Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Beacons Festival 2012

Beacons Festival
August 17th - 19th 2012

Without doubt, for Rhubarb Bomb this was the most anticipated festival of the season. Part curiosity and apprehension after last year’s flooding catastrophe but, for the larger part, the fact it had one of the best collections of bands on offer this summer. Still, with photo’s of vast, empty, waterlogged fields still resonating from the previous year it was pretty difficult to picture how this festival would look, let alone sound or feel.

            Upon arrival, first impressions are good as they are formed by the dramatic North Yorkshire landscape that surrounds on all sides. Gentle rolling hills and isolated country farms lead on to harsh, crooked peaks beyond. Yet it’s easy as could be to get to: the perfect getaway.

            Similar care has clearly been put into (almost all) other aspects of the setup. Although all the campers are initially pretty hemmed into the main field, a second is then opened. There is a relaxed feel on the campsite, always a good omen for a great weekend.

            But I’m here to see some bands right?! Well, to a certain extent, yes, but I’m also here to talk to people and have a relaxing time. And it’s the fact that Beacons hits these extra requirements that sees it score some serious extra points on your average, run of the mill festival.

            Musically, the highlights were numerous. A quick dash on arrival led me to just catch the start of Post War Glamour Girls on the large stage. Although annoying to them - bass amp issues led to a circling, elongated introduction whilst it was fixed – it did allow the tent to slowly collect a healthy crowd. It was the best show of theirs I’ve seen thus far. Brimming in confidence (as you would if you had Leeds / Reading shows ahead of you) the band rattle through mainly new songs, all sounding bigger and moodier than before. I’m yet to fully indulge their new EP, but with an album due next year, it all certainly seems to be heading in the right direction. The big stage suits their cacophonous sound and it is this in particular I hope they manage to capture when they next hit the studio.

            Elsewhere, the weekend threw up a nice mix of the familiar and the new. In the former we had Wakefieldians Runaround Kids and Imp, who both impressed, again with newer songs. I’m glad Beacons gave a couple of Wakefield bands the chance and I hope there are more next year. Imp were especially impressive (and not just because their set was at hangover-unfriendly midday). I love that all the members are such individuals and I could happily watch any one of them for the whole show. The beats impressed a lot today and the sound, sometimes muddy through the wrong PA really worked, helping all the little elements shine through. And the tent slowly filled over their set, earning them a whole heap of new followers.

            Runaround Kids had a slightly more appealing 16:30 slot. With their set now featuring a high proportion from this year’s various release formats and less from last year’s album, it’s a shoutier, punchier set – arguably tighter too – though some of the emotion within is lost with the constantly growling vocals. New song Blush sounds great but the chorus (now absent from my mind) seemed to feature a couple of rather sweet lines, but unexpectedly scream / sung ala lots of hardcore / wave bands. I get the feeling this change (which in general is no bad thing) is simply the introduction of new influences but there is a worry that it might all become a bit samey. But not yet. At Beacons, RKs own the stage and are one tightly wound, lovely whole.

            Both the Wakefield bands appeared in one of the smaller tents, which for my money was the best tent of the weekend, also featuring Wot Gorilla? who sublimely recreated some magic moments from their exceptional debut album, Stalking Horse, who threatened to blow the roof off the tent with a thunderous set of growling tubthumping (two drummers) and Holograms who I didn’t quite get to be honest. Not that they were bad. Think I’d had a few ales by this point but it was like some kind of wall of sound wig out, but using chords sliced from Lad-Rock songs. That’s a terrible description, sorry. I enjoyed it, my memory just fails me.

            Elsewhere, there were plenty of other tents to explore. A dance tent, which I sheltered in during the rain, seemed to be excellent. DJs featured heavily in this and another tent, plus the ‘Kopperberg Kube’. That’s probably a bit much for my liking, but no harm in the option being there. There were also other more acousticy tents and ‘Into The Woods’, the seemingly obligatory ‘arts’ tent (means you get more funding, see?). That said, Into The Woods was one of my favourite places to hang out. You had to take your wellies off to go in. Then you could sit on a random assortment of sofa’s, armchairs, cushions etc like you were in long forgotten antiques shop. They also served cookies and cupcakes and good tea.

These kind of touches appeared across the site and elevated Beacons. One of the best things for me, and it might not sound like a big deal, was the amount of space. My first thoughts were that it had seriously undersold. But the tents were full. The spaces between the stages were vast, meaning no mental crowds, very little queuing at the bars and lots of places to sit and chat with your mates. That kind of thing simply doesn’t happen at Leeds / V et al. I sincerely hope this was planning on Beacons part and that this element won’t be slowly removed over the coming years. It was perfect.

The main stage was a slight stumbling block when it came to the headliners. Roots Manuva / Wild Beasts / Toots and The Maytals are a great trio for a festival this size. But the main stage was in a tent, not to an open field. And the tent wasn’t quite big enough for these big bands. That said, if it had been an open field, like at Leeds Fest, it would have taken up all that lovely space I just praised. Plus, it would have meant fewer stages elsewhere, due to that sound leaking out. So, in balance, it was the right choice. And with lots of other things to do, it’s hard to complain. But I didn’t get to see any of the headliners. I guess if I’d been more bothered, I would have got down earlier.

I did catch Ghostpoet on the main stage and he was a definite highlight of the festival. I first encountered him supporting Metronomy at The Hop (a 200 capacity venue) last year sometime. I thought he was great, but I haven’t followed him that closely. I just heard whispers of Mercury nominations and the like. Maybe I had been waiting for Beacons, who knows? But the show was excellent. A simple setup of live drummer, guitarist and Ghostpoet himself on laptop / sampler etc worked very well. The music is incredibly diverse; hip hop, post rock, disco, indie – all fused through the Ghostpoet filter to produce something unique and charming. Bespectacled and polite, he gets the crowd bouncing around with ease. It’s music to dance and think to. Excellent.

The saddest thing about the whole affair was that I had to leave on Sunday. And the billing seemed to be heavily swayed towards that final day. Errors, Willy Mason, Cloud Nothings, Hookworms, Wave Pictures, Blacklisters, That Fucking Tank – missed them all. Course, that aint Beacons fault. It’s just personally sad because the general buzz I had about the whole thing would naturally have been risen significantly by seeing some of my favourite bands.

So all in all, a success? Certainly, though there were some teething problems. The toilet situation for one, which was simply a huge miscalculation. 20 toilets on the main campsite does not compute. It was horrific. The main arena was criminally under-populated too. In fairness, Beacons realised this pretty quickly and sought to rectify it (though I had seen no change by the time I left Sunday morning). But it wasn’t a malicious piss take of its customers, like you feel it is at the large scale festival. Just something to learn from.

I’d have really liked a record store too. Beacons had some rather lovely merch of their own laid on but having been wowed by some of the bands I would certainly have bought their records. Yeah, I can do it now I’m home, but sometimes you need to catch people in the moment. And it’s just a great thing to browse through. Next time please!

Finally there was the weather. Friday night featured some torrential downpours. And I’m glad it completely pissed it down. Because the site held together perfectly. It allowed Beacons to prove it had learnt from last year. As if to reward us all for weathering the storm, the sun came out for most of the rest of the weekend. We need never mention flooding again.

So a success it was. Beacons clearly has a strong and passionate connection to the grassroots of multiple music scenes and with it’s attention to detail and respect for artists and punters alike, utterly did them proud. The positivity of the weekend shone through and it more than lived up to our expectations. I’m excited too, because there is potential for it to go further; this is only the beginning. I’m looking forward to next year already.

Dean Freeman

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