Boomtown Fair – Chapter 11 of this festival, set in rolling Hampshire countryside and full of hedonistic delight and fantasy, with movie set backdrops, live actors and futuristic relics of a dystopian soundscape. The theme tune is Carl Cox with Chase and Status as cheerleaders, mixed with ska punk trumpets and Isaac from Slaves screaming “F#ck The Hi-Hat”.
Review by John Hayhurst
It’s an eclectic collection of stages spread over differing levels of environment, and a bloody big hill and several forests in the middle of it – in short, it’s as close as you will get to Glastonbury without any annoying Radio 2 or 4 listeners, and, Tarquin from Canterbury complaining about the lack of smashed avocado with his quinoa and cous cous salad. Instead, here the punters are street-wise and up for anything, and they probably are taking everything to escape from the reality of normal life – just for one weekend in the year at least.
Mums, Dads and Kids of all ages share the atmosphere, with booze and drugs freely available despite the attempts to rationalise the supply at security checks. Similar to Glastonbury, once you are through the gates you are free to camp in any of the provided areas and you are then inside the arenas, so no annoying queuing up every day to get to the stages you want to see, you enter the magical world of Boomtown and you are not allowed to leave until satisfied.
I’m actually attending as a ‘Solo’, which means I have no mates, however, at Boomtown Fair you are never short of your next friend, there is a strong camaraderie here, sharing and talking to strangers is the norm, unlike mediocre city life where people pass in the street without a 2nd glance.
This is my first experience of this place and so I decided to camp with the ‘Solo Polos’ – likeminded folks from all over the place who are either on their own for the first time, or have been part of the Polos clique for some years, in reality they are a large core group which have acquired a reserve of part of the site on the map for camping, and it works really well. You are never going to get on, or remember everyone’s name, but within the first 10mins of arriving you have already acquired a band of brothers and sisters that you will share all manner of tales and ‘personal items’ over the weekend. There’s even arranged dress up themes and meet ups to get the party started, culminating in Sunday’s Office Xmas Party at the Job Centre (no I am not under any influence while writing this).
Despite the interesting distractions, music should really be my focus, and in a packed programme I’ve found 2 absolute corkers for the early Thursday night – upcoming 3-piece Calva Louise and the mighty Napalm Death, both bands are playing in the Dissorder Alley, a tastefully named district that encompasses all that is noisy, loud and ferocious, which could be punky ska, metal of every variety, and the relentless hard driving techno.
Calva Louise are probably considered quite tame for this area, and it is their first time at Boomtown. Lead singer and guitarist Jess Eastwood’s Venezuelan eyes widened when she saw the lights and stages here – so much so that she wants to stay for the weekend to explore. Playing as much from their debut album Rhinoceros as they can in their slot – Outrageous and Getting Closer were highlights, but this 3-piece are getting better with every performance.
I’ve wandered around the site to get my bearings for the next few days, but to be honest the place is so huge you need a decent map to work out the shortcuts from one district level to another. There are a hidden set of stairs in a forest that I discovered, gruelling to go up, but very handy when you are at the hippy/chillout zone of Whistlers Green and need to urgently get downtown for some serious old-time moshing.
Napalm Death are the originators of the Grindcore metal genre, and still pack such a savage and merciless punch. Barney Greenway has an affectionate way of setting the scene for the next track with his Brummy socio-political wit, before returning to their trademark incomprehensible growling and screaming. Sweating fans lap it up in the moshpit and as the Earache Factory venue is bursting to the seams, they play the shortest song in the Guinness Book of Records – You Suffer, lasts only 1.316 seconds and as Barney holds up 1 finger to the crowd, they play another equally short track, to which Greenway holds up 2 fingers and says “those were 2 very different songs”. No one really seems to notice or care.
Meanwhile several thousand revellers are in the PSY (short for Psychedelic) forest, tripping out on some Trance and Strongbow Dark Fruits, added substances are optionally applied.
Friday was a different sort of day all together, and as the new arrivals appeared in the campsite the intermittent rain clouds gathered. However, it wasn’t the odd thunderous shower of rain that would be the problem, it was the 50+mph winds that blew fences, tents and accumulating bin bags of rubbish to other parts of the site. The devastation of mother nature’s natural forces cancelled Boardmasters in Cornwall this weekend, but Boomtowners are made of stronger stuff (and not perched on a cliff edge which also helps). Here in my Solo Polo cocoon, the bigger tent owners gladly take in anyone that has lost theirs to another post code, or those that only have a collapsed wet anorak to sleep in that night. We Share – We Care.
Friday’s music selection included This is the Kit, Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band, Killing Joke, Gogol Bordello and a host of trance, dance and DJ based thumpers in the PSY Forest and Tribe of Frog – which I can’t quite remember who, what or when.
First though the opening ceremony at Lions Den, which is really the main stage here, it’s an impressive, massive stage in a natural grassy bowl and set with a waterfall either side. Dancers dressed as extras from the Lion King Musical with match spirited speeches about Love, Respect and Planting Trees – we even do a little meditation, which contradicts the bloke near me who is setting up his ketbombs for the day – he’s having meditation of a different kind and sadly the environmental and humane messages seem to wash over most – a bit like the water cascading over the stage.
Gentlemens Dub Club outstanding performance followed along with the first downpour which has people rushing for ponchos and urgent cover. I escape to Copper County – a district set in Boomtowns Americana past with soot, preachers and the stink of revolution in the air.
All female quartet Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are playing Foggers Mill and captivate their audience with tales of Whisky Drinking and some ‘Mama’s Codeine’ which is performed with some stirling banjo work, emotional fiddle playing, a double bass player dressed in a superhero mask, and a percussionist that beats the box while raising her tambourine playing leg high in the air. About as far away from the DJ’s as you can get and a great break from the madness.
This is the Kit battled the thunderous rain at The Forge, having to be pulled back from the stage as it poured on to the monitors and on to their drummer. Kate Stables grew up just down the road, and despite the rain was able to provide an oasis of real songwriting and music, this is where everyone goes to chill out when that long walk to Whistlers Green is just a little too far away.
The Town Centre at Boomtown is really the 2nd Stage and home to a series of party bands, I’m spending about 60% of my time here, there is a cider bar at the back which has some Old Rosie 7.5% that unsurprisingly runs out on the 2nd day and forces everyone back on to Dark Fruits or Hooch.
Massive flame throwers either side of this stage and a fully dressed up Town Crier who introduces every band after ringing a bell and we constantly endure his “Oh Yaaay/Daaay -oh” Freddie Mercury impression. Apparently, the next act is one of his most anticipated of the weekend as they wrote his favourite album. Jaz Coleman emerges in his trademark white facepaint and boiler suit, looking even more surprised by that announcement, but Killing Joke provide the first and only real post punk rock band moments of the day and personally Eighties will always be my favourite track, shame they didn’t find time to play Love Like Blood.
The wind is devastating parts of the campsite and the rain is turning the main walking routes a little muddy (but nowhere near as bad as other festivals I’ve been to recently). What to do? Go back and reset my tent, change into some dry clothes etc. or, have another cider, and get down the front of the Town Centre Stage to get covered in red wine by Eugene Hutz. No Contest – Gogol Bordello it is!
This Gypsy Punk band have a mission task – “to provoke the audience out of their post-modern aesthetic swamp onto a neo-optimistic communal movement towards new sources of authentic energy with acts of music, theatre, chaos and sorcery”. It is a challenge that they gleefully accept and one of the highlights is when Eugene, complete with a fresh bottle of red wine jumps on the speaker stacks and gestures with his hand while singing and every lyric results in several splashes of red on the faces of the eager front row.
Start Wearing Purple is like Borat playing Nirvana, and although we are soaked through with rain and wine, this is the perfect party band for the evening.
Elsewhere a huge rave tribute to Prodigy’s Keith Flint is taking place at the Nucleus stage and parts of the Relic stage are falling off forcing that area to close early for the night. Time to retreat to camp and hope the damage isn’t too bad in the morning.
Saturday was another windy affair but at least the rain had stopped, 50mph winds dropped to 40mph by the afternoon and after that it was plain sailing all the way to Sunday night. Saturday was all about the return of Kosheen and Sian Evans who looked and sounded amazing. Playing the best of the Resist album like Suicide and Hide U she could not stop smiling and even admitted “They are going to have to carry me off this stage” what on earth could follow that – well, I’m not sure what it was but I liked it.
Having had them recommended by a fellow ‘Polo’, I decided to wait on the rail for King Kong Company, and whilst the opening gambit of wearing monkey masks and holding a bottle of Buckfast fell a little flat, the next 20 mins became a case of wondering what the hell was coming next.
We had a huge robot dancer, an eyeball, a cassette headed girl and a cardboard box headed dancer – may all have been the same person, I’m not sure. It was the best electro dance music party band since I last saw The Prodigy, and from a band that generally play in their homeland of Ireland they won this new audience over easily. They actually made Groove Armada feel a little demure on the Lions Den stage, until Superstylin’ when it really did go off the scale.
The evening was left to a couple of choices, Slaves vs The Streets and then Chase & Status vs Carl Cox. Don’t ya just love festival line up clashes!
We went for Slaves as I hadn’t seen them for about a year and having seen The Streets in Leeds a few months ago I knew what to expect – 40 mins of waiting till that song!
Slaves were introduced by our town crier as a “Popular beat combo… The Slaaaves”, I don’t think he knew anything about them, and as Isaac started his F*ck the Hi-Hat routine the crier pulled out his phone and started recording from the side, maybe he was a new fan. One keen experienced fan came fully dressed as a manta ray and Isaac said “We weren’t going to play the song but seeing as he’s come in an outfit let’s do it”
‘Feed the Manta Ray’ is accompanied by the fan prancing around the stage and singing bits of the chorus, great fun to watch and Slaves are on to a winner here. Only ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’ gets a bigger reaction.
You don’t really watch DJ’s do you? It’s all about the lights, fire and lazers and what is going to keep your feet moving after 35,000 steps are already logged on your fitbit, so I plumped for Chase & Status at the newly repaired Relic stage. Glad I did because it was packed, and those fireballs from the towers around the stage kept me warm along with the thousands of dancing bodies. Returning to the tent once again to find it needing stabilising wasn’t great, but it had fared better than a lot of others. The best nights (mornings) sleep all weekend, as I appeared to sleep until December 25th.
People were dressed in Xmas jumpers and suits as the Office Christmas Party started at 12:00 in the Job Centre which was near the Town Stage, – it runs all day, and in the 40 mins I was there, I heard 20 different versions of Last Christmas, drank copious amounts of Frosty Jack (pretending to be Prosecco), played pass the parcel and musical chairs, and didn’t win anything other than a hat.
Then I was told that we’d be late for the wedding? What wedding? Thinking I was some kind of extra on a crap remake of Alice in Boomtownland, I followed the rest of the group to watch two of the Solo Polo brigade get married in Hotel Avarice, where every comment in the ceremony is showered with boomtown cash, and we all gleefully pick it up to celebrate.
I realised that this weekend is all about fantasy, reality escapism – call it what you will, you don’t have to be spaced out to feel a little strange here, but it helps. You can visit the old town and converse with a few pirates – actually I did that and discovered an Irish Bar that sold draught Guinness, it only took me 4 days to find it – so when I did, I stayed there for a while.
There were 2 names on my must-see list when I knew I was coming to Boomtown, and they were both playing on Sunday – Prophets of Rage and The Murder Capital. I’m slightly early for this new Irish band The Murder Capital but I know what to expect, I’ve seen them 5 times in the last 12 months and they never disappoint.
There are about 12 people in the tent that can hold several hundred when they take to the stage, by the end of the set it will be crammed and lead singer James McGovern will triumphantly crowd surf or mosh along with the faithful down at the front. I’ve seen them fill a room in minutes because once you have caught a glimpse of their intensity and felt the passion in their performance, you are hooked, you can’t leave until they do. Green and Blue followed by a majestic Don’t Cling To Life, and then the climax that is Feeling Fades. The suited and booted Damien Tuit, Cathal Roper, Gabriel Paschal Blake, Diarmuid Brennan and James McGovern will be the next great Irish rock band, fusing dark Nick Cave sentiments with early Joy Division prowess, their debut album is out today (Friday 16th August) and you really should check it out. Expect them back at Boomtown in years to come, but on a much bigger stage.
Having had my mind blown again, nothing can really top that, so I decide to stake my place on the rail for Prophets of Rage – but that means putting up with party band Salt’n’Pepa. It actually isn’t too bad, and they manage to extend Push It to about 20 minutes with a load of covers in-between. The alternative was UB40 (The Ali and Astro version) at Lions Den but I’m not walking that far to come back.
Worth it to be on the rail for some of the best rap/metal crossover music ever made. Rage Against The Machine were sublime with Zack De La Rocha but that’s not happening anytime soon, so we have the best of Chuck D and B Real to take his place, so it’s a smattering of Public Enemy/Cypress Hill tunes and then the big guns from RATM – Bombtrack, Testify, Take the Power Back, Bulls on Parade, Bullet in the Head and of course Killing in the Name with that “[email protected] You I won’t do what you tell me” chorus sounding loud and proud in Boomtown. Just how Tom Morello gets those sounds from his guitar I still can’t understand, and I was about 6 feet away from him.
Elsewhere I heard that Lauryn Hill was about an hour late on stage and only did 20 mins – poor show if that was the case.
A final trip into disorder alley to Earache and Ska/Rock crossover band King Prawn, whilst they were ok, I used them more as a cool down period following the previous band.
That was my Boomtown – Chapter 11 experience over, it felt like I had only just started to get used to the surroundings and I probably missed tons of stuff, but then you do at festivals and that’s why you keep coming back. Jarvis Cocker from Pulp sums it up quite well on Sorted for E’s and Whizz – “I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere in a field in Hampshire….alright”