Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Another weekend, another wristband

As if one in August wan't enough, I've just got back from another music festival, this time the Solway Music Festival, AKA Solfest, that took place in northern Cumbria over the bank holiday weekend. The overall theme of the music was folky stuff, although there was quite a lot of variation, with a handful of rock acts and a dance tent (which I never entered). However, there was a much bigger emphasis placed on the general festival vibe with quirkiness being the order of the day.

Put it this way; on one of the days, whilst there was a hula hooping workshop going on in the middle of the fields, a brass band (I never found out their name) set up shop. They wore alternating purple and lime green suits, the lead singer used a loud hailer and they handed out maracas and tambourines to the audience for percussion. Then towards the end of their set, a group of belly dancers showed up in full regalia and gave an impromptu dance. The real kicker of course is that at this festival, it wouldn't be considered unusual.

There was all sorts of other stuff as well. A healing area where tents offered everything from Thai massages to crystal therapy, an African musical instrument shop with people seemingly drumming permanently outside (public free to join in), a clothes stall where every item was made out of hemp, a wood-fired vegetarian pizza stall, scheduled storytelling sessions and a wood-fired sauna and shower, operated in a tent out of someone's trailer. Overall, stuff straight out of Viz's Modern Parents that made the tent selling bongs and legal highs seem mundane in comparison.

They had a good spectrum of music with a main stage and a beer tent doing the main acts and the 'Drystone Stage' doing some of the more unheard of stuff, which included a lot of local talent. This was a good place to go if you weren't doing anything else because you'd be guaranteed to find something unusual and cool. The Weirside Ceilidh and Bad Acid are the ones that stick in my mind the most.

The bar stage had some interesting stuff, most of which I'd not heard of but some I may have to chase up in the future. Ben's Brother were a guitar band playing something that amounted to a more uplifting version of James Blunt or Coldplay that oozed quality. Uniting the Elements were a girly hard/goth rock band whose quality and showmanship seemed at odds with the fact that they appeared to be unsigned (at least, they were selling CD-Rs afterwards). The Bluehorses were a Welsh Celtic Rock band who played a very progressive set that ranks as one of my favourite bits of the festival. The emo-tinged alt-rock of Johnny Panic proved to be a welcome change at the end of the weekend but you got the impression they were wasted on most of the audience.

On the main stage there were some fantastic acts. Neck did a great Celtic rock set and Show of Hands added to the folk credentials of the festival, even if they were lyrically depressing. The Bikini Beach Band were simply a fun surfer tribute band and great at it. The Ozric Tentacles gave some of their psychedelic progressive rock, marred by some unfortunate power cuts, and the Undertones showed that they still have it where it counts, getting the whole crowd going. Badly Drawn Boy was good but not great (he didn't seem as cheerful as the last time I saw him) but the best act of the weekend for me was the Levellers. My in-laws just kept saying how much of a ripoff of the Waterboys they were, but I didn't care. They got the crowd really fired up and jumping and me and Eimear were right by the fence for it.

Downsides were general inadequacies of the toilets; the portaloos themselves were nice (providing the seats stayed intact) but there weren't enough of them and the gents' piss-pots kept overfilling. Some of the stewards appeared stoned and the sound systems were pretty poor; most bands on the beer stage were continually signalling for the monitors to be turned up and the main stage couldn't be heard well from the mixing desk backwards.

None of it was bad enough to put a downer on things however and a good time was had by all. Would definitely consider going back next year. Maybe have to sort out fancy dress costumes as well, which was the order of the day on the Saturday.

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