It was a subdued Sunday morning at Wilkestock as we welcomed the first day of meteorological autumn, and an end to summer festivals. Whether they had caught the carnage of the live bands, or the frenzy of the DJ sets after hours, you got the feeling that there was a certain fragility amongst the happy campers. After a gentle start chatting by the tent, it was time to venture to the various stages again, for what promised to be a gentler day and, just as importantly, an earlier night.
I had decided that a more gentile day would mean that I would be visiting Berry’s Wood again. Also Giles, the really helpful sound engineer, had a spare socket to charge my power pack. The first act I caught was Minnie Birch, who has toured Iceland, North America, and Germany as well as supported Joan Armatrading. She blends an enchanting voice in the style of old folk songs from centuries gone by, and adapts them to modern settings. She performed a great cover of Ring of Fire, but I was really taken by a song about an old football fan. Hailing from Watford, she sang about Old Bob taking a shot. It was humorous, sentimental, and poignant.
The draw of the Bella stage was great and so I went to see Framatics, a new alt-rock band from London with a sound that’s all raw guitar licks and expansive synths. Another band with a strong frontwoman (Madeline Todd) they are building up a following and their standout number, I Think You Are Funny, was very good. Madeline’s mannerisms on stage reminded me a little of Theresa Jarvis from Yonaka.
Back at Berry’s Wood, Sam Rabin was playing his brand of rapid folk. He sings about his mates, experiences, and everyday life, with weariness. He has a rich and gravely voice, and in one of his songs, he even mentioned Stevenage Boro, which can only be a good thing. Sam has the potential to be a travelling troubadour with his lyrical observations on life.
The first act I saw on the main stage were Stone Thieves, a rootsy Americana band from London. They looked every inch the cowboys and played some good old-fashioned bluesy country rock ‘n roll. It was a complete contrast to the heaviness of the night before and reassuringly familiar. Micky Pearson’s guitar licks were catchy and complemented Aaron Gardner‘s vocals. They are totally authentic and Midnight Ride was a real rocking tune with a chorus that I was singing until the next act appeared on stage
That act was Indian Queens. It was obvious as soon as they sang You When I Close My Eyes that they were a band full of hypnotic dark sounds. With basslines that were constant and trance-inducing, they’re one of those bands that you can really appreciate with your eyes closed, just concentrating on the dreamy soundscape washing over you. Looking around the sofas, people were chilling out to the warm weather and the warm sounds. Catch one of their tunes in a dark room with your headphones on and submerge yourself.
Back at Bella was Zoe Phillips, who alternated between playing the guitar and the keyboards. She has a beautiful voice and her harmonies blended very well with the bass.
The day had turned into a scorcher, and Thousand Thoughts strode onto the main stage in hooded jackets and face scarfs. I thought to myself that those outfits would not last. The alt-rock band from Enfield made an instant impact, especially frontman Ethan Smith and his long purple hair. After the first number, layers were removed and the band delivered high-charged rock that finally got Sunday’s crowd moving. The set was powerful and accomplished, with Perspectives the standout for me. I expect to see Thousand Thoughts around for some time, as they smashed it.
I made my last visit to Berry’s Wood to catch Tom Dulieu’s set and recover my battery pack. Tom had been managing the stage all day and now was his turn to take to it. Line Of Fire showed off his rich voice with its nice rasp. He did break a string on his guitar so after a rapid re-string and tune up he continued with a set of catchy, well-written numbers with lyrics that always had a tinge of sadness. It was a fitting ending to Berry’s Wood.
It was all about the main stage now as the festival was drawing to an end. Dat Brass, from London, certainly stood out – not only because there were so many of them, but because of their line-up: a DJ, MC, and a lot of brass, including saxophones, trumpets, a trombone, and sousaphone. They played a real fun mix of horn lines, percussion, and hip-hop. The crowd were having a great time partying to the music and lyrical verse.
I had earlier interviewed the gentleman that is Fran Doran from Red Rum Club, so I was looking forward to seeing the band perform again after their impressive set at Truck Festival. They started with a blast of Joe Corby’s trumpet, trying to rally the crowd which had vanished as they often did for the penultimate act.
Angeline was delivered with RRC’s usual enthusiasm and four songs in Fran said in his brilliant accent: “We are from Liverpool if you don’t know. We are here to make you dance.” The latin sounds of Calexio will make anyone move and the crowd that was there did respond. Although Remedy kept the feet tapping, it was a shame that a lot of the festival goers were missing this great set. Fran got us singing with the last two songs of an all too short set: Honey and their standard Would You Rather Be Lonely.
All things come to an end and the three days had flown by. It was now time for Sunday’s headliners, Dutty Moonshine Big Band. It was indeed a big band with six on brass including another sousaphone, a drummer, a DJ, and three vocalists. This was one of the most original bands I had seen, mixing pretty heavy bass, grime, and hip-hop with a large brass section. I still question having on two bands that mix hip-hop and brass, as part of the wow factor had been taken away by Dat Brass. Strangely, by the time Dutty Moonshine Big Band performed, that mix of genres seemed pretty normal.
However, Dutty were heavier on the bass and did mix styles a lot more. There was even some boogie, which showed up in the horn playing on Boogie Woogie. There was a lot of fun in the set, and the crowd were now all at the front, making sure that every last drop of energy was expended. I think that with the fusion of styles there was something for everyone in their repertoire. For example, Bang Bang perfectly showed off their humour as the Cher/Nancy Sinatra intro soon morphed into a heavy bass number with lots of brass, and then back again.
The 12th Wilkestock Festival was at an end, and it had been a varied weekend, with some really exciting established and local bands. It is a uniquely quirky festival and I hope that a lot was raised for the chosen charities. Never has being charitable been so much fun. The crowd were, as usual at festivals, friendly and warm. I chatted with a lot of strangers, and many seemed very proud of the small local festival.
The sun had smiled on us so the afternoons were spent chilling out on the odd leather sofa in front of the main stage, and the after hours had been spent in a hot, sweaty Bella tent with all kinds of carnage and beautiful weirdness. Everyone had a good time, and looked out for each other, and that is exactly how it should be. Only time will tell what Wilkestock the 13th has to offer.
Live review by Tony Creek and photography by Paul Lyme at Wilkestock Festival on 1st September 2019.