After 23 years of never going to a festival due to generally being poor or slack, I decided this year that it would have to wait another year, mostly due to my bank balance still reeling from being a student. However one slow weekend, after hearing people’s descriptions of it, I decided to check out the line-up for Boomtown Fair online; a couple more days prevaricating and I was £98 poorer, but stoked for four days of bands, beers and general carnage. We joined the lengthy queue on Thursday afternoon with showers threatening, but the dodgy weather was more than made up for by our campsite up on a hill, overlooking the entire festival site - visually somewhere between a post-apocalyptic townscape a la Mad Max, and a depraved circus. It also happened to pick up the sound from the town centre stage perfectly, so even when the partying got too much then sitting by the tents sipping warm cider, smoking and watching from afar was always an option. Thursday night was fairly quiet on the band front, so after spending some time expanding our collective consciousnesses, we decided to let the evening take us where it would. My stand out memory from this particular point in time is seeing two amazing ska bands in the Invisible Circus tent, one of a swing bent, one more leaning more towards hip hop. Not that I’m 100% sure, but looking at the programme, it looks like the first band was the Big Red Ass Band and the second was King Porter Stomp. Whoever they were, they helped me back down to reality and definitely got everyone’s feet moving! After an evening’s exploring and discovering the award winning combination of shrooms, hash brownies and fairground rides, I headed back for a couple hours kip while a hardened few kept going strong.
Friday began again with us lurking hard around the site, working through the hangovers before eventually ending up at the Lion’s Den tent watching the Drop’s smoothly danceable brand of reggae and dub help people forget about the impending rain and get in the mood for another day’s drinking and dancing through a haze of chronic smoke and laid back rhythms. The whole festival site was as much of an attraction as the music itself, with each mocked up street containing a wide array of stalls, DJ stalls hidden behind random facades, alongside a variety of mildly hallucinogenic experiences.
After putting in some time with some tinnies up at our base, we headed down to see Dirty Revolution. Somehow a band that have bypassed my radar until now, they were one of the highlights of my weekend, with a fierce, punky brand of two-tone that quickly filled the Invisible Circus with skanking crowds. Definitely a band worth checking out, if you haven’t already (apparently I’m one of the few who didn’t know). Later the evening found a couple of us bearing witness to the sound mash-up madness of Babyhead, whose blend of ska, hip hop and punk fitted the weekend like a hemp glove. I’m pretty sure that not many of us caught their set, but the crew was rolling deep by the time the Restarts hit the Devil Kicks Dancehall tent with the full throttle ska tinged squat punk that has made them regulars on the punk circuit for so many years. As good as always, long live the Restarts! Later that evening was what for many was the high point of the weekend, the mighty Gogol Bordello headlining the Town Centre stage. I only caught half an hour or so of their set but judging by that, it was as savagely insane as usual. Definitely a band to make a point of seeing live, the entire open area around the main stage was heaving. However by this point, with a couple of brownies riding strong in my veins the crowds were slightly more than I could handle, so I grabbed some like-minded people and headed off to find the Lion’s Den. Unfortunately this proved too much for my addled brain, and after 20 minutes or so everyone else got bored and went elsewhere, while I decided to keep going. I’m glad I did, because it meant that I finally arrived there just as Tippa Irie took to the stage. This was one of the points of the weekend I was definitely looking forward to and he didn’t disappoint, with a set of dancehall classics including ‘The UK’, ‘All The Time the Lyrics A Rhyme’, ‘It’s Good To Have the Feeling You’re the Best’ and ‘Hello Darling’, while the crowd worked hard at breaking the world record for largest hotboxed area. Feeling refreshed and hyped again, I travelled back up to the campsite to grab anyone in sight to go and see Demented Are Go. I truly expected to witness a lot more pyschobilly over the weekend than I actually did – but despite missing much of what was happening over at the Devil Kicks stage, I can’t imagine much of it beat Demented Are Go’s high octane trash punk; in a genre that can often seem like it is continually rehashing itself, it’s a treat to hear a band who sound so genuinely sleazy and nasty. Highlights included ‘Holy Hack Jack’, ‘I Was Born (On a Busted Hymen)’, ‘Blood Beach’, and covers ‘Funnel of Love’ and ‘Be Bop a Lula’. The solo mission could have happily continued at this point, but luckily, as happened frequently over the four days, I stumbled on some crew, and we hit the town to see what was what. Memories from this time are fairly muddled, but I have a feeling that four of us ended up, dressed in suit jackets, dancing to some kind of electronic beat in a faux gentleman’s club; before heading out into the rain and ending up soaking wet, lying in some netting.
Saturday came around, and the last 48 hours were starting to tell. There had been a few MIA’s the previous night, but today would definitely sort out those with true grit. After a brandy coffee and a smoke augmented a breakfast of bagels and vitamin tablets, and an early skank to the Skints’ unique brand of ska punk, I felt the need to sit against a wall and rock gently backwards and forwards to the second half of their set. Thankfully this was as good to mong to as it is to dance like a lunatic to, the Skints are amazing. Faces I knew laughed at me from the crowd, but I knew that they would be there soon enough – so I relaxed with a pint, and by the time NY ska legends The Toasters took to the stage, I was ready to get back in the thick of it. The Toasters have never really been given their rightful place in the pantheon of early 2-tone, possibly due to being across the world from its’ Coventry epicentre, which is a shame as they always put on a cracking live set – everyone who could physically move by that point was dancing with grins on their faces to songs including ‘2 Tone Army’, ‘East Side Beat’, ‘Shocker’, ‘Running Through the World’ and ‘DLTBGYD’ amongst others. After a few minutes to give peoples’ legs some kind of recovery, it was time to abuse them some more to the Inner Terrestrials’ hectic blend of ska, punk and hardcore. Harnessing the weekends energy to its full effect, they fed off the crowd’s hype to build a wall of sound for classics like ‘Off With Their Heads’, ‘Enter the Dragon’, ‘White Nightmare’, ‘Squatters’ Rights’ and ‘Noah’s Farce’, before finishing with their cover of the Tofu Love Frogs ‘Move Along Get Along’, that had me shouting my throat bloody, along with pretty much everyone else there.
By this time most people were ready to chill a bit, so we headed to the Devil Kicks stage to see Jonny One Lung play a storming set of acoustic aggro folk which mixed a few solo tracks, some destined to be on the new Filaments album, and a cover of ‘When Morning Comes’ that had the whole crowd singing along. After some food, along with a chance for our throats to recover, it was time to head to the Invisible Circus to see the Autonomads, who were tight as fuck despite some problems with repeated power cuts. It was disappointing that the power went completely just before their last song, but I was still a happy man after hearing ‘Supermarket Sweep’ live. After an evening chilling, which included catching some of Bad Manners set from up by the tents, we headed down to see Citizen Fish. Even those of us who were seemingly too fucked to move made it down for this one, everyone knew it would be good and the band didn’t disappoint. Playing most of their split with Leftover Crack along with a variety of tracks from their extensive back catalogue, their manic, bass heavy ska punk was just what most people needed to liven themselves up and set up for a heavy Saturday night. However after a point, even Rafven’s furious Balkan influenced instrumental stomp couldn’t fight through the haze, and most of us decided to call it a night fairly early.
Waking up Sunday in slightly less of a mental fog, along with the sun shining over the sight, meant that most of us were ready to get on it again fairly early – so when the first chords of ‘Three Minute Hero’ rang out, we cracked open a few ciders and headed down for an early skank to the Selecter. Its moments like these that make festivals seem utopian, if I woke up every day to see a legendary two tone band the world would feel like a better place without a doubt. A set that included most (possibly all?) of ‘Too Much Pressure’, with some classic ska covers thrown in for good measure, got everyone in the right mood. After some food everyone met up again at the miniramp, to see how well skateboarding would go after 3 days of ruining our ability to balance… turned out the answer was ‘not too well’, so we went to see Dunkelbunt, who I’ll definitely be checking out more from! A combination of hip hop, dancehall, gypsy folk, ska and more creating a twisted circus beat that had me grinning like a simpleton, and that’s before the trombone player started playing two at once! Truly amazing. After sitting in the sun for a while, monging out to the Iration Steppas chilled dub sound system, we decided to sit up by the tents until later that evening when the King Blues were playing. Now it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen them play, and a lot of well documented changes have happened since then, but I can safely say that they still put on a live show that is hard to beat…at least for the first half hour, before I decided to finish the musical leg of the festival in style by getting red eyed and watching Captain Hotknives, the one person playing who swung me buying a ticket in the end. If you haven’t heard of him yet, your missing out; a folk troubadour from Bradford who tackles issues such as the joys of glue over other drugs, hating babies, being told to shoplift by pigeons (though unfortunately this one didn’t get played tonight), drinking Buckfast, and poor quality muffins. Fully Shot in the Foot approved, and the right artist to round off the weekend. After that, I decided to crash for the last few hours – though waking up to go for a piss at 6 in the morning still stoned as shit, and finding people to watch the sun come up with was a pretty sweet ending to the entire weekend.
A full on savage four days has definitely taken my festival v plates, and roughly at that, possibly in a dark alleyway wearing a crisp packet with an elastic band around it. I’ll definitely be there next year, see you in the cider tent! Jono