I arrived at a bar in the middle of town – a small, yet stylish haunt – to meet my partner-in-crime for the weekend, artist and provider of illustrations for this review, Vincenzo Clores; he was coming down from Milton Keynes to play some creative Ping-Pong over cocktails.
The night was rife with intent, so much so that before we’d left our watering hole at some ungodly hour, we’d managed to coax the owner into letting Clores revamp a desperately lacking chalkboard sign. He drew, while I muttered creative suggestions and drank the free drinks that seemed to keep materializing on the bar. After all, sleep is for the tired…
A – not-so – Savage Journey…
Early rise, no hangover; a good start in anyone’s book.
An hour and a half on the train to Exeter later, and it turns out I was right – sleep is for the tired. Clores and I all too obligingly used the commute as an opportunity for some much-needed shut-eye, before climbing on the bus from the station to our destination.
After shuffling through heterogeneous crowds, observing unfamiliar surroundings with beady eyes and pitching tents in unsympathetic Devonish ground, it was finally time to get to work.
We gave the whole place the once over, the sun pounding down from its cloudy perch, determined to make my pale exterior pay for neglecting sun cream and shades. Fuck you, Sun! I thought, I’d packed for rain and almost felt disappointed at the contrary. Cynical, I know, but I’d soon learn my lesson on wishes and being careful.
First Bite of the Apple
We wandered into a tent called The Bimble Inn, a curious little place. As you may have surmised, it mimicked a traditional pub-like inn. You couldn’t see for wooden beams and rugged floors, with settees, mattresses, pillows, and blankets on one side – garnering an array of Free Love, tree-hugging types – while a deliberately dated bar area, sporting an old-fashioned National cash register, occupied the other. This was the home of the veteran drinkers and cautious first timers, both equally continual in their touch-tight treatment of the bar.
Texas-born singer-songwriter Rodney Branigan was providing the entertainment, a stocky, plainly dressed man, whose talents couldn’t have been further from his underwhelming appearance; he looked like a member of Soundgarden had been churned up in Texas, recycled and spat out somewhere in Devon. Take nothing away from his talent, however, this was a one-man musical arsenal, playing multiple instruments at a time and rattling out mid-tempo acoustic tracks from his new album, Sketches, whilst unashamedly – and rather humbly – playing covers of Hendrix and The Beatles to appease the less tolerant, nostalgic members of his audience.
On the hunt for something with a bit more energy, Clores and I strolled over to the Main Stage to catch American alternative hip-hop group, Arrested Development. Just as Beautiful Days is ‘the antithesis to V Festival’, Arrested Development are the antithesis to gangsta rap music, making them the perfect fit for this family-orientated affair.
This was the first surreal moment of the festival for yours truly, watching an all black hip-hop group from Atlanta, Georgia command the Devonish masses, using feel-good vibes and positivity – with a little help from defibrillating Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill and Kris Kross samples – to turn a pre-dominantly white audience into loose-limbed, fully fledged believers in Afrocentricity. It was a fantastic spectacle to behold, and Clores and I couldn’t help but become part of this very fluid joviality, succumbing to the seductive preaching of Arrested Development’s music-with-a-message.
As the sun began its steady decline to a well-deserved slumber, I had decided that it was time to sample the cuisine on offer; the northerner in me was rearing his ugly head and my movements were threatening to become more primitive the longer I made him wait.
What better way to satisfy a northern urge than pie and chips with a spot of gravy? It’s true, northern boys do love gravy, and Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker had just delivered happiness in a tray. Clores opted for the more cultured paella from the adventurously named Paellaria. His loss, I thought, steak and ale pie sloshing round in my mouth.
Sinead O’Connor was trying her best to infringe on our evening, but aside from Nothing Compares 2 U – which only had any real resonating effect courtesy of a misspent youth of beer and karaoke – we weren’t in the mood to be the company to her misery.
We strolled off into the fluorescence of the evening to do some exploring. Beautiful Days had become Beautiful Nights, as the plethora of low lights and high spirits evoked a certain ambience, everything looking a little more interesting and intriguing, courtesy of the newfound luminescence; or maybe it was the alcohol, I hadn’t quite decided.
The mundane helter skelter was now the Super Giant Helter Skelter, the ferris wheel now the Great British Ferris Wheel, their once incognito fonts now alive with the birth of the night, flourishing in the after-hours playground.
Clores was embracing the new perspective, scrutinizing the real characters of this PG13 affair that were beginning to show themselves, noting down the truth of it all. The night owls who’d spent the day in the background were now intoxicated and energized; the darkness had unlocked the chains to their social inhibitions and given them an outlet that the daytime never could.
A happy-go-lucky ice cream man was now an old, seedy looking bastard, leaning on the other side of his van, wearing a sixty-something-year-old frown as he smoked his cigarette and wondered where it had all went wrong.
Teenagers had all merged together to form one youthful, organic mass, dipping their collective toes in the pool of inebriation, some fairing better than others; the names Primal Scream and Ocean Colour Scene were little more than pretty utterances to these maniacal, rave-craving adolescents.
Drilling their way through the dusk, the opening chords of ‘The Riverboat Song’ lured us from our people-watching frenzy, pulling our attention back to the Main Stage where the evening’s headliners had started up their engines.
Ocean Colour Scene had arrived, much to the euphoria of the mixed bag of spectators.
Mums and Dads – children wrapped in blankets, sleeping in prams – sat on their deck chairs, bellowing approval. The thirty-something blokes showed their elation at the rare chance to let their hair down; fancy-dress-clad, pints raised, these lads were being transported back to a youth that the nine-to-five had since beaten out of them.
Their set was brilliant, and the band produced a performance that lived up to the gauntlet of expectation. ‘Hundred Mile High City’ was absorbing, while lead singer Simon Fowler teased ‘The Day We Caught the Train’ throughout, until he finally quenched the thirst of his audience with the final track before the encore. A few tracks from the new album, Painting, along with notables ‘Better Day’, ‘Profit in Peace’ and ‘One For the Road’ had the crowd on their knees, along with a cover of ‘Day Tripper’ among the three-track encore, which capped off a fine evening.
Clores and I had become completely and utterly besotted by the marvel that had just unfolded in front of us, but the lethargy from a long day saw us slink to our tents for respite. It’s going to be hard topping that tomorrow, I thought.
A Liquid Airstrike
The rain and wind had really been going for it all day, grabbing the tent by the bollocks, throwing it to and fro, bombarding it with vicious little raindrops, clusters of the bastards! Well played, Sun, well-fucking-played.
Nevertheless, this tent was a resilient little fucker, built like the mentality of a good receptionist – able to take a torrent of abuse from the natural hierarchy, but schooled enough to not take it too personally.
A swift bacon and sausage buttie was enough to motivate Clores and I from our slumbers – as we trudged through muddied ground past a noticeably diminished crowd – although the bread didn’t match the quality of the meat, so it was more like a breaded bacon and sausage jigsaw than anything else. The stall’s slogan read ‘Bacon in the morning, Burgers in the evening’, but it was safe to say there’d be no Act II.
Back on the Horse
After a day of productivity – we’d since been back to the tent to write and sketch, respectively – we decided it was time to embrace the elements, for better or worse. The long rain had worn our sociability down to the bone and we’d been staring at each other’s faces for far too long; fresh air and the real world were the only cure for our impending cabin fever. The last thing we need is a tent full of dead creative in a puddle of bloody ink, I thought.
Bristol-based Laid Blak served up a healthy dose of their reggae infused dub to put a spring back in our step, too much so for some of the parents in the tent apparently, who’d taken to tightly holding headphones over their children’s ears. I understood doing it to the young babies in the crowd to protect their ears, but this was something else. The moment was a real eye-opener for Clores and I, who found the whole thing rather bizarre; here we had a festival literally being diluted and adulterated to unnecessary lengths. North Korea would be proud, I thought.
That said, our attentions were quickly turned back to the lead singer, who sang lyrics to a girl in the crowd at the personal request of her boyfriend, before a subsequent proposal right in the middle of the gig.
No pressure, I thought (but thankfully he got his ‘yes’).
Then it was a surprise package over on the Main Stage from a band called Molotov Jukebox, whose surfeit of instruments – trumpets, accordion, violins – created a real atmosphere, with their profusion of energetic sounds injecting the kick up the arse that everyone needed. They were a flamboyant bunch, and Clores and I were very impressed, our decision to embrace the elements paying off handsomely.
“Spread us like butter”, the lead singer cried, and I couldn’t help but think how literally I would eventually come to obey her command. Interestingly, I would also come to discover that she was Natalie Tena, who plays Osha in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The Gloves Are Off, Pal
Having started the day in a fairly timid fashion, and after another food break consisting of Belgian waffles, I suggested to Clores that perhaps tonight was to be the night. We’d seen how different the aura around Beautiful Days was during the later hours and our enthusiasm and energy levels were at their peak, with our thirst for alcohol damn near unquenchable.
We armed our respective guns with the liquid ammunition they needed – two pints apiece – and began our charge. We’d bought our tickets on the Oblivion Express and we weren’t making any unscheduled stops until the wheels had well and truly fallen off.
So it was over to The Little Big Top to catch part of Tricka Technology’s set, the trio of DJs blending an entourage of pop culture samples into their baseline, which was enough to help pass time – and beer – while we eagerly awaited Primal Scream, who would soon be taking the limelight on the Main Stage.
The clock had struck 10:30pm and the Oblivion Express had pulled in right on cue, spitting us out, pleasantly inebriated and passionately anticipating an act who would have to produce quite the performance to eclipse the memory of Ocean Colour Scene.
Bobby Gillespie wriggled out from backstage, his stick-like figure marauding across the stage like something from a Tim Burton film. The softly spoken Glaswegian – almost coyly – wrapping his fingers around the microphone and uttering the quietest of sounds…
Imagine, if you will, a large, crowd-shaped stick of dynamite, of which the fuse is a microphone and the match is a slender Glaswegian gentleman’s voice. I don’t think I need to tell you the outcome.
Perhaps it was the alcohol, perhaps it was my further knowledge of Primal Scream’s back catalogue over Ocean Colour Scene’s, or perhaps it was just down to the plain fact that they were absolutely incredible; either way, Bobby Gillespie and co. enthralled the very fabric of Beautiful Days festival, superseding all previous bodies to have graced the Main Stage, preaching heavenly to the converted and converting – effortlessly – those who just needed some encouragement.
A personal highlight – amongst their wide variation of old material, blended carefully with their newly released album, More Light – was epitomic Primal Scream track, ‘Loaded’, which holds sentimental value in my heart as the first song that I listened to the day I finished university.
When it was all said and done, between slurry refrains of ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Come Together’, the surrealism of the moment was almost like coming down from some sort of psychedelic trip, touching your face with your hand, wondering if that really happened or whether it was just some vivid optical illusion.
So long as the memory was there, I can’t say that either of us would have minded.
Clores and I had woken up within about ten-minutes of one another, only to find that the blurry hands on my watch – who were only getting their moment in the sun due to the dreaded festival phone battery conundrum – read 3:30pm, a sight which I was certain must have been a mistake. Sadly not.
Last night’s Oblivion Express had done us a solid, no doubt, it was just slightly disappointing that it had – in turn – caused us to miss Dodgy entirely and left us with roughly five-minutes of a talk with Howard Marks (five-minutes that would be gone by the time we’d walked there from the tent). Just like that, two of the three acts we were hoping to catch that day were gone. No use crying over spilt milk, I suppose.
Sore heads and spilt milk aside, we did try to make the most of it.
Having captured the essence of the nighttime scenes that Beautiful Days had to offer, we thought we’d walk around and observe the family side of things.
Amongst a host of activities, there were Mums, Dads and kids being encouraged by people to use sticks, wheelie bins, pots and pans as instruments, join in with aerobics instructors, blend their own smoothies using an ingenious contraption which hooked a blender up to a bicycle – so that you could literally peddle your way to liquid refreshment – as well as the standard collection of rides, trampolines and other such generic attractions.
Following our education in all things family, we stayed around long enough to hear Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel play ‘Make Me Smile’ – I’d like to say it was for the whole performance, but we were in no state of mind for politeness or flattery – before Clores and I decided it was time to bring the curtain down on our frequently brilliant, sometimes tumultuous, partially trying experience at Beautiful Days, opting to neglect the Levellers at the end of the final day, pack our lives up and man the taxi queue. The prospect of a long wait was not one that either of us was particularly savoring, so we did our best to try and beat the rush.
The Grand Lethargic Unraveling of Beautiful Days
As we stumbled into an extortionately priced taxi, Clores and I realised something that we hadn’t quite figured out the whole time we’d been at the festival: as two music-loving, self-respecting twenty-something-year-olds who enjoy festivals, we were – somewhat ironically – as far away as humanly possible from the target demographic of this fantastically diverse spectacle, falling just under or over the various boundaries for the intended audiences at Beautiful Days.
First off, you had the families, the mothers, fathers and kids, all enjoying the experience together. Happy, content, easy-going… they drifted in and out of the parts of the festival they wanted to, parents censoring their kids’ experiences as and when they saw fit.
Then you had the under eighteens, curious and excited by the prospect, still young enough to enjoy the silly stuff, but craving for the privileges of alcohol and independence that so narrowly elude them.
Finally, you had the thirty-somethings, the ones who had come for the headliners – who were truly there for the music – but were only really coming because it was the closest venue they were keen on tackling and their jobs restrained them to manageable travelling distances. They were taking full advantage to be whoever the hell they wanted to be; for those three days, they were weekend warriors, doing what they wanted, when they wanted in this alternate universe.
And there we were, the proverbial inbetweeners, floating along on a different wavelength, finally understanding, despite the amazing musical performances, why we hadn’t quite felt right the whole time we’d been there. Perhaps a realization that our hangovers had played a firm hand in unraveling, but nevertheless, it was one that we’d do well to remember for future voyages.
For more information, see our Beautiful Days Festival guide.
Illustrations by Vincenzo Clores