Smiles defeat the rain..

Sometimes the best way to judge or consider the impact of anything is when you place it into adversity – and Something to Smile About had a few moments like that, from last minute snags with the camper van field, broken strimmers and mowers making the alternative somewhat overgrown, a near miss with a lorry deciding to nearly drive directly into the car park from the motorway to a biblical storm and stage malfunction on the Friday night – but organisers and volunteers alike rallied and sorted everything out – and more importantly the lovely festival goers kept their smiles intact.

We arrived the night before and found a handy spot backstage to set up camp for the weekend – in time to muck in with the stage set up whilst catching up with the other folk who’d got on site early.  Come Friday morning everything was looking good – there was a bit of rain forecast just after lunch, otherwise all looked good!  I put some bins out and tried to get a cider early only to be reminded the bar opened at noon by Zoe – so at noon I made sure I was first in the queue for a ginger cider – wow, what a revelation – it might be my new favourite festival tipple.

On the main stage Regime kicked things off – funky reggae dub with a healthy smattering of hip hop was a perfect way to gently introduce music to the arena.  In the meantime Becki had arrived along with Emma and Nick so I popped over to help lug stuff and attempt to help with putting their tents up, which wasn’t too traumatic an experience. It was heading to the car to pick up bags that I first caught sight of the jack-knifed lorry that had nearly ploughed into the car park / camper van overflow field – luckily the driver and presumably other drivers were unharmed in the incident – it was eventually craned away.

Back to the music and we had a punkier feel to what was on offer – The Silk Road started off as the rain started to fall, they are getting much more confident on stage.  I Don’t Care and Find a Cure featured early in the set along with Master Race, then the set softened with instrumental Elizabeth Rose then a song that was new to me – I’m going to guess at Justice for Daniel for a title.  A bit of shelter found under the trees opposite the stage distracted me a bit – but a storming set finished up with The Ancient Road and finally the beautiful Montagu’s Harrier.  A strong performance.

The Outlines had a new look to them, with Brad Drury taking on drum duties, unnecessarily talented bugger!  Fall to the Drop kicked off a predictably lively set – Waiting, Static, She Don’t Know – all increasingly feeling like familiar anthems these days.  Calm Down does anything but it says on the tin – and you’d not have known it was a stand in drummer either, Brad doing a superb job on percussion and backing vocals alike.  Buried a Lie (or ‘the manamana song’ as it remains in my head was followed up with Sound of Rain, then a surprise cover of Green Day’s She, finishing up with Concrete and Vanilla Poison.  Excellent set.

Next we had a bit of a dilemma on our hands, Maelor Hughes and Jonny Wallis were on different stages at the same time.  As a big fan of both we decided to support the underdog – Jonny was on in the excellent Hidden Stage, so we headed over there where he was introduced as Jonny Walker amusingly!  He kicked off with a Levellers cover.  No, not that one.  It was The Boatman – then some of his own songs, Ofsted, Locked Up and at Bay and Goodnight Lullaby – all with different paces and emphasis a cracking showcase of Jonny’s versatility in songwriting.

A cover of Billy Bragg’s To Have and to Have Not fits in quite nicely given the impending election, then back to original material with Light The Darkness, Crime of Rights and finally Social Divide.  We hotfooted it back to the main stage in time to catch the end of Maelor Hughes’ set – he was part way through Transvestite Blues moving on to Better Day and finishing up with Milltown Boy (there was another one in there somewhere but I’ll be buggered if I can remember what it was!).  I was really chuffed to be able to catch at least some of his set!

Marc O’Reilly was next – a new act on me so there’s bugger all chance of me knowing any song titles I’m afraid – but wow, bluesy folk rock with absolutely amazing lead guitar work, chugging bass and well thought out backing vocals struck me.  I think Ella won some CDs – so I’ll be looking to pinch them some time very soon.  I spent a bit of time covering Ella on the merch desk and he was proving incredibly popular with people looking for something to buy, I definitely sold a fair few of his CDs for him!

Next on were The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican – in what would prove to be one of their more memorable sets.  The rain was getting somewhat worse – Jonny’s weather radar app showed a small but fierce storm was unfortunately for us in progress overhead.  The Barnsley trio kicked off with Massage in a Brothel and then on to Nando’s.  Above them the tarpaulin that was covering the gap between the two trailers was starting to balloon slightly – they were performing Paint in Back (which is on the new album, and hilarious) as Pete, Michael and I tried to surreptitiously sneak on stage behind them to try to shift the gathering water over the back of the stage.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite go according to plan, the resultant on-stage ice-bucket challenge ended up drenching Pete and the (thankfully closed) cases for the Bar Stewards’ instruments.  They are true troubadours though – they kept going unplugged with Lady in Greggs and Riverflow whilst we hurried their stuff away from the water – the power was cut for safety reasons, which regrettably meant that we missed out on getting to hear Echo Town who were part way through setting up on the other side of the stageand also Dirty Vertebrae for that evening.  We briefly attended an impromptu gathering in the campsite with Brian, Jonny and Rob providing musical fun.

I believe John (perhaps inevitably) has the whole thing on video – I don’t know if he’s dared upload it yet but I hope he does!

However we were soon back to the stage to try to make some adjustments – Paul and Mick were up on the trailers making the adjustments whilst we tensioned the covering down.  The rain was easing off, so there was a plan hatched to move Dirty Vertebrae to the following day with a bit of set rearranging, and to try to get Parson’s Lot on to headline the day as planned.  Volunteers, organisers and soundcrew alike worked their arses off to make everything safe and get things back on course – it was heartwarming to witness.  Meanwhile the fairly advanced state of drunkeness I’d been working on had all but vanished as I’d got drenched!

After a bit of a lull we did indeed get to see Parson’s Lot with a shorter set than planned – I’m really pleased they decided to major on their own material rather than just cover versions.  You should get hold of their EP, on that note.  They kicked in with No Regrets and the festival (which had carried on regardless) kicked back into full life, Bastard Beer was next and then A Hurriers Tale – not of Jethro’s normal banter, they were determined to get through as many songs they could before the curfew kicked in.

Drink Away Our Tears was next – a rousing tribute to Jethro’s grandfather morphing into I Fought The Law as ever – the one cover they did muster was their Bostin’ Days song Liberty.  Brian had been providing regular time checks to make sure there was no risk of running over, thankfully there was time for them to finish up with the moving Battle of the Ebro (or Batalla del Ebro) – a thought-provoking song documenting the British volunteers who took part in the largest battle against fascism in the Spanish civil war in 1938.  Sadly abridged, but an excellent headline slot to overcome the earlier adversity.

We had a wander to see The Star Botherers performing a late night busking set in the Creative Intentions tent (more on this amazing space later), but as the cold set in we decided to call it a night – after all, I was playing relatively early so didn’t want to risk getting too hammered!  All in all, a fantastic opening to the festival though despite some difficulties which were unforeseen to some degree – it’s all very character-building though after all!    A song of defiance was a perfect way to finish the amplified music, No pasaran, rain.  No pasaran.

I wasn’t going to split this into several posts – but looking at the wordcount and the time, I think I better had – so stay tuned for Saturday and Sunday…

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