I feel that I must say a word or two thousand about the fantastic experience I had at Woolf Music last weekend. I had such a fun time hanging out at Cleeve House in Wiltshire. We got there (me, Bridget Hayden, Jake Blanchard and Jo Turner-Baker) after a bit of a mission down the motorway from Todmorden. Some other festival called ‘V’ was on in Staffordshire which slowed us down a bit but we were cheered up on arrival – what a building! So this place is about a thousand years old, famous people lived there etc but what the history books don’t write is that a lovely family live there now and brought their kids up in those walls, what a place to grow up. Also they are cool and open minded enough to allow 200+ people onto their grounds for a properly alternative festival. Obviously I took my AAA wrist band status very seriously and we all went on a bit of an off road investigate around the gaff sticking my nose into every room and body through every door possible. Even ended up on the roof at one stage where I feared my wellys could let me down. Despite being offered a bed in the bridal suite (!) my boyfriend wanted us to camp outside. Ho hum. That evening we had a few beers and beans on the grass with some record collecting obsessives and our good friend Jason Steel (who we use to live with in London) Good times were had and the 5 Lidl beers we’d purchased “for the weekend” quickly went, somewhere…
Got up on the Saturday. I’d forgotten that Jo TB is a total camping pro (this wasn’t our first time in the wilderness together) and she was whipping up sos-mix on M&S bread (purchased with a LOVEFILM voucher on the M4) for our brekkie. Dunno what I would have done without Jo TB there over the weekend who insisted on us having 3 square meals each day – thanks Jo. We had a bit of a wander up to a tiny hamlet called Seend where we met a local shop keep who sold us a few locally brewed beers and made a couple of wise cracks about it always raining in Manchester. Ho ho ho, like I don’t know mate.
The music kicked off around lunchtime. I watched a lady I’d met the night before called Jeanette Leech read a few paragraphs from her book ‘Seasons They Change’ which is about psychedelic folk. Jeanette must have done a good job as I wanted to read the whole thing by the time she had finished but she immediately sold all the copies there… Gonna check it out, fairly sure my dad would like a copy as well.
Other highlights of the day included Bear Bones Lay Low, who is Ernesto Gonzalez of Sylvester Anfang 2. I have a funny story about those boys which took place in a back stage room in Holland – beer chat that one. Anyway, Ernesto was brilliant! Everyone was chilling on the grass and he made great use of the decent sound system which made everyone perform crazy, seated, grass dances. Beats made on keyboards, always a winner for me. The weekend in general had an awful lot of synthy stuff, is this a trend I’m not aware of perhaps? I had worried about the inclusion of bongos but I’m happy to report not a bongo in sight (or ukeleles thank the lords) all weekend.
Chicoloyah was great although I only caught a tiny bit of her set. Going to Bradford tomorrow to see her play again.. Black Tempest and their heavy space synths, Innercity were fun and they had a couple of the United Bible Studies dudes play with them. Vanessa Arn was also brilliant.
My highlight of the entire weekend came in the form of the outstanding United Bible Studies. I’d never seen them before, I think I’d only ever really heard about them and had formed this kind of “oh yeah, they are a folky band” opinion. I’m into folk music but the total trad. end I can take it or leave, UBS were nothing like this. The set managed to encompass every type of music I’m into they were folk, they were metal, they were doom, loud, quiet, constantly changing and more. They were led by Alison O’Donnell who is an Irish folk singer and completely wild! She threw on this decorative cat mask and ran around the front of the band doing an appreciative dance, her enthusiasm really got me into the sound. I was sitting down but still moshing. I didn’t know what what going on really or that this sort of emotion was possible! (my heart is racing just writing this down..) They had to cut the set short because of time constraints which was absolutely gutting. At the end of the set all I could do was lie down in a heap and some bloke (I later knew as “Tony”) came and drew the sign of the cross on my forehead in cider. He told me I’d been baptised in the church of United Bible Studies, I think I have been. Oh my, what a band. If you’re reading this and thinking “I want that” fear not because I had a chat with them after the show and fingers crossed they will take up my offer of shows in the North West next year. Yes, and you will be there.
The rest of the night is a blur. I felt a bit claustrophobic and couldn’t handle being inside the little room for the other bands that night which is a shame because I heard they were all great. I trotted off to “bed” around 1am but the party did continue, audibly, in the marquee across the way until much later.
On Sunday I got up and felt really smug that I’d managed to not get drunk the night before meaning I felt alright to get up have a feed via Jo TB and a quick practice in the bridal suite. I was playing at 1.30pm and felt thankful I would be on early to get over any nerves asap!
Brendan Quinn played first and he was just great. He had a really warm and friendly approach to playing his set and his guitar playing reminded me of Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo (a favourite of mine). I liked how he explained his pieces and just effortlessly knocked out the songs. I could imagine him being a great dinner party guest, one that you wouldn’t get annoyed with when he produced the guitar at the end of the meal. Nice bloke.
I played after him, I think it went well! I had a couple of Walkmans with me, one had a tape of my brother pretending to be Steve Wright and the other was a radio so I played with those providing a backing track to my guitar. I had also borrowed a plectrum from Dave of UBS to gain some magical powers from and really enjoyed playing. The crowd weren’t scary at all and I got some nice compliments afterwards. so can’t moan! I was mightily relieved to have played as it meant I could get to know the amazing beers on offer…
During the day I got to see my good friend Ellen Mary McGee get back onto the stage after a bit of a break from live performance. I think the last show she played before this was up in the lake district where she and I were named the “Psychedelic Queens of May” by Barry of Fell Foot Wood. I supported her set on guitar that night and for this performance she had the charming Nick Jonah Davis by her side for half of the set. They both played a couple of solo tunes each as well. Ellen has such a beautiful voice, I really wish she’d do more live stuff because she is a true talent that needs to be heard. She is really great at writing lyrics as well… “I have known love, for I have read a thousand books” from her song ‘He is no earthly man”, gets me every time with how simple and clever that image is. Her album The Crescent Sun is awesome, I hear that there is another one in the pipeline for next year so keep an eye out for that.
The afternoon was all excellent after this. I particularly enjoyed Bare Bones with their droney instrumental and singing, H who I wish I’d seen more of, Deej Dhariwal who I’ve known since living in Stoke, he plays in Thought Forms as well and for this solo show he was looping and distorting tons of guitar and moaning into the microphone – really excellent stuff. You can tell he knows what he’s doing with all those pedals which I always find impressive.
Eric Arn properly rocked this festival! He was playing rock folk guitar and did it so well, I was really impressed by his command of the instrument. I caught a bit of Kull who were bit like a doomy Bjork sounding duo, I was relaxed by Michael Tanner’s Plinth group who took me to the drone zone… the evening saw Bridget Hayden play who was one of the best acts this weekend. Bridget does noisy, bluesy rock music and just has this presence on stage which is really compelling and mysterious. She owned the stage and produced a sound which she seemed totally in control of doing West Yorkshire proud. Josephine Foster was obviously brilliant. I love what she does and it’s always a pleasure to see her play live.
For the rest of the night everyone was in party mode. The beer flowed and Phil McMullen had done us a solid by getting the owners to agree to a controlled bonfire for everyone to hang out around. I guess I’ll leave it to you to imagine how the rest of the evening panned out. We were up until the birds sang their dawn chorus. Everyone still up was really proud we’d managed to be up that late despite being a bit older than the last time it had happened.
What a festival. Aside from the fantastic music curation what made this special was the definite feeling of community that everyone felt part of. Phil refers to the musicians who were part of Woolf or Terrastock which is the ‘mother festival’ as part of a “family” which is a sentiment I can definitely get behind. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging of one another, this was not a place for egos or big shots. Another thing I must comment on was the thoughtful programming which included an equal number of men and women on the bill. This is a rarity in British festivals and what I liked about it was that the inclusion of so many talented women on the bill wasn’t shouted about, it was just the case that they were there for their musical talents alone rather than some political statement. Sometimes when you speak to promoters about the lack of women on their bill the excuse often is that there aren’t as many women out there doing music which I think Woolf Music absolutely proved wrong. I spoke to so many female festival goers at Woolf who said that seeing women on stage this weekend had inspired them to do some music when they got home, this is just wonderful and shows how simple it is to provide role models for everyone in music through smart programming. Thanks to the organisers of Woolf Music for making this happen.
Ok, so there you have it. A bit of a blow by blow account of my experience of the festival. Next years is already booked for the middle of August and I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s a perfectly sized festival, you’re not going to get really tired walking for miles to get to the next stage, it’s family friendly, it’s thoughtful, it’s in a gorgeous location. Very good, very good.