Now in its 8th year, and we’ve been to them all (I think). Got there early on Friday and camp site already busy, so organiser Mike Stephens must have been well pleased with the weather.
Got a programme, which revealed some +s and some -s. Good news, the ubiquitous and miserable Outcast Band aren’t there, but bad news is that the terminally tedious Big Fibbers are…twice. Still, off we go,
Friday. Wee Bag Band. Billed as ‘diddly diddly Irish music’. Accurate, although they slipped in ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Zorba’. Her Ladyship liked them, I thought they should have kept to the Welsh folk clubs, so a score draw to start the proceedings.
Slight change of schedule saw the Rubber Duck Orchestra up next. Gypsy/folky/swing stuff from trumpet/clarinet/accordian + ensemble. Very Eastern European sound, quite interesting. Would be well-suited to a Parisian or maybe NYC cafe bar.
Slightly late on are The Hummingbirds, a 6-piece from Liverpool. Well lads, if Brian Epstein was your manager, you would be a 5-piece. You are probably all mates, but 2 clones with sunglasses playing the same chords on acoustic guitars is one too many…and the one who sings would win. Look on it as a 20% pay rise for each of you. A lot of hype, but hardly any variety. ‘Unique modern skiffle guitar sound’ ?!! Really?!
And here comes the wonderful John Otway. With only the odd cameo from roadie Deadly, he gives a classic performance. The usual openers, ‘Really Free’ and ‘Beware of the Flowers’ with flowers courtesy of Her Ladyship, aided and abetted by some children , were followed by ‘Blockbuster’. Brilliant ‘I will survive’ a la Dylan. ‘House of the Rising Sun’, females ‘Cheryl’, ‘Louisa’ and ‘Josephine’ get a look in and Bachman Turner Overdrive get the solo treatment. Genius.
The Proclaimers. I just do not get them. Like the Crankies, they seem to attract a following of Scots just because they are Scottish. The sub-U2 doodlings of Simple Minds had a similar affect. They wouldn’t sell a ticket in their own right, so it is the festival circuit.
So it was Phil Cool. Ok, his act still involves Bill Clinton and Rolf Harris but he is still hysterical at times. Her Ladyship had a prolapse.
Final act was the Carny Cabaret Show, with Chris Cross. Billed as ‘burlesque’, it was soon apparent that it was 3 saucy strippers to pad out CC’s 15 minute contortionist act.
So Friday was Band v Fun, and Fun won, comfortably.
Saturday. Biggles Wartime Band. Just looking at them, it was obvious we were in for some early Bonzos-type fun. First up though was ‘Salty Dog Blues’ which made up for the bluegrass missing from the bill. Sure enough ‘Jollity Farm’ comes next, then a crazy Franglais/Cajun number. ‘Jilted John’ gets a spot-on folk club rendition (brilliant!). ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ heralds the entrance of oceanic chum Sammy, with a plethora of marine references. Yorkshire’s Robert Palmer gets his ‘Addicted to Love’ given the full Tyke/Uke treatment and ‘Then She Kicked Me’ is a scream. ‘Delilah’ and the Jungle Book finish off an hour of mayhem.
Coming from outside we heard ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and it was Gareth Gates! Surprisingly good but it sadly got a bit predictable. ‘Summer of 69’ and ‘Living on a Prayer’ were ‘hands in the air’ stuff and ‘Brown-eyed Girl’ would have been odds-on at any bookies. However, better than any of the billed’ musical’ acts from Friday .
Babajack. Multi-nominated Blues act, and within seconds it was obvious why. African rhythms with Deep South guitar and harmonica…and there were only 2 of them. They certainly earn their money, with both of them having cracking voices. Covers of Sleepy John Estes, Son House and Leadbelly included ‘Gallows Pole’ (written by Led Zeppelin?! God they were shameless!) It would take something phenomenal to be better than this at the fest.
The Christians. Like The Proclaimers, I doubt they would fill a club, so are consigned to FestWorld. An announcement from the stage seemed to say that The Hollies would have a right to walk off stage if any flash photography. Bloody Hell, has Axl Rose joined them!?
Curved Air come on in the Real Ale Tent. The usual Sonja-less instrumental then ‘It happened today’. Lots of stuff followed that I should have remembered from 40 years ago at Leeds University but, like all the other blokes, I was too busy dribbling then instead of listening. ‘Easy’, ‘Proposition’ and ‘Back Street Luv’ weren’t helped by some crap sound levels which at one point had hardly any violin or keyboards with the guitar at ’11’.
Main Stage, The Hollies. Spaghetti Western intro a la Ramones/Metallica. ‘Curly Billy’ is first up then an AWFUL ‘I can’t let go’, my favourite Hollies single. ‘Jennifer Eccles’ and ‘Bus Stop’ got an early airing, but they just sounded like a club act playing Hollies songs to a chicken-in-a-basket audience. ‘Stewball was a race horse’ shattered Her Ladyship’s idea that Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas, War is Over’ was an original tune and not an ancient folk song, and we went back to the Real Ale Tent while they slaughtered other Hollies classics. Why are they here, especially at that price, Mike?!
Ed Tudor. Good old Edward, another (like Otway) who is good at appearing to be a buffoon but is far from it. ‘Lets’ Go Tudor’, ‘Black Jacks’ (for Her Ladyship?), ‘Throwing the baby’, ‘Friggin’, ‘3 Bells’, ‘Swords’ and, eventually, ‘Bambi’. Great stuff, crap vocal levels at times, a good nightcap.
Sunday. Phoenix. 2 women, not on the bill, who just came for the festival. So why bring all their guitars? One of the duo, left-handed electric guitarist, started out like she’d been listening to a bootleg of a very dodgy Mahavishnu Orchestra gig, but it was only 10.30 am, so maybe she hadn’t done any finger exercises. Own stuff, plus Pretenders and Indigo Girls. Some way short of Babajack, to be kind.
Richard Taylor. Guitar instrumentals with technical info, inoffensive but worth 10 of……..T. Rextasy. Copy groups seem to evoke two lots of opinions. One lot go to TribFests on Rhodes, buy T-shirts and cds and think the Australian Pink Floyd sound just like Pink Floyd. The other lot consider them loathsome parasites who should be dowsed in petrol and set alight. I am not saying which lot I belong to but I always carry a box of Swan Vestas. Definitely Musical Marmite.
Miles and Erica from the Wonderstuff followed. I was too old when they were in their prime, but this is a treat for their fans. ‘Welcome to the cheap seats’ and ‘Size of a cow’ excited the crowd but did nowt for me.
Quireboys. One of Her Ladyship’s favourites, she took No 1 son to his first gig ‘proper’ to see them at their height. I always thought them just a bit too sub-Faces for comfort, and by ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ they had gone past Roderick S and were at Smokie! They certainly sounded more like Smokie than the Hollies sounded like the Hollies. ‘Misled’ livened things up but only briefly. ‘7 o’clock’ got an airing but no ‘Hey You’ (again).
Fake Thackery. I found the original irritating so am certainly not going to see a copy, but sadly for me he appears to be on at every bloody festival. Her Ladyship went that way, I stopped for Rory McLeod. I was fooled by the gushing programme notes, but how many times do you ever see Bill and Betty, Rubbish vocal duo or Ted Todger, Crap Comedian advertised in the local WMC window?! It would have been much shorter to just put ‘tedious’ . By all means incorporate some banter into your act, but hold people’s attention! I did once, however, watch Otway when some not-very-bright young man shouted ‘Get on with it!’. Otway replied ‘This IS it!). We had decided earlier that there was nothing worth staying for so had already packed up, and we departed.
So. Mike Stephens MUST have ended up in profit. Programmes had sold out by early Saturday. Sun out would have ensured a really good ‘ walk up’ contingent. Good toilets, beer prices par for the course and good general atmosphere. Babajack the only real musical highlight (for us) but plenty of people were on their feet for T Rextasy and The Hollies, and Biggles/Otway/Cool showed the youngsters how to do it. Its success should mean a return to Uttoxeter next year (where it seems to have settled), and we will be back (to be relieved of a fiver for car parking again).
I am sure that a lot of Acoustic Fest fans also go to the Cambridge Rock Festival. Could any of those who, like us, spent most of the weekend in the Real Ale Tent and who unbelievably managed to not break copious limbs by falling over the (generously provided) tables and chairs, or weren’t burn to a crisp by some people starting a fire with dry twigs, PLEASE inform the CRF team that they will be at Cambridge to do battle with the Chair Police.