Agit-prop indie pop in greenest Gloucestershire

Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham Race Course
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The Independent Culture

Five years on from its launch at a venue associated with the sport of kings, Wychwood Festival has established itself as one of the highlights in a busy calendar of summer open-air concerts. In fact, with its easy-going vibe and mix of established favourites like Supergrass and The Beat, rising stars such as Little Boots and The Mummers, and world and folk crossover acts like Bellowhead and Dhol Foundation, it is the perfect opener to the festival season.



With the rolling hills of Gloucestershire in the distance and just the right breeze blowing across the tents, the three stages, the concession stands and the added bonus of a fun fair, it's hard to think of a better place to watch live music in Europe. And if you want a break from the music, there are also comedy performers on the Old Hooky Stage and the first Children's Literature Festival with the new Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy appearing on Sunday.

The first band on The Independent stage, Oxford psychedelic folk rockers Danny & The Champions Of The World, relied rather too much on other's people material, quoting Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" when they weren't drifting into the Motown repertoire of Smokey Robinson with "Tracks Of My Tears". This rather overshadowed Danny George Wilson's own Americana-flavoured compositions, though the opener "Love & The Truth", the poignant melody of "The Truest Kind" and the closer "These Days", which sounded fine on a sunny afternoon with violin and trumpet flourishes.

With The Men They Couldn't Hang, The Wonder Stuff and Super Furry Animals, there was definitely an Eighties and Nineties indie vibe to the first of the three days. The Men They Couldn't Hang started out as buskers roughly at the same time as The Pogues but have weathered the years better. Mainmen Stefan Cush and Philip "Swill" Odgers have something of the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer about them, delivering every line as if laying down their lives for the cause of punk-folk. The rousing title track of their current album The Devil's On The Wind and their singles "Ghosts Of Cable Street" and "Iron Masters" brought a soupcon of agit-prop to Gloucestershire.

The Wonder Stuff did snarl and swagger better than most in their heyday and still have plenty of bite on the comeback trail. Cocky frontman Miles Hunt and guitarist Malcolm Treece are the sole surviving members of the original line-up but they have found a great foil in alabaster-skinned violinist Erica Nockalls. Heavy on hits like the dizzying "The Size Of A Cow" and the raucous "Don't Let Me Down Gently", but pointedly omitting their only chart-topper "Dizzy", their set went down a storm with kids of all ages, either those bouncing on their parents' shoulders or the ones reliving their indie disco teens.

The words "We're going to play side one of our new LP" are usually guaranteed to chill the blood but Super Furry Animals just about got away with playing most of Dark Days/Light Years to a crowd who took the woozy, groovy psychedelia of "Moped Eyes" and "Cardiff In The Sun" and the relentless sonic assault of "Inconvenience" in their stride. With a huge backdrop covering The Independent's own, Dafydd Ieuan behind two bass drums and bassist Guto Pryce using an Orange amp, the ghost of Seventies prog occasionally lurked over the horizon though frontman Gruff Rhys brandishing a banner exclaiming "Woah!" certainly took some pomposity out of the proceedings. Thankfully, the promised "old shit" of "Juxtaposed With You" and "Rings Around The World" eventually materialised, sending revellers on their merry way to the silent disco inside the Big Top Stage.

Wychwood remains a festival of rich contrasts and is all the better for it.

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