they have joyous afternoon in the sun.
The Interruptors ska punk concoction has been key in the Rancid Hellcat label scene with lots of cross-pollination projects over the years and their machine-like perfection makes them todays’ American band with a perfect pro show like Flogging Molly were last night. Down to having the flight cases on stage postponed perfectly to jump on and off, every detail of this highly energised show is worked out down to the tiniest detail. Their ska punk fusion is a perfect seamless whole and their songs kick off a huge pit across the field.
Maximo Park are classic post Britpop indie fronted by the still charismatic Paul Smith who still delivers those silhouetted stage moves in-between his impassioned vocals. The band have plenty of much-loved anthems from several big selling albums up their sleeve and its career-encompassing romp.
Earlier that afternoon I bumped into Terry Hall from The Specials on the backstage ramp and told him I was looking forward to the show to which he replied ‘Im not[ in that semi smiling deadpan way that makes him the most magnetic of frontmen.
Now down to two original members, the Specials still know how to have a dark energy party that deadpans social commentary of infectious ska infused with punk intensity groves. The band is super tight and fill all the gaps from departed members perfectly like the rotating squad of prime premiership football club. The songs are all classics – one of the most important bands from our wild youths, the Specials were game changers. They created musical genres and cultural spaces out of previous classic styles and sparked so many into action. So many bands from the Prodigy to Massive Attack to the Gorillaz all owe them and these days they tour taking in the triumphant lap of honour they so richly deserve.
Not that there is any complacency here – the songs are super tight and played with a love. Terry is as deadpan as ever and his distinctive voice that still gives the band that ghost-like extra is intact but maybe it’s the other long term member Horace who is the real driving force here – his bass playing is extraordinary. Of course on the record you know he is hot but standing ten feet away from him on the stage you really get to immerse yourself in the full gamut of his playing. Melody lines, the groove and lots of octaves are thrown out there as he scampers around the stage like someone a third of his age – he really is a remarkable bass player extraordinaire and the sonic soul of the Specials.
Sunday is normally the day of the dormice – the day of chemical hibernation and repentance but what is this? A huge crowd is gathered at 11 in the morning at the front of the stage for Funke And The Two Tone Baby. The one-man busker armed with a battered acoustic guitar and a bank of electronics is cranking up a holy roller groove and the audience is going wild. A Beautiful Days cult he is an example of the family vibe of the event that sees all manner of waifs and strays build up from gigs in far-flung tea rooms creating a cult audience that rolls them down the hill and onto the main stage. It’s well deserved for Funke And The Two Tone Baby whose huge compulsive electronic funk grooves blast out from the digital and mesh perfectly with the acoustic-driven neo busking anthems.
Deadletter are a frantically intense almost hardcore take on the minimalist twitching grooves of early eighties New York No Wave. They deliver their stripped-down agit funk like a young Gang of Four and add the colour and texture with a honking sax. It’s compulsive stiff and the band sound great – a stunningly tight and full set with that twitching intensity that this music demands.
Noble Jacks deliver their alt folk to a rousing reaction but if there is one act on the whole bill who defines the moment then it’s Bob Vylan. The last two years has seen him build and build his reputation with incendiary live shows and the punk/grime mix that is dancehall detonation. Lyrically he is delivering a serious message to this country. This is a wake up clarion call to England’s dreaming delivered with the kind of invective of Crass but with an added urgency of being a black man in a country that seriously still needs to look at itself.
Bob Vylan has a serious message but also a totally entertaining show. The powerful lyrics and between song speeches and banter are delivered with an hypnotic charm and a devilish sense of humour which makes the message even more pointed and the live show is stunning.
Bobbie Vylan on drums hammers along with the backing tracks whilst Bob Vylan is on his own upfront and is like a high-energy ninja living the songs out with a stunning physicality and boundless bouncing charisma. It’s a state of a nation of address for a nation in a proper old state and an unpinned grenade of anger at the heart of darkness.
French folk crew Celtic Social Club know how to bring the party. Inspired by the Hasta Vista Social Club the band decided that what the film did to take Cuban music to the world the French outfit would do the same with their gallic take on folk musics with a modern adaptation of Celtic music from all its different geographical enclaves like Brittany, Ireland, Cornwall, Isle Of Man, Wales, Galicia, Scotland and the Asturias. Then taking these trad Celtic melodies and filtering them through modern musical synthesis that creates a contemporary setting for these ancient melodies.
Jim Bob brings a warmth and a fistful of anthemic indie with the kind of wordplay that the acclaimed author is famous for. It’s a home crowd for him with many former Carter fans here but they are welcoming his personal musical endeavours with open arms. His band compliment the songs and Jim Bob is the continual host decked out in a white sit with hanging braces that has the look of a late period Clash Joe Strummer when he would take the stage dressed as a charismatic rock n roll waiter.
Reverend And The Makers are back reclaiming the festival curet after their pandemic layoff off. They also have a stunning g new single that is part Snoop Dogg and part Gorillaz cranked through the Sheffield indie filter that is one of their best. Jon Mclure’s sheer exuberance at being back out there is addictive and the band deliver all the classic swathe smattering of new tunes that bode well for their elongated future.
Whether he is the train-riding hobo of legend or a studio engineer who once worked on Kurt Cobain’s pre Nirvana demo, Seasick Steve is like a hirsute creature from another time zone.
His stripped down blues delivered with drummer Crazy Dan is perfection. They hit the sun dried bone carcass groove and don’t leave it and those finger-picked riffs that are coming out of his home made guitar draw you into their rhythmic perfection. It’s a reminder of the potent power and deceptive simplicity of the blues when delivered by a master of the form. The guitar is clipped perfection whilst the drums are explosive and the vibe and the masterful music hold the high crowd in the palm of a well worn hand.
As ever headlining their own party, Levellers may be in a transition period with a line up adjustment and a fallow year away from the rigours of tour/album but they still play as if their lives depend on it. The anthems are all intact and if Simon is sitting it out for now Dan Donnelly is more than a replacement and the collective still sound huge and triumphant as they fly the freak flag for another year.
Still celebrating the many late-night conversations on the so-called traveller culture that they were operating in their early days they are the ambassadors for a culture that is now truly changing the world. With the likes of former travellers like Dale Vince’s Ecotricty and other fellow travellers creating zero carbon projects across the UK and getting on with the business of saving the nation whilst the rotting politicians rot.
The Levellers soundtracked all of this and were often a conduit for these kinds of ideas in their slightly ruffled rock n roller rollercoaster end of the idealistic underground but they too proved that you could venture into the mainstream and do it on your own terms. The band and festival maybe big now but they still operate in the world of DIY and their raucous anthems soundtracked generations of outriders, outsiders, idealists and future thinkers. They carry the torch from the aforementioned Joe Strummer and his love of English folk from punk to trad into a seamless whole that sound both timeless and futuristic.
This is the heart and soul of the band and the festival itself.
A beautiful three days.
Thanks John. Loved reading that, I love how your words roll forward out of you and onto the page. I may be wrong, but I think The Specials original rhythm guitarist, Lynval Golding, also remains a member of the band along with Terry Hall and Horace Panter. I was right at the back at Beautiful Days and couldn’t really see anyone very clearly (apart from Terry’s big frame front and centre) but I’m pretty sure it was still Lynval standing at the side, chopping on the upbeat. I thought they played a commanding and moving show.
This was my first time at BD. I loved every minute, at almost 60 I’m very late to the party but I thought the mix of bands was great! This review sums it up well … An honourable mention to the fabulous food choice. We saw many great acts in the Big Top too.
Beautiful Days Festival 2022 : Live Review – Louder Than War
Beautiful Days Festival