Anna has been a festival fanatic since her first ever outing to Download Festival back in 2001, she's got eclectic tastes and covers everything from metal to EDM and loves a chance to try out new festivals. Anna has covered a few European festivals like Snowbombing and Wacken Open Air, but mainly hits up her UK faves; Download, Bestival and Bloodstock!
Scuttling down the dark back streets of Leicester city on a Sunday night would normally mean you’re up to something dodgy, and as we sidle up to the queue of distinctly eclectic looking folk bathed under the faint green glow of a neon sign, it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of reputation the ‘alternatives’ always had – dodgy. Luckily our band of choice tonight, made their mark singing about precisely this sort of thing, so we’re in good hands.
As we slip past the giant sage green tour bus, jammed like a conga eel down a tiny alleyway, and head into The Soundhouse venue, we are greeted by friendly faces and an absolutely tiny room. Now, I must note two things here. Firstly that I adore gigs in small venues. There is an intimate and special quality that definitely dies in larger places. Secondly, I have no idea how we’re all going to fit in here, nor the band on the miniscule stage.
As it turns out, I need not have worried – the tattooed skinheads, stoners and hipsters have all filed in just fine and there’s a decent amount of dancing room. I do slightly fear for the health of the two very on brand dirtbags at the front, who have come in full ‘Loser’ movie regalia of parkas and furry trapper hats. Exemplary dedication to the cause.
A small merch stand is selling the very last of their tour tshirts, signed posters and such. There are quite a few items that have sold out, presumably due to the fact that we have ended up being the very last date on this tour due to Brendan B Brown’s illness causing the cancellation of the previous show. I’d also like to highlight how brilliant it is that they and The Soundhouse worked together to get this night stuck on the end instead of just faintly promising “they’d be back at some point” – we are truly grateful, and it’s a sellout show for a second time.
Up first is the perfectly awkward purveyor of (as he puts it) Nerdcore Rap, MC Frontalot. Ascending (and by ascending I mean taking one slightly elevated step) the stage wearing a very convincing Dwight Schrute outfit, and a head-torch he yells “I’m a nerdcore rapper, from San Fransisco to Knife Crime Island” and laments that this is the 47th and final time he’ll have done this show on this tour.
Instantly taken with his self-deprecating rhymes, we giggle our way through the likes of ‘First World Problem’ and ‘Power User’ – “I’m in a sadomasochistic relationship with my desktop computer” he says, deadpan. The beats are distinctly 90’s in feel, and I guess the intersection of rap and rock was a lot lower in the UK than it was in the US, so the crowd is unfortunately kind of flat, which is a shame as Frontalot is actually really fun.
There’s a definite Flight of The Conchords style familiarity about him, which I obviously enjoy, and joking about being dressed like a sixth grade English teacher has us in stitches, mainly because my plus one for this gig tonight actually *is* a high school English teacher. Finally the ‘Tut Tut’ song requires a bit of crowd participation and at this point everyone seems to decide it’s ok to join in and have a bit of a boogie, which obviously serves to rocket the temperature of the room. Anyway, MC Frontalot – I salute you, that was a kickass set, and I shall join your Nerdcore rap movement by subscribing to you on Spotify later.
As Wheatus sneak onto the stage to start setting up, a commotion in the middle of the room is brewing. It seems that a lady has passed out and they’re trying to get her to the fire doors for some air. As Brendan B. Brown calls for security to come over and help before they start, I joke “Well, you’ve got them passing out before you’ve even played a note” and he replies “Ha, well… it’s not my first choice”.
Once the situation has been appropriately handled, the gap in the crowd closes and all eyes turn to the now very cramped stage. Brendan is sporting a rather excellent semi-acoustic guitar whose sound holes are shaped like the Wheatus stylized ‘W’, and yells out a quick hi to the crowd before asking what we want to hear. Now, I knew that for the rest of the tour they’d been taking requests, but I simply wasn’t ready for how far they would go – this night, we had an entirely crowd-curated set list. Mixing hits with B-sides, never before heard-live tracks and the band working their asses off to keep a 63 song repertoire live in their heads, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a gig.
Starting out strong with ‘Pretty Girl’ and then my yelled suggestion ‘Leroy’, I am already absolutely delighted to be here tonight, Brendan’s voice sounds fantastic despite the recent illness, until he has to stop for a short cough-break after ‘Semolina’. “That’s the sound of pneumonia… it’s not Covid, I tested negative five times! This is just regular sick. See they love that!” he laughs as the crowd cheers.
Swigging from a paper coffee cup he quips “I’m actually completely drink and drug free, so when I get the chance to have medicine and 4 shots of espresso, I take it, woo! But yeah don’t do drugs, especially don’t do cocaine it fucks up your nose then you can’t sing the girl part to teenage dirtbag.”
Flowing into ‘Truffles’ with an extensive solo on the end, it’s more like we’re earwigging on a jam session than at a gig, I can’t rave enough about how collaborative and interesting it feels to not just be played *at*. “That was some lead singer gratuitous bullshit there… I decided I’m not a good guitarist halfway through.. was it OK? You don’t have to cheer you know” Brendan says, underestimating a UK crowd who immediately 180 to giggled booing instead. “Oh bollocks” he replies in a British accent.
‘F.B.S.M’ comes with a side story about how this forgotten song was rebuilt due to Neil (in the crowd)’s shitty flip phone recording at a previous gig, which of course galvanizes the record-everything crowd to hold their phones aloft for ‘Temporary Song’. It’s irritating in a small room, and they’ve memorised all 63 of these songs already my guy, put your phone down and enjoy the music.
Perhaps in karmic response, suddenly the stage goes dark as the lighting desk goes kaput and a very frantic fiddling begins to try and fix it. ‘Tipsy’ is played in a blueish twilight (totally useless for the iphone videographer crew, ha), but apparently Saviour tech ‘Archie’ manages to harrass a new board in place before ‘Hump’em n’Dump’Em’ which then morphs into some sort of disco rave situation. Following this, a full crowd karaoke ensues for their hit cover of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, which is weirdly poignant on this Remembrance Sunday, amid the news of Gaza – “We can make love not war”.
When someone yells out ‘Punk Ass Bitch’ I expect to be singing my head off, but they instead play their alternate lyrics version written for Jackie Chan’s Adventures, called ‘Chan’s The Man’. It’s cute, and again something unique… but I am damn well singing the OG lyrics over the top.
‘Marigold Girl’ is a bit of an emo dirge, but you know – so am I, so I liked it. “This song is about a Zombie apocalypse. This is my dead people song. This is a tour first, we haven’t done this yet in the 46 other shows we’ve played, it’s the only one we haven’t played so we’re gonna complete it”. Up next, ‘Sunshine’ is the absolute antithesis of the previous song and it sounds every bit as excellent as teenage me thought it might, back in 2000, listening on a silver CD walkman.
‘Wannabe Gangstar’ has everyone singing along again, into ‘Whole Amoeba’ and when someone yells out “PLAY THE LEICESTER SONG” the band quickly whip up a few bars of funk and call it ours. ‘London Sun’ and ‘Lemonade’, are two of my favourites that aren’t from their debut album and for a final show set of a long tour, plagued by illness and extensions – I am surprised and awed that the band continue to sound this good.
Someone calls out ‘Mr. Brown’ – another great debut album track, and then it’s time for *the song*, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Rocking a safari style bucket hat, Bendan says “So, Dirtbag… back in the charts… I don’t know how you did that but it’s down to you, thank you so much. Anyway, we know it’s your song now, not ours. Here we go”, and then it is a deafening crescendo of crowd singing through to the ‘girl part’ which hits the kind of sound barrier that makes neighborhood cats scarper and brain fluid fizz. “You wanna hear me do it?” BBB asks to a chorus of agreement, and thankfully most people understand the brief and let him actually sing the section before ending on a full house high. Oh, but not before we get some inserted bars from the returning MC Frontalot. I love it.
At almost 11pm a few people prematurely head for the doors, but the chants of “one more song” ring out and we get to hear ‘People’. “Thanks for supporting my illness these last few shows, your love is felt. Oh, yes we’ll definitely be back don’t worry” Brendan enthuses. “This song is about how it’s better to have more diverse people, and less of the same people” brings about cheers and clapping, and sadly, the end of an epic set.
This version of the band, although almost entirely changed from the original line-up, have an energy and connectivity that flows so organically that it truly feels as if you’re being swept by the tide of them. I can’t rave enough about how special and interesting this one-of-a-kind show was. Yeah, I know we were number 47 on the roster but, if you weren’t at this one, you’ll never see it again – and that, is the power of live music and a band who are brave enough to let their fans run the show.
In true bank holiday fashion, we have arrived to rain at the one festival that really requires sunshine to portray the appropriate Western ranch vibe. Sigh. Regardless, this location and this festival are just as beautiful as I remember from last year.
The grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire are now the 4 time home to The Long Road festival and while it is funny to see Americana showcased on the lawn of a very English manor house, the team have done a spectacular job of injecting county fair vibes all over the site. The signage is a particular favourite of mine, all handmade wooden and gorgeously retro, there are plenty of backdrops to take your festival photo at here – but especially the TLR sign itself which is emblazoned with the words “Welcome home, old friend”.
Friday kicks off in the arena around 3pm making this a kinda, two-and-a-half day festival which leaves a nice space for a lazy morning in your camper with friends. Heading into the arena we are greeted so warmly by the gate staff (I have nothing but nice things to say about all of the staff this weekend, they were all friendly and helpful) and we head into the High Falloutin’ VIP area to take a look around. Sadly this year they’ve done away with those awesome wooden recliner/porch chairs along the front of the railings but the fancy covered sofa areas remain, along with a new bar serving fine wines and cheese platters – very bougie.
After a quick tour we head over to the Front Porch stage, which is just as pretty as ever – truly one of my favourite stage designs of all time. The chimney stack is smoking and despite the rain a decent crowd has assembled on the arced haybales and grassy area to catch some sweet early sets. Lil Possum County across the way doesn’t look to be up and running just yet, but kids have descended on the woodland walkway area in the trees instead. The O’Donnell moonshine bar looks like it’s already doing a roaring trade, and we grab some Cajun blackened shrimp from the Bayou outlet before taking a walk around the shopping area.
I nearly caved and bought some wellies disguised as cowboy boots. Then I nearly caved and bought some cowboy boots. In the end we settled for a cowboy boot ornament for our Christmas tree to represent TLR, but honestly I could spend a lot of money here if I went un-monitored.
Heading over to the Interstate stage we catch Jim Lauderdale & The Game Changers’ soft bluesy country set, “This is a dream for me, I’ve always wanted to bring this overseas” Jim says to the applause of a packed tent. It’s a pretty tight stage for that many musicians but they make it work, and before long the whole house is dancing along with them. Following up, First Time Flyers with a more modern pop country sound but an equally full stage presence bring the party up a notch, but we head off in search of a fire to warm ourselves by and a sweet treat.
Something I do really rate about this festival is the inclusion of sympathetic sponsors – the kind that actually are applicable to the theme and feel of the festival. This year we have the brilliant SoloStove brand who have put up their cylindrical stoves around the site (alongside the traditional firepits the TLR always have), but the real MVP goes to them for also providing toasting forks and all the ingredients to make s’mores. This is campfire Americana at it’s most stereotypical and I am so here for it. Now that the rain has gone, and we’re sitting on logs around a crackling fire eating strings of marshmallow and chatting to complete strangers in Stetsons and cowboy boots…
Returning brand Yeti have once again brought with them an array of corral games like cornhole, lasso challenges and swing-hook challenges, along with a massive store front selling every imaginable cooler and drinks cup in the world. It’s fair to say I think, that TLR’s clientele crossover with the campervan/camping/outdoorsy community is large, and this was a great partnership last year BUT this year they have truly excelled themselves and brought a laser-cutter inside a horsebox. You heard me.
Two extremely friendly Americans in Stetsons are on hand to engrave whatever you want on your Yeti cups… for free! They even put stuff on our existing Yeti cups from last year, and very kindly engraved a mini SoloStove for us for a Christmas gift, true gentlemen – and the definition of coherent brand integration at a festival which honestly is kinda rare.
Birmingham duo Gasoline and Matches over at the Front Porch have drawn a massive crowd now that the rain has stopped, and their set is absolutely brilliant and funny. “Let’s play never have I ever, you can buy us a drink” they joke, and end with a countrified Fresh Prince of Bel Air intro and the line “I’d like to take a minute just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the Princess of a town called… Lutterworth”,which really makes me giggle.
Canadian country queen Tenille Townes is lighting up the Interstate stage wearing the most extra snakeskin trousers and swishing her long dark hair. She’s such a bright powerful performer, and the tent is overflowing with people as she shouts “…this is a safe place to dance and sing, what I’m learning about the UK is… you guys know all the words! I appreciate you!”. We love the set, and the Alanis Morisette ‘Ironic’ singalong, but her song ‘The Last Time’ really got us in the feels tonight.
Taking it easy today due to the extremely heavy morning rainfall, we opt for strolling around and taking in the atmosphere a bit in between downpours and hiding under shelter. Luckily the weather breaks and we get to see Tenille Arts hit the main stage, singing the very catchy ‘Wildfire & Whiskey’ in her folded denim boots. The juxtaposition of cuteness vs. power in her vocals makes for a great show, and once again I have to hail to the covers but who doesn’t want to hear country versions of ‘Oops I did It Again’ and ‘Party in the USA’?
We take a beat to indulge in the extremely silly but very good £25 cheese platter I mentioned earlier. It easily fed two adults and a toddler (who actually scoffed about half the cheese before we even got to it) so it’s not a bad price considering, but it did feel like quite a ridiculous choice. So to even things up and get back to our normal lane, we head over to The Showground to watch the Hot Dog Eating competition.
‘Brendan with the ginger beard’ is stuffing his buns into the water Joey Chestnut style while he scarfs the dawgs, one guy is wearing recklessly tight shorts for this kind of affair, and a small child has been enlisted into carrying a sick-bucket around “just in case”. The sun has come out, there’s a huge crowd, and even the disappointment of 2/10 being the winning number of consumed dogs can’t make this event any less fun to me. Wish they’d done a second round of tshirts this year, I’d have bought another one.
Josh Abbot Band are heating things up on the Rhinestone stage, the hazy crowd reflected in his mirrored aviators as he sings ‘The Luckiest’. It’s classic country, the lead guitarist has the coolest gold mosaic covered guitar and there are plenty of people up and dancing – this is what The Long Road is about. Having said that, The Colour Me Country takeover on the Front Porch is totally where the party is at today; Michael B Whit is absolutely smashing his set to a crowd who are quite literally hootin’ and hollerin’ along with him. It’s the most fun performance I’ve seen yet, and I love that The Front Porch stage allows everyone to actually just boogie with him like a party.
At the Showground there’s a Line-Dancing workshop in operation, through the woodland walkway Buddy’s Bar is the place for grabbing a drink and a sit down at the picnic tables (something else TLR do really well – offering heaps of seating), but we are heading back to the main stage for Margo Price.
Slightly late to the stage, Margo wows in a long fringed red leotard with white fringed cowboy boots and flowing blonde hair. Every bit the performer she whirls about the stage singing and laughing with her band-mates, and we love opener ‘Been To The Mountain’ and ‘Change of Heart’. I will also always appreciate a random cowbell solo, just sayin.
Blackberry Smoke are tonight’s main stage headliner, and are a band I first came across at Download Festival, so I’m excited to see them again in a very different arena. Starting out strong with ‘Fire In The Hole’ and ‘Good One Comin’ On’ this is pure sunset country, route 66 drive-time sort of music, and I absolutely love it. Their 70’s style purple and yellow backdrop billows in the soft breeze of the evening and the arena is full of people, those at the back just sitting and enjoying the music.
Other festivals I rate the standing crowd size comparable to the enjoyment of the set, but The Long Road is a different, more chilled out situation, and people are genuinely just relaxing and having a damn good time. “Thank you Leicestershire- did I pronounce that correctly?” laughs frontman Charlie Starr, before launching into the very catchy ‘Living In The Song’. In case you’re wondering, yeah he did actually do a pretty good job of saying Leicestershire, he’d obviously had a practice.
Through the solos, the “Hey baby, hey mama” crowd participation and jamming, there runs a humble thread which is at the heart of this type of music I think, “The first time we played here was to about fifty people in Camden. If you were there, this one is for you” they reminisce. Playing through some of their hits like ‘Waiting for the Thunder’ and ‘Ain’t Got The Blues’ it’s clear they’ve been a great pick for the TLR headline slot, and the applause for encore tracks ‘Old Enough to Know’ and ‘Ain’t Much Left of Me’ absolutely seal the deal – what a fantastic night of music from Blackberry Smoke.
Today feels very Sunday-ish, and the temptation to lounge around has hit us hard. The weather is looking a lot less suspect this morning so we drag ourselves up and out, and catch early opener Alana Springsteen on the main stage. She’s wearing black leather trousers, looks like a supermodel and is singing hilarious stuff about her exes. I may love her. ‘You Don’t Deserve a Country Song’ is a personal fave, but her cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is also great.
Over at The Showground we join in with the hula-hooping workshop which is fairly chaotic but really good fun, another little thing that just pushes TLR into that category of thoughtful and experience-led rather than bog-standard music festival. We take a walk around The Lucky Dice Car and Bike Show, which is once again an absolutely brilliant part of this festival, it’s really fun to get to look at all these cars in person instead of in movies and TV shows.
Megan Moroney hits the main stage in a bright white bubble-dress, shivering “I underestimated the weather here, I can’t feel my fingers”. Megan’s songs are classic country in sound, but she’s a more modern lyricist, and her songs really make me laugh in a good way – her spiel on how she was up at 2am and saw her ex’s new girlfriend accidentally like one of her Instagram posts, had me rolling. The fact that she wrote a whole song about it is the ultimate petty crime and I sincerely love that energy, “I see you girl” she side-eyes, and the whole crowd roar with laughter.
“I’m from a small town in Georgia… at the salon everyone talks… you know, which preachers son is smoking weed or selling it, we hear it all” she says before dropping into another brilliantly funny track ‘Hair Salon’. Megan’s set is plagued with bad feedback throughout but she takes it in her stride, and jokes “The last festival I was at, I didn’t play this song. A girl DM me afterwards and said I ruined her whole weekend. We can’t have that again” so we also get the apparently hotly touted ‘Why Johnny’, putting Megan firmly in my festival highlights category.
Stomachs rumbling we join the food queues for smokehouse delights, and witness one of the most devastating events of the summer – a while side of pork-butt dropped on the floor out of the smoker. After a cheeky ask, one very lucky Sheltie named Oscar (because dogs are welcomed at TLR) is getting the most decadent lunch of his life.
In Lil Possum County, the kids activity area, a huge space hopper race is in action. Bigger kids have to hop backwards (which turns out to be nearly impossible and results in dire consequences) so the whole thing is a squealing melee of silly fun. Back at the main stage it’s the Colour Me Country takeover, with artists coming up to perform a song one after another or jamming together, and it is truly one of the best sets I’ve seen all weekend.
“Colour Me Country started as a show, it is now a non-profit, all the artists have been given a grant from us. We’re here to start a movement, because country is for everyone!” shouts host and founder Rissi Palmer, before we are treated to excellent music from the likes of Gabe Lee, Michael B Whit, Lady Nade, Sacha and the phenomenal Chapel Hart. Finishing up with country historical classic ‘Let The Circle Be Unbroken’ with a side of backstory about it’s African-American origins with Lesley Riddle, it strikes me that the work Colour Me Country is doing has a much bigger impact than just giving black artists a platform – it is reaching into the depths of history to educate a much wider, and let’s face it, a much whiter audience. I really appreciate them being front and centre on the TLR bill.
Up next it’s Caylee Hammack, stunning in a bohemian flowing red dress and her long red hair. Leaning right into it she shouts “Y’all got a few more redheads here than in the states, so here’s a song about redheads!” and careens about the stage. Taking a sideways glance at Stanford Hall she giggles “Wow you sure know how to party in nice places… we don’t have buildings like that at the county fair back home” before singing ‘Only Good Things’ which she wrote during Covid when “…not a lot of good things were happening in the world” as she puts it.
At The Showground things are hotting up with the Hot Wings challenge. Random names are pulled from a Stetson to see who gets to compete, and it’s an interesting line up – mainly because one very shocked looking man tells us that he actually didn’t enter, and that his cheeky mates seem to have thrown his name in as a prank.
With 5 spice levels to get through, and a rule that the wing must first be rubbed onto the lips of the contestant, this could get spicy. Kid with sick bucket in place, the victims dive in, and two wings down one has already reached for the milk and… ahem… chickened out. Sorry. To everyone’s surprise the other contestants actually make it through all 5 levels and have to have their fate decided by a milk chugging challenge instead, so I put it to you TLR – these wings are sincerely NOT hot enough and need to be upgraded for next year.
On the main stage, hailing from New Jersey we have Breland – bouncing onto the stage wearing a ranch-print double denim outfit that I would sincerely like to own. He is so full of energy and joy that it radiates to everyone in the absolutely huge crowd that has gathered to see him – “This is my favourite country to play you know, y’all are so much fun” he grins. ‘High Horse’ and ‘Thick’ have everyone absolutely captivated, so it’s just the icing on the cake when he brings out first Alana Springsteen and later Kezia Gill for some epic duets.
After a quick trip to the cake truck for a truly decadent cookie cup thing, Eli Young Band take to the stage with the confirmed earworm ‘Saltwater Gospel’, shouting out that TLR has “…been on [their] bucket list for a long time now”. Once again there is a huge crowd (thankfully) bathed in sunshine just enjoying the music, and it’s a gorgeous sight, it feels like the last hurrah of summer, especially when they give us a huge Walk The Moon ‘Shut Up and Dance’.
Now, in place of hastily cancelled headliner (a week out) Jon Pardi which left a lot of diehard fans very upset, we are instead in for a night of country powerhouse singer-songwriter Cam. After the forum fallout of Jon Pardi’s cancellation, on the back of last year’s similar circumstances with a Long Road headliner, the announcement that Cam would be replacing was met with absolute delight, so however Baylen and team managed this, absolute kudos to them.
With a huge white draped curtain across the back of the stage, and a mini podium set up, you could be forgiven for feeling like we were heading to church this evening, and Cam comes onto the stage dressed all in angelic white herself. It’s 20’s flapper meets zoot suit, with a rhinestone bralette and she looks sensational, but when she opens her mouth to sing the first lines of ‘Redwood Tree’ she could have turned up in a bin bag for all I care. What a damn incredible voice.
It’s a cloudless and cool night, definitely the cusp of Autumn and Cam is practically radiating sparks. Shouting out “I said yes to this before I even knew if my band were free, because I just love how you guy are. I hear y’all were in a pickle, that’s what friends do right? If you call me, I’ll be there” she elicits a massive cheer from the appreciative crowd in front of her, spanning the depths of the main stage area. This is truly every single person on site at this point.
‘Half Broke Heart’ and ‘Slow Down’ are oozing with all the charm and summer warmth that I think romanticises country music for us Brits, it speaks of scenes we can imagine rather than those we’ve experienced, and there’s something quite escapist in that. “Here’s one for the lovers, who’s in love right now?” she says to a chorus of excited whoops, “Aww cute, just when you think the world sucks” she giggles. “This one goes out to my California brother who couldn’t be here tonight… I want him to experience what I’m experiencing tonight” she calls out before going into a cover of Jon Pardi’s ‘Head Over Boots’, which I think is a really nice thoughtful touch to the set-list.
We also get a cover of ‘Palace’ the song she wrote with/for Sam Smith in all it’s synthy-glory, which is a bit of an unexpected sound for The Long Road, but it works. However, it seems the one everyone has been waiting for is ‘Diane’ as Cam picks up a guitar, and the echo of thousands of people singing along hums across the site.
Patti Smith Group cover ‘Because The Night’ is kitschy fun, and encore acts ‘Mayday’ and ‘My Mistake’ are unmistakably beloved by this crowd. I truly believe this is one of the best accidental switches that could have been made because Cam was the perfect ending to this year’s Long Road festival, embodying the truest spirit of family and the sentiment ‘Welcome home, old friend’.
All around site there are still fires burning, country-oke playing and friends still laughing, the night is still young but we are heading home. It feels like the true end of the high summer, that we got one last bout of sunshine and carefree days. Until next year, Long Road, you’ll be missed.
Arriving at Weston Park to get our wristbands is an exciting affair, after last year’s excellent debut we’ve been looking forward to getting back here ever since. The sun is shining (for now) and we’ve got a car packed to the brim with kid-snacks and rainbow clothing, bring on Camp Bestival!
I should note, for the first time EVER in my many years of attending festivals, we are staying in a fancy Bell-Tent in Boutique Camping. It feels absolutely surreal to be able to see our tent from the car, to have a manned reception, and some extremely fancy proper toilets and showers nearby. The tent itself has off-the floor proper beds with duvets and pillows, as well as power outlets for charging our phones. I could not be more appreciative of the luxury, but do have to say that last year’s regular camping experience here was still one of the nicest I’ve experienced. So whilst I will talk a lot about how great our Boutique camping time is this weekend – rest assured that any version of camping here is going to be a good time.
Counting Thursday as a scoping-out the site day and for settling the kids into their new surroundings, we decide to head into the arena for some food and a look at the new set-up. The most immediate thing to note is that this year, absolutely everything has been mashed into one big space. Gone are the nebulous separate fields and areas, it all seems a bit jumbled together. Yes ultimately it is easier to navigate and travel around, but I am reserving judgement on how it works until the music starts tomorrow.
For now, we opt for pizza for the kids, and my favourite returning food – Bayou Kitchen’s cajun shrimp bowl, whilst we sit in the field having a look at everything. After eating we take stroll around to the main stage merchandise tent to peruse this year’s offerings and end up basically wanting to buy one of everything. The new ‘Sustainable’ range is really nice and quite subtle in it’s design, but there are also some louder fun things like the bright towelling-robes which are perfect for hitting the wild swimming or even the morning showers. I really liked the new patches and opted to get a set of three for £15, the kids loved the plushie Love-Bot of course, and it was cool to see new Roller Disco tees too – I am still rocking my OG Bestival Roller Disco one from 2011.
I’ve said it many a time before, but there’s nothing quite like a Bestival when dusk hits. The twinkling lights come on and give me that instant rush that is unique to Bestival brand events, that there is fun to be found in every corner of this event, and that I am going to stumble into something wonderful at every turn. We decide to take a little tour around the area leading up to the Park Pool. Whilst most of it isn’t open yet, we spot a few things we’d like to try over the weekend and then head into the Weston Woods to see what the offerings are there.
Now this is going to be a bit of a moan. The wooded areas of Bestival sites, are often the most exciting bit of the festival. Usually they are bathed in beautiful lights, covered in bunting, decorations, fun sculptures. Usually they are home to many fun activities or places to cosy up and chat. Last year the woods around the top of the site (which aren’t in use at all this year) allowed you to walk along a long stretch of lake and watch the paddleboarders and wild swimmers having a lovely time, Cirque Bijou had a beautiful canopied stage in the trees, the circus tent was nestled in there with activities, as was the Tie-Dye workshop and many other fun things on the winding paths that ultimately led to Weston’s giant adventure playpark and the tiny Train experience.
This is, so diminished from that gorgeous experience we had last year, that I was genuinely sad. This set of woods is one very short straight path with a small tent area for the sensory garden, and further up the Orchestra of Objects. Yes some of the things previously housed in the woods are now situated in the main arena but it has absolutely taken away some of their magic, and the joy of finding hidden things on your travels. It is very hard to describe if you haven’t been to a previous Bestival event, but most of my love for them comes from swapping between small cosy experiences to the great big ones of the main stage acts, and this really feels like they’ve axed a lot of those things with this site layout.
We head over to Caravanserai to be greeted with more of the same. It has been expanded into a whole area that you now just walk into without going through a hidden doorway into an enclosed area. Yes you can now take a trolley or pushchair into there, but it has lost so much of the magic I can’t fathom the reason. Last year people just pulled their trolleys up to the side and went in on foot, and sure a better space for trolleys would have been good, but there were security controlling the flow and footfall, and it was a beautiful area with that otherworldly feel… like you’d run away with the circus. This just… isn’t it. The caravans are spread widely around a huge area so it honestly barely feels like they have relevance, the theming of a close knit caravan corral has absolutely gotten lost in the explosion, and while there are more covered areas to sit under in the middle, it means that there is no central melee of people dancing, meeting, and drinking together.
Feeling a little deflated we head back to the campsite to try and get ourselves a decent sleep before the first full day tomorrow. Getting into a proper bed at a festival is as delightful as you can imagine.
We had so nearly gotten away with a summer of minimal-rain festivals, but here it is, the great British summer curse. Despite a biblical downpour this morning, the lake seems to be teeming with wild swimmers regardless – from what I can see. We walk through the Slow Motion area which is a bit smaller than last year’s great big separate field which felt nice and calmly removed from everything else. This is stuck onto the side of Boutique camping and is very… overlooked. It’s a bit weird actually that you could stick your head out of your tent and watch people getting ice-baths and hot tubbing. The Yoga and Sleep Retreat areas are tucked around the corner in a bit more of a hidden spot but it is also downhill and quite slippy now that the rain has created a mud-slide.
Over the scary raft bridge we wave to some kayakers, but you can’t really stop to enjoy looking at the lake because this is definitely just a thoroughfare and is a bit tricky to navigate with trolleys, however we pop out on the other side to find lots of fun things to do in the Craft Village. There’s a great looking leathercraft workshop, a place where you can make wooden axes and swords, and a basket weaving area – all run by Spinney Hollow, a non-profit woodland project that operates in Winchester.
Across the field we give some circus skills a go, with hula hooping (which I am extremely poor at), diablo and wooden stilts. The stilts go exactly how you imagine in the rain, and there are children falling at you left right and centre, but it is very fun all the same. Next door the Woodland Tribe fort build is soggily underway but our littles are a bit too small and chaotic to be set free with hammers this year so we toddle off in search of something else more their speed.
Heading back into the woods they give The Orchestra of Objects a good old bash, an area filled with interesting instruments made from industrial junk, for children to smash around and make noise with… or for adults with childish sensibilities to attempt to play Black Sabbath on. No regrets.
Over at the carousel stage in Caravanserai, we catch a bit of Funke and The Two Tone Baby, which sounds like a lot of people, but is actually just one man playing a lot of instruments. The beats are funky, the cocktail bar has opened for business, and the lampshade-decorated tent is bumping – this is the distilled feeling of Caravanserai I craved. I just wish it translated to the whole area, and not just while I’m directly inside the carousel.
We take a short walk over to see Cirque Bijou’s aerial show, an act based on birds and conservation performed by incredibly skilled artists in feathered costumes, hanging from high ropes. Following their fabulous performance, we tried to join in on the bird-mask making workshop, but it was absolute carnage so we opted to get our craft items to-go. This was actually really nice of them to let us do that, as it meant the kids had an in-tent activity to do one morning!
Ducking into the Big Top, we catch a bit of the very funny and brilliant Horrible Histories (90’s kids represent), before heading over to the main stage for Bestival legends, The Cuban Brothers. What can I say about Los Hermanos Cubanos that I haven’t already said over the years? They are an institution, not to be missed, equal parts filth and fun. We might be shouting “Kenny The Pasta” instead these days, but they’re still out there breakdancing, getting semi-naked and being naughty, just the way it should be. Out in the crowd we spot Mike’s family dancing along, his daughters visibly cringing but loving the show, and it’s just really nice to see the spirit of Camp Bestival extending to even the families of performers. Everyone is there, having a good time together – despite the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and threat of sexy favours.
Next up on the main stage is the bafflingly weird Confidence Man. The duo hit the stage in what I can only describe as black silk zoot suits with some kind of inner frame which allows them to move in extremely creepy ways. Their unique electro-pop sound is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that they are just absolutely bizarre, but this places them right in the ‘perfect for Bestival’ zone in my opinion. The Venga-goths change into a glowing cone bra and epaulettes combo as the rain starts up again, and the crowd seem to be loving them.
In the Big Top, Badly Drawn Boy is adorably awkward and charming, with the soft sounds of ‘The Shining’ which he dedicates to “…everyone who has had a crap time lately… is that all of us?”. About a Boy movie song hit ‘Something To Talk About’ has everyone in the tent singing along, and Damon tells us “My kids are here, I think it’s my youngest’s first time seeing me perform” – again, it is so telling of this festival’s ethos and vibe, that artists can bring their families with them to enjoy it. I also particularly liked his cover of Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ morphing into ‘Silent Sigh’, a truly gorgeous moment of peace and calm amidst the bustle of the festival.
After a pit stop to run around on the Love-Bot (our omnipotent and terrifying ruler) runway, and then having a go on the new Earth-Bot slide, we get ourselves over to the main stage again for Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Sophie is rocking the most Bestival appropriate outfit of the weekend, resplendent in swishy orange and yellow fringe and a pink sparkly flapper bodysuit, she looks more than a little like one of the Firey’s from Labyrinth – you know, the ones who take their own heads off. I’m into it, and would like to wear that outfit myself. Unfortunately the rain is rolling in heavy at this point and a lot of people are running for shelter.
“I don’t know about you but I’ve been checking the weather for this so much… but actually, it’s kind of amazing isn’t it… you’ve just got to give in and go for it, dance in the rain, get wet…” she says, presumably heading back to a hotel after this… everyone sleeping in a tent tonight is less enthusiastic about the situation I assure you. Regardless, it’s a banging set of nostalgic hits for those of us of a certain age – well played Bestival – like ‘Take Me Home’, a medley of ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight’ Groovejet ‘If This Ain’t Love’ and ‘Sing It Back’, and her 2001 hit ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’.
Rudimental are the Friday night headliner of dreams, giving us absolutely everything we need to get rowdy. Incredible vocals, bouncy beats and a frenetic light show that has every single body in the arena jumping – especially now the rain has dissipated. ‘Dancing Is Healing’ really encapsulates the feeling at Camp Bestival tonight, and we love the Natalie Imbruglia ‘Torn’ cover too. “Where my old school ravers at? Get some little people up on shoulders!” is the call from DJ Locksmith that creates a scene, there are suddenly hundreds of kids on shoulders with glowsticks, going like they were born in a club. These kids sure know how to party, and that my friends, is parenting done right.
‘Feel The Love’ and ‘Waiting All Night’ are absolutely worth waiting all night for, even if the rain has begun again and is pouring down our necks, they never disappoint and this has been a cracking night one, leaving the stage with “Bestival, you are amazing, and we are Rudimental!”.
Starting Saturday with a bang, we head over to The Mum Club Brunch Takeover at The Literary Institute tent, for cocktails, glitter and meeting people. With a 10am start time the drinks are suitably breakfast-y with Mimosas, Bloody Marys and much needed Espresso Martinis on offer. Having not eaten actual breakfast this may be considered foolish but we had a very nice time and chatted to heaps of lovely people there, including co-founder of The Mum Club – Lauren Webber. We talked a bit about the ethos and beginnings of The Mum Club and how they are re-creating the ‘village’ for isolated mums everywhere, and reaching out with help advice and support to those in need.
Following this is an activity session run by Festival of the Girl, a collective who aim to provide fun education for families about stereotyping, patriarchal structures and systems which hold girls back in life. The event was really aimed at ages 7+ but they made everyone feel welcome, including our almost 4 year olds, for some gender-pay gap training (with coloured plastic balls) and language stereotype challenging (with fierce unicorn colouring and mission statements). It’s really nice to see these type of events being included in the CB line-up, supportive and uplifting programmes which you may never hear of or come across otherwise.
Due to extreme post-cocktail munchies, we head over to The Feast Collective – which has had a total overhaul. Gone is the lovely giant tent with bierkeller style seating down the middle, and multiple eateries inside. Instead there is a Farmer’s Kitchen, which is selling various cheeses and meats. There are seats outside yes, and some more food trucks, but it has lost a little of that cosy factor, especially when the weather is so changeable. However, the new bigger food stage for Bocaloco grills and bbq demos is brilliant – and not just because they’re giving out freebies. We hang out and listen to a talk about the delicious properties of jackfruit, whilst chomping down on a poke-bowl which is absolutely delightful.
Over on the main stage Mr. Tumble is singing ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ from Mary Poppins, which is one of my least favourite songs to hear after my kid adopted it for 4 solid months earlier this year. The show is very colourful though, and there are squillions of kids on shoulders having the time of their lives. Mine was asleep and missed the whole lot, including the follow up of Dick & Dom, who are top humans but not great DJ’s. I’m also mad at them for A. Rickrolling us, and B. mixing it with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Alert the authorities.
When the small being awoke, we took ourselves over to have a go on The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle which is as you can imagine, fucking huge. Now, they have done a good job here of separating kids into two categories for bouncing… there’s a big kids line, and a small kids line, and they alternate turns to minimise collision risk of disproportionate size whilst bouncing. The numbers however, are at chaos levels and the cohorts are set free to colonize the castle as they please. Hoards of children flying at each other in a WWE style rumble is exactly as terrifying and funny as I expected.
I may never recover from the side-splitting laughter I experienced watching one child quite literally fly over the head of another, only to land in almost a headstand against a turret of the castle. We escape with our lives thankfully, and head over to see what the Fancy Dress Parade is all about. This year’s Wild theme is almost 99% just people wearing crap leopard print items of clothing. Shropshire has not yet hit the highs of fancy dress effort that the Dorset original has, we need more effort next year please. Regardless, the competition and parade are already over-subscribed and they haven’t brought enough Rosettes so there are inevitably some crying kids around. There are however some excellent entries and everyone is having a lovely time watching them strut their stuff on the stage.
Opting to find stuff to do since we can’t partake in the parade, we head over to the Soft Play tent, ours are just within the age range and head in to escape the heat of the afternoon. There are toys everywhere, ball-pit, stackable blocks and ride-on cars. There is luxury to be found in having a jolly good sit-down while they play, and there were even craft activities being led in one corner. Captain Barnacle’s Pirate Show is another strange wonder to have stumbled in on, the bit where he pretended to take his own eyeball out was of particular concern to my child, but we enjoyed the part where he showed us all of his party pants (less lewd than it sounds, more lewd than the children realised).
Elvana are another stand-out returner from last year, this time Elvis is dressed in a white jumpsuit with a sparkly orange cape, and they’re throwing down some absolute tunes whilst two young Elvi (? Elvises?) in the front row dance around joyfully. “Sometimes we like to sing an Elvis song and start a circle pit… ok ok we’ll do the World’s first Elvis conga instead” they laugh before heading into a grungy cover of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, but we love watching everyone get rowdy for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ the most.
Sarah Cox brings giant inflatable Rubiks cubes and a huge party to the stage, but the arena is stacked for spaceman Sam Ryder who looks like his Nanna has been on top form with the crochet-hook again. Lavender and acid green flames lick baggy knitted basketball shorts and a cardigan, it’s certainly a lewk, and I like it. Of course he plays his Eurovision hit ‘Space Man’ but honestly the true star is his cover of Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’ what a bop.
Over in the Big Top, Caity baser is heating things up having toned down absolutely none of her sweary songs (I approve wholeheartedly) and the tent is absolutely rammed full of people, while in Caravanserai we see Cirque Bijou doing an excellent set of juggling and acro skills to the background sounds of reggae coming from the carousel stage. Groove Armada are playing an epic DJ set on the main stage, but we are loving some downtime with Des O’Connor (no not that one) the piano man at The Bandstand. The dusk is warm, all these gorgeously golden-lit faces are joining in the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, it is truly the beautiful point of being here. The community and camaraderie, the soul of Bestivals’ past has made it into this iteration and I’m so glad.
Off in search of food we go, on our way to the main stage for tonight’s headline act – The Human League. Entering the very Tron-esque stage set-up, they immediately launch into some absolute classics like ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and gain the appreciation of the home crowd when frontman Philip Oakey says “…what a great location. Not that I’m biased but I’m from the Midlands… Leicester actually”. Singers Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are both right in that sultry/mysterious pop diva zone to watch, and their voices soar across the arena over the 80’s synth waves. You can’t help but be drawn in by it all, even if you aren’t a particular fan.
Finishing up with Oakey’s own ‘Electric Dreams’ which very well could be the Camp Bestival theme song, is one of the hugest sing-alongs I’ve ever witnessed. The Human League were a truly fantastic headline choice this weekend.
It may be early, but kicking things off is national treasure and stone-cold legend Mr. Motivator for some morning main stage aerobics. 30 years in the game celebrations today too, the man has barely aged and can still rock an incredible neon outfit like no other. I wish he had merchandise for sale, 10/10 would purchase. Following on from this a decent crowd turnout to watch the Lionesses unfortunately lose their WC final game, but I think it’s really cool that that this was shown and prioritised as an event here – the times they are a’changing.
In some kind of unhinged sleep-deprived parenting choice (led by the whims of an almost-four-year-old of course) we decide to queue up to give Roller Disco a go at Bollywood. I do have a few axes to grind here though, it must be said. Bollywood has always been a giant rave tent of delight. Big enough to get your dance on, decorated and entered via a lovely colourful tower flanked with Elephants and such, beats all day long. Once when the roller disco came to IOW Bestival, it was tucked in the corner of said tent but the dancefloor remained.
This year, it has all gone a bit Pete Tong in my opinion. There is only the roller disco floor… which later on in the day is taken over as Bollywood for dancing. This means that the area itself is tiny in comparison to previous iterations of Bollywood and there is a very diminished number of people who can get into it when it’s being used as a dancefloor. It also means that when being used as a roller disco, the skate check and seats for putting on your skates are outside in the elements instead of under cover. It having rained this morning meant that ALL of us suffered soaked and muddy socks on the now sodden mats that had been put down, AND that it was absolutely deadly trying to get onto the disco floor itself, AND that wet muddy skates were about to be utilised on the disco floor. I have absolutely no clue why wasn’t thought of and managed a bit better to be honest, it made for two diminished events instead of the great addition I thought roller disco could have been.
In the end we made it onto the floor for some extremely chaotic laps, run to the sound of Disney hits such as the very apt Frozen song ‘Let It Go’ which of course was aimed at everyone holding on to the railings for grim death. It was actually very fun, until one of our party fell down the muddy slippy steps on their way out and got gouged by a sticking up peg/bit of metal… can’t help but think the mashing together of roller disco and Bollywood was a budgetary concern instead of a comfort one.
Off we go to look into some other places instead, the nearby Dressing Up Tent is full of people looking for sparkly outfits and glitter face paint, Cirque Bijou are doing an amazing trapeze show and the drums are rolling in the African Activities workshop. We poke our heads into the Tie-Dye tent which looks fantastic once again, and watch a Dinosaur riding the mini ramp at Tic-Tac Skate School. Tic Tac also had a design-a-deck competition, which might be high on our list to do next year I think.
We drop into The Feast Collective to grab fruit platters with spicy salt (trust me, it’s a must do) and feel quite smug about the children eating something other than chips and pizza this weekend, whilst watching the retro funfair swing boats go impossibly high. In the Big Top Hip Hop Karaoke is one of the best things I’ve witnessed all weekend, we have to teach these kids about the old school somehow. With that it’s off to the Adventure Play Park up above the camp grounds. Unfortunately here is where I have my second massive gripe of the day.
Firstly, having separated the arena from these woods, it means there is nothing fun to do on the way to the play park and it is a huge undertaking to get there instead of a pleasant walk through the forest. Last year there was beautiful lighting in the trees, art and sculptures everywhere, places to sit, things for kids to do etc. this year it is barricaded off except for the route through, which is truly a disappointment. I petition CB to reconnect this area next year, please please please.
The adventure play park itself is awesome, with varying sizes of equipment aimed at different ages of children, and a really cute miniature railway which you can buy a ticket to ride on. Our kiddos absolutely LOVED all of this… until… one of them needed to go to the toilet. WHY OH WHY were there no toilets there this year? I do not understand why you would allow people to walk that far, to a completely remote location, for children, and not include at least one toilet. This is a huge oversight on behalf of the festival, and if you want to know if a child shits in the woods? They certainly do at Camp Bestival because there is no choice. Last year there was a small bank of adult sized, and kid sized composting loos available as well as a few portaloo stop points throughout the forest. We asked the people running the railway and they said they had had so many people angrily asking them where the facilities were for the area, apparently they had also requested some but been denied by the organisers.
After another hike back to the arena we head over to see 80’s legends T’Pau, with Carol Decker yelling “It feels good to be home” who grew up in Shropshire. It’s mostly a crowd sitting in the sunshine to be honest, but they provide a very pleasant lazy Sunday vibe. East 17 are delayed and miss their Big Top slot, but are filled in for by the awesome East Angles Brass Band playing some very funky pop covers. Rob Da Bank is taking a DJ slot over on the roller disco, and Aussie DJ Hot Dub Time Machine is getting the main stage up and dancing with ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’ shouting “No-one is too cool for ABBA!”.
In the Big Top comedian Dylan Moran is living up to his Bernard Black persona complaining about the lights, the sound and the photographers within two minutes of being on stage. He’s right though, due to the smooshing together of everything in one big arena, the sound bleed from other stages and fairground rides is thoroughly awful. Even standing in the tent from about midway, it is almost impossible to hear him which means a lot of people are leaving after only a few lines of his set.
Ella Henderson has gathered one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, especially drawing in the teenage contingent who are all singing along to ‘Crazy What Love Can Do’. She has a gorgeous voice and just radiates happiness on stage. East 17 finally make it to the Big Top for their Christmas Party, to the squeals of middle aged women all around the tent. Of course there are dance moves, of course there is ‘Stay Another Day’ but I can’t pretend it’s my jam at all.
Melanie C is on the main stage rocking her signature sporty look and confidently owning the stage. Did you know she’s had 11 UK number 1 hits? I didn’t, very impressive. Her voice is great, there’s a kid out front with “I wanna be a spice girl when I grow up” sign and everyone is loving it.
Now… In a moment of madness or pure comedic juxtaposition, someone has booked Napalm Death. I could not believe my eyes when I read it on the schedule months ago, but yes here they are. Barney and co from Meriden, the grindcore monsters of death metal, are at Camp Bestival. The festival of colour, light and harmony. In fairness, you’ll struggle to find a band whose ethics and political commentary align more with those of Bestival – socialism, anarchy, flipping the status quo, doing better for the planet and those around you. I suppose they’re actually a perfect fit…
So when they explode onto the stage with all the subtlety of a stampeding horde of wildebeest, and Barney’s frenetic movements around stage are revealed to the CB crowd in all their glory I expect rejection. What I actually see is a circle pit. A real life circle pit at Camp Bestival – I am shook to my very core. “We are a local band for local people” Barney jokes before waxing lyrical on how ‘Illegal migrants’ is a ridiculous term and damning the government for their policies, to rapturous applause. We also see Rob Da Bank sneaking into the Big Top to join the fun and brawl of it all. One Dad with two teenage daughters is probably in the bad books though, having walked into the tent and heard about two bars of the next song, one daughter bursts into tears and they have to leave. Poor little sausage.
Barney is in full flow yelling about religious persecution and recent laws across the world being “…an assault on women’s basic rights of bodily autonomy” as well as “the smear on Trans people’s imperative to just live their lives”. Is it too much to wish that they had done a collaboration with Festival Of The Girl this weekend? Crowd surfers, the worlds’ shortest song, and a final cover of Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ is the rallying cry we all need. What a truly truly fucking fantastic energetic set. Whoever booked them gains my undying love.
In a complete change of pace, our final headliner of the weekend is indie rock powerhouse Primal Scream. Hitting the stage in a sparkly silver suit, frontman Bobby Gillespie oozes that elusive air of unbothered coolness, before he completely lets go to sing ‘Movin’ On Up’ alongside thousands of voices in the crowd. It’s clear this is final-night behaviour, every single parent out there is having a good old boogie much to their children’s delight or chagrin, and I adore it.
‘Come Together’ is fantastic, ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Rocks’ have everyone moving with them, there are kids handing out glowsticks, bubbles, happy faces everywhere you turn, and we have an enormous bucket of churros. Oh Camp Bestival, I do love you.
After a mini raft of fireworks, pulling up to the FOH in a sequinned kimono, Rob Da Bank thanks everyone for coming to this year’s event, before announcing that The Red Devils will be doing a night parachute drop above us right now. Now look, it’s all very impressive and fun, but don’t know if I can get on board with someone who says to themself “yeah, I’ll just pop myself out of a plane at night and hurtle towards the ground before hoping my parachute opens… oh, and then you know what, it might be a bit dark so I’ll also set myself on fire so everyone can see me”. I’d have liked to have seen them during the day, but apparently wind conditions wouldn’t allow – maybe next year.
Oh and yes, we missed the iconic Kate Winslet reading bedtime stories in her pyjamas and we will FOREVER BE MAD ABOUT IT. Peace out Camp Bestival, you’re the real MVP… but please fix the jumble sale of a site – we want our separate areas back.
For those of us who can’t get the extra day off work, Festivals are still a three day affair unfortunately, so I’m starting my Bloodstock Open Air 2023 journey here on Friday morning. Surprisingly sunny and warm despite one of the worst summers on record, we are grateful on two fronts – no need for the heavy duty rain gear we would have needed two weeks ago, and that the grass is visibly still green unlike the scorched Sahara situation of last year.
It is nice to note however, that Bloodstock seem to have upped their game a little after the 2022 hellscape, and there are a few more canopy structures around site to offer sun/rain relief. New too is the very cool Jewellery collaboration between Black Feather Designs and BOA, being a stalwart OG Bloodstocker – I was tempted into getting a signet ring, and they are beautifully made. Otherwise, Bloodstock remains largely unchanged and for that I am thankful – it is one of the easiest to navigate sites of all UK festivals and means I’ve got the best chance at seeing heaps of excellent bands this weekend.
Starting up with Hate on the main stage, who are uncompromisingly heavy and daubed in corpse paint (my first bingo tick of the weekend), followed by Gatecreeper who seem to have swapped set times. Gatecreeper fulfil my hair-windmilling requirement for the festival on day one, opening with the aptly named ‘Sweltering Madness’, play some good solid heavy metal and get an extremely rowdy circle pit going.
On the Sophie stage, Zetra sound like the band from your 90’s Buffy dreams. Gloomy, emo and deliciously ethereal – if you want to write poems in a graveyard, this is your soundtrack. By your soundtrack, I mean mine. Off to buy some black lace and a scrying gemstone.
Back on the main stage Sacred Reich have worked out whatever the hitch was that meant they had to switch slots with Gatecreeper, and they joke “This sun isnt typical here… I think its cause you’ve got two Arizona bands on today, so you’re welcome” before thanking Gatecreeper for the swap. It’s a great set from them so I’m glad the powers that be managed to work it all out.
Wild Heat are rocking out in the Jägermeister tent, it sounds like the 80’s and I’m entirely here for it. Looks like everyone else is too because that tent is absolutely overflowing with people cheering them on, and I reckon they could more than handle a bigger stage next time. Fit For An Autopsy also get my stamp of approval, their sound is built from so many different sources and angles it’s a truly unique experience across their set, yes it’s heavy but the underlying melodies are the hook that reels you in. Calling “This is a bucket-list festival for us, we are so glad to be here! We need more crowd surfers, get up there!” they are visibly gaining new fans today.
Fury on the Sophie Stage are absolutely throwing down, it’s classic 80’s metal and I LOVE IT. Twin vocals from Julian Jenkins and Nyah Ifill are the soaring sound of the epic 80’s movie montage – think Karate Kid and Rocky. I know that sounds like I’m placing them in the category of cheesy, but trust me when I say I’m putting them up there with the greats. If you like hair metal, Fury are one hundred percent for you. If you don’t like hair metal, you’re wrong. ‘Hell of a Night’ has a very singable “Monster movies” refrain which has already become an earworm and is therefore entering my playlist immediately.
Over on the main stage, Heaven Shall Burn are already enjoying themselves “It’s our first time at a festival in the UK, this is pretty special for us”, their stage filled with huge lighting panels and a lot of face-melting pyro. After a two year hiatus from live music before this summer, they’ve come out swinging, heavy and fast enough to entice a whole raft of crowd surfers across the barrier – including someone in a completely pink suit and tophat, very dapper.
Less production fanfare for the iconic In Flames, but no compromise on power whatsoever. The Gothenburg heavyweights are as raw and brutal as ever, backed up by their intensely interwoven melodies that form their unique sound. I couldn’t rave enough about this band if I tried, after thirteen albums their catalogue speaks for itself, but live – they just have that certain something that draws you in. ‘Leeches’ and ‘Behind Space’ back to back show just how varied this setlist is today, we’re getting the full tour and I’m extremely appreciative.
Shouting “Do you wanna join our band? Get him up here, no wait, he’s got superhero clothes on he can fucking fly up” Anders brings a fan dressed as a pirate up to join them on stage. “Finally we got a rock star up here!” he jokes, before handing him a mic. “Open a big circle pit for this one, pirate guy, are you ready?”. We love a bit of silliness here for sure, but we love a bit of ‘Take This Life’ more, and wow what a set that was. The last time In Flames played BOA was 2007, it’s been a long fucking time coming, In Flames we trust.
We take a little time to peruse the food offerings before the headliner, and settle on some slow cooked brisket from the most magnificent BBQ van, whose siren blares when the meats are ready. I would now like to be informed of dinnertime this way every day. 10/10 deliciousness, even if the chipotle sauce is still burning.
Closing out the main stage for the night, Killswitch Engage are a strong choice for BOA headliner. It’s an absolutely massive crowd spanning the arena and they come in heavy and melodic with ‘My Curse’ and ‘Rise Inside’. Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz is rocking cocktail print boardshorts and a cut off Hawaiian shirt whilst bouncing around the stage with utter uncontained glee, as they head into ‘The Signal Fire’ – “This song is about unity and love, and that’s everything this festival stands for”.
“I think it’s important to say this to all you people who were picked on. The freaks, the geeks, the weirdos. You are not alone, we are all here for each other” is a lovely supportive sentiment for a big ole metal band to espouse for sure, but becomes slightly ridiculous when followed up with “…what are you pussies doing there in the middle? I thought this was a metal show? Get a circle pit going!”. Nevertheless the band is rewarded with just that, if there’s one thing Bloodstock fans do brilliantly – it’s getting themselves nice and chaotic when asked. Closing with ‘My Last Seranade’ and a fitting tribute to the Ronnie James Dio stage – a cover of ‘Holy Diver’ is the perfect ending to an epic headline set.
Starting out on Saturday with doomy Urne, who have gathered a decent crowd. It’s not my jam to be honest but there are plenty of approving fans headbanging along this morning.
Up next is possibly the stand-out performance of the weekend, surprisingly… Royal Republic. A strange pick for Bloodstock, and one that I expected to annoy more true heavy metal fans. What I actually saw, was one of the biggest daytime crowds of the whole weekend, everyone dancing, everyone having a great time and everyone letting the pretence of coolness down for 40 minutes. Royal Republic are Swedish clean-cut rock and roll, dressed like T-Birds in tight denim and leather jackets, they bandy about the stage like they’re trying to embody the spirit of Elvis. There’s a keytar, a moment where drummer Per Andreasson fully stands up on top of his kit, and heaps of crowd interaction, what’s not to love?
Yelling “These are my hands, I have two… the maximum amount. They would like to meet your hands… clap!” its clear enigmatic frontman Adam Grahn is here for a fun time. “We love metal, and we could have been a metal band… but we also love money” they joke, before giving us a quick and VERY convincing rendition of Metallica’s ‘Battery’. Finishing up with ‘Baby’ which is immediately my new summer road-trip jam, they have solidified their place in BOA history as a surprise hit amongst all the doom.
Employed To Serve get the unfortunate slot of a proper downpour, but manage to throw down some brutality after it clears. Vocalist Justine Jones absolutely crushes the low death metal growls, and they’ve got a very respectable crowd in front of them. Bloodstock veterans Crowbar are back once again with their excellently heavy riffs, and a joke or two about the weather “We’ve had a lot of wind, a lot of rain… it’s fucking England” to a massive crowd of fans.
Knocked Loose promote as much chaos as their name suggests, and we see the biggest circle pit of the weekend so far, as vocalist Bryan Garris goes absolutely berserk on stage himself.
Over on the Sophie stage another new one for me is Dakesis, despite the fact that they’ve been at Bloodstock a few times before, I seem to have missed them. Frontwoman Gemma Lawler is an absolute powerhouse vocalist and the band’s prog/symphonic metal is right up my street. Their show is dynamic and exciting to watch, the melodies are on point, and I’d truly be happy to see them hit a main stage slot sometime.
On the opposite side of the style coin, Abbath (fronted by former Immortal guitarist, Abbath Doom Occulta… what a handle) are bringing us another dose of corpse-paint and creepy tongue waggling. There’s an awful lot of people in the crowd sporting corpse paint today in support, even a few of the photographers were spotted getting gloomified, and the set is worth the hype.
Walking into the Sophie tent ahead of Gutalax, with no prior knowledge of the band… is nothing short of a fever-dream. Yes yes, I should have realised with the band name, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw at all. Fans waving toilet brushes (imagine explaining those to security on your way into the campsites) and inflatable excrement flying around the tent, whilst they sing songs about… well, shit, is actually quite fun. I too would like to make it this far in life doing something incomprehensibly weird, I think I’m doing life wrong.
Triptykon performing Celtic Frost is quite special in and of itself, so I don’t know why it isn’t hitting the button for me today. It’s technically brilliant but I guess I’m missing the little things that engage and endear me to live music, it feels a bit like they’re going through the motions I suppose.
On the other hand, the incredibly silly but rather excellent TrollfesT are bringing me all the chaotic joy I have been craving. Sorry purists, but I am going to fucking LOVE a band dressed as resplendent sparkly flamingos and I won’t be taking any questions at this time. Looks like I’m not alone in this sentiment, as there are flippin’ heaps of inflatable flamingos in the crowd, and many people sporting flamingo paraphernalia, and surfing their way to the front of a full tent. Joking about how they entered Eurovision but didn’t get through, frankly enrages me. I would absolutely have voted a million times for the band who play folk metal and dance around the stage, but even more so for the band who call themselves “agents of chaos” and cover Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. Come on, even the most seasoned metalhead absolutely must find this sort of thing amusing.
Last up for me on Saturday are Meshuggah. I’m trying not to let my opinion be too obviously jaded by the fact that their lighting for taking photos was the absolute worst… but, after playing their first three songs almost entirely in darkness from the back of the stage, I can’t imagine it was that exciting for anyone else either. Yes it’s heavy, yes it’s gut-twistingly brutal, but they’re known for their saga-length songs that I just don’t always think translate well to headline sets, and there’s no movement or interaction. On the other hand, it’s a bloody enormous crowd and I know they’re on point musically – for the fans, this would be a great night. For everyone else, I’m not sure it hits.
Sunday has us checking out some of the other offerings around the arena, there’s always a small but great collection of shops at Bloodstock, with everything from patches for your battle vest, to frog hats and ornate drinking horns. If I am permitted one small gripe this year, it is that the queues for the merch stand on Friday were atrociously long, and it’s placement along the back of the arena meant that it made the walkway a bit difficult to pass at times to get to the New Blood stage. It would be nice to see a second merch stall over in the food court area somewhere, as I believe there had been in years past. I was also super disappointed to find that the S’Tan plushies had sold out on Thursday, so please BOA – order some more in time for Christmas ok?
Checking out All Hail The Yeti on the main stage for some good solid heavy metal, I did find myself giggling at the Stranger Things experience I was getting with the intro to ‘Highway Crosses’. Tribulation are today’s dose of corpse-paint, and in a very cute move they even have little incense sticks stuck into their PA speakers at the front, adorable. Guitarist Joseph Tholl is incredibly talented, and their soaring gothic melodies are truly delicious to the ears.
Polish death-metallers Decapitated bring the fun and heaps of crowd surfers, with vocalist Rafał Piotrowski whipping his Rapunzel-ian dreadlocks around the stage. It’s a very large and hyped up crowd despite it being Sunday, this is one of the funnest sets of the weekend by far.
Dead Air (who suffer a typo on the app and were very sweetly presented instead as Dear Air, narf) are playing their bouncy rock and roll in the Jägermeister tent, jumping around in the very limited space and giving the frankly massive crowd a fucking fantastic set. I’d like to see them back!
Ugly kid Joe are bringing the nostalgia, with their funny take on other bands’ logos (note the Motorhead style drum skins, the Britney Spears/Sabbath tshirt, Slayer backdrop etc…) and they’re just damn good fun, even their Ace of Spades cover was decent.
Over in the Sophie tent, I once again feel I’ve stepped into an alternate reality for Church of The Cosmic Skull. Opening with the truly epic ‘Mountain Heart’ I am immediately captured by their sound, 70’s organ and strings with that Pink Floyd/Animals ring to it. The band themselves are a visual force to be reckoned with as well, all dressed in bright white of varying styles, and all white instruments (apart from the rainbow axe sported by frontman and founder Bill Fisher) they look like the kind of cult I would absolutely fall for. It is prog, for sure, but not the self-serving hours of widdling-around and paying no mind to listenability kind. They have a very singable quality which had me playing their spotify channel all the way home. Call me a convert, they were truly one of the stand out bands of the weekend.
Now for maybe the most exciting set of the weekend, and who could be remotely surprised – it’s Sepultura. If you don’t get hyped up to jump around to this band, your heart might not be installed correctly, because it is impossible not to be drawn in when Derrick Green asks you to jump with him. “Bloodstock! Let’s get it GOING!” he yells, as the crowd surfers rain down on the security guards at the front. “This goes out to all the bands at the festival, and all you motherfuckers out there” is the signal call for everyone to go wild for ‘Refuse/Resist’ and closer ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ just seals their position as one of the best bands I’ve ever seen at BOA… again.
KK’s Priest stepping up in place of Helloween after their cancellation, means a crowd full of slightly disappointed people wearing their pumpkin outfits in mourning, which is a little funny. Yes, joke along that this is Judas Karaoke if you will, but honestly – it’s good. Solid heavy metal, a lot of running around and fun stuff, can’t complain for a last minute addition. I would have been one of the people who would have liked for Skindred to fill the slot on the back of their hit album, but the forums are full of people who were Skindred-ed out and I do get why.
I was however, absolutely blown-away by Zeal & Ardor and do feel they could have been an incredible pick for that main stage slot too, despite their relative new-ness. The rammed tent supports my theory, overflowing with equally awestruck people for their bluesy country flavoured metal. It’s hard to categorise them to be honest, and I think that’s some of the draw – finding a new style can be hard in a saturated market but they seem to have cracked it and created something unusual. Opener ‘Church Burns’ is very country, while ‘Götterdämmerung’ is as black as metal comes, it certainly keeps them interesting.
Megadeth are taking the final main stage tour of the weekend and the band tshirts are out in force for them, though they are no longer the true end of the festival due to the Sophie stage going one bigger each night (tonight with Biohazard) this feels like a fitting end to BOA 2023. Replete with the classic 80’s imagery, albeit delivered via screens instead of backdrops these days, Megadeth enter a dark stage and stand at the back, with drummer Dirk Verbeuren risen aloft amongst the speaker stacks. Loading up with ‘Hangar 18’, MegaDave (Mustaine) and the band give us that unmistakable ‘Big Four’ production. Yes it’s thrash, but there’s just that clean element of a band who’ve been perfecting something for this long and absolutely nailing it, and the ginormous inflatable unicorn nodding along at the front of the crowd seems to agree.
Between each song break the arena shakes with a chant of “Mega-deth” and there is no choice but to headbang along to ‘Conquer or Die!’ really is there? “Two words… lookin good! There are so many beautiful faces tonight” are the words that precede ‘Tornado of Souls’ which I personally think is quite accidentally witty. ‘Symphony of Destruction’ is of course excellent, come through my fellow Guitar Hero kids… as is ‘Peace Sells’.
After a brief break (one of the only bands to continue the pretence of going away and coming back for an encore these days) they call out “This is Bloodstock, all metal, all night!” to which the guy next to me loudly replies “PLAY SOME RIFFS OR FUCK OFF”, much to the amusement of all around us. Finishing up with ‘Mechanix’ and ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ means Megadeth go out as a solid headline choice for Bloodstock, and certainly one to remember.
Over and out Bloodstock 2023, you have been absofuckinglutely magnificent. With the line-up announcements already – I am positive it’s going to be yet another stunner next year.
Note: Following the festival, it was reported that there had been a death in the campsite on Saturday evening. This publication would like to extend their thoughts and condolences to the family and friends of this person, and to the team at BOA. Bloodstock is a close-knit family and this news is extremely sad.
With only a couple of weeks to go, BLOODSTOCK’s here to update you on lots of non-band-related delights at this year’s event, including a diverse range of traders, food stalls, drinks, on-site entertainment, and other facilities at next month’s glorious celebration of heavy metal. Not to mention a bargain deal on this year’s festival t-shirt and info on 2023’s charity partners.
First up, BLOODSTOCK is very aware of the cost of living squeeze, so is pleased to confirm that the price of the 2023 event t-shirt has been frozen at £25. Head to the merch stand in the main arena over the festival to snap it up! You can also find a range of new merch online now here including super-soft dressing gowns, drinking horns, umbrellas, and the S’tan plush toy/bobblehead!
Whether you’re vegan, veggie, meat-eating, or seeking something gluten-free or halal, BLOODSTOCK has a wide range of food available onsite. Here’s just a few options… burgers, pizza, tacos, burritos, gyoza, waffles, crepes, toasties, smoked meats, chicken, noodles, pies, giant Yorkshire puds, baguettes, fish & chips, fries, hotdogs, kebabs, donuts/churros, mac n’ cheese, wraps, nachos, fudge, the infamous black ice-cream, and more – and Bunnychow is back too! Check out more info here and there’s a handy graphic below to help you keep track of which food stands to head to first.
For any essentials you’ve forgotten, there’s a supermarket in the Midgard campsite (and a small shop in the main arena) plus Fat Frank’s Camping Store, where for £2 you can even get your air bed inflated for a comfier night’s sleep.
For those looking to do a little heavy metal shopping in the arena, you’ll be able to pick up patches and badges, CDs/vinyl, or official merch and alt clothing (leggings, t-shirts, denim jackets, leather waistcoats, army surplus, hats… you name it) to rock ‘n roll home accessories, wiccan wares, all types of jewellery (visit the Guitarwristfor items benefiting charity made with used guitar strings and Black Feather Design for BLOODSTOCK’s official 925 silver jewellery range) and if you don’t have one already, surely a Viking drinking horn is an essential addition (other Viking crafts also available).
When you’re not watching bands, how about a spot of axe-throwing with your pals or visit Firehound Forge, the local blacksmith stall, who may even forge your item while you watch? There’s also the Nordic Spirit Gaming Arena with modern and retro video games to play, the Rock And Metal Gallery (reputed to be the coolest place onsite, metaphorically and literally), the Planet Rock Signing Tent to meet your favourite bands, and fairground attractions, plus you can join a 45-min open air Rockfit class at 10:15am Fri-Sun to get your blood pumping squatting to Slayer, or why not grab a cold beverage and watch some Vikings go to battle right in front of you!
When the bands are done, it doesn’t mean BLOODSTOCK is! Late night ents kick off with DJs on both the New Blood and Sophie stages ‘til the early hours. Over in the Sophie tent, on Thursday from 12am-2am, DJ Pressplay welcomes you with a selection of tunes from upcoming bands and other metal bangers; Friday from 12am-2am brings The Blood Rave with DJs Little M and Lloyd, marking the 25th anniversary of iconic movie, Blade! Expect EBM, industrial, techno, and heavy beats.
The Sophie tent on Saturday from 12am-2am is the Dark Night of the Scarecrow! Jakk and Jordan from EVIL SCARECROW are joined by DJ Arockalypse to offer up a slab of the best metal and rock anthems. Sunday from 12am-2am, sees DJ Rich Harris (Desertfest) closing the festival in the only way he knows how – loudly and by including guilty pleasure metal whoppers to lodge in your head until Bloodstock 2024!
The New Blood tent sees the return of the very popular silent disco on Thursday and Saturday nights from 11pm-2am – take your pick from three channels of rock & metal, pop & party cheese, or full-on dance, or why not mix it up with all three?! Just turn up and grab a headset. At the other end of the scale, New Blood’s Friday night from 11pm-1am sees DJ Darren Smith serving up a crushing selection of the blackest, darkest, and heaviest music around.
If you’d rather have your fun back in the campsites, get in on Midgard Madness between 11pm – 1am, with some brand new inflatable shenanigans this year. Fan of wrestling? Take on your pal in a sumo wrestler suit! Feeling a bit more athletic? Put your strength and stamina to the test with the Bungee Run! How far can you make it down the track before the bungee catapults you back to the start?!
For the jousters amongst you, take on the Pole Joust challenge. Who can stay on the pole the longest without being toppled to their doom?! Who will be the BLOODSTOCK Almighty Joust Champion?? Bragging rights indeed. A late night Redbull bar will be there to quench your thirst (wings not included).
Each year BLOODSTOCK has various dress themes for those who want to participate. In 2023, we see the return of the very successful ‘Pink For Sylvia’ theme on both Thursday and Friday, in memory of Sophie Lancaster’s mother, the founder of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Pink was Sylvia’s favourite colour. Corpsepaint Saturday does what it says on the tin! If you don’t want to do your own make-up, stop by the Sophie Lancaster charity stall in the main arena between 10am – 3pm Sat and they’ll paint your face for a small donation, with all proceeds going to the Foundation. On Sunday, it’ll be Helloween Pumpkins day, so bust out your best pumpkin-themed attire to welcome the mighty HELLOWEEN!
As part of BLOODSTOCK’s continuing sustainability/green efforts, the cup redemption scheme returns to help keep BLOODSTOCK litter-free!! Open to those 18+, you can redeem prizes for collecting cups! Hand in your stash at Lemmy’s bar to get a stamp on your collector’s card for every 50 cups returned. This year’s prizes are:
50 cups – 1 free pint / spirit worth £6 100 cups – 15% off Bloodstock merch or 1 meal voucher worth £12 (one transaction only) 250 cups – 1 Bloodstock festival shirt (size subject to availability) 600 cups – Jump the queue to the signing tent for one whole day 750 cups – Access to Serpents Lair VIP hospitality area for 2 people 1000 cups – Watch a band from side of stage or in the pit for first 3 songs (subject to no closed stage or pyro restrictions).
In addition, the tent donation point returns by Fat Franks in the Midgard campsite! When you’re going home, if you can’t be bothered to lug your tent with you, don’t abandon it to be lonely in landfill! Put it to good use by donating it for charitable benefit.
BLOODSTOCK’s official charity partners for 2023 are The Sophie Lancaster Foundationand Derbyshire Air Ambulance. The ever important work of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation to stamp out prejudice, hatred, and intolerance everywhere is something BLOODSTOCK have been proud to support for many years.
The Derbyshire Air Ambulance Service operates 24/7, 365 days a year, providing a rapid trauma response. They receive no government funding and rely solely on the public’s generosity to keep their helicopters flying and saving lives. BLOODSTOCK is also pleased to confirm that a team from Derbyshire LGBT+ will run a stall too. They are Derbyshire’s only LGBT+ specific support service, supporting all LGBT+ people or anyone who is having issues with sexual orientation or gender identity, including family and friends. Look out for their spots in the main arena (left of the main stage as you look at it) and pop over to learn more about the awesome work these organisations do.
BLOODSTOCK would like to take a moment to celebrate the incredible efforts of Pick Collectors Against Cancer, who have now raised more than $250,000, benefiting band-nominated cancer-related charities all over the world. BLOODSTOCK is very pleased to keep supporting this worthwhile cause, and with everyone’s help, perhaps they can top $300,000 this year. Head to their socials for more info, and look out for Lee from PCAC at the fest.
If you find yourself falling ill or in need of some extra support/assistance while at BLOODSTOCK, head to the MEDICAL / WELFARE TENT in the main arena. You can also visit THE SAMARITANS marquee located in the Midgard campsite for a non-judgemental, confidential chat at any time over the festival event.
BLOODSTOCK is also pleased to welcome 1625 OUTREACH, a local service that specialise in supporting festival goers in relation to drugs, alcohol, and personal safety. This year 1625 will be working collaboratively with Welfare on site – you can find them in the campsite hub or you can drop them a message on Instagram (@1625_Outreach). 1625 are available to provide…Free & confidential advice about drugs/alcohol.Harm reduction information & resources.Assistance in accessing additional support on site & in the community.Free safety resources (drink spiking covers, condoms, etc).A harm reduction &/or recovery centred safe space to chat.
Every campsite has its own vibe, but if you’re looking for the designated quiet campsite, make a beeline for Ragnarok. Niflheim is the accessible campsite for those who have applied successfully in advance to camp there. Coming on your own and/or a bit anxious about that? Consider joining unofficial Bloodstock group Camp Loners & Newbies, who always camp in a corner of Valhalla. With Ironwood, Midgard, Jotunheim, Asgard, and Hel to choose from too (plus Vanaheim 1 & 2 for our campervan friends & the Serpent’s Lair campsite for VIPers) you’re sure to find your home away from home! Want to chat to fellow BLOODSTOCKers before you get there? There are a number of unofficial Facebook groups, including BMF666.
Looking for directions or travel info including coaches and the official festival shuttle, running from Tamworth train stationthis year (note: NOT Lichfield, as in years prior)? Click here. For all general event info & frequently asked questions, including box office, main arena, and car park opening times, accessibility, lost & found (inc. lost kids), and much more, go here. You can find this year’s site map of BLOODSTOCK here. Stay tuned to BLOODSTOCK’s official social channels over the next couple of weeks for news all about the festival’s brand new app that you’ll soon be able to download, complete with a helpful clash finder and stage times.
While you’re planning your packing, don’t forget that BLOODSTOCK has introduced a dedicated one-stop-shop featuring all those festival essentials. From the all important cold beers to BOA’s 2023 merchandise, through to camping equipment and much more, BLOODSTOCKers can secure all their must-have items in advance from one online shop, eradicating the need for last-minute scrambles, long queues or searching in multiple online stores for different items. For more info and to explore what you can get, visit the official Bloodstock Festival Preo store.
Weekend early bird tickets for BLOODSTOCK 2024 will be available to purchase at the box office on site for £165. This is the cheapest way to buy a 2024 ticket, minus any online booking or admin fees. Serpents Lair VIP tickets and campervan pitches will go on sale at 9am on Wednesday 16th August and are expected to sell out quickly, so if you want one, be ready!! Please note that there will be no VIP Upgrades in 2024. A very limited number of 100 VIP Deposit Scheme tickets will be available at 9am on 1st September. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Still not got your ticket?! Snap up your standard weekend tickets inc. camping at theticket storefor the bargain price of just £165 (+ fees). Don’t hang about, limited numbers remain! If you want to make it a family affair, there are child tickets too, priced £45 (+fees) and mini-moshers under age 4 go free. If you can’t make the whole weekend, but don’t want to miss out, limited day tickets are available priced £75 (+fees) for adults and £25 (+fees) for kids. See all options in the ticket store and get excited watching the latest trailer here!
BLOODSTOCK’s 2023 Ronnie James Dio main stage headliners are KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, MESHUGGAH, and MEGADETH. Also appearing are HELLOWEEN, IN FLAMES, BIOHAZARD, EMPLOYED TO SERVE, ROYAL REPUBLIC, SACRED REICH, HEAVEN SHALL BURN, SEPULTURA, FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY, CROWBAR, CANDLEMASS, TRIBULATION, SEETHING AKIRA, UGLY KID JOE, DECAPITATED, GATECREEPER, ZEAL & ARDOR, KING 810, ABBATH, URNE, ALL HAIL THE YETI, DEAD LABEL, BOSSK, CHURCH OF THE COSMIC SKULL, BROTHERS OF METAL, PEST CONTROL, GUTALAX, UUHAI, INVISIONS, COBRA THE IMPALER, TROLLFEST, SKYND, FROZEN SOUL, EMBODIMENT, THE VIOLENT INZIDENT, TRIBE OF GHOSTS, DAKESIS, THE ENIGMA DIVISION, THE GREY, AMBRIUS, TUSKAR, STENGAH, OVERTHRONE, TORTURED DEMON, CASKET FEEDER, GAEREA, BLOODYARD, WOLFBASTARD, EMBODIMENT, SKIN FAILURE, WITCHSORROW, WYTCH HAZEL, HATE, BLACK COAST, PHOENIX LAKE, ZETRA and more.
It’s a drizzly morning in London today, which isn’t stopping thousands of people from descending on BST Hyde Park for New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen tonight. On one side of the park we have the Trans Pride march in an array of gorgeous colourful outfits and placards, on the other – the Dad-Mecca. Cargo shorts as far as the eye can see, aged Springsteen shirts held as artifacts or badges of honour, and of course The Baseball Cap™. If Merrell walking boots ever did a convention, this should be the location.
Heading into the arena we decide to check out the merchandise, but sadly find the limited edition print poster already sold out. There are plenty of tshirt options though, featuring various motor-city style artwork and images of Bruce looking moody, as well as not one but two baseball cap options to appease the previously mentioned Dads.
Deciding to grab some early dinner we head to a taco place for some absolutely delicious barbacoa beef, before checking out the brilliant James Bay. Rocking out in his signature black hat, a neckerchief and skinny jeans, his voice soars across the site. We are treated to a set of absolute bangers. ‘Best Fake Smile’ and ‘Just For Tonight’ are impossible not to dance to, but ‘Endless Summer Nights’ and ‘Hold Back The River’ are the true epics of this show – James Bay is a fantastic booking for Springsteen day at BST in my opinion.
On the Birdcage stage, Oscar Corney is giving us feel-good Americana soft rock with a Telecaster in hand, and a decent crowd on deck. “We feeling good? Now that rains fucked off right?” he quips in his distinctly-not-American Cambridge accent, before playing ‘Afterglow’ in a gravelly singing voice which is reminiscent of the Boss himself.
The Chicks (…the artist formerly known as…) are here to present Dallas country and bluegrass with a side of feminism, this is the kind of hoedown I can… get down with. ‘Gaslighter’ isn’t exactly subtle but they sell it well, there’s a lot of banjo and hollerin’ – the sun is out and we’re up for dancing. Yelling “Well hello Hyde Park! Everybody ready for Bruuuce? We are the pre-show entertainment band!” and “London, do you know what a hootenanny is?” before ‘White Trash Wedding’, there’s no denying The Chicks know how to create fun.
It’s getting late, the sun is on it’s way down, and the arena has suddenly filled up. Low calls of “Bruuuuuuce” begin in the crowd, which sort of sound a bit like booing, but I get the intention. Starting early at 7pm, perhaps in an effort to not repeat curfew mistakes of the past, Bruce Springsteen hits the stage yelling out “Hello London Town” in his classic black shirt and peg-rolled jeans, to rapturous applause.
Bruce is holding his beat-up “mutt” Fender guitar, one of the most iconic pieces of rock and roll history that has been his choice of instrument for the last 35 years – or at least, it looks like it… he does notoriously have various copies of it to save wear and tear. Starting up with ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ into ‘Death To My Hometown’ and ‘No Surrender’ it’s a bloody good opening, and the sound quality is top notch.
By song seven ‘The Promised Land’, he still hasn’t stopped for even a few seconds break, and now heads down the front steps to greet his fans and hand over a prized harmonica to someone in the first row. The cameras pan down to fan signs during ‘Out In The Street’ where there are a surprising number of kids on shoulders, one holds a slab of cardboard with “This is my first concert” written on it. A lady a few rows back holds a photo of herself being kissed by Bruce at a previous concert, with the words “Make this the best day of my life again” while an enterprising man a little way over has a sign that says “Tequila 4 a harmonica?”. Bruce declines to take him up on the offer despite it being his tipple of choice according to previous reports.
Taking what looks like an explosive can of peroni light from someone in the front row, Bruce heads back onto the stage with dripping wet hands, for ‘Working On The Highway’ which honestly sounds a lot like Chucklevision and now I can’t unhear it.
Commodores cover ‘Nightshift’ is an absolute classic, but as he moves into ‘Mary’s Place’ we’re subjected to rain-based kismet, with the refrain “let it rain, let it rain”. Bruce is soaked to the skin and singing into the sky as if he had a pact with someone above for this iconic moment. ‘Backstreets’ is met with a huge round of applause, but I’ve heard at least three songs about “the streets” tonight already and it’s starting to get funny. Luckily ‘Because The Night’ (Patti Smith collab) is up next to turn things up a notch, it’s gorgeously seventies, that sort of twinkly ethereal sound you associate with starry skies around campfires.
The truly anthemic ‘The Rising’ has everyone ‘la la laaa-ing’ along before ‘Badlands’ sees off the last of the evening light over the arena. Well within the curfew limits we get into the encore with the sensational ‘Born To Run’, ‘Bobby Jean’ and ‘Glory Days’, and Bruce finally yelling “I think it’s time to go home”. Obviously this crowd has no intention of stopping and screams back “noooo”, to which he jokes “They’re gonna pull the fucking plug again! I don’t wanna go home either”. The lady in the crowd holding the ‘Bruce, take me dancing in the dark’ sign, practically faints as the opening notes play, but Bruce is busy wiggling his bum at the stage camera and dancing down the steps.
Yanking his shirt open (which was actually stripper style poppers, a bit less cool than actually ripping buttons off) Bruce thanks the E-Street Band and heads down to lie back into the arms of his fans, before his signature rendition of The Top Notes ‘Twist and Shout’ with a little bit of La Bamba mixed in – the very thing that got him and Paul McCartney shut down last time.
Going out half an hour before Hyde Park’s curfew, on an acoustic ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ and softly saying “Thank you so much” renders the crowd absolutely silent. It’s beautiful and a rare musical moment in this type of show. I’m still salty that we didn’t get ‘The River’ or ‘Thunder Road’, but there’s no way to describe how absolutely phenomenal Bruce Springsteen is as a performer and tonight has been a masterclass in classic rock. 73 years old, busting out a 3 hour set with no breaks, back to back 29 songs. Bruce Springsteen truly is The Boss.
As this year’s event gets ever nearer, BLOODSTOCK is thrilled to announce that Sunday day tickets for 2023 are now SOLD OUT!! Standard weekend tickets remain available but are going quickly, plus a limited day allocation for Friday and Saturday. Read on for more band news, plus all the details on the RAM Gallery exhibitors, the return of the T-Shirt/CD Amnesty and Planet Rock Signing Tent, plus how to do a one-stop-shop for all your festival essentials.
There’s just 4 weeks to go before the metal hoardes thunder their way onto Catton Park’s hallowed turf! This week the Metal 2 The Masses scheme is closing out this year’s initiative with the final batch of 10 lucky bands who won local heats to score a slot on the New Blood stage.
Friday’s New Blood line up will include the Oxford heat victors, SHOOT TO KILL, who’ll be bringing their metalcore breakdowns and 90s riffs, showcased on their recent video for ‘Crimson’. Also appearing will be modern metal squad, APATHY, whose brutal downtuned guitars and psychedelic soundscapes won out in Devon & Cornwall. Check out their official video for ‘Gravewalker’.
Bournemouth’s winners, TO OBEY A TYRANT also grab a Friday slot. Their blackened deathcore has won many admirers – appraise yourself via their video for ‘Vermillion Moon’. DEVIL’S HENCHMEN picked up the Merseyside prize – watch them bring the retro riffage in the video for ‘Built By Hate’. Grabbing the last Friday slot are South Wales outfit, TORCHBEARER. The four piece dropped their ‘Warrior’ EP just last month, featuring the blistering ‘Catharsis In Karma.’
Grabbing a Saturday New Blood slot will be Cheltenham’s SKORA. The band’s progressive hardcore sound has made them mainstays of the South West underground scene. Find out why via their video for ‘Harakiri.’ Northampton’s PICTURE THE SCENE also win their place. Having picked up Radio 1 airplay and won Arts Council England support, find out what the fuss is about via this live set from North Acre Studios. THE DEAD XIII picked up the prize in the Burnley heat. With a couple of albums and Kerrang! Radio airplay under their belts, they’re no strangers to the touring circuit – watch their video for ‘Killers’ here. Picking up Saturday’s final space are Stoke’s winners, BLOODMORES. This four piece take their influences from all corners of the metal realm, leaning heavily in a melodic death direction. Check out their video for ‘Virulence’ taken from their second album, ‘Too Close To The Sun’.
Sunday’s New Blood line up welcomes Nottingham’s winners, BEYOND YOUR DESIGN. The East Midlands four piece blend massive metalcore riffing with melodic hooks and snarling vocals. Watch them take on an assault of marauders in their official video for ‘United We Fall’.
On Sunday morning, over at the Sophie Lancaster Stage, the party also gets started by the winner of Planet Rock Radio’s band competition. Chosen from hundreds of entries, PHOENIX LAKE came out on top. With comparisons to Evanescence, Parkway Drive and Paramore, their debut EP, ‘Beyond The Flames’ has been picking up a ton of attention. Check out their single, ‘Faithless’ to see for yourself.
Due to extenuating circumstances, a number of alterations to the bill have been necessary. Due to some unforeseen logistical issues out of ZEAL & ARDOR‘s hands, ZEAL & ARDOR are unfortunately not able to perform on Saturday at BLOODSTOCK. Rather than BLOODSTOCKers lose out entirely on what will be a spectacular set, festival management have managed to move the band to Sunday’s Sophie Lancaster stage line up. ZEAL & ARDOR will now play their full 75-minute set, with their full production, directly before headliners, BIOHAZARD. KING 810’s set will now move to Thursday and TRIBE OF GHOSTS to Saturday. In addition, EYES have had to withdraw from the festival and will be replaced by AMBRIUS in the Saturday morning opening slot on the Sophie Lancaster Stage.
BLOODSTOCK is also thrilled to announce the exhibitors in this year’s RAM GALLERY, the festival’s unique, purpose-built art space curated each year by festival founder and globally renowned fantasy artist, Paul Raymond Gregory. Showing across two whole walls of the space will be KILLSWITCH ENGAGE’s bass player & founder of Dark Icon Design, Mike D’Antonio. Mike’s work is featured on many albums from his own band, but you may not know his work litters the heavy music spectrum and also extends to merch including posters, t-shirts, skateboard decks and more, for the likes of 36 Crazyfists, Armored Saint, Crowbar, and Harley Davidson, among numerous others.
BLOODSTOCK is thrilled to be the first ever art space to showcase selects of Mike’s body of work from the ‘other side’ of his impressive career. Also exhibiting at the gallery will be a familiar face to the RAM Gallery, Oliver Andrew (who created the incredible array of handcrafted ‘guitars-as-art’ for the gallery over the years under his Cynosure Guitars moniker). Oliver will be showcasing his new project, ‘Bloodworks’, which sees him using his own blood as the medium for hyper-realistic artworks.
The RAM Gallery also welcomes Dan Seagrave, who’ll be showing 20 outstanding pieces of work, including creations for the likes of ENTOMBED, SUFFOCATION, PESTILENCE, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and more. Also exhibiting is sculptural artist Paul Cutting, who’ll have a winged masterpiece on show and a metal guitar themed around one of the headlining bands. Another familiar face in the gallery is Liam Brandon Murray, whose incredible, sculptural throne will once more make an appearance for all your gallery selfie needs!
BLOODSTOCK is also pleased to announce the return of the very popular T-SHIRT & CD AMNESTY this year. Dig out your unwanted shirts & discs in good, clean condition and hand ‘em over at the INFORMATION/ROCK SOCIETY tent in the main arena. Then head to the PLANET ROCK SIGNING TENT from 10am-12 Noon, Friday thru Sunday, to grab yourself a pre-loved bargain, as they’ll be selling off donated items to raise money for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Also, stay tuned to BLOODSTOCK’s socials for details of who you’ll be able to meet in the PLANET ROCK SIGNING TENT this year!
While you’re planning your packing, don’t forget that BLOODSTOCK has introduced a dedicated one-stop-shop featuring all those festival essentials. From the all important cold beers to BOA’s own 2023 merchandise through to camping equipment and much more, BLOODSTOCKers can secure all their must-have items in advance from one online shop, eradicating the need for last-minute scrambles, long queues or searching in multiple online stores for different items.
Ready for four days of heavy metal fun? Snap up your standard weekend tickets inc. camping at the ticket store for the bargain price of just £165 (+ fees). Don’t hang about, limited numbers remain. If you want to make it a family affair, there are child tickets too, priced £45 (+ fees) and mini-moshers below age 4 go free. If you can’t make the whole weekend, but don’t want to miss out, limited day tickets are available priced £75 (+ fees) for adults and £25 (+ fees) for kids. See all options in the ticket store and get excited watching the latest trailer here!
BLOODSTOCK’s 2023 Ronnie James Dio main stage headliners are KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, MESHUGGAH, and MEGADETH. Also appearing are HELLOWEEN, IN FLAMES, BIOHAZARD, EMPLOYED TO SERVE, ROYAL REPUBLIC, SACRED REICH, HEAVEN SHALL BURN, SEPULTURA, FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY, CROWBAR, CANDLEMASS, TRIBULATION, SEETHING AKIRA, UGLY KID JOE, DECAPITATED, GATECREEPER, ZEAL & ARDOR, KING 810, ABBATH, URNE, ALL HAIL THE YETI, DEAD LABEL, BOSSK, CHURCH OF THE COSMIC SKULL, BROTHERS OF METAL, PEST CONTROL, GUTALAX, UUHAI, INVISIONS, COBRA THE IMPALER, TROLLFEST, SKYND, FROZEN SOUL, EMBODIMENT, THE VIOLENT INZIDENT, TRIBE OF GHOSTS, DAKESIS, THE ENIGMA DIVISION, THE GREY, EYES, TUSKAR, STENGAH, OVERTHRONE, TORTURED DEMON, CASKET FEEDER, GAEREA, BLOODYARD, WOLFBASTARD, EMBODIMENT, SKIN FAILURE, WITCHSORROW, WYTCH HAZEL, HATE, BLACK COAST, ZETRA and more.
The electricity of teenage fandom is buzzing in the air today at Hyde Park, this is by far the youngest crowd I’ve seen at a BST event, and almost everyone is wearing the obvious colours for K-Pop international superstars BlackPink. As we head into the arena it’s clear there are a lot less people around early today, compared to the previous BST events, perhaps in part due to the overcast weather, but it’s actually quite pleasant being able to walk around the arena with ease.
Checking out the merchandise options you can only imagine my abject horror at finding bucket hats with tiny BP embroidery on for an eye-watering £40 each. Tote bags were also £40 (compare to £20 for Take That, which I still thought was steep), zip up printed tour hoodies for BlackPink are an astonishing £120. Despite my wish to own all the merch from everything I attend, I really couldn’t justify these prices, but there were plenty of people queuing up to catch some exclusive (and hard to find in the UK) items.
The most popular seems to be the BlackPink official lightstick – which, if you aren’t in the know, looks like a miniature mallet with squishy pink hearts on either side, that you can connect to an app which lights up along with the music at the show you’re attending. Well… it would, if anyone on Hyde Park could get any signal at all.
Shuffling off to the Rainbow stage we catch a bit of the completely adorable Annika Benett, who has a gorgeous voice and is singing breakup songs “…I built my life around someone, and it’s awful when that ends”.
Caity Baser hits the main stage wearing a tartan bodysuit that gives Attack on Titan vibes, and the wind begins to pick up around the arena as she too chooses the topic of breakups for her set – “How many of you have been cheated on before?”. Honestly, looking around at the average age of the fans here and I’d say that quite a large portion probably can’t relate Caity. Nevertheless she’s upbeat and fun, and despite the smaller crowd today she’s managing to get them jumping around.
Taking a turn around the arena to see what’s cracking, we take a few minutes up on the Whiteclaw balcony to sit on some comfortable beanbags and drink a fancy drink or two. It’s a lovely view but any stage sounds are impossible to entertain from there, due to the absolute chaos that is the Carousel Swing fairground ride next to us, which is flying at a brutally horizontal angle and making the riders SCREAM.
We catch at bit of self-proclaimed manic dream pixie – Peach PRC, who is sporting her unique iridescent fairy wings and pink wavy hair, jumping around the stage. I like her, she’s good energy and song ‘Blondes’ is a perfect pop appetizer. Speaking of energy though, we need to eat and the options are bountiful, and therefore hard to choose from. Heading over to the Peroni bar we spy The Cheese Wheel, who are preparing fresh pasta inside, well, a giant wheel of cheese. Deciding to go boujie today we order the truffle cheese pasta and then sat in pure silence while we indulged. This may be the most decadent festival food I’ve ever eaten, highly recommend.
Waddling over to the main stage for Korean rock band The Rose, we are greeted with a cacophony of screaming girls. It’s true, they are *very* pretty, but honestly – they’re a great band and I really enjoyed their song ‘Yes’, even if it came with the slightly odd warning “Er, don’t say yes to everything though!”. It’s not hard to like them when they are a very wholesome mix of funny and humble “Our first gig was to twenty people in Korea, seven years ago… and fifteen of them were our friends!”.
The Cuban Brothers are bringing the Funky Nassau to the Garage stage, and Miguel quickly decides to “…change [his] material” for the clearly younger crowd who have gathered in front. Encouraging the kids to yell “Kenny The Pasta” instead of the other thing, has those of us who’ve seen them before, laughing. Yelling “Where the Blinks at?” they immediately have all the young girls along the front row screaming at ear-bleeding levels, and I think some first crushes have well and truly been established today in the form of Young Domenico.
Rebecca Black, no longer the gawky teenager in possibly one of the worst/most iconic music videos of all time, steps out on stage in a very Goth-loli red tartan outfit with all the confidence of a seasoned performer. Not gonna lie, she’s had some solid follow up bops over the years, but it’s fairly obvious everyone is waiting to hear her sing about her car seat dilemmas in ‘Friday’.
Sabrina Carpenter hits the main stage in stacked gogo boots and a metallic pink slip dress, but the crowd is very very thin on the ground, despite her saying “Hyde Park what’s poppin? There’s so many of you god damn!”. She goes on to say “I’ve been to London a few times… your relationship dramas are so wild, I watch Love Island. Who here has been in a situationship?” is met with rapturous… crickets. These kids are like 13 Sabrina… what’s your angle. Her voice is lovely but she ends up being a bit like one of those Pinterest recipes, where I’ve now heard enough of her life story and would like very much to just make the pie (her cats are named Benny and Bjorn, she covers Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’).
At this point we are fully stalking the fancy AmEx guest areas to try and catch a glimpse of Hugh Grant whowas somewhere about, bringing his daughter and her friends to see BlackPink tonight. Alas, we failed our mission, he was nowhere to be seen so we shuffled off in favour of getting ourselves ready for the headline slot.
Now, this is not just another headliner it has to be noted, this is the first time a Korean band has ever headlined a major UK festival in history – and a sold out show no less. The crowd is getting fretful now, as the band are a few minutes late in starting, but the ominous “Blaaaack Pink” chant they’re all doing is some horror movie level shit.
Coming in hard with ‘Pink Venom’, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa take their absolutely earned place in the spotlight to the deafening screams of thousands of fans. Having been mostly a fan of rock and metal, this type of fanatic behaviour is somewhat new to me, and it’s kinda hard not to get swept up in the thrall. Why didn’t I buy a lightstick, damn. Dressed all in white, but different variations on the Leeloo-fifth-element theme, they’ve got quite an industrial gothic look about them – offset heavily by the occasional pink pyrotechnics and sparkles around them.
“London what’s UUUUP” they yell, before dropping the absolutely epic ‘How You Like That’, which was my first introduction to the band a few years ago. It doesn’t matter what musical background you come from, you’ve got to agree that song slaps. The crowd is going absolutely berserk at this point, and there’s a girl next to us who knows every dance move and seemingly every word.
‘Pretty Savage’ includes a saucy chair routine at the end of the runway, and their house dancers are absolutely incredible during their costume change break at the end of ‘Whistle’ as well. It’s such a full on performance, there’s always something happening. The second ‘act’ of the night is each performer’s chance to showcase their solo material, which is truly a genius way of incorporating personal work into your band schedule without breaking the lot or having to split. Why haven’t more bands thought of this?!
Jennie does ‘You & Me’ in a gorgeous lacy tiered coat, followed by Jisoo with ‘Flower’ in sparkly and floral reds with blooming flower choreography to boot, and then a huge explosion of petals across the crowd. I really rate this level of production detail, it’s making everything so magical and special for the audience.
Rosé enters wearing the absolute coolest outfit of the whole night, she is draped in gold chains and looks like pirate treasure, for ‘Gone/On The Ground’. Obviously, there’s a heap of floorwork in the choreo to reflect the ‘ground’ sentiment too, but a ticker tape streamer explosion backfires quite spectacularly, covering the stage lights and a poor unsuspecting security guard due to a turn of the wind. Hey future kids, if there’s a second fire of London, it probably started here m’kay?
Lisa rocks a red bustier and knee high biker boots for ‘Money’ which is one of my favourites of the night, it makes me wish I could actually dance. I kinda wish they’d done money ticker tape here, but you can’t have everything. Coming round into act 3 the whole band is back together for the incredible ‘Boombayah’ in some excellently mad-max style black outfits. Wielding sparkly mics which look quite a lot like the lightsticks is another little touch I think is very well thought out, as they head into the most visually pleasing part of the night yet.
Male dancers with huge burlesque white feather fans head to the top of the stage, as BlackPink emerge on stage on a lift/riser. The fan dance hides each member while another sings, and thes moves fluidly with them as they descend the stairs, it is so well choreographed that it looks amazing from all angles.
‘Shutdown’ has everyone dancing and singing along with them, exclaiming “Wow wow wow, I did not expect this much energy” and “This is a dream come true!”. Now, I absolutely LOVE the feminist message of ‘Tally’, but there’s no doubt that this well and truly moves them out of the ‘wholesome kpop band’ zone. They’ve always been harder edged as a band, but this song deals with sexuality, confidence and equality in a way that I think other female fronted bands haven’t been able to in the genre. Even their video backdrops say ‘Fuck It’, go on gals. I did have to stifle my laughter when the Mum of the girl next to us heard the line “Getting mine like the fuckboys do” and yelled “WHAT”.
For an encore we get the awesome ‘DDU-DU, DDU-DU’ before they head back down the runway and into a cage which is lifted into the crowd on a platform during ‘Forever Young’. The crowd simply cannot be contained at this point, it is decibel curfew shattering levels of screaming all around me. I can’t blame them, you can call me a Blink now too – that was a sensational show. BlackPink are welcome in our area, anytime. Someone send me a lightstick please.
Back to Hyde Park again this sunny Saturday for some true British treasure in the form of Take That – the band that broke the nation’s heart when they broke up, and then came back as the ultimate zaddies of pop to woo all the mums again.
Before we all get too hot under the collar, Will Young is giving everyone at the main stage a huge wholesome hug. Not my usual fayre by any means but his voice is excellent, the vibes are funky, and I really like his frilly shirt and braces. Though he’s battled through extreme anxiety and more than his fair share of difficult times, Will is possibly one of the nicest men in pop music today. It’s hard not to smile through this performance, particularly when he goes over to hug the Great Oak stage tree, and then says “Hope you’re all hydrating yourselves, it’s hot today!”. Yes Will Young, I will do as you say because I think you’re darling.
Doors cover ‘Light My Fire’ has the whole arena singing along (and I must say it’s a very respectable crowd for this time of day) but ‘Leave Right Now’ and ‘Evergreen’ are the hits everyone came for, and he delivers.
Over on the Cuban Garage stage we witness the joyful beats of South London Samba, and some frankly incredible rainbow feathered moves from the carnival dancers (two of whom can jump drop into a split, amazing) before we grab some much needed dinner. There are a ridiculous amount of options here for a festival this size, but we try out a Buffalo chicken bowl (way spicier than I’d anticipated) and some ginger tofu Bao (faaaancy) – both great.
Sugababes hit the main stage with a set that surprised me, for the simple reason that I had no idea I knew *that* many of their songs. Starting strong with Adina Howard cover ‘Freak Like Me’ they come out looking every bit the pop princesses they always did, and are absolutely owning the stage for ‘Red Dress’. ‘Hole in the Head’ is fantastic, but if you’re a certain kind of person – even hearing the intro to ‘Too Lost In You’ will both make you think of Christmas AND make you irrationally angry… if you know you know.
“It’s an absolute honour to be here! Look at the weather, the sun is coming out!” they yell, before hitting us with classic trio ‘Push The Button’, ‘Round Round’ and ‘About You Now’. It’s a very clean and precise set, I think I’d like to see them loosen up a little but musically – it’s great, and I appreciate their long battle to reclaim their name and their lost music, to get here.
Ireland’s The Script are fun, and there’s a nice roundness to the fact that they used to tour with Take That back in the day too, but I can’t get by the cringeworthy bit that took a full ten minutes out of their set time to orchestrate. “I wanna call someone’s ex! Who right now is crazy enough to give me their phone?” yells frontman Danny O’Donoghue before grabbing one passed up by security. He proceeds to phone someone’s unsuspecting ex-boyfriend, tells them who he is and lets the crowd scream at them before singing ‘Before The Worst’ at him. Following the serenade, he has the whole arena yell “Goodbye Asshole” at the phone, which is just… not that funny and kinda gauche. ‘If You Could See Me Now’ is dedicated to the memory of their guitarist Mark Sheehan, it’s a great song, but they’ve kinda lost me with the stunt if I’m honest.
Heading into the final event, the arena has now swelled with people to the point of bursting. The toilet queues are out of control and stretch halfway around the arena, the bars are all loaded and the merch stalls are still going strong. We catch The Cuban Brothers doing another brilliant set on the Cuban Garage stage, but when heading over to grab a tshirt we find that the BST have racked the price up by a tenner since yesterday. Price gouging isn’t a good look for an event – especially when The Cubans themselves just said the tees were £20 on stage and would be when they hit the online shop. Not cool.
Heading down to the Golden Circle area to find a good place to watch Take That, we are immediately pulled into the throng alongside an excited lady wielding a giant face cut out of Gary Barlow (a little disconcerting) and we can see another woman in a Take That patch jacket down the front. This particular person was spotted last night, camping out in Hyde Park ready to be right there today, the dedication is on point.
As intros go, this one is pretty epic. A hoarde of dancers enter the stage seemingly from everywhere, and set themselves up all over the giant lighted staircase that runs from the backdrop right down to the main floor, in front of which a giant runway ending in a second smaller stage area has been set. The band emerge to ear-bleeding levels of frenetic fan screams all around us. The cacophony of the mums knows no bounds. Include me in that, because I cannot get enough of their fashion ensembles tonight. Howard is wearing something that I can only describe as… Newscaster-school-football-kit-in-the-seventies. It is ochre, striped and flared, and I want it. Gary has decided to come as Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty, and Mark is… well Mark is wearing an ostrich. A whole one.
There might only be three of them now (no sign of Robbie despite him also being on tour… boooo) but right out of the gates ‘The Flood’ sounds absolutely brilliant, seems like they’re going to be on top form tonight. Yelling “Good evening Hyde Paaaaaark!” the trio head down the long runway to the middle of the pulsing crowd, “…this is gonna be an amazing night tonight, we want you to sing along and dance along!” and huge blasts of ticker-tape confetti erupt from around them as fireworks go off along the front of the stage. It’s pretty clear they’ve come here to party and I’m instantly all-in.
‘Could It Be Magic’ brings glittery screens and their OG boyband dance moves, and I am shooketh to my core as I myself (ten years their junior) have injured myself getting out of bed, why only this morning. Special guest Calum Scott of Britain’s Got Talent fame, joins the band for ‘Greatest Day’ as he had been part of the reworked song for their film which was released last month, before taking the stage to himself for his cover of Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’.
BeeGees cover ‘How Deep is Your Love’ and ‘A Million Love Songs’ are the catalyst for a whole lot of overwhelmed fangirl sobbing, and my sister who had nipped to the loos at an opportune moment belted back to us to sing “AND HERE I AAAAAAM” in our faces. ‘Shine’ heralds a delightful outfit change, including a fancy white top-hat (which is later thrown out into the crowd, what an excellent bit of memorabilia for some lucky person) for Mark, a green velvet biker jacket for Gary (I would also like to own this) and a tux jacket with golden-winged lapels for Howard. They are taking this photo opportunity very seriously and I love it. Despite the air of professionalism, they joke “We might miss a few of our cues tonight, the runway is way longer than we thought… it takes ages to get back up there” and then mention how appreciative they are of everyone coming back to gigs after some weird years during the pandemic.
Stopping for a quick break to read some of the signs being held up in the front rows, we are treated to the truest representation of the British wit… “This song is older than us” Gary reads as two kids scream holding the sign, and another “I think of you when I shag my husband” with (presumably) the husband standing alongside the woman laughing. “I left my husband in hospital to be here” has the entire crowd in agreement on the state of her morals, but the best one by far was “Today is MY Greatest Day – I made it! F U Cancer!”. Having an arena full of thousands of people cheer you on and celebrate with you must be phenomenal in itself, but when the band dedicate the next song to Laura, holder of the sign, she looks absolutely beside herself with joy. It’s a lovely heartfelt moment.
Telling everyone this is the “Song that brought us back”, we are treated to a little acoustic guitar for ‘Patience’ before a huge singalong for ‘Pray’ and the most incredible original video dance moves, an absolute highlight. ‘Back For Good’ is also brilliant, and I can’t help but dance to Sigma cover ‘Cry’ under an obscene amount of ticker-tape spewing into the air above us.
Another quick outfit change into the most ridiculous giant white furry coats and it’s time for ‘Relight My Fire’ with the actual for-real LuLu, who is sporting some excellent sparkly flared trousers. ‘Hold Up A Light’ sees the crowd holding up phone torches across the arena, but ‘Never Forget’ is the true epitome of Take That-ness and every single person has their hands up for it. “You know the choreography, join in!” hardly needs to be said because we are all totally invested at this point of the proceedings.
Going out in style with ‘Rule The World’ leaves me in no doubt that Take That are making yet another triumphant return, following their performance at the Corrie-Nache earlier this year. Looking over to see my sister and her sister-in-law doing a little cry and singing along, I reckon they’ve gained another confirmed fan in me tonight, it was a bloody brilliant show, so Take That.
Friday in London town, slightly overcast, a bit windy, a bit drizzly. On our way here we witness about fifty variations on the Appetite for Destruction tshirt and a lot of red bandanas… it’s time for the momentous occasion of Guns ‘N Roses at BST Hyde Park.
Making our way through the arena gates, we are met with the sight of thousands of black tshirts – such a contrast to last weekend’s extremely P!nk crowd. Taking a stroll over to the merchandise stall, we find a decent selection of fun stuff up for grabs (I really wish I’d bought the Appetite trucker hat) but the prices are pretty eye-watering in most cases. It seems we aren’t the only ones who think so, as a guy yells to his friend “Seventy notes for a hoodie? Nah, I could have knitted you one mate”. I do also find it a little funny that the BST tshirts clearly haven’t been signed off for using the G’n’R fonts or logo, making their event tshirt kinda flat for £40. I get that prices are rising everywhere but, this seems extraordinary – doesn’t it?
Heading over to the Great Oak stage we witness Justin Hawkins of The Darkness jokingly calling out a fan down the front for hoarding keepsakes… “How many plectrums you got, you cheeky bastard?” before launching into ‘Japanese Prisoner of Love’. It’s a short 9 song set ending up with the customary ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, and there’s some stage pyro going on sure, but I’m not convinced this is them at their best – the crowd response is notably flat.
Taking a turn around the arena to look at a few things, we come up to the House of Peroni – a giant beer garden deck designed to look as if you’re on holiday in Italy of course. White shuttered faux houses above the bars are tipped with royal blue accents, the tables are full of people enjoying cold beers and watching the chaotic chair swing fairground ride off to the side.
Around the back of the stadium, you can get a full face of glitter done at the Aperol lounge, or ‘festival hair’ braiding next to one of the AmEx trucks. If you’re an AmEx customer you can claim all sorts of things at this event, like free water bottles and access to a special balcony overlooking the festival. Even British Airways are getting in on the action, with a very cute lounge area where you can grab a drink and sit in birdcage style seating areas, but the best bit is obviously their GlamCam moving camera photobooth. A little leafy-walled backdrop gives you the perfect space to do whatever weird thing you can think of in 3 seconds of a camera flying at your face, then you can email the monstrosity to yourself to upload onto socials.
Over at the Rainbow Stage we soak up some classic rock; “We are a band from sunny South Wales calledJames and The Cold Gun” (named from a Kate Bush song) who are dressed in a joyful array of flared trousers and velvet shirts. They are quick to note that their bassist’s Dad had a heart attack yesterday and was in hospital “…she had the courage to come and do this despite all that going on” and thanked her for being there with them to the huge applause of the rather big crowd they’ve gathered. It’s a solid set and I’ll be adding some of their tracks to my playlist after this.
Over on the Garage stage BST house band The Cuban Brothers, are up to their usual antics – inciting the crowd to lewd behaviour. If you don’t love it, you’re wrong. “They say you are what you eat, but I don’t remember eating a fucking legend today” yells frontman Miguel (aka Mike) dressed as a camp Axl Rose. The Cubans are joined on stage today by DJ duo Shaka Music “on the ones and two’s” as Miguel puts it, and they’re all sporting new Cuban merch featuring ‘The Swan’. If you know you know, and yes it is rude. Shouting out in a cockney accent that the tshirts can be bought at the Flat Iron for twenty quid, before a small rendition of Welcome to the Jungle, Miguel cheekily says “Ladies and gents, I’m gonna be honest. We are definitely going to be infinitely more entertaining than anything else you see tonight…” and tells us he’s been ‘hanging with Duff last night’.
After their set we head over to take a look at the Flat Iron, which has a cool looking private balcony on the front of it (who gets to go up there?) and buy ourselves a tshirt. Next up on the main stage are The Pretenders, as the rain begins to fall in earnest. It’s a solid rock and roll set but, I can’t pretend I don’t find it a weird booking choice as the set up for G’n’R. Chrissie Hynde is a legend, and the set is technically good, I just want something more upbeat to set us up for tonight and this feels a little too niche and out of the zone. “This one is called ‘I’ll Stand By You’, there you go Axl” Chrissie calls out, and don’t get me wrong – it’s iconic, it’s just not pushing my buttons.
As if to prove themselves entirely correct, The Cuban Brothers return to the stage and are in fact, much more entertaining, with Dominic providing breakdancing and flips and Kenny on rollerskates or doing a hauntingly beautiful dance to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. They note that they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and that this was their 56th Hyde Park show – living legends indeed.
Onto the main event, and billed at a very early 7.30pm start time, we ready ourselves for Guns ‘N Roses. Just off the back of their Glastonbury pyramid stage headline set, and some fairly unfavourable reviews, will this be the redemption arc or confirmation that this is the end of the road? As a lifelong fan (thanks to my sister acquiescing to playing me ‘Paradise City’ on repeat as a toddler) I’m hoping for something special tonight.
Opening with Axl Rose’s patented “You know where you are?” high pitched scream, and some Stranger Things-esque graphics on the screens (don’t tell Metallica), they explode onto the stage with all the force and energy I had wished fore. Slash is rocking leather pants and a denim shirt, along with his signature tophat and Axl has some very shiny trousers on as he runs across the stage for ‘It’s So Easy’. Lo and behold, he sounds good. Not just ok, really good.
“Look at all these people! God bless you!” Axl yells, before taking a tumble on the slippery rain covered stage. Now, in previous iterations of Guns ‘n Roses shows that I’ve been to, this honestly could have spelled the end of the set. I once watched Axl throw a full fit and leave the stage after a fall at Download festival – he didn’t return for the best part of 45 minutes. This time he jumps up, grins and keeps on spinning and singing. It feels playful and fun, a return to the style of chaotic show they were known for in the old days; “I don’t wanna jinx it but hopefully I got all that slip sliding out of the way” he laughs.
Velvet Revolver track ‘Slither’ followed by ‘Mr Brownstone’ really showcase Slash’s skills as a master guitarist – I will never not be humbled getting to hear something like that live and in person, the man is a true icon.
Now dressed in a croc-textured biker jacket, the band let us have ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ to which all 65k people here are positively YELLING along with. I particularly love to note that when Axl sings “my serpentine” and winds his body in that well known snake-like motion, we are in fact in the land of The Serpentine – Hyde Park’s lake which is around the corner from here.
Briefly looking into the crowd, Axl says “She’s holding a sign that says we saved her life, but I don’t know about that” before neon ‘G’N’R Was Here’ neon graffiti lights up the stage side screens for ‘Reckless Life’. In a cheekily clipped British accent Axl jokes “What a lovely gathering, all the best people are here” as they roll into “…the 50th anniversary of a little ditty by one of your fellow countrymen….” Wings cover ‘Live and Let Die’.
Other highlights of this epic 29 song set included ‘Rocket Queen’, UK Subs cover ‘Down on the Farm’ (albeit with graphics clearly designed for Glasto) and a super high energy ‘Anything Goes’. Axl’s voice may not hit those high notes quite as strongly occasionally but damn does he still sound good.
‘Civil War’ sees the screens plastered with the Ukrainian flag, as Axl sports one on his tshirt underneath a camouflage biker jacket, and Slash swaps to a double necked guitar. This will put them at around the same number of tshirt to guitar changes so far. ‘Sweet Child o’Mine’ is absolutely perfect, and again – Axl’s voice is wildly better than last time I saw them perform. Unfortunately as the screens turn to grey for ‘November Rain’ in a cruel twist of fate – it is actually beginning to rain for real, which doesn’t seem to bother Axl who is now gussied up in a sparkly metallic leopard print tux jacket, sitting at the piano.
After yet another outfit change (white studded leather jacket) we get ‘Patience’, “I think I could have got a couple more yayas in there, dug a little deeper” Axl jokes at the end, which seems a little bit like a ‘fuck you’ to everyone bashing his Glasto vocal performance the week before. ‘Knockin on Heaven’s Door’ has the whole arena singing along and waving phone torches, but ‘Nightrain’ is just bloody epic and the standout highlight of the whole set.
“We’re not gonna do that leaving the stage showbiz stuff, we’re just gonna do songs so we don’t get cut off” he says pulling his thumb across his neck and making a ‘crrrrkk’ sound “It’s like an insurance policy so we’re playing them now”. Honestly, having watched Bruce Springsteen get cut off here once before, and the whole Lana Del Rey saga at Glasto – we’re appreciative, and we get to see ‘Don’t Cry’ and closer ‘Paradise City’ in unhurried completion finishing bang on the dot of curfew. Oh, and I’d really like to own Axl’s Union Jack tophat.
For me, this was without a doubt the best showing of Guns ‘N Roses I’ve ever seen, being too young to have hit up their original peak gigs. Hyde Park is an epic setting and they absolutely lived up to their status as the OG kings of rock and fucking roll tonight. Long live the G’N’F’N’R Jungle.