Nozstock – Small but Perfectly formed!

 

At the very end of July, it was time to get my bell tent out again and head to Herefordshire for the Nozstock festival. On a small farm near the picturesque Herefordshire town of Bromyard, Nozstock started in the late 90s as a barbecue, and thanks to the Nosworthy family’s enthusiasm, along with a large group of committed volunteers, it has grown into a festival with around a 5,000 capacity. The family are still very much involved and I got to know the Nosworthys and the crew quite well over the course of the weekend.

Nozstock may be small, but it’s got everything. World-class music, comedy, theatre, crafts, and even late-night burlesque! Each year there is a different theme, and this year, it was “The Farm that Time Forgot”, with a prehistoric theme.

I arrived with fellow Oxfam steward Darren, and we drove through the site to drop off our camping stuff. We were struck by how much care and attention had gone into the hand-drawn signs and beautifully decorated venues. The Garden Stage looked tiny, and the “Pale-ale-ontology Bar” was a great/terrible pun. One of the nice touches at Nozstock were the ladies’ only loos, sheltered by a marquee, with specially scented toilet paper and hand-washing facilities. There were lots of old sofas strewn about so that people could sit down comfortably too.

On the first night, we had time for a briefing, followed by an explore and a few beers in the camp site. It was amazing how much effort had gone into the theme, with a mini-digger making giant dinosaur footprints in the hillside. The main arena also looked tiny – with the grass of the ancient orchard gently sloping towards a stage being eaten by a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a Pterodactyl perching in the trees. Because the festival-goers didn’t arrive until the Friday morning, we only had to do two stewarding shifts, and we were all stewards – there were no supervisors!

My Friday at Nozstock was totally free – plenty of opportunity to try the local cider available at the bars. We started off with a brilliant belly dance workshop with brilliant teacher Claire Lucas. We wandered around as the festival came alive. There were several bars, and one of my favourite places in the festival was the craft area, perched on the top of a hill that looked over towards the comedy tent. There were gypsy caravans and games for kids, and lots of things to make and do.

As we were enjoying our first pint of local cider, a few drops of rain fell, but then the sun came out, and we had a good boogie at the Garden stage, its steep embankment making a dance floor. Two of my friends were lucky enough to have a go at zorbing downhill into the lake, as the council were doing an inspection at the time and needed some willing volunteers! It looked pretty scary though. The rain gathered pace, but we tried to ignore it by dancing to the Fresh Dixie Project, watching a comedy sketch show with duo O’Shea and Gaukroger (one lady thought they were really promoting Gummy Bears and got quite angry!) We joined in with bands busking inside the “Human Jukebox”, a stage/giant TV screen!

As it grew dark, we ate delicious stone-baked pizza while watching The Skints, who were great, with their mix of soulful dub, ska and reggae. One of the highlights of the evening were By the Rivers, on the garden stage, a youthful band, with more ska-based sounds, but sounding really fresh and different. Their songs are instantly catchy, and they’re hotly tipped for the future. We enjoyed them so much that we stayed for their entire set before heading back to the Orchard Stage for the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, just in time to hear them play “Scooby Snacks”, and then enjoyed some smooth disco and hip-hop flavoured tracks.

But despite the rain, the highlight of the night was to be Craig Charles’ funk and soul show. He played great tunes, way into the small hours. Somehow, I ended up with a baseball hat on my head, that gave the effect of my own personal umbrella. I must have looked terrible in a soaking wet hat and a cagoule, but I danced all night, until it was time to go to bed – my shift was starting first thing in the morning, but thankfully, just a few minutes’ walk away from my tent.

I woke up on Saturday morning, and it was still raining! I started my shift with my friend Amy, my giant umbrella proving to be a life-saver for both of us as we checked wristbands on the backstage production gate. Luckily, as lunchtime approached, the rain started to dry out, apart from a couple of quick downpours. But by the time our shifts had ended, it was sunny again! The ground dried out so quickly that people were sitting on the grass in the afternoon – but the outdoor sofa cushions took a bit longer to dry out. After the shift, it took us a while to get going, as we enjoyed a nice long sit down and a natter in the Oxfam campsite, which was lovely.

However, once we finally made it our of the campsite…

Disco Panther were a new band for me and did exactly what they said on the tin, providing funk and brass and lots of attitude, and I enjoyed playing football with a couple of small boys! One of the highlights of the weekend came when Amy and I went to the Laughing Stock comedy tent to watch Josh Widdicombe. We sat right at the front. He was brilliant, interacting with the crowd – in particular, a band called Hippiecat, who were supposed to be performing at the time.

As the sun went down, I really enjoyed Dizraeli and the Small Gods, their fusion of folk and hip-hop sounding perfect in the orchard, and Molotov Jukebox got us dancing in a 1920s style. Roots Manuva was also very danceable, but as his set ended, I was starting to flag a bit, but I made sure that I checked out the Psytrance coppice before bedtime. I’m a little bemused by psytrance (as it all sounds the same to me…shhhh!), but the Tribe of Frog residency down in the beautifully decorated wood, with UV butterflies, is supposed to be the best in the business, and there was certainly a great atmosphere, with people of all ages glowing under the lights and raving away. The party was certainly in full swing on Saturday night, but I was knackered, so I decided to go to bed with the noise of the party all around me, dreaming that I was still dancing.

I had to make the best of Sunday, because I started my shift at tea-time. We relaxed under the trees at the Orchard Stage – the sofa cushions had just about dried up by now, and enjoyed some live music from a gentle guitarist and a hard-rocking band from Wales (I can’t find my programme right now, so I can’t name-check everyone I saw – sorry!) Amy made a beautiful leather purse at the “L for Leather” craft stall. The guy who runs the stall makes saddles and costumes for major films, and I really enjoyed looking through his portfolio. As I’m veggie, I don’t buy leather shoes any more, but it turns out that the leather bloke working bloke is too!

I really enjoyed Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer – a one-man band who sings/raps songs about behaving like the perfect English Gentleman, while playing his banjo-lele. He sings about cups of tea, pipe-smoking, cricket and good manners, while giving us the run-down of the history of hip-hop in his Surrey accent. Genius!

We had a wander around and checked out some comedy, before it was time to start our shift. The shift was lots of fun, with artists and crew coming and going, and I got to talk to lots of performers and point them in the direction they needed to go! There were drum ‘n’ bass DJs and rappers arriving for the cowshed stage, which was transformed into an urban squat for the weekend. Artists due to perform on the main stage were enjoying a wander around, and were very surprised by how close together everything was! At one point, a giant caveman puppet lumbered out from a barn, with the help of some volunteers to help him! I managed to take a break to eat another stone-baked pizza and watch a good chunk of Sonic Boom Six and their energetic ska punk. As the rest of the music died out towards midnight, we could hear The Heavy really well from their headline set at the main stage, but by the time our shift finished at 1am, it wasn’t party time like Saturday night – everything was over! But I was tired, so I didn’t mind much, so I just chatted with a few other stewards under the Oxfam marquee before going to bed.

At least I was relatively fresh for leaving in the morning, after a leisurely chat in the sunshine to my fellow stewards about our plans for the late summer festivals – some people were straight off to Boardmasters or Boomtown, whereas I had a weekend of rest before Beautiful Days and Shambala. There was still lots of fun to squeeze out of the summer!

I think I’ll definitely be back to Nozstock. The music, and the variety of entertainment on offer is brilliant for a festival of its size. It’s set in beautiful countryside and so much effort goes into the decor and infrastructure of the site. To be absolutely perfect, it would be great to see more showers and perhaps a sauna! The bar prices are great and the local ciders are really cheap and very tasty, but it would be great if the festival didn’t have quite such a draconian policy on bringing your own alcohol into the arena – other independent festivals such as Beautiful Days and Bearded Theory don’t have these restrictions, and their bars are still very popular. A few more vegan/vegetarian food options would also be great, although I didn’t go hungry.

Nozstock is a unique, truly independent festival, and long may it prosper!

 

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We are Oxfamily!

Now I’m firmly into the thick of the festival season, I need to catch up and tell you about the last two weekends’ festivals.

On Friday 25th July, I set off for a festival with a difference. I was volunteering as a steward with Oxfam again, but this time, the festival had come to me – it was Tramlines, on the streets of Sheffield, my home town!

The campsite where the Oxfam stewards was camping was at Fox Hagg Farm in the Rivelin Valley. It’s only four miles from my house…but that’s further away from the festival than home two, which is only half an hour’s walk from the city centre if I hurry.

I decided that I would camp overnight on the Friday. To be sociable and chat to stewards old and new, and also because it was so hot that sleeping in the house was impossible. When I reached the campsite with my stewarding friend Jez, who’d given me a lift, it was surreal to see an Oxfam gazebo in a field on the outskirts of Sheffield, and strange to people that I knew.

I put my tent up, admiring the view of the valley, with horses and sheep grazing around the field. I hadn’t seen it from this angle before. After a while, we got a minibus lift into town with the amazing “Beardy Pete”, a long-term steward, and now logistics intern for the Oxfam stewarding team. Louise (who lives near me) met us in town and we got our wristbands. Even though we were volunteering to work, and the weekend passes were only £30, (although they’d all sold out) it was still worth doing.  Our wristbands would let us gain entry through the backstage area, with posh toilets and a bar. And we’d be able to get to the main stage on Devonshire Green when it was officially too full. On the other hand, many of the Tramline venues, such as the folk forest in Endcliffe Park, the bandstand in Weston Park and the multicultural acts at the Peace Gardens, are completely free, and so are many of the pubs and clubs.

After a pub meal and a lovely pint in the Devonshire Cat, Louise, Jez, Martin and myself headed back to Devonshire Green. We didn’t know what was on, and apparently, we hadn’t missed much yet, as Ms Dynamite had failed to show up! We stayed to watch the Toddla T Sound set. The others weren’t very impressed at all, but I had a good dance, looking a bit like a nutter. DJ Toddla T is so famous now (particularly amongst the younger generations!) but I remember seeing him playing in tiny basements at Kabal parties, almost ten years ago now!

Enjoying Toddla T - or maybe not!

Enjoying Toddla T – or maybe not!

It was time for a change of scenery and to go to the Leadmill to watch indie evergreens the Wedding Present. I’d never actually seen them before and don’t have any of their albums, but I enjoy hearing their songs on BBC 6 Music. I was really looking forward to it, even though we were enjoying being outside, and weren’t looking forward to spending a few hours in the Leadmill, a hot and sweaty venue at the best of times. The place was packed, and unbearably hot, but the band were great. I recognised quite a few songs, and I enjoyed their intense sound washing over me – and they now have a cool lady bass player!

We returned to the rear of Devonshire Green, where Pete and our minibus were ready to pick us up and take us back to the farm. It was very pleasant to be in the cool of the countryside after the furnace-like conditions of the Leadmill. It was nice to sit around and chat to everyone – a lot of the stewards had stayed on the campsite for a barbecue. But it soon started to feel really cold, because it was so clear, so I wrapped myself in a blanket – it was a cold night too, and I hadn’t brought very warm sleeping stuff, thinking that the night would be boiling.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 7am, and it was already shaping up to be a hot day, with clear blue skies. The campsite had showers, so I felt fresh as we were whisked off to the city centre. We put our tabards on and had a tour of the venues and areas where we would be working. I was in charge of a team of stewards making sure that revellers didn’t get run over as the one-way traffic went around the city centre at two points on Division Street, the road leading to the Devonshire Green stage, which was closed to traffic for the weekend!

 

As the streets got busier, the job got harder, as lots of people were already drinking at lunchtime, and other people (mostly young men in their twenties) felt patronised at being told when to cross the road! But overall, most people appreciated having a bit of help.

"Yo! I'm a rapper!"

“Yo! I’m a rapper!”

We’d finished our shifts in time for the 5pm set by the legendary Public Enemy. I’d seen them last year at Glastonbury, but this time, they had Flavor Flav – with a smallish clock around his neck. They did a brilliant set with lots of hits, lots of positivity and attitude. I still don’t know much about Public Enemy but their songs are about politics and overcoming oppressions – ‘Fight the Power’, ‘Get up, Stand Up’, and they use live guitar, bass and drums – and the guitarist can really “shred”. Even if you don’t like rap, they’re one of the original, and best bands in the genre, and definitely worth seeing.

Louise, Paul and I decided to go for a meal at the Blue Moon Cafe, next to Sheffield Cathedral. Wandering through Sheffield was a bizarre experience, with crowds heading to various venues, and people spilling out of pubs and down the street, fairground rides in the middle of Fargate and continental market stalls. The strangest thing about it was the heat though – it was as if Sheffield had been transported to a balmy Mediterranean location. It was lovely and restful in The Blue Moon, and I didn’t realise how hungry I was, as I shovelled delicious vegetarian food into my mouth.

It was good to have lots of energy for Sister Sledge, the girl group famous for their Nile-Rodgers’ produced hits, such as ‘The Greatest Dancer’ , ‘We are Family’ and ‘Lost in Music’. Some people might think that Sister Sledge are a bit cheesy, but I grew up hearing their songs on the radio, especially ‘Frankie’, which was a massive hit for them in the mid-eighties. And everyone loves that funky Chic sound with the choppy guitars. The funniest moment was when they got several guys from the audience to each prove that they were “the greatest dancer”, and the guys were having such a great time that they didn’t want to leave the stage.

We had a drink in the backstage bar afterwards, and I got to talk to Sister Sledge and tell them what a great show they’d put on. They were really lovely as well, and posed for photographs!

To round off the evening, Louise and I ended up in the beer garden of the University Arms on Brook Hill near (you’ve guessed it!) the University. When I was a student, the University Arms was the private staff club for lecturers, but now it’s a beautiful Victorian pub with one of the best selections of ale in town, and certainly, one of the nicest beer gardens, tree-lined and secluded. The barmen were playing some great underground 1960s music that could be heard in the beer garden, and it turned out that there had been a full schedule of alternative live music outside too, but it was all winding down nicely. The guy who’d been organising the music was wearing a Cramps t-shirt, just like me; and we chatted to the staff at the pub. Tonight, I was going home to my own bed! We walked home to Walkley in a rain shower. I was glad I wasn’t in the tent, with only a thin blanket and sleeping bag to keep me warm.

My Cramps t-shirt buddy. Only the coolest people...

My Cramps t-shirt buddy. Only the coolest people…

On Sunday morning, Louise and I decided to walk to the Folk Forest in Endcliffe Park. It was lovely – a total contract to the mayhem of Division Street. We browsed artists’ and craft stalls, chatted to a yoga teacher, had lunch outside the cafe, and settled down in front of the woodland stage to watch the delicate Laura James and Lyres, followed by Sheffield’s own Nat Johnson, featuring our friend Kathryn on violin. After that, it was time to leave the tranquillity behind and report for duty again at Devonshire Green. It seemed a shame to start work so soon, particularly as the Beat were playing on the main stage as we signed in for our shifts.

Me and Neville Staple! Terrible picture of me!

Me and Neville Staple! Terrible picture of me!

I was back on one of the Division Street Road crossings. But this time, there was another supervisor looking after the other road crossing, an on the corner of Rockingham Street, the Viper Rooms bar were hosting Neville Staple from the Specials, as he played over two hours of ska classics on the bar’s patio. I decided that I may as well dance while I worked. It made it far more fun! The previous day, I’d been a bit fed up with shouting at people to stop crossing the road, and I found that dancing with my arms outstretched worked brilliantly, and gave the revellers a bit of a laugh. I also managed to get my photo taken with Neville Staple, who seemed to be really enjoying his set. We had to look out for the festival-goers, who were trying to get inside the cordoned-off area of road opposite the bar, but it was all good fun! After Neville’s set, there was a local DJ playing some great funk records, followed by a live band who combined funk and hip hop. Having some music definitely made the road crossing more fun!

I took a break for a snack and I managed to catch a bit of The Cribs, who were headlining the Devonshire Green festival. They’re a raucous indie-rock band, loved so much by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr that he joined the band for three years. What an accolade! Johnny can’t be wrong, and I liked what I heard, so I’m definitely going to check them out again.

However, heading back to the road crossing, I knew that The Cribs were due to finish very soon, and that the organisers would be clearing the site. And in the meantime, all our metal barriers had been taken away from us! So we hastily made a human barrier that stopped the hoards of Cribs fans crossing the road when the lights were red, and it worked really well. Luckily, most of the Cribs fans seemed very polite and were more than happy to wait for the traffic to pass.

The Ratells

The Ratells

Soon afterwards, the security supervisor came along to tell us that we could dismantle the crossing point and allow the traffic to return to normal. So we had a bit of time at the end of our shift for a quick pint in the Red Deer, another classic real ale pub. But the live music wasn’t over yet. Jez and I headed to a new music venue on West Street, Maida Vale, to watch the Ratells, a really promising young indie rock band from Sheffield. I’d seen them at Bearded Theory, and I was really impressed. And I really enjoyed the gig in Sheffield – shimmering guitars, pounding drums, and a very charismatic singer/bass player, with a strong, soulful voice. The gig was hot and sweaty and absolutely joyous, enjoyed by fans and people seeing them for the first time. I bought a demo CD later, from one of the guitarists, and had a lovely chat with him.

I ended up walking home again, because there were no buses or trams going up West Street, due to engineering works, but it was invigorating to walk home, and leave the noise of the city centre behind me and see foxes running through the park. I slid into bed, with the sound of the Ratells still pounding in my ears.

On Monday morning, I drove back to the campsite to say my goodbyes and take my tent down, knowing that I would be seeing some of my Oxfam comrades in a few days’ time at Nozstock! But it was my shortest drive home from a festival ever!

 

 

 

 

 

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