Monday 17 July 2023

Recent gigs ( Part Two ) - Wychwood Festival 2023 Day One

 Purely by chance, this Summer has been my busiest season ever for outdoor gigs. In recent weeks Sarah and I have seen the mighty Muse in Milton Keynes and the peerless Pulp in Manchester ( more about those later ) but it started back in June with the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham. Wychwood has been running since 2005 but I've never paid it much attention, until this year's stellar lineup made me give it a go. I think they've really stepped up their selection of bands since the pandemic and this, coupled with the fact it's just up the road for us, made it a must. I bought us tickets for the Friday and Saturday only, as the Sunday seemed the weakest lineup, apart from Soul II Soul who I'm sure would have been good. 

( As an aside, the cost for Sarah and I to go to Wychwood for two days was still less than the cost of one ticket for Springsteen's latest tour. As you may know, dear reader, I am was a big Bruce fan but the whole Ticketmaster "dynamic ticketing" fiasco, and Springsteen's shameless attitude towards it, has put me off the guy so much that I'll probably never see him play live again. I won't go into it now but, suffice to say, I'm not happy about it. ) Anyway, on to happier days...

Wychwood had the most chilled, relaxed vibe of any big gig I've been to: a very family friendly, welcoming festival with plenty of things to do besides the bands, like arts & crafts workshops, "wellness" stuff, dance classes etc. I even got Sarah onto a fairground ride :-) The weather was perfect which was a relief as the British festival experience can always be hit or miss. We always remember seeing Robbie Williams ( don't snigger at the back! ) in 2001 in a sea of mud. Which wasn't much fun. As the photo above shows, we had no such problems this time, our biggest worry was not getting too sunburnt. So, what about the bands? What indeed. I'll run through them in order of days and performances, which is honestly most unlike my usual, haphazard style. I don't know what's got into me. Starting with Friday 2nd June:

The first band on, at some ridiculously early time in the afternoon, were The Pop-Tarts. These two sisters plus backing band play pop / rock covers in a folk stylee with ukuleles and acoustic guitars, and were a nice, gentle way to start the weekend. ( All the bands I'm going to mention here were on the main stage. I didn't get any photos of The Pop-Tarts there, but they did play again later in the day in a tent, as you can see below... )

Also in the wasteland of the afternoon slot were Still Pigeon, a straight-outta-music-school indie band from Oxford. They weren't too distinctive but were a pleasant soundtrack to eating an ice cream in the sunshine and certainly enjoyed themselves onstage.

Then came one of the most joyful but also most poignant sets of the weekend from The Beat featuring Ranking Jnr. If you've followed this 'ere blog for any length of time, you'll know that The Beat ( not Dave Wakelin's "English Beat" version, thanks ) are one of my all-time favourite live bands. I hadn't seen them since the tragic passing of Ranking Roger back in 2019 and it was a real lump-in-the-throat moment to see Ranking Jnr take to the Wychwood main stage without his legendary dad. Junior, as enthusiastic and full of beans as ever, soon had the crowd moving with a couple of Beat classics in Stand Down Margaret and Too Nice To Talk To, before Side To Side represented the 21st century Beat catalogue. He then introduced Carry The Flag by talking about his late dad, bravely sharing his feelings at his dreadful loss, and describing Ranking Roger as his mentor and best friend. It was a very emotional moment and Carry The Flag beautifully summed up Junior's mission to perpetuate his dad's message of good vibes, love and unity. More classics followed, with virtually everybody dancing by this point, before the set-closing double punch of an extended Ranking Full Stop and ( of course ) Mirror In The Bathroom. It had been a fantastic performance, full of joy and sadness, love and hope, perfect for such a beautiful day.

We went to find some food at this point ( exciting stuff, right? ) so missed the majority of Republica's set but managed to catch about three songs. As expected, they kicked out some bouncy indie-dance which was good fun but not life-changing. Frontperson Saffron doesn't have the strongest voice but she makes up for that with her ebullient personality and down to earth manner. She told us that the band can't believe they're still doing this as they were just "some mates from Essex with a synthesiser" who got together for a laugh back in the '90s, and are still here. Good luck to them.

The next band, The Dualers, were an unknown quantity for me. We also missed part of their set as we'd been wandering again and catching up with my old Death Planet Commandos pal, Mark B. ( A shocking lack of commitment from yer blogger. ) The Dualers turned out to be a red-hot reggae / ska band who brought the party vibe to Wychwood and got people to move their feet to the Trenchtown-via-SE London beat. They summed up their optimistic, Summery sound with It's A Wonderful Life before finishing with a razor-sharp cover of Toots & The Maytals' all-time ska classic Monkey Man. Definitely a band to catch again.

And then it was time for the band I was probably the most excited about, the always awesome Ash! I'd had a ticket for a much-delayed Ash gig in Bristol ( thanks Covid! ) knocking about for a year or so and hoped to see them in late 2021. Unfortunately the pandemic was still hanging around, if not in full swing, and Sarah wasn't comfortable with me going, so I gave it a miss. This was my first opportunity to see the boys from Downpatrick since that time and I was really looking forward to it. 

Ash kicked off with A Life Less Ordinary ( yay! ) and basically played a greatest hits set, with the likes of Angel Interceptor, Goldfinger and Shining Light all getting rabid responses from the audience. ( Sarah, it has to be said, was a bit non-plussed by it all. ) This was the first time I'd seen Ash play an outdoor gig and, as can often be the case, the sound wasn't a patch on what you'd hear at an indoor venue. The band were playing as well as ever, Tim Wheeler was his usual charismatic self, but the guitar sound was too quiet for my liking. If you're going to play a Flying V it needs to be heard! After a ferocious Orpheus ( maybe too ferocious? ) the bass amp packed up and there was much faffing about on stage as roadies attempted to fix it. Tim led the crowd through a solo singalong cover of Teenage Kicks ( why not? ) but the impetus was lost. Luckily, the set-closing trio of Kung Fu / Girl From Mars / Burn Baby Burn just about salvaged things. Anyway, it was great to see them again and I'm hoping to catch them on their tour with The Subways later in the year. And they've got a new album coming out soon!

As the sun went down, headliners The Happy Mondays ambled onto the stage to bring some urban Mancunian madness to leafy Cheltenham. That distinctive, twangy guitar figure that heralds Kinky Afro started up and then Shaun Ryder launched into one of the greatest opening lines in pop history: "Son, I'm 30 / I only went with your mother 'cos she's dirty" - and the party started right there. Leaning heavily on the iconic Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches album, the Mondays pulled indie-dance banger after indie-dance banger out of their bucket hat, with the infectious Loose Fit and the righteous God's Cop being standouts. The expected sitcom shenanigans between Shaun, Bev and Rowetta were as random and hilarious as ever: Shaun made a big thing of not knowing which song they were playing next ( "Who put this in the fookin' set list?" ), even though they were obviously all well-rehearsed, and the less said about the lines Rowetta and Shaun traded during the "penis" song the better. Bez spotted a kid in the crowd shaking maracas along with him and clearly loved it. In fact, they all looked like they were loving every minute of this funky, fabulous performance. They finished with, of course, a melon-twisting Step On, with the crowd dancing like they were on a Saga mini-break to the Hacienda, before coming back out for a final, freaky-dancing Wrote For Luck. 

It had been a wonderful day: fantastic music in lovely surroundings with gorgeous weather. You can't ask much more for a festival in the UK. We headed home for a rest, before returning for Day Two...

Mad fer it!

( Have these people no shame??? )


Anonymous said...

What, no Hawkwind? Its hardly a festival if they didn't show up...

Actually, I haven't been to a festival for ages, so really I'm dating myself there, just to prove that someone reads your fucking blog, Simon (;

Generally I tend to think it's probably not a good idea to pay too much attention to what musos or any other artists do or say outside of their actual records, performances and whatnot, but its understandable being annoyed about the Springsteen ticket thing. I'm not even a fan, and it seems like a ridiculous response from someone who's built a career on (supposedly) being a man of the people. Can't blame you for being pissed off about it.

Better to forget about it, and enjoy yourself getting on one seeing the Beat instead. They always seemed to be easily the best of those Two Tone type bands to me.


Simon B said...

Hi Sean. No, Hawkwind didn't turn up, but I definitely would have watched them if they were there. I actually had a ticket to see them play at a venue in Stroud waaaay back in 1981, but heavy snow meant the gig was called off. I've often thought about seeing them over the years but have never managed it. ( Many of the original members have since gone to that great squat in the sky, so it's probably just as well. )

I could write a whole post on the Springsteen issue, but nobody wants that. Suffice it to say that, since about 1992, I don't think a week's gone by where I haven't played his music... until the "dynamic ticketing" thing. And now I don't play it at all.

I'm not sure if The Beat were the "best" of the Two Tone bands, but the Ranking Roger / Ranking Jnr version of the band were, for me, the most enjoyable of the lot as a live act. The Selecter are also very fine and well worth catching if you can.

Hope all's well with you, mate, and thanks for commenting.

McSCOTTY said...

I always meant to see the Happy Mondays but sadly for whatever reason, I always missed the opportunity. Apart from the Happy Mondays and Ash I don't recognise the other bands. Like yourself I'm a big Springsteen fan but his attitude to ticketing was pretty poor. I'm not 100% up on his actual comments but what I have read it was disappointing.

Love your new header lol, I know the feeling my blog suffers if I don't post at least weekly dropping by half from a month when I post more regularly. Saying that June was my best month for visits but July is pretty poor.

Simon B said...

Hi Paul. My blog header may seem a bit "woe is me!" even if it's slightly tongue in cheek, but I'm aware that this blog is dying on its arse. It's 95% my fault for not posting enough stuff but I'm also recognising the fact that blogging itself is an outdated thing. So many of the bloggers that I interacted with when I first started out here ( way back in November 2008! ) have fallen by the wayside, often deleting their entire blogs in the process. I think survival in this Twilight of the Blogs era probably depends on being sufficiently interesting ( so that's me out lol ) and having a laser-focus on a particular subject, such as your good self with old comics on your excellent blog. TGW-S has always been a bit scattershot, with me posting all kinds of random rubbish, which doesn't really make for a steady following.
Oh well, there are certainly bigger problems in this world ;-)

( Oh yeah, try and see the Happy Mondays if you can. They're loads of fun. )


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