Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse

Pulses race with the old favourites

Pierre Perrone
Tuesday 07 June 2011 00:00

With more than 70 acts playing on three different stages, the seventh Wychwood Festival featured a musical bill as varied as the weather. The first day's heat was alleviated by a light breeze as the good-natured crowd cherry-picked its way through an embarrassment of riches. On the BBC Introducing Stage, The Suit Corps, a very sharply dressed sextet from Coventry, bridged the gap between the evocative soundtracks of John Barry and the sample-heavy Portishead, and added a dash of ska for good measure, while their bewitching chanteuse Bella Dennie caught the eye as much as the ear.

The lush orchestral pop-with-a-purpose of Swindon-born singer-songwriter Shaun Buswell sent shivers down my spine as soon as I entered the Big Top. He pulled off the remarkable trick of fronting a 12-piece group featuring a string and horn section and the vocals of Zoe Mead – the Lisa Hannigan counterpoint to his Damien Rice.

On the windy Saturday, the festival hit a rich vein of British eccentricity with the maverick Robyn Hitchcock paying tribute to the late Captain Beefheart. Backed by a quartet who made like The Magic Band, he performed the cult album Clear Spot in its entirety and put a Syd Barrett-like spin on the soulful "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains".

On the Independent stage, Neville Staple revisited his Specials and Funboy Three hits with remarkable energy and demonstrated the lasting appeal of the late-Seventies ska revivalists. He followed Sarah Savoy, who came across like an Amazonian Bettie Page, and continued her family's fine tradition of Cajun music with her trio The Francadians.

Topping Saturday's bill, the charismatic Mike Scott and his Waterboys delivered a masterclass in festival crowd-pleasing. Their powerful set started with the very apposite "Don't Bang the Drum", took in "Glastonbury Song", the glorious "The Whole of the Moon", an adaptation of the Yeats poem "September 1913", and revisited their "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" era of the late Eighties with Steve Wickham's fiddle well to the fore. With Eliza Carthy also on the bill, fiddles and violins provided the Wychwood signature sound.

On the cold and wet Sunday, the Celtic contingent of Roddy Woomble and the radiant Eddi Reader lost out to near-local favourites The Wurzels, whose "ooh-ah-ooh-ah-ooh-ah" take on Kaiser Chiefs' "Ruby" made many smile. Jethro Tull mainman Ian Anderson rounded things off nicely with his witty banter and breathy flute solos as he revisited the best bits of the evergreen albums Aqualung and Thick As a Brick. Like the Tull repertoire, Wychwood is a festival that's built to last.

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