In the premier league of festivals, little Wychwood is far from being either the biggest, best-known, or beautiful. But it can lay claim to being among the best-loved in the land.
Over the course of its 11 year history it has attracted a loyal clientele to Cheltenham Racecourse, attracted by its easy-going nature and eclectic mix of bands - which vary from the ethereal to the downright cheesy - and a green, left-leaning philosophy which sees it avoiding the overt commercialism and profiteering at many of its competitors.
Last weekend’s festival – among the first of the summer – was classic Wychwood. The line-up was amusingly diverse – ranging from hot new acts like Palace, Lucy Rose and Ghostpoet, to the bizarre – with 80s covers band Dr & The Medics, 70s comedy band The Barron Knights (still doing their dusty old satirical material and even older rock& roll covers), and long-in-the-tooth disco act Boney M.
It was the presence of another 80s nostalgia act which brought in the punters however: a reformed UB40; frontman Ali Campbell having buried the hatchet, andending a spat which had seen two versions of the band touring.
The set, and that by festival regulars The Proclaimers, brought in the punters in record numbers for the sunny Saturday session. They were all outshone, however, by the day’s most talented stars: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba. The master of Malian music and his band proved a hypnotic and scintillating spectacle of raw West African blues, trance-inducing rhythms and soaring vocals.
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
It was a band from the other end of Africa which provided the highlight of Sunday’s proceedings. Ladysmith Black Mambazo charmed a cold Sunday night crowd with the kind of vocal harmonies that tingle the spine and warm the heart, along with some surprisingly athletic high-kicking moves from the new generation of singers augmenting the nine-piece line-up.
New talents Palace, Lucy Rose and Charlotte OC were stunning, despite playing to a shamefully small crowd – most festival-goers finding the comfort of a deck chair in the sun a better prospect to a dark marquee.
Wychwood may have its faults (the racecourse is an unattractive spot, and looked like a building site), but that mix of passion, charm and good music makes it one of the best of the year - and raises the bar for the rest.
Electric Swing Circus
Erica Nockalls of the Wonder Stuff
Ladysmith Black Mambaza
Lucy Rose played the Big Top
Miles Hunt of Wonder Stuff