Geddon moi laaaaand…
Wow. Farmer Phil’s you were a bloody spectacularly good festival – I have no idea how many words, edits, or sittings this is going to take (edit – did it in one, sorry in advance for the typos), but felt the need to make a start on trying to document five days and nights of great fun, company, music and just general soul nourishment. Dean has been telling me to go to Farmer Phil’s for about three years now, I’m glad I finally listened to him. The festival proper starts on the Friday, but camping passes enable you to get on site from Monday, which many did – I opted to travel on Wednesday.
First order of business for me was to nip and pick up Tina before we headed over to Shropshire in the sunshine – I’ve subsequently found the setting to quell my sat nav’s desire to take me down the bloody M6 toll road at every opportunity it gets – but last week I was lucky that Tina knew the best way to go without having to pay to drive on a road. Once on the site we drove into the ‘noisy’ field and found a suitable sized area next to Naomi, Joe and family and set about plotting tent and car positioning to try to save space for others arriving later.
It was pretty warm so by the time we’d put up mine and Snotty’s tent, one for Simon, and Tina and Tim’s teepee we’d tired ourselves out pretty well. There was time to leisurely settle by the campfire to spend time with the Deerstock collective next door – one of the best things about the weekend was getting the chance to get to know Naomi and Joe’s awesome kids Jake, Kezzi and Rohan a bit better, whilst Ant provided a pretty non-ceasing stream of comedy as only he knows how as the ciders started flowing perhaps a little too freely.
Once we were settled in and sorted (including being fed some lovely bolognese Tina had made) Andy had arrived too and set up nearby. We took the opportunity to find folk who’d also arrived early – Ken and family had travelled straight up from Lakefest and it was fun to wile away the evening near their campfire listening to Ken, Bart and Paul share a guitar between them and sing songs – a particular highlight for me was Waggy casually getting a harmonica out to deftly accompany them.
With darkness well and truly descended much cider had been quaffed and the concoctions were in full flow – the evening ended for me with a swig of Waggy’s deadly chilli moonshine. I’ve drunk this stuff before, so why I did it again I’ll never know but it certainly started the spiral that ended with a relatively early night. Adele and Drew had joined us with the former also falling foul of the temptation to try everyone’s concoctions as they were offered.
So come Thursday morning I wasn’t in the best state – at least it’s a step up from Deerstock-arrival-day when I couldn’t even remember putting myself to bed. Naomi and Joe fed me a bacon wrap which was much appreciated. The sporadic-but-working network coverage I had on the previous day was all but gone and I’m sad to say I did struggle a bit with being cut off from the digital world initially – not least wanting to keep tabs on folks arrival times. Morning to early afternoon was mostly spent mooching around the site with people laughing at me for feeling rough as far as I can remember!
It was probably at this point that you take stock of the wonderful setting Farmer Phil’s is nestled in – three camping fields and the arena area nestled amongst hills on all sides with a lake in the middle. It really is a ridiculously idyllic place. A number of folk throughout the weekend did venture for hill-walks in the mornings – I never quite mustered the energy for that, but do regret it slightly as it really is in a stunning bit of the country for the scenery – I contented myself with watching buzzards circling the hills as I was gradually feeling more human again.
Later in the afternoon Dave and Caroline arrived to set up in a space we’d saved for them, followed quickly by Snotty and Simon who simply had to park up and unload. Allegedly I told Caroline the wrong field, although I’m sure I didn’t – but they found us anyway! The afternoon and evening was spent largely chatting, drinking and laughing. We also nipped to find Ken to leave canvas prints of some of Snotty’s amazing photos which we needed to get him and Dan (who wasn’t arriving ’til Saturday) to sign – so we left them on Cerebus hoping Wez didn’t find them and draw comedy cocks on them (he didn’t, and I’m sure he wouldn’t!).
We’d ended up going to bed relatively early again, but resurfaced upon hearing the early-hours arrival of Tim, Kev and Rachel who’d been unable to contain their excitement and left late on Thursday night rather than waiting ’til Friday morning. That gave the opportunity for another trip to the Ferocious Fire where music and singing was happening, but I beat a hasty retreat to avoid a repeat of the previous night. The Purple People Eater had arrived earlier in the day and sunk impressively in the mud. Not that Dean seemed particularly worried by this development.
Then we are on to Friday and the festival proper begins. Caroline was breakfast-provider this morning, and then the first order of business for us was Paige performing on the smaller stage. There were a few technical wibbles in them getting set up but once underway it was a great set. Tim’s strange insistence on putting me on his shoulders make a reappearance (but only once this weekend, mercifully for his back!) whilst she covered 15 Years by the Levellers. As ever for me the highlights of her set were her own songs Guide Me To The Light and Alive, and her cover of Gabrielle Aplin’s Home.
A short wander to the main stage in time to see Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs entertain us with their as far as I’m aware unique brand of skiffle punk – or skunk. Spying Doozer in the crowd they set him the challenge of getting his guitar and coming back to join them for a raucous rendition of a song Doozer had written about them, which went down well with the crowd as did the rest of the set. The next order of business for us was to head over to the second stage in time for a couple more familiar acts.
First up were the Star Botherers who’d expanded from a two-piece to a three-piece with Brad joining them on drums meaning Dave was just on bass and accompanying vocals. They drew a great crowd who were predictably singing along – as well as the familiar tunes we’ve come to love there were some new ones too including Star Wars Bride that’s bound to become a new favourite. I’d heard Bart singing it by the fire on Wednesday night it was good to hear the full band version too – they also played their Bostin’ Days Levellers cover Beautiful Day.
Brad Dear was up next with Andy on bass and Chris on drums, he’d also thrown some new songs into the mix which sound like they’ll become favourites too. Looking at the muddy floor Tim and I decided that the ‘rowing dance’ wasn’t really an option for Special Brew so instead formed a bit of a conga-line for it instead. Brad and the band are sounding better and better each time I see them – looking forward to them hopefully getting some time in a studio sometime soon.
For reasons best known to himself Sam Jones (it was great to see all the local acts supporting each other in the crowds, it’s worth noting, not least Ken and John who were constantly out and about amongst the crowds) decided he wanted to do a coat swap. Something he’d later come to regret when we became separated and I had his tobacco and papers in his coat. Haha! We were reunited a couple of hours later in time for Gaz so he didn’t have to go too long without a smoke!
Metatonic were up next and introduced as folk punk – but sounded more like dub/reggae to me – we didn’t linger long for them largely because hunger was starting to kick in. Simon, Snotty and I retreated to Nana’s for a tea and some food – I just asked for something that was ready and was handed a delicious potato and spinach curry, so that worked out well. It is worth taking a moment to big up Nana’s Kitchen in general – a great place not just for a pit stop but to relax in a lovely nurturing environment which we did frequently over the weekend.
Gaz Brookfield was our next act on the small stage and he was predictably brilliant. Unsurprisingly he drew a massive crowd who were familiar with his work so there was singing along aplenty. I’ve never really spoken much to Gaz but I guess he must notice recurring faces in crowds, certainly he references it enough during his between-songs chat. The roar for an encore was deafening and was duly provided – as ever Gaz definitely raises the bar in terms of performance levels – undoubtedly one of the festival highlights.
Tiredness saw us retreat to the campsite where we could still hear the bluesy strains of Dr Feelgood from by the fire, it sounded great to be fair – and given we were just over the lake from the main stage the sound was carrying well. Chatter and laughter around the fire abounded, and we discovered the wonder of mixing Guinness, Strongbow Dark Fruit and Dark Mead (thanks Hartley!) in Dave’s drinking horn – definitely a concoction I’ll be revisiting at some point in the near future (not least because I still have a load of Dark Fruit left in the boot of the car!).
Saturday morning was warm in the tent, which makes me envy Snotty’s ability to carrying on sleeping regardless – however being forced out for fresh air did mean I profited again from Caroline and Dave’s hospitality in the form of tea and breakfast. We headed up early to the main stage where Paige had a bonus extra set which is always a welcome thing – being early it was a bit of a sparse crowd but she delivered another cracking performance despite apparently feeling a little hungover.
She was followed by Young Braves who rattled through an indie-ish sounding set that was quite enjoyable – culminating in an interesting re-interpretation of Madonna’s Ray of Light – certainly there were appreciative murmurs in the crowd. A couple behind me were eulogising to the point of pitying the poor soul that had to follow them – I wouldn’t have gone that far anyway, and if they knew who was on up next then they’d have bitten their tongues I’m sure.
The centre section of the stage rotated round to reveal Funke and the Two-Tone Baby standing proudly, arms aloft, greeting the crowd. He’s one of my absolute favourite performers at the moment, so we’d been looking forward to this. It was a relatively quick set up and we were quickly down the front ready for the start – his one-man-band mastery with pedals, loops and layers was as mesmerising as ever – and to say he was on the back of fifteen consecutive gigs he didn’t skimp on the energy levels.
A bit like Gaz does he always looks so delightfully surprised at how much the crowd love his work, his set got everyone moving and singing along, unflappable as he snapped a string in record time. I really like his slower songs like I’m Not Well or the pace-changy If You’re Nice to Me – but the highlights for me this day were Not Looking For It Anymore and of course, inevitably, the festival anthem of our campsite, Not Enough Bonobo which saw two ape-mask clad galavanters join him on stage – not to mention Andy in the crowd in his gorilla onesie. A definite weekend highlight.
The only negative about Funke’s set was the clash with Doozer on the second stage – we were lucky enough to get round there in time to catch his final two or three songs including the ludicrously catchy I Don’t Wanna Go Home – so all was not lost. It’s a shame they were put on together though. Doozer was followed on the second stage by Stevie Simpson performing his gritty bluesy songs – including his Bostin’ Days cover of Red Sun Burns which is a great choice of song for his sound.
We interluded for some food at this point – I opted for a burrito and nachos and smuggled them to Nana’s where Snotty and Simon had settled before heading back to the main stage in time for Talisman to hit us full on with their reggae sound – it was perfect music for me to enjoy whilst sitting letting the food go down. Kenny was front and centre dancing along and looking around at the happy smiling people, at the hills, over the lake – it really was bloody idyllic. I’ve never seen Talisman before but will certainly endeavour to do so again. They even gave a shout out to Kenny, spotting him dancing.
The assorted folk camping with Daren and Michelle had decided to dress up as hippies for the day – Daren’s choice of long white wig gave him more of a Jimmy Savile look though which caused some mirth as we wandered back toward the campsite before being enticed by The Endings on the second stage – their energetic traditional celtic-ish folk was great. Snotty grabbed a CD from them at the end so I’ll be sure to make a point of trying to steal that at some point, I’m definitely going to look out for some of their gigs too – really enjoyable.
After a trip to the campsite for reasons that escape me we got back to the second stage in time for Sam Jones to do his thing – no bassist today, just him with his guitars and a drummer but it was a great set with a good crowd in. Dom joined him on a harmonica briefly – and Tim reprised the conga idea again this time with many more participants, not least Ken and John, so we snaked our way around the dance floor with Sam probably quite bemused. There were of course the inevitable splurge of stage-selfies too.
Feeling peckish and a bit listless we ended up back at Nana’s for tea and cake before heading to the main stage for Mad Dog Mcrea who were doing a sterling job in getting the crowd going. Their slightly slower paced folk is a lovely accompaniment for what was to follow – when before I knew it Simon insisted on having a bit of a mosh down at the front. I’d got a few layers on as the temperature had dropped so it was a pretty warm affair by the end of the set.
Then of course next up was Ferocious Dog. As people claimed positions I quickly whipped off the jeans I’d put on over my shorts and hoody and stashed them over the crash barrier. The band came on to their intro music complete with Sophie on didgeridoo and launched into Gallows Justice – the mosh pit was incredibly lively, and slippy given the previous day’s rain and me only wearing practically gripless converse, not to mention the added hazard of an incredibly drunken Wez cavorting around like a giant human wrecking-ball.
Jake had taken charge of Snotty’s camera for the set (and wait ’til you see some of the amazing pictures he captured), leaving her free to dance – with Simon acting sentinel to protect him from the worst of the moshpit mayhem. Dean – being a bit of a traditionalist – had rather sweetly asked me if it was okay for Craig to be his surfboard as he had been at previous Farmer Phil’s festivals. Of course that was fine with me – I’m happy to play prop like I always used to – and Dean did what he does best complete with glowing staff.
After that I actually spent much of the gig at the front, braced against the crash barrier to afford a bit of protection to Caroline and Snotty. Paul was pinned in nearby with his camera on a pole – he’s got an amazing video of Hell Hounds that you should check out. The other moment of note was an idiot getting on the stage and in the resulting kerfuffle with a security guard wrenching the pick-up from Dan’s violin – it took a while to get the spare sorted out, and in truth the band seemed a little out of sorts after. However, it was still a great set and worth every bruise!
Once it was over a man was forlornly looking for his teeth in the muddy moshpit, Tim had ended up with Naomi in the medical area having been struck in the head and concussed (he was okay after though, thankfully!), and we reclaimed our belongings and headed back to the campsite. Sarah invited us to an 80’s party in the Purple People Eater – I don’t think I’d have had the energy and mercifully we got back to the site before them, although we still tiptoed past the van just in case.
It’s worth taking a moment to explain this. I’ve been on board the Purple People Eater a number of times, but I can only ever remember leaving it once – it is Dean and Sarah’s festival home and is a veritable grotto of hospitality that can lead to severe memory loss! John, Ellis and Scott found their way there after the gig and didn’t resurface until gone 6am – we saw John later on the Sunday looking not too bad, but I didn’t see Ellis or Scott again!
We’d settled by the campfire for a while but with wood supplies dwindling and the temperature dropping to a ridiculous degree it quickly drove us all tent ward to get warm – in truth, I was bloody shattered too. Shattered but very happy indeed – at least until the ciders round the campfire took their toll and compelled an early-hours trip to the portaloos for a wrestle-out-of-the-layers struggle for a wee. Ah, the perils of camping.
Come Sunday morning and Snotty had lost her voice from shouting along to Ferocious Dog, we headed up to Nana’s ready for our Sunday roast at noon and Tina found her some lemon and honey to help. Addie, Jane and Tommy were up there too so we all shared a table and awaited our food. They’d had two partially cooked joints of beef stolen in the night (who would do that?!) but Adele and Drew were pretty unflappable and soon enough we’d got food in front of us.
I was spared having a tantrum about not getting any mash when Simon kindly donated some of his gigantic mountain of it to me – then there was an extra bonus of Tommy accidentally getting two kids meals prepared for him so I scoffed one of those too. It was delicious, and much like at Deerstock in danger of bringing on the need for a nap.
But there was no time for napping – we headed straight to the second stage in time for Maelor Hughes to put on a typically enchanting performance. He played both my favourite of his songs, Morning Sun and Fight With Me (which he cutely dedicated to Mark and Mary). He also invited Paul Hallam of Shanks’ Pony fame up to do a song which was a very welcome treat – Paul’s a great performer so it was awesome to see him perform a song on stage as well as by the campfire earlier in the week.
All struggling with the desire to go and sleep off our dinners, we wandered to the main stage for a loaf on the grass bank amidst revelations from Michael about a turd in the shower – nice! We arrived and settled down to watch Scientific Simpletons who played traditionalish folk – and even had a guest harmonica slot by none other than Farmer Phil himself. Overhead I’m sure I saw a paraglider with a motorbike attached to it fly over whilst Simon thought it hilarious to go and buy a notepad and pen for the still mute Snotty. It backfired when the pen didn’t work!
Dan Owen was next on stage sitting with his guitar but still surprisingly energetic with a bluesy sound that reminded me a bit of Sam Jones. He was followed by the ska-infused sounds of Cartoon Violence who I must admit couldn’t quite quell my urge to snooze a little (nothing to do with them, just the mammoth digestion project I’d taken on), although I do remember their cover version of Kraftwerk’s The Model – that might be because I was rudely awoken by Simon setting fire to my leg hairs!
I was suitably energised to get up and to the front for Abdoujaparov though – they’re an act like Funke who’ve played numerous events I’ve been at before, but I’ve always managed to miss them. What interested me most – having never really got into Carter back in the day (through ignorance rather than not liking them I’ve subsequently discovered) – was seeing Les, someone I’ve got to know as a fairly quietly spoken gent and a by definition a slightly peripheral figure on the Ferocious Dog stage, take centre-stage.
And it was great – punkish rock with funny lyrics, when I was first writing this blog post last night and half of it mysterious vanished I downloaded a load of their songs to cheer me up – and it worked a treat. Irreverent, fun and catchy – I’m definitely going to be less shit when I get future opportunities to see them perform. Even if their rendition of Fish Face left Ronnie’s lass shouting “FISH FACE! FISH FACE! FISH FACE!” at me repeatedly sparking echoes of primary school. Ha ha. It was quite funny really.
I listened to Abdoujaparov all the way to and from work this morning – so they definitely made an impression!
Then it was the wonderful Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican – I suppose they are a novelty band but they’re so much more than that. They were on rip-roaringly good form to an appreciative crowd. Scott was having a few issues with knocking the lead on his bizarrely see-through guitar – but Björn and Alan were able to carry on during these. I’ve come to really love A Zipper Caught Me Balls largely because it’s so funny watching Scott try not to crack up whilst singing it!
The set culminated with an appearance from Tom as the Devil for The Devil Went Down t’Barnsleh which got the crowd moving – finishing up with Jump Arahnd joined on stage by Kenny, complete with guitar and neon tank top, and later John too as well as little lad who’d got a cut-out guitar and must have been pleased as punch. With the bar far away Scott surfed the crowd a good distance to claim a pint from a crowd member before being returned to the stage triumphantly – it was a great set, with Abdou and then this it was the perfect livener.
Which makes it a shame really that they were followed by the psychedelic randomness of John Otway. I like to be open-minded but his rambling jokes interspersed with occasional bouts of music really didn’t do much for me from a man strangely reminiscent of Terry Nutkins – which made it a decent point to escape to get some pizza (which like everything else I’d eaten at the festival was bloody delicious!). We got back and ate it watching him hitting drumpads on his legs, playing a two-necked guitar and just generally felt a bit bemused.
No matter – because on the second stage The Leylines were almost ready. This was another of the two main scheduling clashes that gave me a dilemma as the excellent Leatherat were on the main stage at the same time – but we plumped for The Leylines and I’m mighty glad we did, despite hearing excellent reports about the alternative. I wrote about them when they supported Ferocious Dog in Exeter earlier in the year, they are energetic and melodic folk, and they can really get you dancing.
As well as their own crowd-pleaser Sat in a Field they played their Bostin’ Days contribution of Fifteen Years and went down a storm with a big crowd considering the competition they were up against. Steve was kind enough to give me and Snotty a shout out during the set – Tim and I put her on our shoulders only to be told off by a security guard – ha ha – a polite word and he was appeased that we’d put her down when the song was finished. As if we’d have dropped her anyway!
After a demanded encore was delivered there was time to pop around to the main stage to catch the last few songs of 3 Daft Monkeys set – another annoying clash I’d not worked out, but I still think we made the right choice. We caught a few songs including Social Vertigo and the encore of my favourite of theirs The Antiquated and the Arcane leaving me pleased and content to wander back to the campsite. We encountered Brian and Karen on the way out who invited us to their campfire which seemed like a splendid idea.
Once he’d got the fire going and folk were suitably gathered round Brian’s guitar was out and – soppy lovely bugger that he is – he’d learned how to play Pretty Target by the Levellers for me and Snotty (it’s a good job Simon had gone to bed, he might have vomited on us). The evening quickly descended into raucous singalongs of Levellers and Gaz songs before a security guard came around to perhaps take his duties a little too seriously – but it was getting late so it was a sensible natural break to say our goodbyes and head to bed.
Monday morning was all about packing up and saying goodbyes – we reclaimed the now-signed canvases from the dog bus whilst catching as many folk as we could. Of course you end up missing people, but it was soon enough time to get into the cars and join the queue to get out and home. I had planned on getting straight home but did need to stop at Tamworth Services to give the local water authority something to think about (sorry) before getting back to get the tent dried out and clothes washed and face up to reality resuming again.
Another magical weekend with wonderful people – huge credit to Phil, Laura-Jayne and the whole team that make Farmer Phil’s what it is. If only I’d listened to Dean all those years ago it wouldn’t be such a revelation this year – but well, we all got there in the end.
Most of my photos of the bands are included in the post – but you can find the rest here on Facebook, but more importantly Snotty’s are mostly here, with The Leylines here and you’ll have to wait a little longer for the Ferocious Dog ones which need to be vetted by Jake at some point since he took them!