Now in its 30th year, Bristol’s Ashton Court Festival may not have the kudos of a trip to Glastonbury but neither does it have the exorbitant, Mean Fiddler-supporting, £100+ price tag. The princely sum of £10 gets you two days of local and not-so-local bands. There are two stages, numerous tents and a dance ‘tent’ that is really just a stage wearing a big sunvisor.
The early Saturday bands are uneventful. Early rain drives people undercover as Mosiamo play the main stage and the second stage hasn’t been fully built by the time the first band are meant to come on. Still, the sun comes out and people sit around drinking or reading the paper, mainly ignoring the bands although noisy Underdown briefly rouse some interest until they start whining about being “nineteen in the 1990's”, which sent us scampering to somewhere, anywhere, else.
Pinalou, in the dance tent/stage, entertain in a jazzy pub-band kind of way and provide the day’s first highlight by managing to sing “you say you're leaving: take the trash can with you on the way out” and still manage to avoid sounding silly. Bristol rappers Afro Saxon are also good, almost compensating for their appalling name.
The sun becomes even hotter and the mood in the crowd remains high as the Freestylers turn in a massive performance ratcheting up the temperature even further. In the Blackout Tent the Deaf Rave kicks off at nine as the bass is turned up so those who can’t hear it can feel it. Given, however, that Bristol boys Chikinki are at the same time turning in a storming set with even more chest-rattling frequencies on the main stage you rather wonder why the hard of hearing don’t just up sticks to there.
Chikinki prove to be the day’s highlight as proceedings are closed off by Welsh jokers Goldie Lookin’ Chain who – like hip-hop karaoke in a Yates’ Wine Lodge – are funny for about five minutes
Unfortunately we missed Sunday’s AC/DC tribute band Hells Bells, which should surely have an apostrophe somewhere, but then spelling properly isn’t really very rock, is it? This was more than made up for though by the genius that is Kid Carpet. In theory one man with some children’s toys shouldn’t really be a festival highlight, but Kid Carpet manages to pull more catchy tunes out of his Fisher Price guitars (cunningly linked to various samplers) than some other bands manage with full orchestras backing them up. Most guitarists just have to worry about playing the chords right – only Kid Carpet has to worry about accidentally hitting the ‘DEMO’ button.
Down in the acoustic marquee Mog & Jon provided respite from the heat with some refreshingly simple ballads. On the mainstage Bristol hero Roni Size’s new In The Mix outfit were rather disappointing, leaving the stage without ever producing a killer base line. Size wasn’t helped by the scheduled (brilliant) Dynamite MC being replaced at the last minute with the rather less good MC Sweetpea.
The Stranglers however far exceed expectations. They may be getting on a bit now and lead singer, Paul Roberts, should really keep his clothes on, but they still know how to play to a crowd. It’s an inspired end to the summer’s best value festival.