Farmer Phil’s 2017 – part one!

Farmer Phil’s Festival is one of those impossible to sum up times of the year. It can last potentially for a week if you’re lucky enough to have the time to get on site the Monday preceding it. It was Thursday evening for us when we were able to wend our way to this Shropshire idyll – the original plan was a Wednesday arrival but sadly a funeral waylaid us slightly – it had been raining a bit, we immediately got stuck in some mud but were pushable, having located a route to our camping spot we found ourselves sunk again – this time relying on being towed by the wonderful Craig.

We found ourselves nestled just behind the Purrple Peeple Eater – and quickly reunited with our immediate camp-mates with a cheeky cider or two whilst setting the van up as quickly as we could. Whilst the festival proper hadn’t started yet Bart had organised some music up at the bar tent, and we were keen to get straight into the festival spirit. We wandered up to pick up our wristbands and then onward up the hill and into the arena – still in varying degrees of construction, to find a cast of hundreds of friends already mustered ready for the music to start.

Pete Drake was already underway on the stage, entertaining a burgeoning crowd in the large beer tent, meanwhile we were roving from friend to friend catching up, saying hello and fussing the ridiculous number of four-legged friends. Farmer Phil’s is absolute heaven for anyone, like me, who loves doggies! Pete was followed by Northern Monkey – which seemed to have Joel from Black Thorn amongst them playing bass (I’m sure that’s not the usual state of affairs!). Also nestled on the hill was the Cheezy Vinyl Bar and stalls. It was shaping up to be a stonking weekend.

It was Shanks’ Pony who’d finish up the music for the night – by this point we’d found ourselves inside – they launched into Good Old English Folk Song and then Deathbed – Rob was selling merch, I realised I hadn’t got a t-shirt of theirs so quickly remedied this! I’ve decided quite quickly in this post that I’m not going to labour set lists (although I did manage to note most of these) as it will simply turn into a MASSIVE list of songs, but sufficed to say the chaps were on fire – Bob only had one mic on his cajón but it sounded great, Rob was deputising on fiddle and Paul with his voice and guitar.

A thoughtful mixture of their songs and covers – some like Chasing Cars or Delilah I’ve not heard them tackle before – some more predictable and just as fun. Mark waited very patiently for the right moment to collect his can of Special Brew, shortly after ending up wearing a pint of it due to a bit of over-exuberant dancing – oops! The penultimate song had a rhythmic group of folk waltzing around in front of the stage before descending into a full-on mosh. Shortly after they finished we headed down to the campsite to bed – it had been a tiring day!

Friday morning was chilly, we breakfasted as a big group which was a nice way to start the day before heading on up to the arena. Mick and Luanne were getting married on the stage before the music started, it was a lovely ceremony – although the lady conducting it seemed overly keen of the phrase ‘just up to the knuckle’ which was causing murmurs of amusement from the more dirty-minded in our number. Wonderful to see two friends getting hitched in such a lovely setting and be able to share it with both friends and family.

The opening act of the day for us was quite exciting – well, more so than normal – Ferocious Dog had kindly invited us and lots of other musician friends to join them for different songs in their set. So it was a monumental task for the sound crew to get everything set up, Bob had been eyeing the purloined cajón with dubiousness and swapped it out for his own, Alex meanwhile had never played one so we had a quick natter about that (ha, me with my whole year-and-a-bit’s worth of experience!).

First up was Mairi’s Wedding Part III which we (The Star Copiers) joined in with – then On The Rocks with Brad Dear, Quiet Paddy with Brian Stone. The Glass was then led into Unconditional which was dedicated both to Mick and Luanne, and also Brian and Lisa who’d got hitched the previous day. Shanks’ Pony joined them for Blackleg Miner, then it was Too Late where Issac joined them and frankly stole the show – John Leonard quite quickly just thinking ‘sod it’ and not bothering!

Russ and Dave joined for Criminal Justice, and finally Freethinker had to really be joined by Bart who of course wrote the song in the first place. For the final track Slow Motion Suicide in addition to the amazing Enya on keyboard, everyone was invited to join in – I was going to just sit on a packing box at the back and tap along until Alex invited me (foolishly) to sit on his knee and share cajón duties – Bob opting for a tambourine at the back. It was such good fun and from the monitor mix sounded great too.

It was a nice way to encapsulate the kind of inclusivity and encouragement that both Ferocious Dog and Farmer Phil’s have come to symbolise for me at least – and I’m sure countless others. A rare chance to see a more relaxed-pace Ferocious Dog set and interspersed with guest performances. Funnily enough this time last year was my first ever live performance on a stage playing cajón with Ferocious Dog, that time for Ruby Bridges, I think I’ve got a bit better at it since then (and mercifully had more than 3 seconds notice to prepare!).

After the set we’d arranged to have a few post-wedding drinks with Mick and Luanne, having sat a while and neither of them arriving I did make a dash back to watch The Cathartic Cabby (aka Drew). It was his first live performance and he was nervous as hell from talking before, but he did a fantastic job – he was into Elation by the time I arrived, then invited Dan to join him for Mairi’s Wedding Part III (which proved amusing since – spoiler alert – we’d do exactly the same thing a day later!). I think Just Won’t Play was his own composition, and it was superb.

Nights in White Satin was up next, and a moment to realise what a fantastic voice Drew has. Adele was in the crowd looking very proud, and rightly so! Next up was a song for and about her which had a few people in the crowd looking a bit emotional, finally he tuned up his guitar differently and treated us to a lovely version of Ferocious Dog’s Lyla. He did really well, a genuinely entertaining set – it was good to see the nerves start to ease as it went on.

Back at the campsite Mick and Luanne had reappeared to accept gifts and cards, share a drink and their wedding cake. One of the absolute pleasures of Farmer Phil’s is getting to camp with such wonderful folk it sometimes makes the (not particularly long!) trek up to the arena a bit of an afterthought at times – meaning we only caught a fleeting glimpse of Karl Phillips and the Rejects before heading up for a tough three-way-clash of The Star Botherers, Jonny Wallis and Karl Phillips and the Rejects all at the same time.

Our first stop was Gail’s cabaret tent for The Star Botherers – a cracking space, and packed – and to my shame my only visit there of the weekend, she had a belting line-up on offer. With no Brad we saw Dave on both percussion and bass duties, Ringing in Sick was up first followed by Bad Guys – then Just Around the Corner, Star Wars Bride and One Inch Death Punch. With all the bodies in the tent it was getting very warm, we retreated outside to listen to that last one before dashing down the hill to catch the end of Jonny’s set.

So Jonny Wallis was well underway – indeed, Brian was up with him and they were in the middle of Oh You New York Girls (Can’t You Dance the Polka?) as we got to the Russhuntel Stage. He then did what he said he’d never do and played Julie (or more accurately sang it whilst Brian played). I missed a song name before a rousing finish of Ofsted. Always goes down well with teachers (and apparently Ofsted inspectors too!). By this point we were starting to wonder when Simon was going to arrive, so wandered down the hill to have a look – only to find him collecting his wristband – providence or what?

Talisman were due on next on the main stage – infusing the air with reggae goodness, heaven only knows what the songs were called. They seemed to take a good while to get set up, but once up and running were sounding great. However, we were really keen to see Les Carter over on the second stage (for me of Ferocious Dog fame, for most folk of course more famed for being Fruitbat of Carter USM fame). Les was nervous too, by all accounts, which is crazy when you think about some of the stages and crowds he’s experienced in his career!


He was great though – with an atypical acoustic guitar he did have to ‘have a word with himself’ a couple of times but he was on cracking form – highlights for me with Birthday, Fingers – which was dedicated to his brother Brian in the crowd – then for the eagle-eared there was a treat of a forthcoming Ferocious Dog song in there – Place I Want to Be for which he was joined on stage by Dan. There’s a Monster in my Garden is one of Ella’s favourites so she was chuffed to hear it, with Doozer and Skeg providing backing vocals. Sheriff Fatman was always going to be a crowd pleaser and the finalé was the Abdoujaparov theme. Such fun.

Skaburst were next on the main stage, we sat and listened from the bank by the bar – a myriad of cover versions given the ska treatment – ranging from Red Red Wine, House of Fun, Gangsters, Ghost Busters Theme, A Message to you Rudy, Three Little Birds, Lovecats, Help? and others it was impossible not to at least have your feet tapping away, they have great energy and really had the crowd bouncing down at the front. Wandering back we caught a glimpse of Polly Money on the second stage with an electric guitar, Janey’s Got a Gun mercifully wasn’t an Aerosmith cover, it was followed up with another song with her on keyboard which I missed the name of, what a voice, though – she was superb.

But we did have an appointment back at the campsite – we’d been trying to plan between us meals to save a bit of cash on buying it on site all the time, plus it’s more sociable to have communal meals. Inspired by Paul and Nicki’s cadac cooking thinger Ian and Lynne bought one too, and Jacquie was quick to realise the potential in their ability to cook pizzas by bringing pizza bases and toppings for folk to make their own pizzas. By gosh they were delicious. We were just finishing them up whilst listening to Dirty Vertebrae from our seats.

But it really is rather rude not to watch them too – so we dashed back in time for Slick Smile, and then Ignorance. This was followed up with Working for the Man and then Be Yourself and into Living Doll. Next up was a rap section I’ve never heard before just accompanied by percussion and a rousing finalé of We Do What We Want – not that they ever haven’t been a slick unit, but they really are looking more and more tight each time I’ve seen them this year.  The music brings energy enough, but they are a visual treat as much as an aural one.

Brad Dear in full band guise was next on the main stage – great to see him moving up the set time rankings, and a cracking performance to justify it. Circles and Roundabouts kicked off proceedings then onto Walls, Sail Away led into the new song that still doesn’t have a name, then Festival Bar Blues saw us cut and run because we also really wanted to see Emma and the Professor on the second stage, although we did hear the other new song and So Far Away as we wended our way over there.

Ella had plotted with Emma to do some filming for them so set up her camera and got underway – there were a few feedback gremlins in the sound system but it didn’t detract from the performance for me. Old Black Crow opened the set and was followed by Kisses Sweeter than Wine – whilst a bit of cable jiggery pokery was going on Emma told the crowd how she’d accidentally head butted Dan (Booth) earlier in the festival which was quite entertaining and filled some space before the next song!

Somebody to Love is an extraordinarily apt cover for them to take on, it suits Emma’s voice perfectly! Lily was up next, then Men an Tol and Matty Groves (which was dedicated to Maty Tustian who was dancing at the front, probably in awe like me at Mark’s bodhran skills!). Luke took on vocal duties for Rabbit in the Log. Then Emma was back on singing for Battle of the Marches, Rain and Snow had some epic crowd participation – the cries for an encore were loud, after hesitation we were treated to a reprise of The Old Black Crow. A great set. Watch out for whatever happens with Ella’s videos!

On the main stage Doctor and the Medics were belting out Kids in America, we popped to grab a drink then back to the second stage to see Doozer McDooze play Searching and Dreams before succumbing to general tiredness and wandering back down to the camp site to get some sleep – I was mindful of our set the following day, and Ella had a date with Ivor in the Pink Flamingo Cocktail Bar for a coffee and questions morning with Morganella so it made sense to not be too ridiculously late to bed!



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