May 20, 2008
This was a seriously nice event. The indefatigable Bennett family, not content with their Truck shenanigans, showed 600-odd people - mainly over 25s and under 5s - a really good time. I think a lot of the success was to do with the size and the demographic: basically, fewer people means less skank, and fewer teenagers means less anti-social behaviour. Remarkably few people (though there are of course always a few) seemed to want to behave like reprobates.
There was a pleasing variety of of hippie weirdness: gong showers (feel the vibe), a campfire each night, loads of workshops (making jewellery, wood-turning, music for kids etc), a bicycle powered stage, a wood-fired sauna ("no dress code, but naked people have the right to deny entry to clothed people")... Many of these things were run by donation, which expresses better than anything else the feeling of cosiness and trust saturating the weekend.
The solar powered stage worked really well (bar one short power-crisis on Saturday night - dealt with smoothly as a swan swimming: one suspected a lot of activity under the surface but the outward effect was fine). Having a slightly quieter sound system has the inestimable advantage that you can actually hear the lyrics with total distinctness - a splendid change from the usual festival blare. There was the Wood Stage and the Tree Stage, but the rather clever sequitur "You can't see the Wood for the Trees" wasn't actually true - bands were nicely spaced so that you could see everyone you wanted to see. This removed one of my two major sources of festival tension.
My other major source of festival tension was also beautifully dealt with. Composting toilets! Composting toilets are the best! Every festival should have them! Secure, spacious, private, practically skank-free and smelling only slightly of stables. Admittedly, we were the first people to use them - they were built specially for Wood by local carpenters - and it wasn't hot weather, but for once in my festival-going life the toilets held no terrors. They were great.
Most of the bands had at least a trace of folk, and were extremely well-chosen, with one or two exceptions. Ashley Hutchings clearly has a bit of an attitude problem. "Don't dance, we're not actually a dance band... I'm trying to concentrate. So if all you people dancing could just move aside for this next one..." Then when heckled: "I've played with Jimi Hendrix, I have!" "Oh?" called someone "Did he let people dance?" The worst line for me was "We're going to have a break now and the girls'll do the next one. They're really talented too. Let's give them a chance to shine". Incredible. They had a few unintentionally hilarious deep-folk lyrics "Cup it round, hold it straight, let it flow... it'll come, it'll come" - No, it's about learning to write. They were altogether a bit embarrassingly twee, except for the dance numbers, which would have been splendid had people been allowed to dance.
Lightspeed Champion was also, in my opinion, a bit dire - endless witless whinges in tired rock rhythms about the awfulness of himself, his life, his girlfriends etc. The man needs a self-help group, not an audience. This audience seemed to like it though.
My favourite band, by contrast, was Little Sister - 4 talented girls and a multitude of instruments, doing country-soul-folk harmonies in the style of some of the marvellous music from O Brother Where Art Thou. They're upbeat, accomplished and joyous and I hope they go as far as they deserve.
Circulus (Elizabethan psychedelic folk) have clearly adjusted to their new line-up. Their latest drummer provided a splendid impromptu support set on guitar and vocals before returning to the fold. Michael Tyack seemed to thrive on the plentiful backing vocals and, smiling like a maniac, really let his own voice let rip as I've not heard before. And he's developed a few extra guitar noises to compensate for the absence of moog. And Will Summers on his variety of medieval wind instruments simply rocked. Even at 2am the audience were dancing like the freaks they are.
Get Cape Wear Cape Fly has really come of age: he's a Hell's Angel pixie, on fire with intensity and, in this instance, with great backing trumpet. He's got intelligent songs, a rough, humorous self-deprecating stage presence and a great handle on his audience. This was one of the sets that really benefitted from a eco-sound-system: you could hear every word - a dangerous clarity unless your writing, as his, is as good as your performance.
One of the loveliest sets was on the Sunday: Jaly Fily Cissokho from Senegal via Witney played his kora (like an upright guitar) with magical plinkety-plunkety beauty. It took you to a different world, with gathering waves of 1000-year-old melody filling your heart like the sea (well it was the Sunday).
A green festival can be done. This was a stupendous success. Whether the success can can be repeated on a larger scale remains to be seen.