Held in beautiful Gloucestershire, the sixth Wychwood Festival lived up to expectations, and even provided a few surprises as well as a couple of minor, though thoroughly predictable, disappointments along the way. After a sunny Friday afternoon and crowd-pleasing sets by Justin Currie and The Levellers on that evening, the weather turned cooler on Saturday and a brief but heavy downpour on Sunday didn’t dampen anyone’s mood.
First on the Independent stage on Saturday lunchtime, Sleeping with the Fishes certainly shook things up. Singer and guitarist Justin Justman as his group successfully blended power-chords worthy of Foo Fighters with the musicianship of Eighties prog revivalists It Bites. Under the Big Top, oddball Englishness was the order of the day. With his banjo and unexpected samples, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer and his hilarious brand of “chap-hop” hit all the right targets, though veteran eccentric John Otway wouldn’t be outshone/ outdone as he lampooned Madonna and Bob Dylan and recited The Sweet’s “Blockbuster” à la Peter Sellers. Harpist Lucinda Belle was very much the yearning chanteuse with her ‘Dodo Blues’ though, back on the Independent stage, American alt-country singer Piney Gir took no prisoners and claimed “I’m Better off without a Piece of a Shell of a Man”.
The keening harmonies and catchy melodies of Goldheart Assembly proved they are worthy pretenders to Teenage Fan Club’s crown and Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté’s mellow set went down a treat. The queen of the 2 Tone movement, Pauline Black mixed The Selecter evergreens “Three Minute Hero” and “Missing Words” with a ska version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and made light of a power cut halfway through “On My Radio”. The vocalist and her cracking band simply picked up where they’d left off and closed with a fantastic “Too Much Pressure”. Playing too many slow and mid-tempo songs, Ian Broudie and his Lightning Seeds suffered by comparison, despite the presence on guitar of his son Riley, the inspiration for “Life of Riley”, but inevitably closed with the football anthem “Three Lions”.
Once the pride of Madchester, Happy Mondays are now just a tribute band fronted rather than led by Shaun Ryder. Reading lyrics to “Step On” and “24-Hour Party People” off the autocue, his non-performance wasn’t so much half-hearted as half-arsed. The Paul Heaton-less than beautiful South also felt like a sing-along tribute to their Nineties heyday.
On Sunday, CBeebies’ Justin Fletcher was a big hit with the children but I found Adrian Edmonson’s folk-flavoured renditions of punk classics schtick tiresome. However, Austrian rockers J.O.E.L. played a blistering version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. On the BBC Introducing stage, Islet, from Cardiff, were more of a happening than a band but a real find all the same. Seth Lakeman previewed his new album, Hearts & Minds, and dub rockers extraordinaires Dreadzone rounded things off with a rousing “Little Britain”. The many colours of the musical rainbow always shine at Wychwood