By Neil Harrison
Photography Duke Studios
Where to begin with a review of Beat-Herder Festival? Promising an “orgy of beats and barminess,” this unique, eclectic event delivered in abundance from the outset.
Hitting the ground at full pelt with some quality sets from bands including Good Foxy and the sublimely surreal Henge on Friday, nobody who was there would be able to tell you if the beats or barminess showed any signs of waning until after Dub Pistol’s climactic closing show on Sunday. With a few big name acts and a deranged meat raffle in a 1970s style Labour club along the way, Beat-Herder 2017 had more to take in than you could shake a muddy wizard’s staff at. Here are just a few highlights and some obligatory stuff about the weather.
On the Friday and most of Saturday an omnipresent fine drizzle covered the fields of Sawley, Lancashire, where the sheep had made way for ravers of all ages to don their wellies and enter the unreality of Beat-Herder.
Big names to look out for included Kelis, who seemed well-attuned to the atmosphere and delivered a great set on the opening night, and the legendary Sugarhill Gang who seemed less well-attuned (breaking into an acapella rendition of Bon Jovi at one weird point) but were very enjoyable nevertheless. On the Saturday, Sleaford Mods were on superb form, Jason Williamson at his vitriolic best and engaging in some quality banter with the Beat-Herder locals.
Away from the mainstage, the award for venue of the festival went to Trash Manor, a walled garden-cum-bar-cum-mosh pit that served up some of the surprise best music of the weekend, including Cabbage and the aforementioned Henge (really, really do check them out).
Of the many and varied bizarre Beat-Herder offerings,’Beyond’ is a truly mesmerising experiencing. Entering a rather unassuming doorway, along a muddy tunnel, you suddenly find yourself in a veritable rabbit warren of mini-clubs and bars before emerging into an outdoor rave in full flow. A sensual overload, a maze of musical treats, you could happily get lost and spend an entire weekend in Beyond alone. No doubt some did.
If the underground Beyond was The Shire, then Toil Trees was its Rivendell. Billed as a rave in the woods, Toil Trees in fact delivers so much more. Tattoos for instance, or a haircut. A church? How about a phone box with a secret tunnel? Just off Quality Street, on the Toil Trees stage, DJs such as Pocket Size Dave and Mr Scruff kept the beats coming to a spiritual party in the woods that seemed destined to go on in perpetuity.
On the Final Day, the sun emerged to cast a different light on proceedings. Once more the Fortress stage began to shoot plumes of fire into the sky and quickly filled with revellers. In ‘Factory’, a very funny, if rather bemused, Reginald D. Hunter gave a Sunday afternoon stand up routine to half a crowd of third day festival casualties. The fact that he was in a wheelchair (after recent leg break) only lent an extra surreal edge to the gig.
With regards to the main stage acts, Sunday was the real highlight. The always brilliant Toots and the Maytals provided the momentum for a blistering set from Dub Pistols that drew the biggest crowd of the weekend and saw the festival off in style.
Finally, any review of Beat-Herder would be remiss without a mention for the Beat-Herder and District Working Mens Social Club. By far the best place to grab a pint, with its anti-Thatcher banners, friendly bar staff, fruit machines and pictures of working class luminaries (Jim Bowen, Seth from Emmerdale et al), if the outside world all got a little too much, as it often did, the BDWMSC provided much needed anachronistic comfort.
The overwhelming sense upon leaving Beat-Herder, is one of “did that just happen?” Frenzied, yet friendly, overwhelming and truly, truly wonderful, happen Beat-Herder 2017 did. And it was brilliant. Roll on 2018.