Beautiful Days Festival 2021
Review and Photography – Simon Partington
After a long wait for over 18 months for Music Festivals, this is one festival that makes it all worthwhile Beautiful Days Festival is located in Escot Park, Devon . The Festival has been going on since 2003 and this one was a brilliant lineup
Main Stage: FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS | JAMES | LEVELLERS | GARY NUMAN | NEW MODEL ARMY | IMELDA MAY | SKINDRED | THE SELECTER | ALABAMA 3 | FROM THE JAM | TURIN BRAKES | DREADZONE | GENTLEMAN’S DUB CLUB | DAMIEN DEMPSEY | HENGE | PEAT & DIESEL | THE SKINTS | AVALANCHE PARTY | PULLED APART BY HORSES | LOTTERY WINNERS | DEA MATRONA | MARTHAGUNN | PATTERN PUSHER | FIGHTING RHYTHMS
The Big Top: HAWKWIND | THE LAKEMAN FAMILY GATHERING | VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR | THE BIG MOON | SHOW OF HANDS | FEROCIOUS DOG | MAD DOG MCREA | THE LONGEST JOHNS | GINGER WILDHEART AND THE SINNERS | CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA | REV HAMMER & NICK HARPER | AMY MONTGOMERY | 3 DAFT MONKEYS | KATHERINE PRIDDY | HEADSTICKS | SONS OF CLOGGER | GEORGIE | MEGA| EDWARD II | FERRIS & SYLVESTER | LEVELLERS ACOUSTIC | THE BAR-STEWARD SONS OF VAL DOONICAN’S SUNDAY SERVICE
The Little Big Top: THE ORB | MUNGO’S HI FI | YOUTH | ADRIAN SHERWOOD | EVA LAZARUS | ALTERN-8 | THE HEMPOLICS | SHADES OF RHYTHM | SLIPMATT | 2 BAD MICE | MARK XTC | THE MOODY BOYZ | BIG FISH LITTLE FISH |MARK RADCLIFFE’S UNE | LEVI COLLINS | THE EGG | PATTERN PUSHER | THE EMBEZZLERS | DJ ANDROMEDA | PHARMA | DJ AMBIESSENCE | THE HONEY POT | DJ SHINYBEAST | SEMBALANCE | CREATURE CRAIG
The Theatre Tent: CIRCUS OF HORRORS | FOUR POOFS AND A PIANO | RUBBISH SHAKESPEARE COMPANY | MORGAN AND WEST | ENTERTAININGLY DIFFERENT | JON UDRY | DAN THE HAT | JACK DEAN COMPANY
The Bimble Inn: TOWER OF BEANS | MILLIE MANDERS AND THE SHUTUP | TIMBALI & PEPPERY | FLINT MOORE | JOHN FAIRHURST | F.F.T.P | DAVEY MALONE | KUKI AND THE BARD | DAN OTTEWELL | TIRION & THE CHOCOLATE NODDY WINNERS | BUSTAWIDEMOVE | TEN FOOT WIZARD | MALAVITA | JONNY RAY & THE WASTERS | HEADSTICKS | MUDDY SUMMERS & THE DIRTY FIELD WHORES | LE CHAPEAU FAIM | SHE ROBOT | POWER BALLAD YOGA | FILTHY DIRTY DISCO | TAZER CHRIST | THE SCRIBES | FUNKE & THE TWO TONE BABY | HOBO JONES & THE JUNKYARD DOGS | SAMANTICS | REVEREND IKE’S SUNDAY SOUL SERVICE
The Sunday theme at #BD2021 was…………… SUPERHEROES! Your favourite superhuman character or real-life hero. Comic book characters, caped crusaders, the incredible, and the admirable.
Starting off on the main stage Alabama 3. No strangers to this festival they were an excellent opening act , strutting with their cooler than cool looks. The southern blues punchy dance drive had the whole crowd dancing and bobbing along. Lead singer Larry Love owned the stage, singers Sister Sheena and Sister Ese were out front, breaking the mould of ‘backing singers’ providing some gospel touches, always moving the songs along.
There was quite a moment as Larry Love made a passionate dedication to George Floyd, and Nanci Griffiths who died this month, followed up by their best-known song ‘Woke Up This Morning’, The Sopranos theme inevitably went down very well with some superb slide guitar from Rock Freebase.
They played a fantastic version of Velvet Underground’s ‘Oh Sweet Nuthin’’ chased up with ‘R.E.H.A.B.’, with the refrain ‘Sometime The Light Don’t Shine’ sticking in my mind. The final song was ‘Hello I’m Johnny Cash’, Alabama 3 never say goodbye at the end of their sets, ‘Hello Don’t You Say Goodbye’ being chanted back and forth between the band and audience. This is a band that has had more than its fair share of tragedy but they keep going, still a full rousing sound and as captivating as when I first saw them years ago. I’ll be going to see them again when they tour in 2022.
The Festival was great to explore with so many great acts to choose from. A stroll past the Little Big Top on top of the hill to the left of the main stage down the other side to the Bimble Inn for a quick beer and sat outside listening to Flint Moore playing their grungey folk. Tucked away in the corner of the site, this is an intimate venue with its own bar which throughout the weekend had an eclectic lineup of acts. Early place staking is recommended if you want to see a performer here. This corner of the site is a festival in itself. Nearby was the Rebel Tent which during the day across the weekend hosted some thought-provoking discussions and interviews on matters such as Black Lives Matter, Palestine & the Struggle for Global Justice Panel. This is a festival with a definite political leaning, and tough subjects were tackled. From 7 p.m. each day the stage was given over to live music and DJs. The Levellers are involved heavily and support this aspect of the festival, Mark Chadwick playing an acoustic set on a Sunday afternoon.
On the Main stage Beautiful Days regulars, New Model Army were finishing their set. I think throughout the weekend I saw more people wearing their T-shirts than any other performer. Their political post-punk heritage allied with commercial success has earned them a faithful following as could be seen by the size of the crowd. We headed across to the big top and stumbled across Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, a Welsh and Senegalese duo playing harp and koura. The music was very restive, a complete contrast with New Model Army and a kind of Womad moment. The different tones of their instruments blended superbly and bridged a continental divide.
Frank Turner And The Sleeping souls exploded onto the main stage at 9.45. They are an ideal Beautiful Days band, full of energy with a great rapport with the crowd. Frank Turner was obviously really happy to be playing this festival, particularly after so long in lockdown, and was very vocal about it. The band was dressed simply in black and white, their setup was minimal like they were at a small venue. The tiny backline belied the strength of the playing, a huge full sound, all giving a sense of intimacy despite the main arena setting. Frank himself has been tirelessly working throughout lockdown to help ensure the survival of grassroots venues, and The Sleeping Souls brought that ethos with them, everyone was involved, and Frank encouraged participation by the audience beyond clapping along to songs. There was a touch of folk in the tunes even allowing for the punky core which was brought to the fore when Frank got three circles opened up in the crowd in a folk-style dance but sped up frenetically turning them into mosh pits for ‘Photosynthesis’. The last song I saw was paean to festivals ‘The Gathering’. Very apt given the circumstances, the crowd letting go and getting more and more animated. Sadly this was the first clash of the weekend, I headed off to The Big Top for legends Hawkwind.
There was a diverse mix of old and new kits on stage, battered cabs, and shiny macs. As it was Dave Brock’s 80th birthday I was hoping for something special but was a bit disappointed. I saw them a few times in a couple of years before lockdown at The Roundhouse and Royal Albert Hall in London where they were impressive and dynamic, almost punky at times. This time it felt lacklustre, each band member doing their thing with little interaction between them or with the audience, the first three songs blended into one another with no announcement. The lack of a frontman for the opening songs didn’t help, but the audience were behind them and were extremely appreciative, and speaking to a few fans afterward they said it was almost entirely instrumental until the closer Hurry On Sundown which was a spectacular highlight.
Saturday’s proceedings were opened at noon by Beautiful Days success story and legends Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs. I was lucky enough to see the trio’s very first performance at this festival in 2007 when they busked at the back of the main arena. Over the years they’ve become a must-see here, even making it to a mid-afternoon slot on the main stage one year. They are always excellent entertainment with their own style of cover versions and comedy reworking of songs, and never afraid to poke fun at big names, reverence isn’t in their vocabulary. Starting with a stomping version of Led Zep’s ‘Rock n’ Roll’ to get everyone going they piled in with an excellent rumbustious folk skiffle version of Thin Lizzy’s Whisky in The Jar.
Hobo Jones himself has a great patter between songs and had us all in stitches with his stories and jokes. Favourite for me was the long story about a Glastonbury appearance followed by their take on Coldplay’s Yellow, which was actually about being ill and doing yellow poo, a straightforward American Idiot got things going again. Hobo Jones then totally destroyed the tradition of bands saying ‘this is our last song’ before going off and returning for the obligatory encore. He asked if the audience wanted a ‘shit song or a good song’ and had the audience chanting for a shit song. A medley of covers followed I couldn’t keep up with all the titles, it was hilarious how they segued between the titles, I caught ‘Ooh Ah Just A Little Bit (Cider’s What We’re Looking For)’, Whigfield’s Saturday Night, KRS One’s ‘Sound of da Police’, ‘Gangnam Style’, there were others but I was enjoying myself so much I forgot to take note. The last song was ‘One Way Of Life’ by festival patrons The Levellers after which Hobo gave his heartfelt thanks to everyone who had helped make the festival happen.
The Skints kicked off a run of ska and reggae bands on the main stage. They played some lovely easy skanking rock steady reggae beats with hints of dub, smooth vocals from Marcia Richards mixed with a more urban rap style from Joshua Waters Rudge who skittered around the stage with firecracker energy. They are a great festival band, effectively mixing genres from punk to dancehall and soul, superbly demonstrated by their cover of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together “. There was a constant reggae backbeat from Jimmy Kyriakides built on the bass of Jonathan Doyle throughout until the final song when they properly rocked out and a mosh pit erupted in front of the stage.
Despite the occasional light showers during their set, they held the audience. Joshua name-checked the bands following them obviously buoyed up by playing in front of people again and keen to see more live music himself.
Next up were Gentleman’s Dub Club, all stylish in their suits playing driving reggae, a bit more electronic with a deceptively big brassy sound given they only had a trumpet and saxophone. Frontman Jonathan Scratchley came on stage to a big cheer, he exhorted the crowd to dance and enjoy the day despite the looming grey clouds and rain. For the first number, they were joined by the Skints frontman Joshua Waters Rudge which gave a good continuity to the previous act and maybe an acknowledgment of his compliments earlier. It felt spontaneous, not forced and everyone had a good time. As they played the rain became increasingly heavy but spirits weren’t dampened and Jonathan splashed around at the front of the stage barefoot keeping the party going. They left the stage after a rousing collaboration with MC Gardna having set the bar high for the following acts.
Selector were up next and easily kept the flame burning with their upbeat ska. The 2 Tone legends need no introduction or explanation They romped through the set playing classics including ‘Three Minute Hero’, ‘Murder’, ‘James Bond’, ‘On My Radio’, ‘Too Much Pressure’ which included a nod to Toots & The Maytals ‘Pressure Drop’ and an excellent cover of ‘Train to Skaville’. The audience knew all the songs and danced and sang enthusiastically. Pauline Black and Arthur Hendrickson were clearly having the time of their lives, still punching the songs out and thriving on stage.
Next up was a total contrast as Gary Numan and his band came to play. The sound was heavy grinding crunching chainsaw guitar and bass. No song intros, just straight into it. Gary Numan prowled around the stage looking menacing in his makeup, a darker meaner progression of Peter Gabriel’s Rael, twisting himself into sinuous tortured shapes before turning to the audience and glaring a challenge. Guitarist Steve Harris came to the fore during the songs, looking dangerous and adding a powerful analogue overlay to the digital sound. The look was dystopian with a sparse light show. During the set the heavens opened which only added to the atmosphere and look of the show, it couldn’t have worked out better. The set leaned heavily on the recent release Intruder but ‘Cars’still sounded contemporary, futuristic even. Hard to believe the track is forty-two years old.
For a little light relief, it was the Hempolics at The Little Big Top. They played their extra bass-heavy dubby dance with too cool lead vocalist Nubiya holding court on the dimly lit smoky stage. The setting was perfect, the audience swaying and swirling to the sensual sound in the psychedelically decorated tent. The Hempolics deserve far more coverage, they are accomplished musicians gathering plaudits from Maxi Jazz, Don Letts, and many radio DJs, it’s a mystery to me why we don’t hear more about them. The Little Big Top was running a little late now, we stayed for the beginning of Adrian Sherwood’s set. The low-key beginning was a really interesting remix of Bowie’s Major Tom, it was just starting to warm up when we left to see James on the main stage, I was torn, it was a close decision. Saturday night in the Little Big Top is where all the younger fans were, the place for youth, and really good music organised by festival legend Biff Mitchell.
Saturday night headliners James were so far the band best suited to fill the larger stage. Their setup was wide rather than deep giving all band members equal status with Tim Booth out front yet keeping a low profile, to begin with, coming to the fore as the set progressed. The opener ‘Walk Like You’ set the tone with the band feeling their way and easing into the gig. Percussionist Deborah Knox-Hewson’s riser was brought forward for Beautiful Beaches from the new album ‘All The Colours Of You’. She stayed there for the whole set, a focal point as Tim Booth remained fairly low-key for much of the set, particularly the newer songs. ‘Isabella’ also from the new album came next then some songs from the back catalogue, before the title track of the new album. ‘Getting Away With It’ and ‘Born Of Frustration’ seemed to be favourites for the fans at the front.
It was a fine evening by now so still listening I went to watch the set from up on the hill, feeling a bit more relaxed. The final two songs Sit Down and Laid got a huge response as songs known by fans and the curious alike from their chart success. The crowd roared back the lyrics, almost drowning out the band. Sometimes and Come Home were the encores before the band left the stage for good. Sadly members of the audience couldn’t be invited up on stage as is normal for James shows due to the covid risk, Tim Booth said he’d have loved to get involved up close with the fans but couldn’t risk the upcoming tour although he made use of the extended stage throughout the show at dramatic moments.
Sunday morning it was time to blow the sleep and hangover away with the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican in the Big Top. Another Beautiful Days success story that started on the Bandstand, a stage that used to be in the campsite and is missed by some of the festival-goers. As regulars, the audience respond to triggers throughout the show and great fun was had by all. They sang reworked comedy covers ranging from Holding Out for a Hero – sample lyric
“This lot aren’t weirdos, they’re just festival bell-ends
And their time is mis-spent
They use all of the night, to talk absolute shite
When they should be asleep in a tent
They’re chuffing morons
They spend most of the evening talking bollocks but then
He goes to his car, gets an acoustic guitar
And plays Wonderwall badly again… again and again”
to Ace Of Spades (about mansheds) to Remember You’re a Womble. There was loads of audience participation, chants of ‘Alan’ regularly breaking out. Paint it black mocking plucked eyebrows being painted back in, you had to be there I suppose. ‘The Lady In Greggs’ – ‘she makes pasties for me’, a stomping Devil Came Down From Georgia. The set closed with cider fuelled West country version of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. The whole tent was bouncing and involved, the most enthusiastic audience I’d seen so far. This ‘Sunday Service’ slot is famed for kickstarting the last day of the festival and the Bar Steward Sons Of Val Doonican booted it hard.
Dreadzone, have a long history at Beautiful Days. Their superb set in the pouring rain in 2010 is still remembered today by some of the festival regulars. Dreadzone appears at many festivals up and down the country but this festival feels like their spiritual home and it shows. The band came on stage in almost matching get-ups, not quite in the Frank Turner Sleeping Souls mould of coordination, and launched into Return Of the Dread from the Sound album. The faithful responded lifting the atmosphere, MC Spee out front overseeing proceedings. Things stayed on the up with Rise Up and then dance tune Keep It Blazing allowing prolific reggae singer Earl 16 to show why he’s in such demand. A run through career-spanning favourites Mountain, Iron Shirt and Mean Old World gave the band a chance to shine under the grey skies. Rising star Emily Capell joined them on stage to play a track from the forthcoming release Dubwiser Volume II. A fresh sound with Emily’s bright vocals on the track called Dreadtown, so bright the clouds moved on, the sun came out and it stayed bright and sunny for the remainder of the set. In the warm sunshine, it was fitting that Castaway was next, played live by popular demand from the fans.
Music Army, Zion Youth and as ever the final main set song, chart hit Little Britain. The band were boosted by the atmosphere, MC Spee getting animated, Leo Williams looking cool as ever behind his shades on bass gets carried along, Bazil working away at the back but taking time to look uptake in the event and film the audience, Earl 16’s rich vocals but unassuming stage presence filling out the sound, and Greg Dread setting the rhythm, grinning hard like so many other performers this weekend, so pleased to be playing live again.
The best thing about festivals is that there will always be something you know you will enjoy, and there are artists you discover by chance and other artists that spark your curiosity. The ‘Mark Radcliffe’s UNE’ listing caught my eye. I was expecting some sort of radio show-based event but it turns out, and it’s news to me that he is an accomplished musician having played for a short time in The Fall.
He has formed UNE with Paul S Langley, the duo that plays electronic dance music, described to me by another audience member as ‘cheap Chemical Brothers on drugs’. It was really good, I can’t really describe it as it’s a genre I’m not familiar with but even so, Mark’s excellent humour came to the fore with some great stories, one being about his failure of an eight and a half minute introduction at a David Bowie gig that was hilarious. The songs at times had a Jean Michele Jarre electronic sound and on occasion heartfelt lyrics. Major Tom appeared again, the duo played a superb cover version, the whole audience singing along in an almost spiritual shared experience. As well as electronics and keyboards Mark showed his skills on guitar with some very neat bottleneck work in a song about Robert Johnson and the Crossroads at Clarksdale, they accomplished more in one song than Page & Plant did in a whole album. Speaking of which, Radcliffe mentioned a forthcoming album called, I think, Duerr? Was he having a laugh at our expense? Mark shot down cliches about bands playing their greatest hits at the end of the set in a long diatribe and then ended with a raved-up Smoke on The Water. I’m still a bit confused, is there a new album or have I fallen for a joke that went right over my head? I must get my local venue to book them.
The surprise of the festival made me miss most of Skindred’s set which I fully intended to see. What I did see was full power metal with a hip hop groove, dramatic light show, the works. They played an acoustic song about those lost in the pandemic, hard times in lockdown, and appreciating the people still here, which according to the fan I watched with is very out of character for them but even so, it went down well. They blasted into the mayhem of Nobody which set off a massive mosh pit, absolutely heaving and easily the biggest of the weekend. During ‘Warning’ from the ‘Union Black’ album, they got the audience down, built up huge tension then up in a wave on the huge drop in the song, very impressive. It ended with most of the crowd taking off their t-shirts under strict instruction from vocalist Benje Webbe for the Newport Helicopter and twirling them above their heads, you had to see it, spectacular. The band left the stage as Bond theme Nobody Does It Better played out of the PA, I’d say you’d be hard-pressed to disagree.
Another returning performer was next, but Imelda May brought a different sound to her last visit. Last time she was high-energy rockabilly and has since been through some changes in her life and performance style. This time she made an unassuming entrance to the stage. She seemed to be freer to express herself and easy within herself. The opening few songs warmed up the band and gave time for the audience to warm to the show which featured songs from her latest album 11 Past The Hour, released last April. Here was another artist genuinely emotional over being back on stage, this was her first gig in two years, and tears were shed. A reminder of her earlier work came in the form of Big Bad Handsome Man but the set was mostly more recent material, her performance was gentle and easy rock style. The last song was an uplifting Made To Love, a plea to the world to be considerate and caring, and maybe showing this artist’s true colours.