UPCOTE FARM, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
12 .07.2013 – 14.07.2013
IF YOU WANT WOOD, THEY’VE GOT IT! 2000 TREES DELIVERS SUNSHINE AND SUPERB SOUNDS DOWN THE FARM IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE.
BRITISH SUMMERTIME, EH? This time last year the country was awash in mud-stained mess. T In The Park was underwater. Creamfields was cancelled. 2000 Trees – by all reports – was a muck-flinging riot. 12 Months later we’re in the middle of a scorching heatwave. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Facefuls of dust have replaced bootfuls of water. The mercury’s tipping 30 degrees.
The music’s still great, mind. And the energy-sapping heat does nothing to dent the glorious community atmosphere on show.
7 years in Gloucestershire’s finest festival has grown from its initial, modest incarnation to a more sprawling 4500 capacity. But the ethos remains the same. Great bands. Great atmosphere. Great food. Great drink. Prices aren’t prohibitive. And there’s not a person in attendance – punter, staff or volunteer –not having a great time.
The 2000-odd lucky enough to get early-entry on Thursday night get a fantastically deal-sweetening aperitif. It’s a long drive from Glasgow to Gloucester but as we bundle out of the car and straight into [second stage] The Cave every sunbaked mile’s made worth it.
Aberdeen nu-grunge trio The Xcerts have been notable by their absence in recent months but despite protestations to the contrary there’s no sign of ring-rust. Frontman Murray Macleod is one of several performers making several appearances this weekend but there’s nothing held back as “distorted pop” cuts off their still-thrilling sophomore effort Scatterbrain bring an icy edge to the balmy shade of the tent.
Another making numerous appearances this weekend (at least 5 if reports are to be believed) is headliner Frank Turner. The folk-punk troubadour may be a self-confessed Wessex boy, but he’s rarely looked so at home as when strolling on solo for his first show of the weekend. Pledging “something special” before Friday’s full-band headline we get the full track-list of landmark second record Love, Ire and Song rearranged into a festival-pleasing blinder of a set. Running from I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous to a resounding Photosynthesis the crowd ascend into full singalong. “You guys are great” beams the Trees veteran. He’s not wrong.
All that’s left then is for Future Of The Left to pummel the site to sleep. The bruising, shapeshifting Welsh noiseniks mightn’t be an obvious way to follow Turner’s rabble-rousing acoustics (though his ex-Million Dead bandmate Julia Ruzicka turns out with her adopted bandmates) but the excellent likes of You Need Satan More Than He Needs You and To Hell With Good Intentions spill into the night with unquestionable, resounding force.
SUN! HANGOVERS! FRIDAY MORNING! WASN’T THAT A SCHOOLNIGHT?! EUCH! The bleary-eyed masses spilling out of their sleeping bags as soon as the sun tops the horizon (and turns every tent into a slow-cooker) may be well worse for wear but the UK’s second-finest toilet facilities (seriously, properly stocked bog-roll and odour-killing chemicals go a long way) and some amazing local eateries (take your pick from the Wide-Awake Cafe, Glastonbury Wood-Fired Pizza, Happy Bangers and Thai Curry for a start) are on hand to nurse us back into a fit state. By the time the supermarket is selling slices of heavenly juicy watermelon at just a pound a pop we’re ready to go.
There’s no better place to find shade from the midday sun than on the Greenhouse acoustic stage, isolated out at the far end of the site. With an iced Cotswold cider in hand the sweet acoustic songwriting of Charlotte Carpenter rippling out over a grateful audience it’s an easy, and not-too-shallow entry point to the day’s eclectic lineup. Less gentle, manic festival regular Oxygen Thief comes on like a manic, fiercely liberal Jack Whitehall. Frank Turner’s standing sidestage, grinning widely for his mash-up of Killing In The Name and Jailhouse Rock, but original tunes like Modesty Is Dead and There Can Be Only One seethe with the potential to be underground hits of the future.
It’s a first foray to the mainstage to catch the compelling folk-punk of Crowns. What basically amounts to an Anglicised version of Flogging Molly doesn’t really have any right to be as much grounded fun as this but the light-hearted gang mentality of songs like Full Swing eventually proves an ideal early showing on a stage to be closed by Mr Turner. The enduring Brit-grunge of Nine Black Alps mightn’t be as obviously suited to the pissed-up outdoors but the passing years haven’t put any flab on their Manchester-Mudhoney mixture of sound.
“SABBATH! SABBATH! SABBATH!” The assembled throng for Black Moth have no doubts as to the murky musical territory they’re in. Dealing in treacly stoner-doom riffage and big trad-metal vocal hooks (delivered by game frontlady Harriet Bevan) they’re like a musical time machine back to the seventies and a welcome addition to the flourishing UK stoner rock scene. There’s a driving QOTSA inflection to songs like The Articulate Dead that leaven the loose psychadelia of others like Tree Of Woe too, to leave a brilliantly full portrait of sound. Mothic horror, indeed.
A few years back, Funeral For A Friend could’ve been headlining a festival like this. On today’s evidence there’s little but the passage of time and trend that’s stopped them. Under an absolutely scorching late-afternoon sun there’s not much energy for the chaos of their recent club shows but there is a promising coming-together of nostalgic twentysomethings and a new generation of teenagers to prove there’s still plenty of life in aging modern-classics Streetcar and Juneau.
The day – and indeed the festival – belongs to Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls. Rolling out the a latter-day greatest hits set bookended by Four Simple Words and I Still Believe and including latest singles Recovery and The Way I Tend To Be, he may be playing to a field filled with fans old and new. But there’s no-one left behind. While there’s something a little perverse about his newfound, Radio One part-time fans, there’s a depth and integrity to songs like I Am Disappeared and The Road that enables the eternal, Etonian outsider to bridge the gap between the underground and the mainstream.
With curfew breached that should be the end of music for the night. Should. But thank goodness Thrill Collins have other plans. Pitching up in the corner of Lebowski’s bar tent the supercharged trio dispense a plethora of covers like the best wedding-band you’ve never seen. More straight-faced music fans mightn’t be too impressed by a “history of hip-hop” medly that begins with Will Smith’s Fresh Prince theme and ends on Macklemore’s Thrift Shop but everyone else is delighted at the chance for one last singalong. Don’t Stop Believing? With bells on. Mysterious Girl? Er, why not. Now that’s what I call music.
Saturday morning. Is there life at 2000 Trees after Frank? You’re damn right there is! As an even harsher sun hoists itself above the site it may be hard to believe a beautiful Saturday morning has ever hurt so much. But there’s no time for feeling sorry for yourself. A recovery cocktail of cider, tea and watermelon (yes, consumed in that order) and we’re just about good to go.
Somewhat inconsiderately, Bovine greet the hungover masses by trying to smash into the heads they’ve only just reassembled. Their beefed-up blues rock make for an enjoyable headache; all-attitude performance cruxed on uncompromising riffage and some lunatic vocal breaks. Up in the Greenhouse stage Kitten And Bear make for a refreshing change of pace. More kitten than bear, they mightn’t make music with much bite but there’s plenty to appeal in their easy melodies in a hungover sunspot like this.
It’s a bittersweet showing from Derry alt-rockers Fighting With Wire. This is reportedly their second-last gig. Their last on mainland Britain. They’re greeted by front-row chants of “don’t break up” and large numbers of the uninitiated bemused at why such fine young me would split. They’re not going out easy, though. Frontman Cahir O’Doherty might be tackle some technical gremlins during a frustrated start to the set but by the end he and his band are on flighty, fiery form. A grinning plug for the new Jetplane Landing album reassures a few teary-faces that the musical road’s twisting rather than coming to an end, but with should-be cult classics like Cut The Transmission and Everyone Needs A Nemesis getting potentially penultimate outings, it’s hard not to feel a pang of sadness.
What better way to pick up your spirits than a collection of pop-songs about Jurassic Park? Jurassic Pop may be a little niche in influence but the 90s-child charm of the likes of Jurassic Park Number One is never in question. And they’ve got a guitarist with the head of a Velociraptor. Which is nice.
The Leaf Lounge stage is about as rammed as it has been all weekend for up-and-comers The Physics House Band but their digitised post-rock eclecticism suffers in the stifling, cramped environment and large numbers find themselves decamping to The Cave for Gnarwolves startling, snarling assault. The Brighton trio might be a little two-dimensional by comparison, but when those dimensions are “punk” and “fucking rock” it’s hard to complain.
As the afternoon heat begins to fade, a handful of fortunate revellers find themselves in the company of Her Name Is Calla. Featuring John Helps of Maybeshewill they deal in a more low-key, almost folk-noir ambient rock. There is a violin. And a trombone. And bucketloads of really striking sound to make their set one of the finest discoveries of the weekend. They’ll be better enjoyed in the musty permanence of some more conventional venue, but that they can evoke such dusky, ethereal atmosphere with grass around our ankles and the afternoon sun still in the sky is achievement in itself.
The penultimate main stage act of the weekend, Stornoway turn up late. Fortunately their Celtic-tinged folk is so easygoing no one’s even that surprised. An almost perfect soundtrack for watching the sun set with a cider in hand. There’s dancing. There’s singing along. There’s about as much depth as the paddling pools punctuating the campsite. The crowd’s been baked into apathy, but this is the kind of straight-up homebrewed simplicity to perk them up for the night ahead.
They might’ve only arrived late, but anyone with sense leaves early. Why? Because Maybeshewill are about to deliver the set of the weekend over in The Cave. It’s like a coming-of-age for the Leicester post-rockers. For so long they’ve been little brothers and also-rans in the UK post-rock scene. On tonight’s evidence they’re ready to make their move on the upper-tier. Critical Distance weaves with understated beauty. To The Skies From A Hillside crashes like a buried giant hammering to the surface. And new songs hint at depths yet untapped. At ArcTanGent they’ll be on the same bill as genre overlords 65DAYSOFSTATIC. Expect them to step up.
All that’s left is a straight face-off between alt-indie outfit Mystery Jets and epic Northern Irish post-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar. The former may draw the bigger crowd on the main stage with nearly a decade’s worth of eccentric, easygoing indie but there’s no shortage of attention for the Irishmen. Even they struggle to make much of an impact after Maybeshewill’s jaw-dropping performance but as The Voiceless drives the tent into screaming mania and draws the main festival sets to a close it’s a scene of emphatic, communal release.
And with that it’s done. Unannounced sideshows and secret areas await the intrepid nocturnal explorers but the clock’s already ticking towards next year’s event. 2010’s Grass Roots festival award is a while away now, but with the patronage of the sun gods and a loyal, fanatical base of hardcore fans it’s impossible to believe that this year’s superb festival won’t be a launch pad for much greater success. Come rain or shine (or maybe even somewhere in between) we’ll see you next year.