On Saturday morning my girlfriend and I parked up and walked the hundred or so metres to the camp-site – very handy as we had brought more beer than we could carry. I don’t know if it’s normal for the ground to be made from brick in Dorset, but even with the aid of our new neighbours’ hammer, we could not get our pegs in the ground. Luckily it wasn’t windy, so we just used cans to hold our tent down. After downing a refreshingly warm beer, we headed to find our friends The Woodland Creatures, who had played the day before. Unfortunately we could only come for the Saturday and Sunday, so we’d missed Seasick Steve and Dylan Moran.
You can tell that this festival has been going 23 years, as it certainly has perfected the family friendly vibe, although a little too well for my liking – everything was very polished. I even witnessed, to my horror, a man using a wet wipe after touching a bin. I felt a bit out of place next to the sparkling clean people who had cued up for half an hour to use the ‘posh wash’ showers, as I was just sweating it out. Although this festival appeared to be in a weird clean bubble, it definitely felt like everyone was looking out for each other – nothing bad would happen because you were in the Larmer Tree’s big safe hands.
The first place we headed was the Main Lawn, which sported two stages – the Main Stage and the beautifully antique Garden Stage. This was an ornate, half-dome shape, backed by a hand painted garden scene. Everyone was sitting down on the grass as Cowbell came on. Half of the floor was covered in some uncomfortable mesh to protect the grass, and I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to find it comfortable. Standing at the front of the crowd, I was wowed by Cowbell. When the guitarist got out his slidey metal thing for the guitar, I wanted to jump around, possessed by the music. Unfortunately it was far too early and well lit for dancing, but it was so catchy that I couldn’t help tapping my foot and swaying around on the verge of breaking into some daddy moves.
The Sun was really pounding down hard on us now, so we decided to go and explore. There was food from every walk of life, and a different tasty smell around every corner. Out of all the choices, we decided on the Curry Shed. Three types of curry and a chapati with an ice-cold beer. I don’t know if it was because I was seriously hungry and dehydrated, but it was the best festival food I have ever eaten.
On our travels, we came across a mobile stage called The Duke’s Box. It was a converted camper-van trailer that looked more like a space age fish bowl, containing a seven-piece band. God knows how they all managed to fit in there with a double bass, drum kit and the rest, but I imagine it was very sweaty. A girl put a pound in the front of the stage, and pressed a typewriter button, and the band started to play covers of songs (including Shaggy, Placebo and Azelia Banks), which attracted a swarm of people, and before you could say ‘impromptu gig’ everyone was dancing.
Doing a dance-walk away, we found ourselves in a secret garden. Here we entered a world of hand-made creatures hidden in the trees, and there was even a tree that had grown books – the Book Sharing Tree. We saw loads of giant knitted spider webs, surrounded by people of all ages learning to knit. Here we found the Lostwood Stage, where I was pleasantly surprised to see The Uke of Wallington. He regaled us with funny tales of his busking travels, and sang, strummed and kazoo’d his way through a nice mix of storytelling and music for the mid afternoon.
Back at the main stage we prepared ourselves for The Bombay Royale, who combine Bollywood themes with 60’s style Garage Rock, and then put some horns on it. They got the whole crowd doing a Macarena stroke Indian style of dance, whilst a massive elephant walked through the crowd. We then waited with bated breath for Imelda May to come on stage. Just seeing her in the flesh and hearing a few of her Rockabilly tunes was enough to satisfy me, so we went to the Big Top to catch some of Son of Dave’s performance.
The last band of the evening was The Future Shape of Sound, who were one of my favourite festival finds. They were fronted by a massive bloke covered in tattoos and ginger hair, looking like a gangsta pimp, alongside two sassy Soulful ladies, one of whom was a very good rapper. They sounded like The Happy Mondays would have done if they had been around in the 1960s, and had played Northern Soul, dirty old Blues, Funk and Ska. I’m not really sure they belong to a genre, but they sure made me dance.
To that very important festival essential – alcohol. So apparently alcohol isn’t that much of a big deal at Larmer Tree. I didn’t once see anybody on their back trying to get up like a beetle or a single sick stain anywhere. At the bar there was only one lager and two ciders on tap, with an amazing nine ales for the beardy bunch. I guess the drinks selection was aimed at people who want to drink alcohol that doesn’t taste like mass produced chemical water, and is weak enough to put out a barbeque without exploding, but not much else. The bar even gave you a tray on which to take your drinks back to your picnic blanket. I also have to mention the toilets, which were perhaps the cleanest I have ever seen at a festival. I felt like a king with limitless toilet roll. Not once did I try and hold it in and wait until I was drunk before deigning to use one.
The next day the sun knocked politely on our door, and when nobody answered he turned our tent into an impromptu oven. We rolled out of our sweaty cocoon, stomached some food, and slithered off to the festival. We started the day off with some Tai Chi on the Main Lawn. There was such a willingness to get involved at this festival that hardly anyone wasted time hanging out at the camp-site and just got stuck into whatever was going on.
With heads that worked again, we were faced with two weird, beat-boxing children’s puppets, which instantly turned my brains back into mush – the kids seemed to love it though. After that we had a wander around and ran into a carnival procession. This trailed through the entire festival, led by a Samba band, showing off some massive heads that people had made in one of the workshops. Teenagers who had spent time in the youth zone were costumed up and making music. Everyone followed as if hypnotised by this group of Pied Pipers. We then found ourselves in a Mobile Sorting Office – a vintage caravan decked out in old postal service equipment. Two lovely girls encouraged us to become pen pals with a stranger. I found this to be a pretty exciting prospect as I’d love to receive something through my door that isn’t a bank statement or a menu from a local pizza place.
Next on the list of festivities was Johnny Flynn. I think he was good, but it was simply too hot – all I could think about was ice. So I just stared into his beautiful face and got lost, there was no juice left in my batteries. I remember him saying that he was really hot and the whole crowd nodded in agreement. We also caught the new age traveller style band Pronghorn, who evidently had a strong local following. They are Larmer Tree veterans, and have apparently played the festival for the last 21 years. Everyone in the Big Top was dancing feverishly – passing on a viral buzz of energy.
The final band we saw before making the long drive home was The Severed Limb, who were very pleasing to the eye. I loved their Roots inspired music, which showcased accordion, washboard and double bass to create Folk-Punk spun with a 50’s twist. I don’t think that any band these days has just has one style, and these guys certainly had several different play modes. We briefly left the set to watch Bellowhead, but found them too boring when compared to The Severed Limb – so we headed straight back to those cheeky chappies to shake ourselves and attempt some swing dancing. We then bought some good strong coffees from a converted double-decker bus, and jumped into our car for what we knew wasn’t going to be an easy 6-hour drive home.
The story ends in a semi dramatic thunderstorm – well, more like a light show. It was a melodramatic, pathetic fallacy style farewell, which had been very well planned by the Larmer Tree, or so I thought. And none of that annoying rain, just pretty flashing lights in the sky.
Clean People: 85%
Naughty People: 5%
First Wave Hippies: 35%
People with Jobs: 99%
People getting involved: 60%
Sun burnt people: 65%
Braless women: not enough
For more information see our Larmer Tree Festival Guide.