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Billed as ‘Britain’s Friendliest Festival,’ Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire is one of the biggest folk festivals in Europe. With much more on offer than just folk music, Cropredy is a must for anyone looking for a different festival experience. The entirely independent festival has just one stage, giving bands a captive audience of 20,000 people.
This year the festival welcomed reggae band UB40, brit-pop legends The Coral and singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy mixed with newer acts such as Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and The Travelling Band, culminating in the three hour Fairport Convention set.
Thursday was all about ‘rock-grass’ band Hayseed Dixie. Their unique take on classic rock songs and an enthusiastic live show meant that the Americans got a great reaction.
Friday headliner Seasick Steve stole the festival. The blues legend, joined by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, surpassed all expectations with a perfect set; so loud it set car alarms of in the nearby fields.
With rain imminent, a brilliant rendition of ‘Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick’ from The Blockheads got the sun shining once again. Special guests The Horslips played a polished set after a 30-year break with a unique mix of rock and traditional Irish music, before Fairport Convention brought the excellent weekend to a close.
By Conor Scrivener.
Last year’s Greenman festival was exemplary. The line-up had the biggest depth and range of any major festival. The atmosphere was wonderfully friendly. The food was almost Michelin Star quality. And the real ale was… I can’t remember, actually, as I drank too much of it. In fact, it was so good that even an unfortunate series of events that left me dangling helplessly (without shoes) from a dangerously rickety lamppost above four days worth of mud, rainwater and slurry from the nearby toilets – all whilst 15,000 people walked by and laughed at me – couldn’t ruin it.
This year’s Greenman looks set to do the impossible by improving upon last year’s festivities. Once again, it’s hard to find a festival with a better line-up; Iron and Wine, Explosions in the Sky and Fleet Foxes are some of the best headliners of the year (though I can’t help but think they might have had the pulling power for some even bigger names). And in a victory for eclecticism, post-dubstep pioneer James Blake and the very Radiohead-esque The Antlers find themselves alongside modern folk heroes like Laura Marling and Noah. But all of the hardcore festival-goers know what the true highlight of the weekend will be – the rotisserie chicken stand.
End of the Road Festival
End of The Road gets its name because it takes place in September, right at the end of the festival season. And whilst the likes of Bestival mean that it no longer has the distinction of being the last stop for touring during the Summer, it can still hold its head high, since it boasts what is almost certainly this year’s best festival line-up. That, as well as the massive variety of comedy and literature events that are happening at the same time, pretty much explains why it has managed to sell out in a year where more established festivals have been struggling.
The line-up’s strength is that it caters for pretty much everyone. For the hippest of hipsters there’s the rampant experimentalism of Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs and the massive noise-rock of HEALTH; Joanna Newsom and Laura Marling cater for those of a folkier disposition; and then there’s Lykke Li, Beirut and Best Coast for those who like their indie-rock to have some poppier sensibilities. Hidden further down the list are the glorious Lanterns on the Lake, who will probably be even better than headliners Mogwai at providing orchestral, post-rock treats. If you’ve managed to get tickets then you’re in for a real treat, and if you’ve got money to burn and a bit of spare time at the start of September, then it might well be worth splashing out for tickets on eBay.
Sonisphere is quickly becoming the Download-killer of the British summer festival season. It’s easy to see why, as the two are both basically catering for the same audience, except that Sonisphere has, for the most part, better music aimed at more committed metalheads. It’s an eclectic mix, with geek-rock quintet Weezer sharing the stage with the so-called ‘Big Four’ thrash metal acts of the 1980s (Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica), which makes little aesthetic sense, but nonetheless there is something about quirky humour that seems to appeal to rock music fans. QED – Bill Bailey had a set.
The atmosphere of Sonisphere 2011 was, as one expects, over the top; screaming “SLAYER!” being the primary form of acknowledging strangers. The food was, predictably, overpriced and merchandise seemed aimed at the few millionaires in attendance, so if you’re thinking of going next year then it’s advisable to save well if you want to have a good time. But metal festivals are wholly about the music, and Sonisphere’s lineup was the best for heavy music lovers this side of Bloodstock. Highlights were Slayer’s hypercharged set on the Friday and Slipknot’s emotional close to the festival on the Sunday night.
Leeds and Reading Festivals
Leeds and Reading are undoubtedly the stalwarts of festival season, but this year things have been going a little awry. In previous years tickets have usually sold out within minutes of being released, but this year it’s taken a whopping 127 days to achieve the same feat. It’s easy to see why of course; it costs far too much and the line-up is one of the worst in recent memory. Of course, Muse, MCR and Pulp will make for fantastic headliners, but there’s hardly anyone else worthy of gracing the main stage. There are even some shockers on the usually reliable NME tent; last year the inimitable LCD Soundsystem headlined, but this year it’s Liam Gallacher’s third-rate Beatles tribute act, Beady Eye.
Nevertheless, there are some gems hidden further down the list. The jaunty math-pop of Dutch Uncles, Dananananaykroyd’s ferocious live show, Islet’s indescribable take on post-rock; there’s plenty to see if you know where to look. The recently reformed Death From Above 1979 look set to be the true highlights of the festivals, though. They’ve been flattening audiences Stateside since Coachella and will almost certainly cause a mass dancing outbreak on a par with the Strasbourg Dancing Plague of 1518, thanks to their delightfully vicious and DEAFENINGLY LOUD brand of dance-punk.
One of the fastest-growing small music festivals of the UK season, Beatherder offers an electic mix of dance acts, DJ sets and… The Lancashire Hotpots. It’s not the biggest festival – of roughly 10,000 capacity – so a walk across the arena area would probably only take a couple of minutes, but what Beatherder lacks in size it more than makes up for in approachability and friendliness. The staff are all uniformly nice to people and the food consciously avoids the commercial, money-squeezing trappings that plague the bigger summer festivals. The stands all have the feel of independent traders and it’s possible to feed oneself for under a fiver; a rare luxury at festivals nowadays.
Musically speaking, Beatherder in large part deals in rave music, which wasn’t really my cup of tea beforehand, but since I’ve been listening to Simian Mobile Disco and Afro Celt Soundsystem a lot more than I used to. Easily the best part of Beatherder is the Toiltrees area, a stage which hosts DJ sets from acts such as Mr. Scruff in a woodland area. The rave carries on into the early hours of the morning and at night plays host to a great atmosphere unrivalled by the more commercial and well-known summer festivals. All in all, Beatherder is a great choice for those looking for a smaller festival with an attitude more welcoming than the unflinching capitalism of the bigger festivals.