Willowman Festival 2014

Willowman Festival – Thirsk, North Yorkshire – 19th – 22nd June 2014

Dark Secret and Still Burning head off on a new roadtrip – this time over the border to spend the summer solstice evening at the Willowman Festival. Read our reviews of the festival below, first one is from Dark Secret.

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Willowman is a family-friendly musical mix of reggae, ska, funk & punk, spread over four days around the summer solstice weekend. The compact festival is located in the grounds of the Hillside Rural Activities Centre in North Yorkshire. The camping area was a very short walk from the entrance on a small hill overlooking the site.

Events kicked off on the Thursday evening with DJs and the opening party in the Willow Wobbly tent. However, we elected to arrive on the Friday for a full three days.

The site was pleasantly small with the music spread over the large Main Stage and one middling size stage in the Willow Wobbly Tent (which also contained the Willowman Arms bar). These stages rotated approximately every hour, so you could easily catch every act that played just by moving between then. They were conveniently located almost adjacent to each other, the merch tent being the only thing separating them.

As well as the two larger stages there was a small informal acoustic stage located in T’other Field in a tea & hookah tent, where they held open mic sessions as well as where more seasoned performers could be found.

Adjacent to the acoustic stage was a large area where children could get together for friendly competitions or just to play and have fun. It was a fantastic few days for them – the weather was amazing for the entire four days and they seemed to spend all of it running around barefoot in fancy dress, playing with hula hoops, playing ping pong or learning how to juggle as well as a myriad of other things. There was even one girl who seemed to spend the whole three days on a unicycle razzing around the fields. There was even a story tellers tent for the wee ones– with slightly spooky tales told to the slightly older kids as darkness fell.

During the day on Saturday a Willow Spiral was begun. Once it was completed wishes could be added to it by anyone who wanted to join in.

By Sunday afternoon there were sleeping children littered around the field, while parents sat nearby chilling in the sun and listening to the music.

During the three days children were making lanterns to carry in the parade of light which was held on the Sunday evening, culminating in the burning of the Willow Spiral in the large firepit normally used for toasting marshmallows.

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There was a dance area tucked away up the back away from the main stage – The Mad Hatters Dance Tent – for those who wanted to continue to dance the night away once the live music ended.

The entire area was secure and surrounded on all sides by the stages or by an array of food outlets (the basic pizza & burgers as well as more exotic fare), vintage & bric-a-brac market tents, arts & craft tents, places to go get foot, head or body massages or even your fortunes told.

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Anyway, despite everything else going on – and there was a lot to look at – we were really there for the music. So what can I say – what a lineup.

On the Main Stage, Craig Charles brought his Funk & Soul offering into darkness of the Friday night.

The Wailers, who also play Glastonbury this year, headlined Saturday night, taking us – swaying to the old Bob Marley reggae beats – into the Solstice evening with that unmistakable mellowed out bass.

The Baghdaddies (who dedicated every song in their set to a lass called Lauren, who was celebrating turning 11 that day) completed the Main Stage headliner trio on the Sunday.

On the Willow Wobbly stage, Ruts DC packed out the tent on the Friday, Radical Dance Faction lived up to their name on the Saturday and the Sunday went out with a bang when Eddie and the Hotrods rocked the tent in their usual 100 mph style.

The Blockheads & Tenpole Tudor were names I remember from my youth but it was some of the unknown acts that really caught our attention.

Jeremiah Ferrari – fronted by a young man with huge hair was a band we hope to catch again – smooth reggae beats with a great voice which was unexpected. Another surprise was Eureka Machines – fronted by a guitarist from The Sisters of Mercy. Boy, can he jump.

Ian McNabb (ex-Icicle Works) went down well, a great set and some self-depreciating humour to boot– just him with a guitar and a guy with a bleeding hand on bongos and a tambourine.

Another surprise was during the Bessie and the Zinc Buckets set, when a hippy chick hopped on stage, strapped on a guitar and belted out a song. She’s French but has acquired a Geordie twang from her years living up the coast a bit. Apparently. Anyway, meet Charlotte Yanni – who later played the acoustic tent with Kev Charlton as Frog on the Tyne.

But this is what it is all about really – yes, seeing the big names is great but you can’t beat finding bands you’d maybe never come across normally and really, surprisingly enjoying them.

Willowman – a great wee festival which punches well above its weight. If you can, get there next year – you’ll not regret it and hopefully, we’ll see you there.

Words by Dark Secret.

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See our full set of pictures from Willowman Festival on our Flickr here.

Now for some (quite a lot!) of words from Still Burning

I’d first noticed Willowman Festival mentioned last year, that was enough to get me intrigued into wondering if it would be worth a trip south one day so after seeing the lineup for this year and talks with Dark Secret, plans were put into place and the decision was made, FnS were about to cover their first festival south of the border.

Its a four day event in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. The first night, the Thursday, as seems normal these days, is a DJ only, get bedded in kind of first day so we opted to travel down on the Thursday and spend the night about an hours drive away at Appleby, so we were fresh for the Fri, Sat and Sun activities. It took about five hours to drive to our stop, with an hour at Gretna Green and some standard messing about whilst a wedding was taking place (not our wedding, in case you were wondering – DS). Petrol costs would have been around £150 in total so not cheap but hey, the weather was looking good and we had a lot to look forward to music-wise so in the end well worthwhile I think. Tickets for the festival were a criminally low £65 so great value, even if you only took in two of the nights.The festival programme was a measily two quid, which had all the stage times, a map, everything you needed to know really with the added bonus of a programme number for a draw to win tickets to next years festival.  Nice touch that, I thought.

Everything went smoothly as planned and we’re booked in at a BnB about ten minutes away from the festival site. We head there early afternoon to get our passes and have a look around the area before we get our cameras out and start to work, ie, justify our presence there and create a report on how Willowman Festival was for us. We park only a few hundred metres from our entrance so just perfect and within ten minutes we were in and already had a chat with gaffer Steve Williams. That’s one thing that impresses me, the important, busy folk who take time to speak to us reviewer and photographer types, and make us welcome, it really was a great start, just how good was this weekend going to be.

We have a walk around the grounds, the main stage, a marquee with another stage and a bar within only about fifty metres apart, with the bands alternating so when one finished the other kicked off nearby. You didn’t miss anything, and didn’t have far to go either. Little things, but so good to have. Slightly further away was the dance tent (loved the music during the day more than at night but that was just me, good sound too), and included sofas, seats and a bath (!) also for the chilled or tired legs.

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The usual food choices were available, burgers for a fiver or so, pizza for seven quid and probably the van who scored most over the four hot days was the ice-cream one, I really had to drag Dark Secret past it a number of times (Hey – I don’t remember you arguing when I asked if you wanted one – DS). The beer tent had proper ales, including their own brew (Willow Wobbly) as well as an offering named in honour of Tenpole Tudor (The Swords of a Thousand Men), all at £3.50 a pint for actual cash, no token malarkey here. No queues over the weekend to speak of either.

Strolling to the furthest area from the main stage had lots of childrens activities going on, with happy faces running around all weekend, the kids must have loved it. Seriously. There was an acoustic tent where folk just lay on the grass and chilled, kids watched attentively, couples lay in each others arms in the shade, a chillout zone if ever there was one. The timings and listing of the acts appearing here were a bit random, which, I would say is a slight downside for me as I like to know who’s on where but maybe they’ll tighten it up next year. But, remember, the festival is for the punters and not me and not a single soul seemed bothered.

My first impressions were that jeez, this is place tiny, but fifteen minutes later when the music started up I looked around and realised it really was pretty much perfect for what it is. I have covered larger festivals with many more stages but this, for actually enjoying oneself while photographing it and not rushing from stage to stage, it really was just fine.

So, that’s the scene, what of the rest. The punters. All ages, from babies to aged festival veterans and everything in between. No hassles, no overcrowdedness at all. The campsite was well used, from huge motorbikes from Scandinavia to the usual selection of campers and tents of all shapes, sizes and colours. And the standard shop and food vans for the hungry amongst us. Seemed clean too, with taps with running water, just perfect for the hot weather we endured. Toilets seemed clean with no real queues either.

(Hurry up SB). Okay so the music. I’ll not go into detail but the basics were smaller, and more local bands during the day, with the bigger names in the evenings. Fridays surprise new name to me was the ska tinged, reggae bass style and a brilliant frontman was the excellent Jeramiah Ferarri, a name I will be definitely be following the progress of. Mountain of Love who I’d seen before preceded Ruts DC in the Willow Wobbly Stage and Segs and Co didn’t let us down playing all the classics and my own personal favourites. Next up on the main stage was Craig Charles who Dark Secret had looked forward to for ages and she wasn’t left disappointed. The crowds were good, the dancing was plentiful and the atmosphere was a smiley one.

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Rather than try and photograph and watch every single band that played we’d decided to have some punter time this festival and have regular times to catch up and chill and just enjoy the event for what it was. At no point were we bored and looking to our watches and even had a cold one or two on one of the sofas in the Willow Wobbly Stage tent.

Saturdays music sprung a surprise when we noticed Steve (the gaffer, remember), take his place on the stage for his part with The Willowman Allstars (He also joined Bessie & the Zinc Buckets on stage on the Sunday – DS). Just great to see, (without me trying to be cringeworthy here). Radical Dance Faction did what they usually do but for me band of the day on this stage was Eureka Machines. Solid indie punky tunes with some singalong verses but better still just great to watch as singer Chris bounced all over the stage. I missed a bit of Pikey Beatz on the main stage for some reason but they looked very entertaining too. Main stage headliners to come with The Blockheads (so many songs to choose from but I can’t really enjoy them as much as I should without ID). Norman Watt-Roy the bass player is worth the ticket money alone however, throwing his instrument around and generally being brilliant.

So. Solstice Night with the sun setting and the weather as calm as you’d like it to be. Time for The Wailers to play. I know there’s only one original Wailer now, but still it’s `those songs` you know. We’d taken the decision to ditch the cameras after photographing the first three songs so we could join the crowd in front of the main stage and we weren’t disappointed. I know it’s not Bob up there, no-one can possibly replace him but for me tonight was pretty damn special. The lighters and mobiles went up for One Love, and people of all kin and ages singing along together, loved ones in each others arms, lads arms around their pals shoulders, it was pretty damn amazing to experience. I’m not going to forget this night for a long time. For a little while… life was pretty much perfect.

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After the previous night, Sunday was always going to be a chill out kind of day. Highlights musically for me were Ian McNabb, a man who turned out to be funny, inventive but also a seriously good singer with songwriting to match. The crowd was a little disappointing but as a real pro he really took that on board, used it to great effect and let us all know what it’s like to be in the presence of a real entertainer. I salute you Ian. Outdoors again for the Baghdaddies – more brass and dancy but fun songs, another nice find of the festival. Last up for me was Eddie and the Hot Rods, a band always better live than recorded, they really do pack a punch with those hard hitting punk rock songs. Do Anything You Wanna Do is another for so many of us from back in the day.

And so it was over. Four days in hot sunshine in Yorkshire. Dark Secret treated me to a little tour on the way home, taking a route through the Yorkshire Dales including many towns with bunting, signs, hanging bikes and so much more in anticipation of this weekends Tour de France stage. The shops and businesses really have made an effort and you know what, it was great to see. I can only guess what it will be like on race day. A drive into Cumbria and The Lakes and then it was time to head for home. If anyone is travelling some distance to get to Willownman you could do a lot worse than tag on an extra day or so to enjoy this part of the world if you don’t already know it.

In short?

One of the best weekends of my life. Ruts DC, The Wailers, brilliant weather and just great company…. still stunned a couple of weeks later.

Words by Still Burning.

See our full set of pictures from Willowman Festival on our Flickr here.

Pictures by Dark Secret and Still Burning.

Willowman Festival Website

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