I’d been looking for an opportunity to take nascent gig-goer Logan along to his first Festival – we’d considered a day at Reading this year but he wasn’t too keen – and this small-to-mid size event seemed a perfect opportunity to start. A well-established 3-day event down near Portsmouth, this one has its’ roots firmly in the traditional folk and blues genres and still majorly catered for those styles on its’ bill, but a few enticing acts peppered the Saturday bill, none more so than headliner Frank Turner, popular folk/punk troubadour, live favourite of ours and (given the proximity of his home town Winchester to this venue) homecoming hero! Another advantage was that research indicated the 2 main stages were both under big top cover, thus allaying any fears Logan particularly had about weather. The weekend also coincided with a visit from Evan, my now grown-up son; he’d accompanied me to a Reading Fest slight return in 2013 (gig 884) and was happy to subject himself to unfamiliar music for another day, so it turned into a Boy’s Day Out!
So we set off promptly just after 10, looking out for holiday getaway traffic but avoiding a chunk of New Forest-bound stuff thanks to Evan’s navigation skills taking us cross-country to Wickham village. Parked up therefore just before 12 in the hay field opposite the Festival site, wandering around to the entrance. A compact, 7,000 capacity site clinging to the side of a small hill overlooking a picturesque Hampshire valley, a quick wander revealed a bohemian collection of Festival stalls and small side stages, and a wide variety of eats. The clientele reflected this too; a wide spread of ages, families and styles giving the Fest a relaxed and inclusive feel. After sorting the boys with Festival sunnies (not much use early doors as it was overcast, but still…), we set folding chairs up on the skirts of the smaller Village Stage tent for an initial base camp. First act proper (we’d popped briefly into a side tent where a makeshift band from local college St. Vincents’ music department – featuring a female vocalist with an impressive strident range – were stomping over some rock covers) were THE WILSONS, an acapella trio delivering some charming lunchtime folky sea shanties. Nick Parker showed up, shaking my hand and remembering Logan, and we also chatted to a fellow Nick fan Claire, who was there for the weekend with her kids and who remembered Logan from his Gaz Brookfield Southampton onstage antics! Second act WINTER WILSON, with their more sparse and baroque, and occasionally almost medieval feeling, pastoral folk, provided the background to our conversation, but thereafter Logan and I were bound for the stage, front and centre!
Our first act of interest, at 1.45, was indeed the aforementioned Mr. P, with his full band. The first time, shamefully, that I’d seen NICK PARKER AND THE FALSE ALARMS in all their glory, and they were great, the full band adding an extra dimension to Nick’s easy folky-pop melody and wry observational lyricism, “Never Been To Dublin Before” proved an apposite opener, Nick remarking, “all the people mentioned [in the chorus] have played here!” the rendition featuring some excellent sawing from fiddle player Ben Wain (also of Gaz’ Company Of Thieves), much to the delight of a woman behind me, who’d recognised Ben from school music lessons! “Down With The Yoof” was rambunctious and ramshackle fun, an oldie “Jerusalem” (“from an earlier album – I found 250 copies of it and they’re all over by the merch stand!” deadpanned Nick) featured a yearning and soaring chorus, and “Departures” was my set favourite, slow burn and slow building, the excellent lyric reflecting the glorious mundanity of an airport departure lounge. Overall, cracking, joyous and uplifting stuff with huge smiles all around; definitely not the last time I catch the full band, and I also appreciate a performer such as Nick who sweats profusely for his art!
Congrats afterwards, then whilst the boys went off to check out other attractions (Logan to the bouncy castle laser tag, Evan to watch some circus jugglers), I caught THE NEWCRANES set from base camp, as the sun attempted to break through the hazy cloud cover. Festival veterans, they played a raucous and upbeat, slightly punky fiddly-diddly set of the type which, post-Gaz, I’m much more kindly disposed to these days. Shades of Pele and Mick O’Toole in a diverting set, my favourite number being one which started slowly and funereally, but then sped up to raucous moshpit catnip. The boys returned and we checked out LIL’ JIMMY REED AND THE “A” TEAM, next up. Reed, an 80 year old old school Mississippi delta bluesman, alongside his virtuoso pianist sidekick, played a mix of piano and guitar-led tears-in-the-beers blues, proto-rockabilly and impressively groovy and more upbeat honky tonk material. The first number reminded these admittedly uneducated (in this genre, at least) ears of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, and others recalled the likes of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and suchlike. Not my normal cup of tea, but I enjoyed this and could appreciate a master craftsman at work; as could not only a large crowd assembled in the tent, but also Evan, who disappeared in after 2 numbers and emerged at set-end, declaring Jimmy, “awesome!” So much so, if fact, that the next step was to join a large queue to pick up a Jimmy Reed CD, for Evan to get signed, and to meet the great man to exchange some words about the blues. Awesome, indeed!
This led us to a relative lull in proceedings, so we grabbed some tea (nice Thai green curry for me!) and plonked ourselves by the main Valley Stage tent overspill, chowing down with DERVISH’s more traditional and plaintive Irish folk as a pleasant background. A trip back to the car to dump foldaway chairs, and we were ready for the evening’s mainstage festivities. Back into the Valley Stage tent just as the Dervish crowd were dispersing, so we got some splendid viewing spots in front of the speaker stack, house right, for GRACE PETRIE, on at 6.30. A soloist, political (personal and party) activist singer-songwriter, she’d impressed mightily during her Frank Turner support slot earlier this year (gig 1,121) not only with an excellent clutch of thought-provoking folk/Americana tinged numbers, but also some passionate yet easy repartee and connection with her audience. More of the same tonight with some witty yet barbed comments (“[I’ve released] 6 albums about how not to vote for the Tories; another one out next year – I’ve got a good feeling about this one!” and “I’ve noticed a number of nippers in the audience; I’m sorry, but I’ll be using bad words – I’ll be saying “Tories” a lot…!” were a couple of early rejoinders), an anti-Theresa May tirade, and an excellent early “Farewell To Welfare”, committed, impassioned and riveting. The one “happy” song, about her niece, was dispensed with early so she could concentrate on the other 2 aspects of her oeuvre – angry and sad! – yet most of the material was as uplifting as it was pointed, “Black Tie” (preceded by the comment, “I’m dressed like this [in black tie and waistcoat] because… I’ve got a snooker match after the gig!”) being a case in point, a letter to her 15-year old self to say everything’s gonna be OK. “Northbound” rounded off another fine set from Grace, after which I noticed (during a quick loo trip) that she was utterly besieged at the merch stand, having clearly resonated with a large part of this audience.
I was back in, however, for my 2 highlights; firstly THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG, 80’s folk-tinged political punk rockers and class struggle historians, on at 8. I’d been playing TMTCH stuff to Logan for years but this was the first opportunity to subject him to a live performance (their clutch of 2010-13 Swindon gigs coming too early, and their more recent SLF O2 support slot falling on a school night), and thankfully they delivered in spades. “Ghosts Of Cable Street” was a brilliant singalong opener, pointedly dedicated by vocalist Stefan Cush to, “Tommy Robinson and his ilk… it’s like Hitler never existed!” and even more relevant now than ever, reflecting the tension of these troubled political times. “Wishing Well” and “Coventry” was a superbly rocking double salvo, “Bounty Hunter” slightly understated but still a raucous singalong, and “Smugglers” likewise, Logan gleefully pogoing on his barrier spot. “Green Fields Of France” was a gut-wrenching and poignant reminder of the horrors of war, however “Ironmasters” was the brilliant highlight, the boys cutting loose with a rabid and rattlingly good rendition, during which I conducted the crowd behind me in the singalong chorus. (Evan had taken a loo break halfway through the set and claimed he couldn’t get back… I suspect he didn’t want to hear his dad singing embarrassingly loudly!).
Brilliant stuff overall from The Men! A friendly roadie scrunched up the set-list and tossed it over to me, and a quick loo break revealed a small queue at the merch stand, so I got it signed by The Men, along with a hasty selfe with Stefan and fellow vocalist Phil Odgers. Result! Back in to the increasingly busy stage-front – Evan took a wander, deciding the Frank crush wasn’t for him, but Logan and I stayed on out bit of barrier for the prompt entrance of FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS at 9 to a huge roar from the biggest crowd of the day. Punk rock for starters; Frank led the band through rip-roaring versions of “Get Better”, “1933” and a punky “Long Live The Queen”, racing around the stage and standing on the bass drum to emphasise his already impressive height. A breather thereafter allowed him to introduce us to, “show 2,372!” along with the usual rules (“don’t be an asshole, sing along), and “If Ever I Stray” and “The Road” really got the crowd roaring along, shaking this tent to its’ foundations.
Frank was his usual buoyant and riveting self, a consummate performer, making light of an early, erm, wardrobe malfunction during “Photosynthesis”, and declaring, “My mum is here tonight!” thence organising a hardcore circle pit (“not a Dorset circle, a proper Hampshire circle!”) in her honour. Frank introduced stand-in bassist Cahir O’Doherty, covering from new dad Tarrant before a poignant yet rocking “Polaroid Picture” and a funky “Blackout” which, as usual saw Frank in the photog pit, communing with the faithful. A touching “Don’t Worry” was preceded by an interesting exposition from Frank (“we were worried about bringing out an album called “Be More Kind” – we thought it might be out-of-date quickly as things might get better… but it’s all turned to shit!”), and, as ever, a brilliant “I Am Disappeared” was my highlight.
An hour in, Frank paused for his usual solo interlude and we took a wander out for a loo trip, catching another couple of numbers from the outskirts of the tent, “Where I Tend To Be” and a manic “Try This At Home” being late-set highlights. Logan was tiring after a big Festival day, so when Evan reported in at 10.45, we took the opportunity for a quick getaway, those 10 minutes allowing us quick egress from the car park and environs, a swift drive getting us home for 12.20, reflecting on the day. Well done Wickham Festival, you were everything it said on the tin; relaxed and inclusive with excellent facilities, and all the bands we came to see delivered big time. A splendid first Festival for Logan and a great Boy’s Day Out!