Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham Race Course

Musical revelation relaxes the most weary of travellers
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The Independent Culture

For someone who has avoided festivals for 30 years, the Wychwood Music Festival is a revelation. The event has an easy-going, laid back atmosphere which instantly relaxes the most weary of travellers.

The huge circus top welcomes a diversity of music that spans from Samiland in northern Norway, as is the case with Adjagas, to Niger in West Africa, represented by the mesmerising Etran Finatawa.

Squeezed between the workshops for every type of dancing imaginable you can find the Wickwar Stage, where I stumbled upon Heavyload, a Sussex band comprised of musicians with and without learning difficulties who sound uncannily like the Ramones.

Certainly, on the first evening of this three-day event, it is The Independent Stage at the centre of the Wychwood Festival which draws the crowd. Ian Hunter, the former frontman with the seventies band Mott The Hoople, is the local boy - he is from neighbouring Shropshire - who fell out with his policeman father, as he tells the audience before playing the apposite "23A Swan Hill" from the Brain Capers album.

He is the local boy made good, who worked with David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and was a huge influence on the Clash. He bookends his hour-long set with the Stonesy swagger of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", his sole solo hit, and "All The Way From Memphis" from the Mott the Hoople catalogue, but eschews the opportunity to really go for the jugular and leaves out his best-known song, "All The Young Dudes", the one Bowie gave him in 1972.

Still, it's refreshing to see an artist who made his name in the early Seventies perform so much new material. The poignant "Twisted Steel" about 9/11, the wistful "World Was Round" and the biting title track of his current album "Shrunken Heads" prove that behind his trademark dark shades and blond curls, Hunter remains a great protest singer in the Bob Dylan mode - but plays a meaner harmonica. Backed by a five-piece band featuring the one-time Wings drummer Steve Holley on drums and backing vocals, Hunter bridges the generation gap.

The first day belongs to the cult figures of British rock, with Robyn Hitchcock up next. Fresh from paying tribute to Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, he opens with a stellar "Adventure Rocket Ship" backed up by his right-hand man, Peter Buck, of REM fame.

With his cynical jokes and surreal stories, Hitchcock is Barrett's natural heir. The singer and guitarist lick on the ragga-like "Madonna of the Wasps". With Morris Windsor joining The Venus 3 on percussion, they dust off the old Soft Boys gem "Kingdom of Love" as the sun sets.

Next year, the Levellers will celebrate twenty years together, and end the evening with a rousing set featuring "Hope Street", and "Fifteen Years". They will end with a cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".

With no queues, a family-friendly atmosphere and a manageable size, Wychwood is like a bijou Glastonbury, the perfect way to ease into the festival season.

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