No matter if you’re a festival-goer or not, if you hear the words “Somerset” and “music festival”, you’ll probably think “Glastonbury”. Attracting over 130 000 people last year, Glastonbury’s definitely one of the biggest and most famous UK festivals. But it’s certainly not the only one that Somerset has to offer.
There’s also the Watchet Music Festival, for example, which takes place in the small seaside town of Watchet over the Summer Bank Holiday weekend in August. The 5000-capacity event is one of the country’s finest boutique festivals, offering stunning views, a family-friendly atmosphere, and a diverse line-up of artists.
After arriving on Saturday and settling in, the first band I catch are Turin Brakes who are promoting their latest release, Invisible Storm. They’ve been together for almost two decades and have released eight studio albums, but the group sound as fresh as they did 15 years ago. So they easily win over the crowd with a mix of old and new material.
Next up, the New York hit makers Odyssey, known best for their songs Use It Up And Wear It Out and Native New Yorker, bring the disco era to sunny Somerset. As they perform hit after hit, Odyssey manage to get everybody in the crowd up and dancing, from those awaiting Mel C to their parents who experienced the ‘70s first-hand.
In the meantime, on the smaller Udder Stage, a very different band are making people jump high and dance like no one’s watching. Their name is RSVP. I must admit, I’d never even heard of them before, but they have me (and the rest of the audience) entranced from the very first song. Playing a unique brand of Bhangra that mixes classic Punjabi tunes with dance beats, they easily live up to the hype of being the UK’s “favourite Festival Bhangra Band”.
Back at the Main Stage, a crowd is already gathering for one of the biggest stars of the evening. The young girls at the rail singing Spice Girls hits are clearly a sign that a Queen of the Britpop era, Melanie C (better known as ex-Spice Girl Mel C) is about to hit the stage. She was, without a doubt, the strongest singer in the Spice Girls and has used her distinctive voice to build a solid solo career in Europe and America.
The sun’s about to set as the pop icon takes the stage and the spectacular show put on by mother nature leaves the singer in awe. “Have you seen the sunset? Just look!” she screams from the stage, before asking how many Spice Girls fans are in the audience. Judging from the cheering and applause, there are plenty and so she performs one of the biggest Spice Girls hits, Say You’ll Be There. She’s an experienced performer and knows that the festival audience expects to hear the songs they love so that they can sing along loudly. That means her set is filled with fan favourites like her biggest solo hits (Never Be The Same Again and Northern Star), R.E.M.’s classic The One I Love, and When You’re Gone, the late ‘90s hit she originally sang with Bryan Adams.
The sun has set by the time Mel C leaves the stage, but it’s definitely not the end of the day. Aswad, one of Britain’s most successful reggae bands, are up next and easily make the crowd swing and sing. As they play classics like Shine, it looks like nothing’s changed since their ‘70s heyday (apart from a few grey hairs here and there).
While reggae takes over the Main Stage, The Hot Sprockets are winning hearts in the Udder Stage tent. On their Facebook page, the Dublin rockers claim to take no prisoners while performing live and, judging from today, that’s no exaggeration. They’re loud, colourful, and very energetic.
The evening turns to night as Scouting For Girls headline the Main Stage. The group bring another change in generations to the front of the crowd as the old-school reggae fans are replaced by younger faces and voices. These die-hard fans are thrilled to see their heroes play hits like She’s So Lovely, Heartbeat, Elvis Ain’t Dead, and others that make up Scouting For Girls’ recipe for success and festival joy.
While the London trio sing their hearts out for cheering girls, Hazel O’Connor weaves together jazz and gospel in the Udder Stage tent. She tells stories through songs and anecdotes, with a hint of harp and a healthy dose of keys and saxophone thrown in for good measure. Her headlining set is full of life, vibe, and unusual twists (like a take on Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars).
Sunday brings tremendous rain and folk-punk from Ferocious Dog. The band from Warsop, Nottinghamshire juggle various music styles and throw a party that’s hard to resist. They deliver fan favourites like Gallows Justice, Spin, and Too Late that (despite the showers) heat up the atmosphere.
If Celtic-influenced punk isn’t your cup of tea, Andy Quick Band offer a fresh blend of funky, feel-good tunes on the Udder Stage. Quick is a long-time festival performer, known for his Glastonbury, Bestival, and Isle Of Wight appearances, and that experience shines through today.
Next up on the Main Stage are the Liverpudlian rockers Cast. They were labelled “The Who of the ‘90s” and are one of the most influential Britpop bands still performing. Flying, Sandstorm, and Walkaway rewind the years to the band’s glory days and keep the audience up and dancing ahead of Sunday night’s headlining act, The Selecter.
Formed in the late ‘70s, the two-tone band from Coventry are the Rolling Stones of the ska music scene. Still fronted by Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, the group effortlessly light up the audience, closing the festival on a high note.
But, as impressive as The Selecter still are, it’s the band headlining The Udder Stage that take my soul and have me wondering why I’ve never heard of them before. Skinny Lister, a folk-punk group from London, are such a pure force of nature that the stage can barely contain them. As one of my friends says: “The world needs more upright bass crowd surfers”, which is probably the best recommendation anyone can give a band. Every song’s welcomed with cheers of excitement, but the crowd goes even wilder when the band play Tragedy In A Minor. And as I stand there overwhelmed by the music, sweaty from excessive jumping, looking at the smiling faces in the tent, I decide I’ll definitely be back at Watchet Music Festival next year.
Watchet Music Festival 24th – 26th August 2018, Watchet
Photography and review by Edyta K