Concerts at outdoor locations associated with the sport of kings have become common place in the British Isles but the Wychwood Festival, held at Cheltenham Racecourse, set the benchmark long ago and remains the perfect opener to a busy summer of outdoor events.
Now in its ninth year, the three-day event made the most of the gorgeous weather with just the right breeze to alleviate the warmth of the sunshine. The diverse line-up also managed to please its wide -ranging clientèle. It delivered on the nostalgia front and featured excellent new acts as well as crosspollinating pioneers.
The opening Friday got to off to a fine By Pierre Perrone pop Wychwood Festival Cheltenham Racecourse start when The Beat, fronted by the ever dynamic Ranking Roger and his son Ranking Junior, delivered a set combining early eighties ska-revival biggies like “Too nice to Talk To” with fondly remembered also-rans “doors of your Heart” and “Best Friend”.
Headliners soul II soul moved the British melting pot story on to the late eighties and triumphed with “Back to Life”. Saturday hit its stride early on with the energetic skinny Lister. The afternoon crowd were soon as drunk on their sea shanties as from the flagon of rum co-vocalist Lorna Thomas was passing around. sporting mirror shades and a military jacket, eddie and the Hot Rods frontman Barrie Masters rolled the clock back to the mid-seventies, when they lit the smouldering pub rock fuse that sparked off punk and scored their biggest hit with the epochal “do anything you Wanna do”, performed here with as much vim as in 1977.
Appearing under the Big Top, Public service Broadcasting recycled the past differently, putting a motorik beat under samples of old documentary films to forge a new way forward. The duo definitely lived up the promise of their groundbreaking debut Inform – Educate – Entertain. Ethereal fourpiece Mt. Wolf proved the new discovery of Wychwood, their delicate synthesis of folk and electronica reminiscent of Cocteau Twins in their prime.
Back on the main stage, The Wedding Present looked and sounded like the indiest band ever, especially sandwiched between French pot pourri acts Lo’Jo and Caravan Palace who both blend myriad influences to create fascinating hybrids. The Paris-based Caravan Palace’s electro-gypsy-jazz went down best, maybe because vocalist Colotis Zoé and her bandmates have become adept at engaging audiences of all ages and nationalities. The Human League’s sublime synth-pop catalogue provided a sharp contrast but the dapper Phil Oakey still had everyone singing the chorus of the evergreen “Don’t You Want Me”.