Now in its 11th year, Beautiful Days is a refreshingly uncommercial fixture on the UK festival scene. Clare Blakely reports…
nd so to Beautiful Days 11 – or for this revieweer, BD3. Gates opened at 2pm on the Thursday before everything kicked off, so we were able to find a good place to camp for the next four nights, and there were hugs all round as people greeted friends they last saw last year. This is a festival refreshingly free from corporatism; instead there is a good range of independent food and drink outlets charging reasonable prices, and bars serving beers and ciders from Otter Breweries, also at good prices.
Our hosts The Levellers kicked off proceedings with an acoustic set in the Big Top, which was so full there were fans sitting outside listening. Later on at the main stage, we saw The Selecter, who had everyone skanking to their well-honed beats, including a beautiful ska rendition of Doris Day’s Secret Love featuring the biggest flute I’ve ever seen. They finished with Too Much Pressure, working into Pressure Drop.
Clannad were playing the Big Top and we heard some magical, ethereal Celtic music. Maire Brennan still has a wonderful voice and they did lots of old material, including the music from Robin Of Sherwood and Harry’s Game, as well as a number of traditional drinking songs. Lovely.
Saturday was wet and so we hung about the tents waiting to see if it improved. By the time we got to the main stage, John Robb of Goldblade was exhorting the crowd to make enough noise to stop the rain, but it held so we wandered off after lunch to see the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, a Barnsley comedy trio wearing wigs and bad tank tops who sing songs like You Gotta Fight For Your Pint In Barnsley and Lady In Greggs. They got the crowd singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody played on ukelele with the twiddly guitar bits done on a kazoo, which was comical by itself. There was also some crowd-surfing to the bar, returning with two pints for the band – definitely a sight to see. But the biggest surprise that day was 65daysofstatic, described in the programme as “experimental” and “instrumental”. So far, so prog I thought… but I was wrong. They had drums and guitars, lovely electronic melodies and a really big full sound, whether loud and brash or quieter and more introspective. Check them out.
And then finally there were Saturday night’s headliners, Primal Scream, who were worth the ticket price on their own. We got a full 90-minute set which was full of energy once Bobby Gillespie hit his stride after the first couple of songs. They appear to have become a full-on show band, and it was a really nice touch to see all the band members’ kids at the side of the stage jumping up and down for all they were worth. Better people than I have written proper reviews so I’m not going to try and compete.
Sunday dawned brightly and I wandered off to the Bimble Inn to hear Rev Ike’s Sunday Soul Service, which turned out to be a white guy in a dog collar, chain-smoking behind his decks and playing some really nice soul and jazz-funk for a couple of hours. Sunday was also theme day, and this year it was animals. Cats were popular and there was a fair number of bumble bee families; stalls selling tails must have done very well. After lunch and a restorative Sunday afternoon snooze, it was Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. Harley’s always good value, and at one point got a roadie to bring his phone on so he could take a panoramic photo of the crowd. They finished with Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) – what else?
Then it was on to check out Imelda May, who makes perfect retro pop and has a great voice to boot. There was a real 50s vibe from her band, with a mixture of ballads and bouncing rockabilly, and for an encore she sat on the side of the double bass and sang Blondie’s Dreaming while playing a ukulele. Magic. If the main stage field wasn’t full enough at that point, it soon became so ,with eager music lovers making their way there for The Levellers, who finished the festival with 90 minutes of back catalogue… and The Devil Went Down To Georgia as the fireworks went off.
I do love Beautiful Days. There is always something interesting on, and it seems like everyone know everyone else, and if not, they soon will. The beers and ciders aren’t exorbitant and there is no prohibition on taking alcohol into the main part (apart from glass bottles, which aren’t allowed on-site). And best of all, the toilets are cleanish and emptied regularly. Bring on next year.
Words and pics: Clare Blakely