Following the arrival of the 600-strong parade that had wended their way through central Nottingham with the motto “Pagan and proud”, and a blessing; the Arboretum bandstand becomes the centre of attention for the day; transformed from antique folly to venue for the 1000-plus crowd.
Starting the afternoon of music, is Nottingham’s own Three Eyed Fox. Despite being less than a year old, the three-peice has enjoyed well-deserved success around the local folk circuit. Led by charismatic frontman Jonny Patrick swaggering in wearing top hat and tails, the band energetically leaps into ‘One Way’ by The Levellers. The sound is full and strong, (despite them having only two instruments) thanks to the resolute guitar provided by Rich Kirton, and the intricate violin melodies of classically-trained Rachael Yeomans. While the set is heavy on Lev’s and Dropkick Murphys covers, it is delivered with such passion that you could forgive the lack of variance in their repertoire, and gives great hope for the trio in future.
Following a short choreographed bellydancing routine from Parvaneh, and improvised tribal fusion from The Syrens, York band Cryptic Age take to the stage, beginning with a rendition of the theme from the HBO ‘Game Of Thrones’ series, that blends perfectly into the start of their keyboard-driven symphonic metal set.
The keyboardist/vocalist Jenny Green and guitarist Hallam Smith work in tandem, with blisteringly fast key and guitar duets above the tight rhythm section. The band sound a little top-heavy, with operatic vocals, and trebly guitar; they may have benefitted from some more male-female harmonies as in their more recent tracks such as ‘Aftermath’, which lend a little more aural depth to their song about the Battle Of Bosworth.
Calmly sitting in formal wear to the side of the stage all afternoon, six-member blackened folk metal band Northern Oak take the bandstand to deliver the most extreme and well-dressed dose of music all day. The reliance on flautist Catie Williams’ folk-ish melodies twisting around the heavy guitar riffs and keys is the band’s defining feature and ensures that, despite the harsh vocals and blast beats, they stay very much on the folk side of heavy music. The folkyness of the band is aided by the subjects of songs, including ‘Gawain’, a song about meeting the Green Knight of Arthurian legend. The three-piece harmonies – rich with growls, screeches and barks from Chris Mole (guitar), Martin Collins (vocals) and Rich Allan (bass) respectively, helps each song to sound full to the brim, and the harmonies really help the crescendos in the songs to stand out. Six members strong, and with an energetic stage presence, especially from bassist Rich and vocalist Martin, the band pull out all the stops to impress the hesitant audience, and manage to get everyone on their side.
After the metal, it is up to mittelalter band Serpentyne to lift the mood the impending drizzle between sets on the main stage. Settling down in a branded marquee with a vast range of early music instruments, driven by harmonium and hurdy gurdy, the four-piece play through medieval and renaissance dances and chants with aplomb; although much of their educational banter is lost in the constant thrum of the light rain.
Arriving with just minutes to spare before their set is due to start, Sheffield old hands Treebeard set up their wide array of instruments and plough into their solid folk-rock set. Describing themselves as “heavy wood”, and generally not taking themselves very seriously, Treebeard re-invent songs such as Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ as an accordion-led ditty, and blend in original songs such as ‘The Barrister And The Barghest’, a cautionary tale against the dangers of being an overpaid lawyer and meeting mythical man-eating dogs in darkened alleys (in case that was on anyone’s agenda). The band seems to have a tonne of fun during their renditions of traditional tunes; bassist Paul Chisnell saunters around the park and dancing with fans, still playing, and every one swapping energetic vocal duties during verses.
Special mention goes to the “fifth member”, a large contrabass balalaika that is the backbone of gypsy-folk number ‘Russia’. That, and the wizardly millinery adorning the bonce of guitarist/bouzouki player Chris McMahon. During the short break between Treebeard and headliners Dyonisis, The Arboretum is soaked in heavy rain, causing half the crowd to disappear for cover under trees.
Dyonisis is a Sheffield four peice with a heavy reliance on pre-programmed drums and synth to complete their almost-shoegaze gothic rock. They require more electronic trickery and their own sound engineer; which, along with the weather leads to a slightly delayed and awkward opener as levels are adjusted for their set, especially with the band’s in-ear monitors.
Taking into account the issues with the sound, the twin vocals of Nel Cave and Lou Welsby appear to compete with each other during the first few songs. Shortly enough, the issue is resolved, and the songs start to flourish as they should. The ethereal and emotional ‘Arachne’s Web’, showcasing both ladies’ different styles starting to really work together to complete the song. Nel’s straightforward, almost anguished delivery carries the force of the songs as the more operatic waiver of Lou’s voice supports it and weaves in a more melancholic overtone to the lyrics. The usually sparse, effects-laden guitar of Tom Chaffer blends together the live-sound and the prerecorded elements, switching to heavy distortion and defined rhythms for the choruses, reinforced by Marcus’ undulating bass and the heavy programmed drums. Although playing music more suited to a darkened room than a sunlit park, the band come into their own when the rain lifts, with the extended last track ‘Hunter’ tying together the set with strength for a great close to the festival.
For more information visit the official Pagan Pride website.