Live Review: Wilderness Festival 2013

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And so it was Wilderness again (or Wildness if you were the somewhat disconnected and over-excited John Newman) – this year even bigger (an increase in capacity to 15,000) and still sold out. It is surely the premier boutique festival on the circuit in the undeniably stunning setting of Cornbury Park, which happily lies within a short walk of Mackerel Towers.

By its nature it is not a festival with the emphasis primarily on the music – too much fine dining, fly fishing, horse riding, performance art, debates, and cookery schooling going on for that – and as one other local resident archly observed “they might all look like hobos in here, but the car park is crammed full of BMWs and 4x4s“. Indeed Mrs M herself noted with wry amusement a hunt for mussels in our local Co-op (for breakfast you understand) by one such floaty couple obviously not used to the constraints of a basic convenience store compared with your average Islington deli.

wilderness showNo matter, for music there was and for the most part it was damn good. Friday fare came from the slightly ominous, brooding neo-folk of Six Toes, somewhat at odds with the sunshine as they performed at the Bandstand. They were followed by a vibrant, energetic set from the Keston Cobblers’ Club, a long-standing favourite and discovery of Mrs M, they turned the rapidly swelling crowd into jolly, good-natured barn-dancers borne along on the infectious rhythms and pure joyousness of the set. Back on the main stage, Tom Odell pleased the mainstream as he hammered his piano and hollered out a set that firmly placed him in the box-seat as the new Elton John. In the folk tent Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo turned in one of the highlights of the weekend with a brilliant collection of country and folk, and amply demonstrated why their latest album has been receiving so much critical acclaim. A neon-filled spectacular finale of hippy inspired electronica from Empire of the Sun brought down the curtain on day one.

Saturday gave us more from the Keston’s, reprising their set in the folk tent to a similarly enthusiastic response and another highlight in the shape of Temples who delivered a fabulous selection of West Coast inspired psychedelia mixed with hypnotic rhythms and the occasional meaty glam-rock stomp. Sadly Melody’s Echo TrapezeChamber seemed somewhat flat, their orchestral and grandiose dream pop lacking the spark needed to elevate it above the merely average, and it took a typically quirky and idiosyncratic performance from Martha Wainwright to liven up the rapidly growing numbers making their way to the main stage for the headline act.

And that headline act was none other than Sixto Díaz Rodriguez, Sugarman himself. Now 71, helped on stage to his seat where a rapturous reception, a couple of bottles of water and an eminently sensible cup of tea waited for him. Despite his frailties, he did not disappoint, mixing self-deprecating humour (“All I want is to be treated like an ordinary legend“) with philosophical observations (“Be gentle with your anger, hate is too powerful emotion to waste on someone you don’t like“), political comments (“More women should run for office“) and even a gracious thank you to his Cornbury Park host Lady Rotherwick, he entertained for every moment he was on stage. From beneath an ultra stylish black Fedora, he delivered a sublime set of folk and soul that stirred the heart and set plenty of feet a shufflin’. A mass sing-a-long to Sugar Man in the dusk was extra special, as was Inner City Blues, but amongst a wonderful collection it was perhaps I Wonder, that was the show stealer, as even snoozing couples roused themselves for one final dance.

The Bees at Wilderness On Sunday, the day was stolen by the Isle of Wight’s very own pop-pysch rockers The Bees, who opened with A Minha Menina and included Winter Rose, Listening Man and a fab rendition of I Really Need Love from their last album (which Mrs M had to download immediately). Reggae undercurrents, soulful harmonies, tight musicanship – perfect festival fodder. Laid back rhythms had the crowd swaying in time. All the Bees seems to be multi-instrumentalists – just come along hang out and have a good time vibe.

Festival closers Noah and the Whale actually played quite a good set – all their most well known tunes including L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., Life is Life, Blue Skies, Tonight’s the Kind of Night, and closing with Five Years Time. Then an encore of The First Days of Spring, which being quite orchestral, made a perfect match for all the fireworks going off at the end. Lovely.

Finally the walk home, avoiding the late-night exodus of all those too-fast BMWs and 4x4s urgently heading home for Monday’s 8am breakfast meeting, and down our rural country lanes too. Tsk tsk.

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