Here comes the Willow man..

IMG_0361To be home in Leicestershire, showered and in bed with t’laptop before 11pm having spent a day basking in a fine array of talent at a festival in North Yorkshire is both a good thing and perhaps in another light testimony to a missed opportunity of spending more time at the Willowman Festival.  It was a cracking day and I’m reliably informed by friends who spent a long weekend there that today was certainly not an exception – definitely one I’ll be looking out for in the future.  I reckon Brian might well blog in more detail about the whole festival later.

Whilst of course I can offer no guarantees of my intentions and what I end up doing to watch Ferocious Dog, it had been my intention to ‘settle for Settle’ this weekend and skip Willowman, but with the twinned revelations that the former gig had been cancelled and that Ferocious Dog’s closing set was in fact finishing before 8pm it opened up the opportunity to travel up for the day and still get home at a reasonable time to get to bed at a reasonable hour in preparation to get up for work in the morning.

So come Sunday morning in the car I hopped and quick service station stop aside it was an event-free journey.  I elected to leave my car outside on the road rather than go into the car park simply to aid the quick escape, and it wasn’t far from there to the entrance to the festival.  E-ticket exchanged for an armband and at just gone noon I found myself walking into the field – almost immediately bumping into Mick, buying the most gigantic portion of nachos I’ve ever seen in my life!

The festival layout was great, plenty of food stalls and those selling clothing etc surrounded an open area in front of the main stage, with the second stage inside a huge tent just next to it, an acoustic stage nestled round a corner with further stalls.  The campsite was just the other side of the drive leading in – all in all, the perfect sized festival for me and already there were plenty of people milling about, some looking decidedly bleary-eyed into what could well have been their fourth day of debauchery!

By the time we’d wend our way toward the main stage with a cup of tea a piece (rock and roll or what?) the main stage was occupied by The Lewie Bodies, I’ve not found much about them online but they were an entertaining act from Manchester.  As we settled down to watch for a while we found Mark and Amanda looking remarkably chipper considering they’d been at the festival all weekend.  I was too slow off the mark to remember to take a photo of ’em although as you’ll see as the post develops, the main stage photos aren’t much cop anyway!

Pretty Eclectic

Pretty Eclectic

One of the great things about the setup was they were alternating stages – with the second stage just next door – so unless there was a clash with the acoustic stage you didn’t have to miss anything at all, with a suitable comfort or bar/food popping break between the acts starting.  It also gives the benefit of allowing the next act to get set up and sound checked in good time too.  So it was into the tent holding the Willow Wobbly stage next we headed to take in Pretty Eclectic.

They were a lovely sounding act – perfect for the time of day and a great sound for a festival, playing original material they’re definitely a band worth checking out.  I’m rubbish at describing musical genres as I’m sure you’ve noticed but the sound the band made was harmonious and soothing with Gaynor Wilson adding haunting vocals – a really enjoyable performance.

Next up on the main stage were Electric River, a band Brian (who’d by now we’d encountered too) had enthused about so we popped out to watch them deliver an energetic and lively set.  Again, genre definition is going to betray me, but think rock but delivered with both passion and skill – for a three piece they made a very fulsome sound and started to get the crowd involved with some singing too with some success – definitely another act that I’ll be looking out for in the future.

On reflection this panorama would've been better (a) later in the set when the crowd gathered and (b) taken closer so you can actually see Electric River in the shadows of the stage.  Oh well!

On reflection this panorama would’ve been better (a) later in the set when the crowd gathered and (b) taken closer so you can actually see Electric River in the shadows of the stage. Oh well!

Next up were the incomparable Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, complete with dramatic intro tape.  There’s a huge overlap in the venn diagram of Hell Hounds and Doonifans, and you’ll frequently find the bands in similar venues or festival dates – they’re always brilliant entertainment.  Basically Scott, Alan, Andy and Bjorn take you on a Barnslified voyage of alternative lyricked reimaginings of songs that you already know, but they do it hilariously, whilst bedecked in wigs and brightly coloured knitwear.

The Bar Stewards with some unfortunate pillar placement!

The Bar Stewards with some unfortunate pillar placement!

If you haven’t seen them perform then you really must.  This was an extra reason for me to come up to the festival as well as discovering new acts as I’d missed them performing in Warsop on Friday night.  They were on great form, and played Lady in Greggs and Massage in a Brothel which are two of my favourites of theirs as well as a couple of new ones I’d not heard yet chronicling an unfortunate incident with a zipper and a personal account of a medical experience Scott had had recently.  I’ll leave that there though!

With them finishing before they had a chance to launch into Jump Arahnd the crowd were literally baying for more – but the poor compere had to plead keeping to schedules so we were denied an encore and indeed the usual spectacle of Scott crowd-surfing his way to the bar for a pint – although as he’d revealed he was the designated driver for the day perhaps it was always his intention to skip this feat!

Skeletal Family

Skeletal Family

As The Alan Hull Song Book got underway on the main stage Dean and Sarah arrived and amongst others suggested we shouldn’t miss Skeletal Family on the acoustic stage, so we headed there – and I’m glad we did, I didn’t really know what to expect from Dean’s description of ‘they used to be in a goth band called Ghost Dance’ but I’m open to new experiences – Wikipedia describes them as ‘positive punk/goth’ – this acoustic offering was perhaps a little different but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

With Anne-Marie Hurst on vocals and Stan Greenwood providing guitar, backing vocals and whistling it was a melodic and enchanting experience in one of the most awesome tents ever.  I’m glad that the by now 10-12 strong tribe of us (including Ken who we’d bumped into mid-walk) had wandered over because until we arrived there were only a couple of people in the tent and it would’ve been a real travesty for them to perform to such a small crowd.

Big Red and the Grinners

Big Red and the Grinners

As we headed back into the main arena the second stage was jumping to the sound of Big Red and the Grinners – I didn’t get to see much of their set owing to our diversion to the other area but sounded like they were covering rock songs in a blue grass style.  It sounded fun – and reading their bio on Facebook now it sounds like they draw influence from a very eclectic mix of artists and genres, melded into their own unique style.  I think I’d have enjoyed seeing more of their set.

On the main stage up next was the penultimate act of the festival, Hazel O’Connor – who (and don’t tell Mark) I’d never really heard of until today – but a notable artist and actress.  I must admit that despite Mark dotingly dashing to the front of the stage, I wasn’t grabbed and getting a bit excited by the almost imminent promise of Ferocious Dog.  That said, those that did stay to watch were raving about her performance so maybe I should’ve persisted but that said it was nice to have a bit of chat time and well, I’ve been a lot more disciplined than I normally am at taking advantage of other acts on offer!

Hazel O'Connor.  Can you spot Mark at the front?

Hazel O’Connor. Can you spot Mark at the front?

As the appointed hour approached and Hazel’s set was drawing to a close the tent containing the second stage was filling up as you’d expect – the band had the intro music to set the tone, coming out just before it ends and launching immediately into Gallows Justice as has become customary.  It was a stripped down version of the usual set list to fit in to the festival timing and the combination of a healthy number of Hell Hounds in attendance and some enthusiastic newcomers made for a fantastic atmosphere.

The layout of the tent worked really well to have a decent sized moshpit but with enough room for folk to get close without bashed into too much, even with birthday boy Leigh frequently barrelling into the fray and scattering all before him.  Current single Ruby Bridges made an appearance – for Freeborn John Dean wanted to get up to do the surfing – frankly the way I see it is he has first refusal anyway, he’s much better at it than I am, so despite apparently needing a trip to the gents he toughed it out.

I felt like I was a bit unstable/at an odd angle but the steady-footed Dean never faltered once and even got to wield a stick somebody handed up to him to perform with to great effect.   Back down the melee resumed and about five songs later I think he did manage to get that trip to the gents.  Some interesting anomalies in the moshpit this evening, a bloke wearing a rucksack, initially with several layers of clothing too, then later again with no top on, but still his rucksack!

A special shout out should also go out to a young lad in tie-dyed top who had a full on moshpit experience and kept coming back for more right ’til the end.  Great to see!  All in all a thoroughly good musical end to a thoroughly splendid festival.  There was time to cool down and natter to folk – a fair few who hadn’t witnessed Ferocious Dog before and were enthusing about them, so the message continues to get out there – which you’d hope will happen to a much greater degree next weekend as they take on Glastonbury!

After an hour or so of coming down and nattering with folk (and waiting for the rain to stop), it was time to go – I dropped off Adele and Trudy to their hotel on the way back then set about trying to beat the estimated arrival time on my Sat Nav by as many minutes as possible.  Driving through the many and varied weather systems Yorkshire offers over short distances, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my MPG so low on ‘a run’ as it was tonight but then of course you hit Derbyshire, dark and gloomy skies and the interminable 50mph stretch of the M1.

That at least got my MPG back above 40 before a blast down the last three junctions where I get off and pretty much arrive at home.  Thirteen minutes before the original estimated time of arrival, should anyone be interested.  I’m not sure anyone is going to get my loose Human League related headline pun for this article either – which is now nearly 2,000 words.  Sorry about that, what a lot of waffling!  I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Solstice, whatever you’ve been up to!

My alarm clock is gonna go off in about five hours time – and my ears are still ringing a bit.  Totally worth it!

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