You can’t keep a good Larmer down, even a wet one. The 22nd incarnation of England’s most family friendly music and arts festival, Larmer Tree, may have been mired by an almost never ending deluge, but as per usual an astounding level of quality acts delivered a sell out 5,000 strong crowd comprised of both neo-hippies and Guardian readers; brought in by the festival’s kind hearted, eco-friendly and sponsorship-free approach. Pitching a tent for the full five days, we at Rhythm Circus have no choice but to bring you our highlights in the form of two articles, and whilst we couldn’t see everything, what follows is an essential rag-tag list of performers who deserve a place in your playlist.
The first to grace to immaculately painted backdrop of the Garden stage were the progenitors of ‘skunk-rock’ Hobo Jones and his Junkyard Dogs. A regular player at Larmer Tree, this trio of character musicians (surely they can’t be genuine?) mixed washboard with wit in no less than three performances across the festival, showing skiffle still has a place in the British music lover’s heart…a strange, scary place even.
Surprising no one for the sixteenth year in a row was first night headliner; piano master handler Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. The host of BBC’s late night music showcase and his 20 piece band may seem like a tried and tested approach to keep the same crowd coming for more, but with a collection of legendary musicians and this year’s special guest, former Fine Young Cannibal’s frontman Roland Gift, if you’d bang for boogie you’ll definitely get your fill.
In an odd sense of déjà-vu, Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers gave a rendition of their set last year at the Arc tent at almost the same time. This 11-piece soul band were once again responsible for a vast majority of the festival’s dance output with a continuous stream of funk, frighteningly good vocals and free LP’s for some of the best dancers in the crowd.
Thursday morning was rather dry considering weather reports called for a non-stop onslaught of heavy downpour. However, the rest of the day matched that forecast perfectly. Thus many anoraks, ponchos and raincoats were hauled into the Arc tent, but thankfully a plethora of great acts kept them there. The Bristol-based The Lasting Days were one such marvel, lead by singer/guitarist Richard Smith who heads one half of the terrific boy-girl harmony defining their alt-indie and Americana music.
Well travelled, well liked and also well worth venturing through the rain for was Australian minstrel Andrea Soler, who regaled audiences with her tales on the road through song and speech, with numbers played in different genres, such as jazz and reggae, and even different languages.
For those who didn’t regret the wet there was no shortage of main stage brilliance. With their debut album Desperation State on the horizon, Yes Sir Boss brought another edge to their show with a surprise guest: Grammy winning soul singer Joss Stone. Her appearance mind you is not surprising if you’re aware she’s signed the band to her label Stone’d Records, but nevertheless it’s solidified the 6-piece as one to watch.
Speaking of, Rhythmcircus were given a special opportunity to watch Yes Sir Boss’ set for Youtube phenomenon ‘Songs From The Shed’. All Larmer Tree acts played acoustic sets in a rickety wooden cavern, filmed on an ordinary digital camera. The gigs were only available to lucky golden ticket holders, but are all being uploaded day by day on their youtube channel.
A huge shock announcement leading up to the festival and arguably one of the reason Thursday was the first lone day to sell out was Australian-British rock star comedian Tim Minchin. The first funny man to grace the main stage in history, Tim began by requesting the crowd to dispense with their umbrellas. A set of old classics including ‘Prejudice’ and ‘Darkside’ was followed by an encore of ‘The Pope Song’, and though the in between banter was sparse, his on stage antics were something completely new to those who’d warmed up with Jools Holland yesterday. Now if only those two would duke it out on stage (with or without pianos, we’re not picky).
Keeping the laughter going was the first night of the comedy club, which on average required audience members to arrive fifteen minutes early just for a good seat (which, unless you feel particularly brave, isn’t necessarily at the front). First, former Southampton dweller and BBC radio presenter Tom Deacon explained the joys of living with upper class housemates, then Terry Alderton did the first two minutes of his set in reverse and a huge chunk of it on his head (at one point I swear his shoes were looking at me). The headliner, replacing the sadly missing Greg Davies, was Russel Kane, who furthered the posh wash with a demonstration of why British porn is top of its game…
Attendees were pleased Friday afternoon when they saw the grounds hadn’t been flooded, as well as Taunton guitarist Ali Warren and his brilliant beard and accompanying band. Their delicate but wrenching psycho-folk is still working its way up the grapevine, so check out their website and give them your support.
Slumming the main stage were The Miserable Rich, a Brighton 5-piece renowned for crafting their own ‘chamber pop’ using cello and violin as lead instruments. Fairly light music for a still very cloudy day, the band recently released their third album Miss You In The Days. If that wasn’t tempting enough to check them out, their videos are some of the best around.
Every fest has that one hidden gem, and this year it’s a real tossup. On the one hand you have the husband and wife duo Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou; decked in wellies and looking like they just came off the farm to play, audience members were already buying CDs off them before they’d reached the signing tent. The other is Swing Zazou, a contemporary swing jazz band who played as part of White Mink’s Speakeasy in the Big Top. Mixing original and covered 30’s and 40’s dance tunes with live-mixed beats, they’re probably a different beast altogether, so I think we can settle on both.
For a headliner, the Friday main stage blessed us with Brighton folk-punk rockers The Levellers. Now in their 24th year as a band and their tenth album Static on the Airwaves already with us, the BBC award winning group had a crowd along a spectrum of age ranges. If they weren’t enough testament to the power of the elder, then winding things down was the now officially Legendary DJ Derek. In his own words the deck master said “I turned 70 this year, and I still know how to get down with the kids!” before realizing that didn’t work out so well for Gary Glitter or Michael Jackson’s careers, and that he needed a new scriptwriter. Quality.
Finishing out another night of comedy was The Horne Section. A collection of extremely talented musicians, their comedy mixed the mastery of both crafts with guest appearances by beat-boxer Vid Warren and a rendition of ’15-love’ by fellow comedian, the French Marcel Lucont. Their finale gathered more bearded audience members on stage than hairs on this writer’s chin, singing a song so fluffy it still tickles my ear.
Keep an eye out on Rhythmcircus for coverage of the final two days as well as interviews with many of the acts.
Words > Graham Ashton
Photos > Tahlia Lewis & Graham Ashton