Everyone has their first experience of going to their first music festival. It probably forms a rite of passage for most music fans; a weekend of cramming in as much of the immense experience offered to the audience before returning to our mundane existences when it’s all over. That time for this writer comes over the August Bank Holiday weekend when attending the Forest Of Galtres Festival 2011…
Located just over 10 miles north of York near the village of Crayke, the three-day event has evolved in its seven-year history from a celebration of the best of local food and wine to a small-scale three-day family arts festival with an accent on showcasing performing talent from the Yorkshire ridings.
The family-friendly aspect of Galtres is reinforced while we wait to enter the arena for the first time. As ticket holders slowly move along the queue in the rain, groups of children with little inhibition and plenty of zeal begin to splash in the puddles of mud starting to form on site.
The ground conditions aren’t the only teething problems the festival has in store. A series of technical glitches affect the early performers on the Oxman stage, but this is counteracted by the likes of the Dan Webster Band, who are happy to see the funny side and carry on regardless. These are some of the only personal gripes we experience during our three days on site; so now they’re over and done with, let’s get on with what we came along for – the music.
The first full set we witness comes from the Little Top tent. The Blueprints have to begin their set in an acoustic vogue without their bassist Mark Walters, as he was still completing his set as part of the Dan Webster Band. The eventual arrival of “the Phil Collins of the evening” (lead singer Stu Allen’s words) during their second track, ‘Three Minutes’, is met with cheers from the crowd, allowing the completed quartet to get plugged in for the rest of their adrenaline-charged set.
The headline act for the festival’s opening night, and the draw for most of the audience (if the t-shirts they wear is anything to go by), is British Sea Power on the main Duke’s Stage. Known for their continued support of festivals like Galtres, their lively and anthemic performance is well-received by the audience, content to accompany the set-list in spite of the rain. Unfortunately, the incessant showers don’t encourage us to stay until the end of the set to witness any attempt by band members at stage-diving.
Our home for the remainder of the evening is the Little Top stage, where a brace of York-based bands entertain in intimate (and dry) surroundings. First on-stage, and for only the second time in their existence, is IO. Their confident and solid musicianship belittles this fact somewhat, with songs like ‘Big Foot’ and ‘No Life’ bringing the impressed audience on their dancing feet. Following onwards comes another Galtres debut performance from the excellent …And The Hangnails. Comprising of two guys, an acoustic guitar and a tea chest (“This is the first time we’ve done anything this quiet”, singer and guitarist Martyn Fillingham tells the crowd), their dynamic and enthralling routine receives a strong response and calls for an encore.
Sadly, we have to return to the centre of York just as Ollie Webb of IO returns to the stage with his other acoustic venture, Old Joy. Our first night of the festival experience meets with any expectations we have – the queues, the thronging crowds, the emotional rollercoaster of the spectator to the big stage and the intimacy of a smaller stage. Bring on the next day.
The morning of our second day of Galtres 2011 is spent enjoying an eclectic mix of York-centric bands on the Duke’s Stage – as the stage MC Andy Atkins observes in his links, “It gives local bands an opportunity to play on a big stage”. First on the bill is These City Walls, whose set is competed with a tractor erecting a wooden fence in anticipation of the evening’s headliners. The band acknowledges their Galtres performance is their first outside gig, with lead singer James Rodgers telling the crowd, “The only problem is wasps chasing you around the stage!” Thankfully, insects and a tractor cannot detract from a solid, energetic set from the band, who even give a nod to their previous incarnation The Airheads by performing ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.
Another band we first encountered at a Battle of the Bands tournament in the Opera House a few years ago are to follow; Hot Fudge, who receive a rapturous reception on taking to the stage for a set which smoothly blends funk, rock, jazz and reggae. The tight musicianship shown between band members, especially lead guitarist Sophie McDonnell and bassist and crowd-favourite Helgi Clayton-McClure, is worthy of high appreciation for a group still mainly in their teens.
Soundsphere favourites Hungry Ghosts take to the stage as the afternoon beckons, happy to play up to the “dark oddballs” moniker attributed to them by other publications. Of course, we wouldn’t want the lads any other way, especially when the guitar interchanges between James Browne and Adam Wilson maintain such epic proportions which met with audience approval.
The personal highlight of the early action on the Duke’s Stage comes from We Could Be Astronauts, who thankfully don’t repeat last year’s glory of a festival ban. In their red and black combo outfits, they instantly get the crowd rocking with a blistering classic metal sound. Rob Hughes’ vocals are on top form, equally channelling the spirits of Robert Plant and Eddie Vedder. The fast-paced raw energy of tracks like the bowdlerised ‘Messed Up Corroded Broken Down Exploded’ (family festival, remember?) and ‘The Catastrophist’ gain them the loudest cheers of the day so far.
Other afternoon sets embrace the true festival spirit of carrying on despite the incessant rain and the quagmire conditions. Three Sheets T’Wind have their spectators jigging before the Oxman Stage to a rousing version of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’; their lead singer Johnny Dolescrounger remarks between songs that “It gets to the point where you just don’t care anymore [about the rain, obviously! – ed].”
Dead Rebellion have the crowd moshing at the Duke’s Stage, while The Buccaneers’ rhythm and blues sounds please fans old and new watching them on the Oxman Stage. Club Smith also raise spirits as the rain petered out with their sweet bassline and 1980’s drum samples creating a sound akin to The Killers in the ‘Hot Fuss’-era meets Bloc Party.
Topping the Saturday bill are three acts hotly anticipated by festival goers. On the Duke’s Stage, Chris Helme’s acoustic-driven set could be described as the “Galtres All Stars” routine, with backing from Andy Stones and Holly Taymar. They aren’t the only guests accompanying Helme; as the end of his set approaches, three members of Shed Seven appear on stage and, suddenly, we’re back in the realm of mid-1990s Britpop. Much-cherished covers of Shed Seven’s ‘Going For Gold’ and the Seahorses’ ‘Love Is The Law’ naturally follow. Setting the tone for what was to come, Atkins’ outro lauding Helme as “…a real treasure” is heavily endorsed.
Soon enough, a suitably authoritative light show beckoned the Duke’s Stage headline set. The Charlatans’ set contains all their greatest hits; starting with ‘Then’, moving on to ‘Weirdo’, ‘One To Another’ and ‘The Only One I Know’ with constant euphoric audience reaction. Tim Burgess and crew easily prove why they’ve lasted the course against their Madchester contemporaries and draw new fans.
Meanwhile, another legend takes to the Little Top stage. The crowd gather for John Otway’s set, and the self-proclaimed “two-hit wonder” instantly pleases by kicking off his act with ‘Really Free’. Otway’s boundless charisma and wit provides an entertaining conclusion to a day’s worth of awesome performances.
The final day of Galtres 2011, thankfully rain-free and with the odd break in the cloud, is designated as Fancy Dress Day, with a prize awarded to the best fancy dress. This scribe considers entering as a dirty Irish bogeyman, but decides against it at the last minute (as that was his general appearance for most of the weekend, ha! – ed).
Arriving on site, the first participant spotted is dressed in a beaver suit and carrying an inflatable doll. The festival site is awash with pirates, outlaws and fairies – even one opportune lady dressed up as a tomato ketchup bottle. We never find out who wins the contest, but we hope it is the young man dressed as a Ghostbuster, complete with home-made backpack and trap device.
In terms of live performance on the day, the morning begins on a suitably subdued note. An early performer on the Oxman stage was Andy Doonan And The Lightwalkers, kicking off their set with an acoustic medley of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ and the theme tune to ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’, as Doonan observed, “…to keep things interesting.” This is sustained throughout the York outfit’s eight-song set with intricately-crafted musical stories warmly received by the early punters.
Elsewhere, mellow sounds on Duke’s Stage come from the uplifting Oh My Gospel and the enchanting percussive rhythms of the Arts Barge Ensemble – a highlight of the latter set is a tender version of Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’. Acoustic sets by local singer-songwriters are the main order of the day in the Firkin Stage tent; sets from the likes of Tom Reeve, Ian Ellwood and Jess Gardham deliver songs with potent, captivating messages with real back stories.
Sunday afternoon’s sets turn up the atmosphere a few notches. A punchy set from Cardboard Radio, who reunite especially for the festival, saw infectious tunes with slick key changes and driving bass rhythms – and the first of three appearances on the Oxman stage of a cowbell. King Courgette, next up on Oxman, delight with their blend of bluegrass and skiffle (another cowbell, this time attached to a washboard) and quickly get the crowd to perform a conga line around the arena. On Duke’s Stage, Krakatoa’s storming set is punctuated by great banter between band members and audience, especially when they throw band t-shirts to eager crowd supporters.
For us, the surprise turn of the weekend comes from beatbox artist ThePETEBOX; a risk which reaps dividends for the festival organisers. His impressive dexterity at voice simulation gains him the respect of his audience; children and adults alike bouncing faithfully along to the beats. Active in involving the crowd, ThePETEBOX adds a sampler, waw-waw pedal and guitar to his set, helpfully explaining at each stage how each addition added to his act. His canon of performances is a revelation – from a mash-up of Benny Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics, to faithful covers of MGMT and Pixies favourites – all driven by his beatbox skills and real-time sampling – demonstrating why he’s the recipient of awards for his innovative and highly entertaining set.
The Oxman then welcoms highly-acclaimed trio The Middlemen to the stage. Akin to their fellow West Midlanders The Streets, their combination of spoken and sung lyrics dealing with everyday situations provides a foil for dub scratch beats and a thunderous bass-driven groove finds immediate appeal – and instant fandom – from spectators, who rise to their feet to move to their infectious, tight beats for the last two songs of their set.
Following on from one of the most highly appreciated sets of Galtres so far is the difficult mantle inherited by the Dub Barn Collective. The five-piece band provide a taster for their set in an after-dark session the previous evening in the Artspace tent, where – despite a sludge-ridden floor in a confined space – they garnered an invasion of audience movement. On the larger Oxman stage, the crowd immediately start stomping as the dub sirens begin. Like a clarion call, a dancing melee of all ages, and most beautifully, all abilities, grows stronger with each passing minute. The fluid fusion of dub bassline, trombone and inspiring samples, including Martin Luther King’s ‘Promised Land’ speech makes for a captivating evening groove for the Oxman faithful to kickstart their night. Indeed, the crowd are still dancing with the highest of spirits in front of the Oxman stage when its festival duties came to an end with a rousing set by Wakefield’s Aelfen.
The closing two acts on Duke’s stage draw festival goers by the score. The young pirates still on-site play swordfighters, while those with foldaway chairs stake their place. A giant orange spacehopper becomes a makeshift football to keep the crowd hyped as sound checks continued. Given a ringing endorsement by MC Andy Atkins, The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s toe-tapping blues sounds quickly get the crowd moving, whether it is pogoing or even line-dancing to the sextet’s melodies – an apt soundtrack to the only red sunset of the festival.
And so to the last of the headliners; The Levellers’ set which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the ‘Levelling The Land’ album. Introduced by Atkins as “absolutely uncomparable”, Mark Chadwick and his men are bestowed the most excited and most rapturous response of the festival. The crowd jubilantly embrace the band’s set, with word-perfect accompaniment to familiar tracks such as ‘One Way’, and worthy appreciation the lesser-known tracks from the LP. In the wake of the success of acts such as Mumford And Sons, the collision of folk and indie rock the group charted 20 years ago has stayed fresh and worthy a generation on from their breakthrough.
As a curtain call to this year’s event, the spectrum of live performances across the arena galvanises the notion that Galtres is not an archetype of the “crusty” rural August Bank Holiday festival, but a celebration of the rich tapestry of music that brings communities together.
For more information visit the official Forest Of Galtres Festival website.