Another year, another trip down to Devon for the Beautiful Days Festival. Organised by the Levellers, the festival eschews corporate sponsorship and the food and beer is supplied by local companies and small suppliers. The only beer banners you’ll see are the Otter Brewery flags atop the beer tents.
There’s no heavy handed stewarding either compared to other festivals. None of us were ever searched walking in and out of the main arena area, so we were able to carry our own beer around with us – making it much cheaper.
The festival started on a Friday, and having queued for 2 hours to get in the year before we left earlier and halved our queuing time! This year festival goers were randomly searched by police on the way in, with cars being pulled over at several stop and search points. Police were not only looking for drugs, but red diesel as well. Luckily we weren’t stopped, so had no further delays.
Having put our tents up in time to miss the rain, and had a quick barbecued veg kebab, it was off down to the main stage to catch the Crimea. The Levellers’ die hard fans went to see acoustic offshoot Drunk in Public, but having seen them earlier in the year I fancied a change. The Crimea have been touted as being punk folk, but I couldn’t really see it myself, but that didn’t stop me enjoying their set which started off fairly relaxed and go livelier towards the end. I particularly liked their 'Eskimo Love Song'.
A particular highlight for me came next in the Big Top. Dikovej Bill, a Czech folk band, were excellent and got the crowd dancing along. I liked them so much I even joined the queue for a CD at the end of their set. I can’t understand a word of it, but it’s really infectious and fun.
Next up were Pama in the Little Big Top, a ska band featuring members of the Specials and Pop Will Eat Itself. Despite only having 11 songs, according to the programme, this was enough for a good dancing session. I hope this isn’t a one off and that we’ll be seeing more of them.
Echo and the Bunnymen were the headlining act on Friday, with Ian McCulloch his usual miserable self. At least he didn’t walk off in a huff and we got a full set. They played all the old classics providing a bit of a nostalgia fest for those of us who remember them back in the 80's before we went back to our tents. Well, I think we went back to our tents. I’m not quite sure.
Tiny Tin Lady were a relaxing start to Saturday, just what was needed for the hangover. Luckily I managed to liven up towards lunchtime when Goldblade played. John Robb’s band did what they do best – mad punkabilly, with audience members on stage to sing along.
A good thing about the festival is the number of art events and acts that go on around the arena. We were stopped by a Donna Matrix, who was doing “interviews” on what people thought of the festival, dressed rather severely for the occasion I thought. The Deep Sea Jivers were also fun, and the Shite Away litter (non) collector was another highlight, picking up the rubbish and just chucking it behind him. Another couple were dressed as dodgy St John’s Ambulance members, with more injuries between them than those they tried to “treat”. These little things add to the fun experience.
Neck played again for the second year. They are a bit like the Pogues or Flogging Molly, playing Irish folk and we had a good dance and a singalong to 'Fields of Athenry' – well, I did. My friends just gradually edged away from me with their hands over their ears, pretending they didn’t know me.
One of the day’s highlights were Dohl Foundation. I was disappointed to miss the start of their set due to disorganised fellow campers, but they really are excellent, and it was great to see the crowd doing Banghra moves in the rain, not caring about the impending downpour.
Another highlight was 3 Daft Monkeys, with their klezmer folk punk style. They were a real hit and people were squashed into the Big Top for their performance. They even surprised themselves with how well they went down. There’s been a lot of talk about them on various message boards, and they seem to be one of those bands whose reputation has been built on-line as well as live. I’d seen them at the Kingstone Green Fair earlier in the year, and could see that they would go down really well here.
Sadly for the Eighteenth Day of May, they had to follow 3 Daft Monkeys, and most people left. Their laidback style would have suited earlier in the day, but they couldn’t sustain the party atmosphere that had been generated. I had been looking forward to seeing them, so I did feel a bit disappointed.
Another disappointment was Julian Cope. He just didn’t have enough time to get going and there was hardly any of his usual mad banter as he rushed to get his set done. I still enjoyed it, but felt that he was rushed off stage and people didn’t get the full Julian Cope experience.
Still awake and not wanting to go to bed, we went up to the Pussy Parlure. Apparently during the day there were cabaret style acts there, although I never had time to find out. In the evening it was a dance tent, but seemed to be playing acid house hits of the 90's when I got there, so I went to the Little Big Top to see Krafty Kuts instead, and had a great time dancing to his Breakbeat DJ set. Not that I knew it was Breakbeats. I have just had to look that up on the internet! His album, 'Freakshow', has just been released. It ended all too soon, so it was time for a hot chocolate laced with brandy in the Tiny Tea Tent, and then back down to the campsite so see if anyone else was still up.
Sunday came, and started with the Fabulous Good Time Party Boys Medicine Show Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting Revue. No one knew who these were, but it turned out to be Rev Hammer, with ex-New Model Army guitarist Dave Blomburg and a number of others. It didn’t quite work for me, but it was quite funny. I think first thing on a Sunday most of us were still a bit worse for wear and not quite ready for this level of madness.
Later in the day Simon Friend of the Levellers and Dan Donnelly played an acoustic set in the Bimble Inn. That was good and especially amusing was a guy in an orange dress who went and sat at the keyboards. No one plugged him in and I found out later that at the end he slid to the floor in a drunken mess! Meanwhile I’d left to make sure I got into the Big Top for another of Sunday’s highlights, Dylan Moran. It was nice to get a bit of comedy thrown in. I hope it’s going to be an ongoing event.
Alabama 3 Unplugged were excellent, and this time I managed to get dancing and wasn’t elbowed out of the way by drunken idiots, unlike the time I saw the full band. It was a much more laidback experience.
I think I should mention that by this point in the festival most people were in fancy dress of some kind. A large group of lads from one message board had gone for loud shirts, which were great fun.
The theme for the evening was the masked ball. A number of us had had great fun making or buying masks, and were even wearing evening dress of some description. This really added to the party atmosphere.
Sadly, after the Levellers finished playing it all seemed to fizzle out, with no proper kind of big get together for everyone which I was kind of expecting. We all drifted off to either check out the dance tent or go back to our camping areas and sit, chat and play music.
Altogether this festival continues to be an enjoyable experience on a smaller scale that most, and I hope to be there again next year.
The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Neil Bailey and Helen Tipping