It's September 2017 and Wilkestock Festival is back! With an amazing line up organised and booked by Juicebox Live and The horn, this year the festival celebrated its 10th birthday. The festival began as a party for family and friends and was organised by brothers Tom and Olly Wilkes. Years later it became a charity music festival with all profits going to Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and also Keswick Mountain Rescue. Despite being a small festival, Wilkestock has grown bigger in popularity year after year. It was announced that this year saw the festival's biggest event they have ever known, as over two thousand people were in attendance to celebrate it's milestone birthday.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Wilkestock, it is a small festival based at Frogmore Hill which is just outside of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. The festival provides ticket holders with a choice of artists and bands spread throughout it's five stages (Main stage, Bella stage, Rock up and Rinse, Bangorang and The Doghouse). Main stage and Bella stage were the most prominent of the weekend event and the others showcased DJ sets and a silent disco. There was even a secret stage which was basically a converted bathroom trailer.
As the festival is a family friendly weekend event, organisers provided a seperate children's area full of large inflatables and crazy golf. There was also a small white tent filled with large cushions, which served as a cinema showcasing classic Disney films such as 'The Jungle Book', 'Oliver and Company' and 'The Lion King'.
Wilkestock also had a good variety of food available to us. There wasn't many vendors in the small food court area, but the variety of food was quite diverse. There were stone baked pizzas, the sauage company cooking lots of gourmet sausages and hot dogs, an ice-cream van, indian cuisine, greek style street food such as kebabs and halloumi salads and lastly a smoothie stall making lots of delicious and healthy beverages. Of course there were also the return of the log cabin bar. The main arena looked quite a sight! Due to it's 'Hippie' themed weekend, there was an abundance of beautiful coloured flowers, peace symbols and glitter all around. Just like last year, the main arena was furnished with recycled sofas, logs and straw bales to encourage a relaxed atmosphere.
So, music, who performed? Who was good? Who wasn't so good? After attending this awesome festival last year and loving the artists that the organisers had booked in 2016, I was somewhat a skeptical about this year's line up just not comparing at all to the brilliance of last year. In all honesty that is how I felt. I was totally wrong! And I am glad that I was proven wrong. Wilkestock really out done themselves to celebrate their big birthday. Not only did they have amazing headline acts to close each night, but they also had many acts returning from last year and some new bands and artists that I hadn't heard of before that really impressed me. DJs Adam O and and Matt Crawley also owned the decks throughout the entire weekend!
Let's start with all of the musical goodness from Friday. The main stage was opened by four piece male indie rock band Mono 01. Although only three of the band's members had turned up. The guys performed singles including 'Lost Dreams' and 'Get Out Of My Face'. Other bands that played on Friday included indie rock band Arcadian from St. Albans who played their hits 'Mandy', 'Talk Slow' and also an amazing cover of Kanye West's 'Stronger'.
We also saw Alternate pop rock female duo Rews. These two ladies from London and Belfast totally owned the stage while performing singles''For The Broken Hearted', 'Violins' 'Miss You In The Dark' and new single 'Shine'. Their debut album is due to be released in November this year.
The first of the returning acts from last year were Bedford based band The Scruff. In 2016 the band played and completly packed out the Bella/BBC Introducing stage. This year the lads had been promoted to the main stage for a bigger set. I will be honest. When I saw this band perform last year, I thought that they were a good band but not really a band for me. This year they did a complete flip reverse on me. They were one of my highlights for Friday! The Scruff played a variety of music, both old and new. What really changed my opinion of their music was when they performed their newest single titled 'Her' a song about being kind to your mother, it is also dedicated to one of the band member's late mother. A beatifully written and very emotial song which completely tugged at my heartstrings. One feeling I didn't expect to feel while watching this band perform. They are definitly worth a listen to so check them out.
An act that appeared to entice a lot of people were rock band Blackwaters. Our photographer especiallly. While headbanging and owning the stage the band performed their singles 'Let The Good Times Roll', 'Help Me', a pretty awesome cover of Britney Spears hit 'Toxic' and the very memorable 'F**k Yeah!' (I'll let you fill in the gaps haha). The band's lead vocalist was quite the showman, dressed in fitted black trousers and what I can only describe as a mariarchi style shirt. Not only did he rock the stage and interact well with the audience but he also jumped down from the stage to rock out in the arena with the fans watching too. For some reason a lot of very young children appeared to like this set too. There must have been around five children under the age of three sporting their ear protector headphones and bopping to this band's music. It was rather amusing. Perhaps a new generation of rockstars emerging, who knows?
Friday's warm up act for the headliner were British indie/alternative band The Sherlocks. The band brought in quite the crowd which gathered at the front of the main stage arena. I'd heard many people talk about their excitment to see this band on stage. The lads have just released their debut album titled 'Live For The Moment' and are currently touring all over the globe. Their single 'Heart Of Gold' has recieved air play from BBC Radio 1 DJs Annie Mac, Huw Stevens and Greg James. They also played at Reading and Leeds festivals last year (2016) before then supporting the Libertines on their arena tour. They performed hits for us including 'Chasing Shadows', 'Blue', 'Last Night' and 'Candlelight' before then exiting the stage to make way for the evening's headline act. Carl Barat and the Jackals. What a lovely tie in to The Libertines there! With people flooding in from all corners of the grounds to see this set, it was heaving! Carl Barat is best known for being co-front man alongside Pete Doherty in The Libertines. In 2014 Barat had set out to to search for a new band online via popular social media site Facebook. He had recieved well over 1000 applications before he then chose members to then form The Jackals. The collaboration works really well and their music is something that many peope enjoy. They are on tour and their current EP 'Harder They Fall' is out now.
Saturday was a big day for the festival, not only was it fancy dress day with a hippie theme but it was also the day that the festivals birthday celebrations took place. Throughout the day announcements were made on the main stage in regarding the 10th birthday of the festival. Including a heartfelt speech from the festival's founders Tom and Olly Wilkes. While thanking friends, family, press and production for their support over the years a cake was brought on stage as we were all encouraged to sing happy birthday. For the rest of the afternoon free birthday cake was available at the log cabin bar. And you can't go wrong with free cake! The day even saw a live proposal on the main stage. Congratulations to the happy couple!
Some of the best sets of the day came from artists including Honeylung, a male rock band that are fresh from the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds festivals 2017 with their grunge like apparel. A band that I thought were a tad different was Haunt The Woods. I can only describe their music as rock/eerie. The guys from Cornwall put on a great set with their singles 'Beautiful Catastrophe', the very haunting sounding 'Twisted' and 'Red Wood' which the band members themselves named a folk song.
We also saw a very girly punk rock set from female trio Hey Charlie who had packed out the tent at the Bella Stage. The fiesty girls (Lizz, Sophie and Lauren), who play their own instruments also played at the British Summertime Festival in Hyde park earlier this year. I had a lot of fun watching these three. I loved their music! Their song 'Cheer Up Princess' is a brilliant upbeat punky pop song that got everyone up on their feet and left us singing the lyrics throughout the day.
Saturday like Friday night also had a warm up act before the big headliner. Saturday evening brought us the very energetic and amusing band Vant. These lads are absolutely brilliant live! Their music has had a lot of air play, particularly on BBC Radio 1 lately and are really starting to make a name for themselves. I only saw this band just over a month ago at Truck Festival and I loved their set there too. It seems that they like to introduce themselves by saying "Hey we are Vant from planet Earth!" Early on in their half an hour set one of the band members burst into song to sing the Spice Girls hit '2 Become 1' which of course set off a kareoke like chorus from everyone else in the arena. This was hilarious! The band even stopped half way through perfomorming their single 'Do You Know Me By Now?' to pass comment on a security issue that was being dealt with in front of the main stage. The front vocalist shouted out to the security team "security! Have you not been to a punk rock show!, Let the man stay at the front, I will keep an eye on him". This absolutely ticked myself and many other people there. The band just seem so down to earth and have a great connection with their audience. The guys continued afterwards to play a number of songs including their popular hit 'Karma Seeker'.
Just before the headline act graced the stage, one of the DJs played a number of songs over the speaker system to keep us all entertained in the meantime. Whoever that DJ was did a great job! They just kept throwing out hit after hit which really got the crowds of people dancing and singing along. Especially when 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' (Originally by Nirvana) was blasted out. I've never known so many people to jump around and go wild. There were even middle aged people acting like the teenagers that they once were. It was really quite something to see. It just showed how much fun can be had at this festival and it brought everyone together.
Saturday's headline act was the one performer that everyone was talking about, even the other artists on stage. Razorlight! I had loved them in my late teens, so I was quite excited to see them perform myself. They did not dissapoint. The opened their set with a quick "hello" before going straight into their first song of their set, the well known 'In The Morning'. the band took many of us on a trip down memory lane with a variety of hit singles accompanied by an array of laser and strobe lighting. All in all they showcased a total of eighteen hits in their alotted time slot at the end of the night. They rounded off not only their set but also the evening by performing probably their biggest hit 'America' to which the production team also set of huge confetti cannons that filled the grounds and the air, leaving us all reeling from excitement.
Lastly, Sunday was a shorter day at the three day event but to be honest it was my favourite of the three days. The music was a lot more diverse rather than mainly rock bands throughout the day. As much as I like rock music it was nice to see some tamer styles of music. My highlights of the weekend were mostly acts from the last day of Wilkestock. On the list of stagetimes it showed that at lunchtime we were to see another of the returning bands from last year My Little Empire. When they took to the stage this was quite different. I say they, but only lead singer and guitarist Rob from the band took centre stage alone. As only he attended this enabled him to perform a slightly different set to what was originally planned. One man and his guitar often means one thing. A relaxed acoustic set. Yep, the band's front man performed their singles 'Solitude', 'Letting Go' and a really good cover of Ocean Colour Scene's 'Robin Hood' which he had said was an iconic song to him growing up. As it was to many of us too. This would have been the band's 7th year playing at his festival. But Rob certainly managed to pull it off all by himself.
Another Wilkestock veteran returning from last year were St. Albans based indie/rock band Alexis Kings. I loved them last year and to be honest I was quite enthusiastic about seeing them again over this weekend. The all male musicians had a slightly more grown up look after recently returning to the UK as they have been busy touring Asia. They played at the Summer Sonic festival in Shanghai alongside the likes of The Kooks and Sum 41. We heard some familiar songs from them such as their most popular single 'Squire' and a personal favourite of mine 'Strawberry Blonde'. They also sampled their newest masterpiece, 'Magic Mind' which they admitted they've only performed live a handful of times. This single is set to be their next release in around two months time. Watch out for it, it's a really great tune and I will be surprised if it doesn't do well.
To be honest I think the most popular performance of the day came from electro/pop group Club Drive. This set was a particularly important one to the band members as four became three. This was their bass player's last gig alongside the other lads as he is moving on to bigger things in his life outside of the band. Club Drive are becoming more and more popular with each single they release. The musicians from hertfordshire put on an amazing show for all ages. Everyone was up on their feet enjoying the music from their set. There was tons of energy on stage too. Their music is very upbeat and infectious. They certainly bring the party with them.
Sunday evening and the festival weekend was brought to a close by the cheeky chaps from Padding Needed. I had spoken to one of the band members in the afternoon before their set and he informed me of the antics that the band get up to while they are performing on stage. They had spent their afternoon handing out flyers inviting everyone to their pillow fight in the tent they were playing in. The band member that I spoke to had told me that the reason why they provide lots of pillows and encourage a huge pillowfight at all of their gigs is due to their single 'Pillow Fight'. They thought it was something unique and very fitting to promote their single. Ever since then, they have had giant pillow fights at every single gig they have played. This weekend we saw not only their famous pillow fight, but balloons being thrown into the crowds which packed out the tent completely and also what appeared to be sparklers on the ends of their guitars. They really do put on a gig like no other. The band that are based in the Milton Keynes/Northampton area are currently gigging all over the place and they even have their own festival planned for December called Pillow Fest! Which sounds like a massive fun party. If you get the chance to see these guys live then do so, you don't want to miss out on this much fun at a gig. Great music and laughs, what more could you possibly ask for?
So now this brings my rather lengthy review to a close. Wilkestock really upped the ante for this year's event. I'm so glad I've been able to go for the last two years as its a great family weekend out. Tickets for next year have already gone on sale and they will probably sell out fast so get them while you can.
Thank you Tom and Olly for having us share your festival fun once again!
For more photos by Kane Howie click on day links below.