Wychwood Festival, Racecourse, Cheltenham
Thoroughbreds still set the pace
Tuesday 02 June 2009
Organising a festival catering for most musical tastes without alienating anyone is a tricky balancing act that Wychwood has managed successfully during its five-year existence. Despite the presence of half-a-dozen jokers wearing fright wigs, studded belts and carrying inflatable guitars, the three-day event doesn't do heavy metal but covers most other genres, from indie to world via folk, rock, ska, reggae, or, in the case of Sunday's headliners Bellowhead, a pot pourri of all these, with the odd morris-dance tune such as "Jack Robinson" or sea shanty like "Roll 'Er Down the Bay". This year, there was even the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, in performance mode with the help of multi-instrumentalist John Sampson in the Children's Literature tent, and bolshie punk Attila the Stockbroker, performing on the Big Top Stage. His targets – including Eminem in "Effineff", the BNP, New Labour and Gordon Brown in several rants and songs – might be obvious but his aim is always true. "Commandante Joe", his heartfelt tribute to Strummer of the Clash, went down a treat on Sunday.
Wychwood got off to a robust start on Friday with the agit-prop folk of the Men They Couldn't Hang and a hit-packed set by the Wonderstuff, though Super Furry Animals' insistence on performing most of Dark Days/Light Years, their current album, on the Independent stage rather smacked of self-indulgence. The Beat may be down to two founder members, drummer Everett Morton and toaster Ranking Roger, aided and abetted by his son Ranking Roger Junior, but, on Saturday, they played hit after hit. "Too Nice to Talk To", "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Save It for Later" and "Hands off She's Mine" reminded an appreciative crowd that the Beat's early-Eighties repertoire was on a par with that of fellow ska-revivalists the Specials and Madness. Supergrass, topping the bill on the same day, now sport three Coombes brothers, though Gaz remains very much the focal point. The pastoral "Brecon Beacons" suited the easy-going mood while the last part of their set, in particular "Moving", "Pumping on Your Stereo" and "Caught by the Fuzz" recaptured the group's Britpop heyday.
Earlier, Little Boots looked rather lost on the Independent stage, her cover of the Freddie Mercury and Giorgio Moroder composition "Love Kills" outshining her own hits "New in Town" and "Stuck on Repeat". Wearing a turquoise dress and shaking a variety of tambourines when she wasn't behind her keyboard, the electro-pop pixie came across like the long-lost daughter of Hi-NRG diva Hazell Dean.
On the other hand, the Mummers, the Brighton collective fronted by Raissa, lived up to expectations, bewitching the audience with "Wonderland", "This Is Heaven" and their take on Passion Pit's "Sleepy Head", which went from Björk-like lullaby to rave anthem in the blink of an eye.
Having watched daughter Ella Edmondson on the Big Top Stage on Friday, proud father Adrian Edmondson packed them in the same venue the next day for folk renditions of Kraftwerk's "The Model" and a medley of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" and the traditional Irish song "Whisky in the Jar". Over an hour, this approach became tiresome despite the musicianship of Maartin Allcock and the other two Bad Shepherds backing the comedian turned folkie. Kissmet put a bhangra spin on hoary old rock standards "Whole Lotta Love" and "Sunshine of Your Love" but were outdone by the partnership of guitarist Justin Adams and ritti player Juldeh Camara, and especially Dub Colossus, whose chilled-out blend of jazz, African music and dub proved just right to soothe sore heads at the end of a sun-drenched weekend. Singers-songwriters Declan Bennett, Alex Cornish and Agnès Milewski, all played commanding sets while two Manchester groups, Rook & the Ravens and the Travelling Band, impressed with a versatility reminiscent of classic rock acts the Byrds and Traffic.
In an increasingly competitive market place, Wychwood has found its niche and deserves its reputation as the family-friendly festival par excellence.
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