Review: Beacons Festival @ Heslaker Farm, Skipton, August 22-25

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In the crowded place that is the festival calendar with so many clambering on-top of each other to attract the paying public it can be hard to work deciding on which new(ish) festival to go for, especially if you want to avoid the major commercial festivals. So this weekend I was luckily-invited to pay my first visit to Beacons Festival, located up in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales. This year Beacons landed on the same weekend as V and when comparing the line-ups in advance there was only one place for me to be, Beacons might not have Beyonce , Jessie J or Two Door this weekend (thankfully), but fortunately for me seen as though I write a new music blog, it had pretty much the who’s/who of emerging talent from the crop of 2013.

Pitching up on Friday morning with the sun desperately trying to cling on and a cold wind swirling around Heslaker Farm made the quieter of the three day programme a hardy beginning. However, once acclimatisation to the site was over and done with, the day’s first real point of call (after a couple of beers) was over to the You Need To Hear This stage for Thumpers mid-afternoon set. Led by smooth-frontman Marcus Pepperell, they brought their feel-good indie into the Dales and littered their set with all the blissful multi-harmonies they create so well, before ending with latest-single Unkinder (A Tougher Love)

Rocking up to review a festival on your own as a freelance makes it difficult to get around all of the festival programme. I had to (try) and be slightly efficient, so after Thumpers set I came up with two rules to try and stick too. (1) take it easy on the pop (2) avoid solely watching the bands I see every other week in London. They didn’t see out the day as I frequently got distracted by the ale-tent which had sourced some pretty tasty ale’s from around the Leeds and Hackney areas! Thankfully, before everything went to pot I managed to scurry over to the Loud & Quiet stage to see mancunians Egyptian Hip Hop bring their psychedelic pop into town.

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Come the evening it was time for the first real clash of the weekend between singer/songwriter Dan Croll over at You Need To Hear This and Vondelpark on Loud & Quiet, I settled for Vodelpark which was a big mistake as technical issues meant a large delay cutting their 45 minute set down to a mere 20. When things did get up and running, the patient crowd were treated to a dreamy lightshow as the three-piece rattled through as-much of the ambient filled synth-pop they could fit into the remaining minutes of their set. By 11pm it was time for the Friday night headliners. There were decisions to be made and I ditched Bonobo and went across to Fucked Up in the horribly-undersized You Need To Hear This tent (I couldn’t even get into the rammed press-pit) which meant joining the (literally hundreds) stood outside attempting to get a glimpse in… So in between my drunkenness and not being able to see them could those who did see Fucked Up please send me a review of their set….

Peeping out of the tent on Saturday morning meant for a painful look upwards at the sky. As day 2 arrived and with the need for a couple of extra (waterproof) layers as the North Yorkshire weather made things feel like late autumn on the day which had arguably the strongest line-up of the weekend. Kicking things of for yours truly was Findlay’s lunch time set in the You Need To Hear This tent, led by Natalie Findlay who arrived onstage accessorised in a much needed beanie before the band flew through 25minutes of garage-rock to a sizeable crowd, the highlight of which being the grungy ‘Your Sister’. After Findlay’s blinding set it was time for me too completely rip-up the two small rules that I made up for myself as I stocked up on beer and headed over to Loud & Quiet to see my favourite North Londoners Wolf Alice. Ellie and the boys were one of my highlights of the weekend as they flew through a set consisting of Bros, Fluffy, Every cloud, White Leather and the brilliant new single ‘She’, which having it now laid down on record made me appreciate the genius of it live.

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Once Wolf Alice had finished the reality of the weather really kicked in as the driving rain had many of us scurrying between stage to stage, ponchos n all. I went to catch the second half of East India Youth’s set. The one-man band aka William Doyle got the mid-afternoon crowd moving to his techno-tinged electro-pop. Heading into the evening the schedule was tightly packed as the night was filled with some of the best emerging guitar-music. The neon-60’s psychedelic inspired Temples set the tone for the new-kids as they were followed by raucous sets from Jaws, Telegram and Childhood bringing the B-town/London (and Kettering) music scenes together in a field. Ending Saturday night were LA based indie-rockers Local Natives who mixed harmonies and stream-lined rock to the appreciably packed out Loud and Quiet tent making the most of their headline slot.                                                       

By time Sunday morning had arrived the sun was out (mercy) and those of us who are still alive and able made their way towards the arena with the gorgeous back drop of the rolling hills in view. It’s still pretty chilly, but we’re happy and an early visit to the You Need To Hear This stage see’s The Wytches nearly blow the roof off the tent as they played what felt like the loudest set of the week… Before I carry on with Sunday, I’ll be honest and say my battery on my notebook went dead and the note taking was now solely the responsibility of my now drunk/tired/jaded head… With that in mind it was time to go see the bands I know. One of my favourite London-based bands Splashh came and went to a rather half-hearted and confused looking Loud and Quiet tent before SBTRKT (DJ only set) filled the same tent two hours later with plenty of dancing and shaking with the rather worse for wear crowd gingerly taking in the beats with declining energy… That’s where my weekend curtailed after failing to get into Need To Hear This to catch the much-hyped Savages it was time to bond au revoir to Beacons for this year.

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Reflecting on the weekend, Beacons is a festival that deserves its place on the calendar. It caters for the real music lover without the gimmicks or big fairground wheels. It gave off a pure feeling and a good vibe without the commercial tie-ins that a-lot of festivals come with (minus the Urban Outfitters tent) The facilities were ok, room for improvement, but as Beacons is only a couple of years- old things will be tinkered and improved over time. The sound quality was excellent on the whole and the only thing I would say needs changing urgently for next year is the Need To Hear This tent which felt appreciably too small for some (most) of the artists. Overcrowding was all too common, but that aside Beacons was excellent, filled with the best in new music and It shall be on my agenda for 2014.

Michael Jamison