All things bright and beautiful!

After WOMAD, I had a few weeks of catching up with “real” life – which thankfully isn’t as “real” as it used to be! Making fairies out of pipe-cleaners, talking to elderly people about fairgrounds and editing novels and getting paid for it is quite a lot more pleasant than sorting out someone’s flooded basement or clogged up shower. Early August is Lammas time, the ancient festival of the wheat harvest, and a good time to take stock of what I’ve achieved over the year! I’ve pleasantly surprised myself. Just before Beautiful Days last year, I’d reached the bottom of my overdraft – and I had a full-time job. This year, I’m keeping myself afloat, and I’ve completed one of my first novel editing projects. My networking and making links with people and organisations is working. I’m enjoying life a lot more than I used to, and I feel that I can be “me” all the time, even in a “work” situation.

It was time to travel to the next festival on my list, Beautiful Days. I was volunteering as a steward for Oxfam again. Luckily, I got a lift this time, with a lovely lady called Caroline, who was driving all the way from Newcastle! The drive went very smoothly, and by the late afternoon, we arrived at Escot Park near Exeter. We were welcomed warmly onto the site, and given our pink wristbands. The only problem was that it was tipping down with rain, so it was on with wellies and cagoules for the first trip to the campsite.

The Beautiful Days campsite is shared with other staff and artists. It’s the Levellers’ own festival, and as I’m easily impressed, it’s great to be sharing a field and its portaloos with celebrities! Not the sort of celebrities who miraculously have cellulite in Heat! magazine, but people who’ve entertained me at festivals and whose albums and books have influenced me. Famous people I’ve queued for a shower with at Beautiful Days this year include: Simon Friend from the Levellers, John Robb from Goldblade, who’s also a top music journalist. John Robb coined the term “Britpop” apparently! He also goes into the shower without a towel – very rock ‘n’ roll! I also saw the singer from 3 Daft Monkeys, who are on tour this autumn!

Away from the glamour and excitement of the crew field showers, I settled myself into Lazyland – my friends’ event shelter, which makes a lovely hub for stewards to camp and gather together. Many a pleasant hour was whiled away at Lazyland at Beautiful Days, drinking cider, painting my nails, waiting for henna tattoos to dry and chatting with friends new and old. There was also a small gathering of stewards after the briefing, and the vegan chocolate and banana cake went down very well. The first night was a great opportunity to relax and chat.

Thursday afternoon was spent having a pleasant wander around the site in the sunshine, taking photos, shopping and exploring. I was due to start work stewarding the kids’ field at 9pm, so I took it easy in Lazyland. The first shift went well – it was very quiet, but we made friends with the people running the welfare tent. They gave me a challenge – a lady in the welfare tent gave me a tea bag, and I’ve got to keep swapping it until I get something amazing. Apparently one bloke ended up with a piece of land eventually! Over the course of the festival, I upgraded to a pack of glow-sticks and I will keep you posted on what I end up with!

On Friday, I got to see the Levellers’ acoustic set, which always happens on Friday afternoon of every Beautiful Days. The big top was packed. I managed to meet up with one of my oldest school friends, Mary, who now lives in Exeter. It was brilliant to meet up. Before starting work again, I saw Sam Lee & Friends and really enjoyed it. It was quiet and atmospheric. I was lucky enough to be working at the theatre stage on Friday evening. I caught a bit of “An Evening of Trance and Rap”, which was a comedy performance about a Victorian seance! A stand-up night followed, starring Robin Ince. I had a little chat with Robin Ince before he started his show, and as we had a full house, I was able to watch a lot of his performance. It was very funny, but I did have to chase the buggy driver for a replacement radio battery! He thought I just wasn’t listening to the radio as I was engrossed in the show. After the theatre tent closed, we were sent over to the Big Top, where Clannad were just starting. It was beautiful, but a bit too ethereal and “wafty” for me, but it certainly beat wandering around between fire towers on the campsite, which was my job last year.

Saturday was my chance to see as much music as possible, as I was on the night-shift, starting at midnight. Unfortunately, the grey skies gave way to rain before I left the campsite. Despite the rain, Goldblade put on a cracking set of no-nonsense punk – and even made the rain stop for a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was pretty aquatic for The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican’s slot on the Band Stand, but they didn’t let the rain put them off their set of hilarious Barnsley-related songs. I particularly enjoyed the one about Sean Bean always dying before the end of a film. It’s true – he never makes it to the end! I met up with Mary and her friends after the gig and although it had stopped raining, John Robb’s scheduled interview with Miles Hunt from the Wonderstuff had been moved into the bar next door. We missed it, even though we were standing next to it!

After faffing around in the campsite for a while, it was time to see another South Yorkshire band, 65daysofstatic. Definitely not a comedy band this time, their post-rock soundscapes were perfect for the damp, overcast skies. I stayed at the main stage for the rest of the night. This is something that happens to me a lot at Beautiful Days – the music they programme is so good that I usually stay put, partying with my fellow Oxfam Stewards. I was really impressed with the next band, The Living End, an Australian band who combine a rockabilly double-bass with metal riffs ranging from AC/DC influences to Rage Against the Machine. They put on a really great live show.

The Wonderstuff are one of my favourite bands. I’ve loved them since the very early 90s – or possibly the late 80s, when they first emerged onto the “Grebo” scene. They’re often compared to the Levellers with their folky sound and fiddle-led riffs (the stunning Erica Nockalls has now replaced the original fiddle-player, Martin Bell), but their sound is much more indie, with wah-wah laden guitars. They play a great set and seem very much at home at Beautiful Days.

Main stage Headliners Primal Scream are a band who’ve constantly evolved, embracing electronica and Stones-referencing rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve seen them many times live, and the experience can be hit and miss. Their performance of the Screamadelica album at Glastonbury 2011 was akin to a religious experience, but at Glastonbury 2005, singer Bobby Gillespie was drunk, incoherent and abusive on stage and ended up getting escorted away by security guards! It was very entertaining though. So before Primal Scream get on stage at Beautiful Days, I hope and pray that Bobby’s on form this time. And he is. The band pull off an awesome set, with songs from the new album sounding great alongside old classics. Bobby has been complaining about the commercialisation of festivals recently, but he must have approved of the anti-corporate, DiY feel of Beautiful Days and gave us a show we deserved. I had to tear myself away after a mind-blowing version of Loaded and I made my way up to the Oxbox (the Oxfam stewarding office) to start my shift. Here’s a review of the gig by John Robb himself:

We were “response” stewards, so we were pleasantly surprised to be sent to the dance tent and in charge of the silent disco between 2-5am. It was great fun watching people sing and dance to music we couldn’t hear – with off-key singing and people in various interesting states! After 5am, we were sent to the deserted kids’ field again. The highlight of that part of the shift was chatting to a lady from folk band Moulettes, who were playing the next day. She was a bit worse for wear but we had an interesting conversation about creativity. The shift ended with me struggling to keep my eyes open in the Oxfam marquee, reading Grazia magazine to the stewards. Eventually, the shift came to an end and I stumbled into bed! That was my last shift and I took proud possession of my souvenir Oxfam badge.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny – but with annoying heavy showers, so I got soaked in the shower queue! At least it was refreshing. I put on my leopard-print finery for the “animals” fancy dress theme, in a tribute to the Manic Street Preachers! The feather boa was a bit hot though, and shed enough feathers on the grass that one bloke asked me if I’d eaten a crow. We kicked off the day with Citizen Fish, a classic ska punk band with radical politics. We stayed around for 90s festival favourites Dodgy, whose music matched the sunshine. I missed the amazing Babylon Circus to see Dudley Sutton again – a fantastic veteran actor and performer, most famous as Tinker in Lovejoy. He put on a fantastic show and got a standing ovation, but the heat and darkness of the theatre tent had me struggling to keep my eyes open as I’d not had too much sleep after my night shift. After Dudley’s performance, I headed to the Big Top and caught the last song by the Moulettes. I was really impressed – and the fiddle player I’d been chatting to at 6am was very talented and looked beautiful.

I joined my friends at the main stage again. They were watching Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebel. It was all a bit jazzy and one of my friends said that life was too short for all the noodling around – but eventually, they played Make me Smile, which got the audience dancing again. The Skatalites are one of the original Jamaican ska bands and they had the crowd skanking from the very start in the last warmth of the evening sun. It was the perfect summer set, with the band and audience bathed in a lovely golden glow. Imelda May was a pleasant surprise. She was far better than I thought she was going to be – there was a real rockabilly vibe, the songs were really catchy and she’s a sexy, engaging performer – definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

The Levellers‘ headline set on Sunday evening was excellent. The Levellers have come a long way since they formed 25 years ago. Their discography is as long as your arm and they’re one of the hardest-gigging bands in the business. I’ve seen them more than thirty times. I’ll work out how many times exactly one day. It made meeting up with Mary all the more poignant, as it’s twenty years since we first saw the Levellers, in Leicester. Not much has changed, certainly not the energy of the gigs, but the band are more rugged, although singer Mark Chadwick wasn’t wearing his hat, proving he’s not thin on top!

Apart from trivial details like hairlines, the Levellers have stayed at the forefront of protest culture, supporting the SchNews alternative newspaper for years and speaking out on issues close to their hearts. They’ve supported up and coming musicians at their studio, the Metway in Brighton. Setting up the Beautiful Days festival in 2003 was a brilliant move – its reputation for quality music, great atmosphere and a sponsorship free zone now attracts people who haven’t even heard of the Levellers – and they’re often blown away by their performances and the passion of their fans. The Levellers now have three generations of fans – there are people who’ve grown up listening to their music and embracing their free-spirited philosophies. Beautiful Days is a festival where tribes gather in harmony: punk, hippy, folk and indie, and become one family. How many other bands can claim such a legacy?

It was another classic gig, but the night-shift had caught up with me and even the spectacular fireworks couldn’t revive me. It was time for bed. I went to sleep with the sounds of the backstage bar in the background, wishing I had the energy to party, but happy to have experienced another great festival.

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