We traveled north armed with the usual festival equipment and of course rain protection reinforcements! Mainly due to the fact the not so brilliant and unpredictable British weather decided this weekend, it would take no prisoners. Norwich, Norfolk was our destination and Play Fest was our reason! In it’s second year and probably unknown to lots of folks, the festival is staged at Eccles Hall Estate and this year, on the Diamond Jubilee weekend.
After just about seeking the venue out (could do with being signposted a little further out), we set up tent and headed out to explore what was on offer. The biggest surprise is the size! The festival is small and for me that’s a bonus! For some reason smaller festivals make you feel more ‘involved’ and give you less of a tendancy to follow ‘the crowds’. After quick circuit of the grounds, it’s apparent there’s a ‘village fete‘ vibe about the place. OK, so it’s much bigger than that, but there’s no horrible corporate sponsored feel about it. Wide range of food options, plenty of fair ground rides, even a children’s play area enhance this festivals appeal to families – but we are heading to one place and one place only – Daisy Dukes Bar! There’s plenty or refreshments and hardly a queue in sight. It seems the festival crowd are up for participating in the fun, some in fancy dress ranging from Super Heroes to Bananas to, of course, royal attire!
The music is the main reason we are here and the first band on our list and we get to experience are Little Comets. Hailing from Newcastle the trio put in a crowd pleasing performance. It’s good honest indie stuff that holds no real surprises.
They are followed by The Big Pink and this is where the festival kicks off for me. A sudden realisation that this is no ‘village fete’! This is the first time I’ve seen the band who have experienced good success with debut single ‘Dominos‘ but not really hit those giddy heights since. Front man Robbie Furze entices and converses with the ever-growing crowd during the performance, showing the experience and charm a festival front man needs in abundance! It’s as if they’ve announced ‘Right you lot…The Pro’s are here now…‘. The crowds reaction speaks for itself. An impressive set which culminates in the hit single, Dominos.
Reverend and the Makers are up next and anything Robbie Furze can do, John McClure will try his best to match. He does’s just that and although I’m not sure the overall band performance is as good, it’s not for the want o trying. The crowd joined in on a few of the more well known numbers but it has to be said, they didn’t always get the response they wanted. A few new tracks in the repotoire too, so maybe this was a factor.
The Pigeon Detectives wowed a select few before going on main stage out the back of the Press tent, with a unique acoustic performance of ‘Emergency’…luckily I was one of them lucky few but it was on the main stage where they made their mark and one of the most memorable of performances of the night. These boys have some hits to play with and do not disappoint. Take her Back, I’m Not Sorry and Emergency sound as good as ever. Matt Bowman is a well rounded and expert entertainer as he struts up and down the stage like a peackock swinging his microphone and catching it like a well trained juggler. The band were worthy of a headline slot but this is left to Ash…
It seems this was the act most were here to see today. Ash put in a well rehearsed and energetic shift! Tim Wheeler is no stranger to festivals and takes it all in his stride. The star of the show for me tonight though is the bassist, Mark Hamiltlon. Every now and then, at appropriate times, he would throw out some rock star poses to add to his jumping around in what was a lively display from the axe man. They kind of lost the crowd a few times, this was maybe due to some of the crowd not knowing the songs. Perhaps Ash were hoping for some more die hards! Some new material also. Things picked up at the end though. After the band reappeared to the cries of an Encore, they finished the night with ‘Burn Baby Burn‘ which more than made up for losing the crowd from time to time. With that, the heavens opened…
After a night of heavy rainfall and failed attempts in vein to keep the water out of the tent, we had run out of money! It seems that the festival cash machine has also done the same! However, a free taxi ferried us to the local village machine instead. Now try and get that at one of the bigger festivals. This is just one of the more personal touches Play Fest offer. We catch Lee Vann performing as our first act of the day. We know absolutely nothing about him but from asking around, we find out that he’s a local boy from Norfolk area. He played acoustic numbers and explained to the crowd what they meant. A few laug hs from the crowd when he tells us one of the songs is about a fight…although he has never been in a fight. He would teach the crowd his choruses to get them participating which seemed to go down well.
Ria Richie impressed also with her acoustic set providing a nice chilled out and relaxed atmosphere. I believe it’s artists like this that attract the wide, elective audience to this festival. Her Norfolk roots could have also helped. The more upbeat Lonsdale Boys Club picked up where acts like The Big Pink and The Pigeon Dectectives had left off yesterday. Bringing the energy in huge amounts. This was by no means one of the most well known acts on the lineup but in my opinion, they were one of the best. One thing that impressed the most, was their versatility to change from a rock-pop song into a more rap style number with little effort.
Spector are a band who are enjoying lots of radio play of late and put it a somewhat more laid back set. In contrast to front men taking the lead, this was more of a team performance. Front man Frederick MacPherson let his voice and general style do the talking. They struck up banter with the crowd but at times it was too little. They seemed to have there mind elsewhere. Chevy Thunder stole the show.
Scroobius Pip provided a definite change in direction! Rap hip-hop with a touch of punk rock. It was not to everybody’s liking though but you could not fault his performance and effort. He provided another dimension to the lineup and got in among it with the first crowd surfing of the weekend providing one of the highlights of the festival.
It was all gearing up for headliners Feeder. After the longest stage change of the weekend and after waiting probably just that bit too long, Feeder entered the stage. Was it worth the wait? You bet! From the start they delivered everything you’d expect. They played a number of songs from their current albums and even a few new ones hot off the press. One such song went down well with the crowd, Idaho about a trip they took in America after they had wrote their first Album.
They teased the crowd with intro’s of Buck Rogers and then stopping before returning back to the song. This added to the crowds excitment and made for a brilliant vibe. The highlight of the set came in the Encore and infact the last song. Just a Day. Grant leans forward hunched over the microphone and only has to mutter those words ‘do do do do’ before the crowd instantly know his intentions. Whipped up into a frenzy, it was the perfect way to finish a great weekend. I walked away Buzzing!
So, overall what can I say! Play Fest has lot’s of natural charm. The fact it’s a smaller and more intimate festival is one of it’s main assets and biggest draws. Obviously every festival has to grow year on year to survive, but you get the feeling they’re dedicated to keeping it about the people. It attracted some stupidly popular acts for it’s size this year and full credit to whomever picked the lineup. It truly is a hidden gem on the UK festival scene and If it can maintain this kind of elective lineup and and feel good, family atmosphere, I’d say selling out next year will be child’s play…