Farm Festival – a review, including hats, hogs, Babyhead, Right Turn Left and Post War Years

spent last weekend at Farm Festival, a small gathering held in a picturesque, cider-loving Somerset backwater, a couple of valleys over from Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm.  In this modern English world of seemingly infinite annual festival options, from the mighty to the mini, Farm Festival is decidedly located at the humbler end of the spectrum: what it lacks in big names, it makes up for in frugality – the whole thing cost a piffling £28.50, including the festival, two days’ camping and reservations fees.  By comparison, Glasto was £175 this year, WOMAD cost £122 and Lovebox in Victoria Park, a two-day affair without camping, retailed at £75 for both days – all of those prices still shorn of booking charges, too.

In its fourth year and with proceeds going directly to an excellent charity (Practical Action, which provides pioneering technologies to needy souls in the world’s poorer countries), Farm Festival is also cosy, friendly and, praise be, easy. There’s no long, rucksacked slug from car to campsite, there are no huge crowds to inch through in order to get vaguely close to a live act, there are decent sanitary facilities and there’s fine, inxpensive tuck, including the local speciality of hog roast: a man-sized fistful of spit-roasted pork crammed into a bun. Perhaps that’s why, as well as youngsters, 20-somethings like us and older folk, plenty of families were in attendance. Certainly all seemed safe enough. I heard no reports of robberies, and, barring one scuffle and a Devon-hating band, witnessed no animosity whatsoever. Happy times indeed.

Safety and simplicity earn good marks, but easily Farm Festival’s chief virtue is its quirkiness. Everywhere I looked, something creative and eccentric was taking place. There was a Mad Hatters tent, themed to Alice in Wonderland, and offering pom-pom making, egg-and-spoon races, karaoke and a fun quiz at various times during the day. There was a small crazy golf course to which I tragically did not bring my A-game. There was a skittles lane and a giant human-shaped structure constructed from lilos. There was a stall where you could design bags, and another offering ‘hangover-cure’ massages. And, best of all, there was a hat competition spread across the two days, leading to some hilarious, and breathtakingly imaginative headwear. I saw crocodiles drinking cider, a legion of lampshades (see picture below) moshing to reggae, loaves of bread putting in for a par-four, addled astronauts and the occasional passing brigadeer, sheikh, Eiffel Tower and Navy captain. Each and every one of these drew the same response: intake of breath, then wonderment and finally a broad, delighted smile. Dancing to a banjo-based cover of Boney M’s Ra Ra Rasputin in the company of pirates, builders, wizards and huge bananas ranks as close to paradise as I’ve been in many a year. All this is consciously similar to the Bestival festival’s mentality – but on a much smaller, more intimate level. 

You’re probably wondering what kind of music Farm Festival provided?  The answer: a real range.  Indeed, the event’s rather an audio jamboree, as sonically diverse as it is sartorially. I heard dub, dance, folk, anti-folk and reggae; rap, blues, bop and electro pop; and more or less everything else in between. The best-represented genres were perhaps rock and ska, but in truth the soundscape was as muddied as the walks between stages, and the boundaries as blurred as my eyesight after each night’s trip to cider-land and (painfully) back. (We’re talking real Somerset cider here, too, not that mamby-pamby Magners stuff served with half an ice sculpture to Clapham softies.)

Looking at the Farm Festival line-up in advance, I’d heard of a total three acts: and that from a geeky loon who spends too many hours in darkness reading blogs, and attending sparse concerts in grubby London corners. Many of my fellow attendees didn’t recognise a single name on the line-up. All of which was no surprise, given the festival’s tiny cost and tinier size. But it was also no problem – for being introduced to a bumper load of new music is ever a good, indeed a great, thing. Well, mostly great – some of the performances on Farm Festival’s shoebox of a main stage were laughably woeful, with out-of-tune singers and ill-chosen chords. One band were so noisy and odious that I felt like I was watching a Boris Karloff hammer horror metres from a triggered car alarm. Other acts had scarcely more quality, but crucially brought real humour and warmth to proceedings, accepting their limitations with roguish charm, and delivering ribald, uproarious anthems to wet eyes and wetter armpits. I particularly enjoyed ‘Jesus is a Gay’, although I sadly didn’t catch the offending band’s name.

I definitely will, and plan to, return to Farm Festival. The clash with the Secret Garden Party festival is unfortunate, but at a fifth of the cost, a fraction of the effort and scarcely any less fun, I know to which bash I’ll be tempted towards next year.

Among all this fabulousness and cacophony, three bands really stood out for me:

Babyhead
On first inspection, Bristol-based Babyhead were a group of white boys doing boisterous reggae – rarely a good thing in my limited experience.  Ten songs later, and I realised I’d been right about their skin colour and gender, but little else.  Typical of Farm Festival, Babyhead’s sound bounces around, but it’s predominantly a mellow dub and ska blend, full of Caribbean-sounding rhythms, echoey vocals, thick drums and earthy bass sounds, and rhythmic chanting: a languid racket that could undo the worst hangover (an evidence-based observation). Their songs contain intelligent lyrics and the slow, wiry grooves positively beg you to loosen that waist and do some awful skanking.  From Babyhead’s website I can glean that they’ve been around ten years, via a soap opera of changing sounds and line-ups, and that a second album is imminent. It seems their name is slowly spreading, and that’s richly-deserved on the evidence of last weekend.

Right Turn Left
In many ways RTL are a simple beast: there’s a singer, a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer, and they make melodic rock. For a couple of songs I thought thoughts like ‘so-so’, ‘average’, ‘not bad, you know?’, that sorta thing.  But then I looked down, and found my foot tapping furiously and hands rapping against my hip to the beat.  The sun came out (always a good sign).  The crowd thickened (ditto). And the songs got better and better, enlivened by some amusing between-song banter.  Each had something a bit distinct about it: a sudden all-band chorus; a curiously-silent intro; a gorgeous riff… and here I realised was a band which, while perhaps not setting my world on fire, can certainly improve it some. And on we went, guided by singer Jim’s lovely voice and some fragile chords of slippery beauty or fearsome funkiness.  They played tight, they played well and, based in Tooting, they can sure play for me again. 

Post War Years
This wasn’t a total surprise: PWY were one of the three acts I did know about before.  Festival headliners, they played on Saturday night straight after a lively set from DJ Vadim, which had in energy what it lacked in variation. In short, a challenging slot. But, after a quietish start, boy did the London quartet do well. What stood out was the edginess and esoteric nature of PWY’s sounds; their songs rarely follow a set pattern, opting for passivity and self-reflection when you anticipate histrionics, and then suddenly reverting to brimstone and balderdash once you’ve accepted the ambience. Keyboards make metallic clangs, guitars trinkle, trinkle some more and occasionally explode like volcanoes, and Tom, Simon and Henry’s vocals soar and fall with balletic elegance. It’s blissful, and far more creative and classy than anything else at the festival.  All that before The Black Morning, a percussion-based bruiser that sounds a little Coldplay, a tad Guillemots, a smidgen Glasvegas and a lot like no-one at all.

Live dates:
Right Turn Left: Fri 31 July – The Selkirk (Tooting)
Post War Years: Sat 1 August – Proud (info and tickets here)
Post War Years: Thurs 20 August – Ginglik (info will be here)
Right Turn Left: Tues 1 September – Catch

Babyhead on MySpace
Right Turn Left on MySpace
Post War Years on MySpace

MP3:
Post War Years – The Black Morning (zSHARE)
Right Turn Left – Lost At Sea (zSHARE)
I asked Babyhead if they’ll provide MP3 but they didn’t bother to reply

Buy Post War Years CDs here.
Buy Babyhead CDs here.

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~ by ripamel on 29/07/2009.

4 Responses to “Farm Festival – a review, including hats, hogs, Babyhead, Right Turn Left and Post War Years”

  1. Any idea who was playing in the bar tent on Saturday night at 1-ish? Just before a DJ came on and played a load of old-school rave stuff. I ask because we were trying to work out if they were for real or not – the 2 MCs seemed wankered and kept repeating the same stuff again and again, usually asking the crowd for a lighter…. 🙂

  2. They were called Trademark. Yes pretty pissed I think.

  3. Hey…I book all the bands for the main stage at FarmFestival. Thanks so much for reviewing our fest and picking out your top three. It’s always great to hear feedback on the bands and I respect your criticism of some of the acts, but ‘laughably woeful’ is a bit strong.

    On Friday all the bands were very strong and tight…all London bands who no stranger to the gigging circuit. Two very young local bands kicked off the Saturday and apart from the rain it was all pretty smooth. Lime Headed Dog were great though I do appreciate they do not appeal to all and maybe this is where your out of key singing comment came from? They are very interesting band and were followed by the delightful Cats and Cats and Cats…before these bands (ex-clor) Barringtone played just before the rain and were amazing. Ice Black Birds did a good turn and the last four acts were all grand. Not convinced that any of them deserve your off the cuff comment of being woeful. Really chuffed you took the time out to write about us in your blog though dude…please come down next year for more of the same. You captured the spirit of the festival perfectly.

    For me Exlovers and Post War Years were ace…

    Come down to the Brixton Windmill on 21st Aug for the after party…be great to meet you.

    Gav

    • Hey Gav
      First, thanks for reading, and second, thanks for a terrific festival. Re-reading, perhaps I was too harsh on some of the early bands, and apologies for that. I guess part of blogging is that you passionately and instantly chuck out your thoughts, without the moment’s consideration you might give an email or print article.
      I can’t make the after-party, sadly, but my group are all intently planning on revisiting Farm Festival next year!
      thanks again, and for writing – Richard

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