When Bethan & Leah Went National
Bethan Shuff || Leah Hamer || August 19th
Gearing up for festival season in Britain usually means wellies, a waterproof mac (whether that be to protect from rain or cider and other unidentified liquids in cups), hoodies and cosy socks. This is how we left Stoke train station on a groggy Friday morning as we headed to Ledbury for Lakefest. The journey to the festival consisted of two trains, zero taxi ranks, a broken phone, a hitchhike, traipsing through fields – a relatively stress free ten am at REBEL. On arrival, we discovered that the wellies were definitely our first mistake; we stood out like sore thumbs as the rest of the festival goers were wearing flip flops on the blazing August morning, however, we’re Rebels, so that’s our excuse…
After picking the perfect tent spot and setting up camp, it was time to crack open a can and take a look around the arena. We weaved through rows of quirky stalls selling bucket hats, tie dye and tapestry throws and stalls holding workshops like make your own flower garland and making dream catchers; really interesting and interactive workshops that could teach children a genuinely cool skill. We took the most interest in the glitter stand (it’s not socially acceptable to cover your face in glitter every day, therefore we will take any excuse to do so) and ended up looking like little mermaids and very much so in the festival spirit. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming, with family-friendly being at the heart of the festival. The delicious smell of food stalls could not be escaped as we were spoilt for choice with the range of typical festival food including gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options.
Lakefest is quite a literal festival name – you are right on the lake, with beautiful views of the rolling hills and Eastnor Castle. Music acts didn’t commence in most tents until around three in the afternoon, but there was plenty to do as we waited. We sat on little hay stacks in the House of Salam tent as we were entertained by some open mic acts; one of which was a cute little country/bluegrass duo called Lost Trains. The male and female harmonies were stunning and it was refreshing to see young festival goers just having fun on the stage!
After wandering around in the sunshine once more, we headed to the striped circus tent that homed the Castle Stage. Starting the bill of for the day was Lakefest’s Livewire competition winner, Plastic Scene, an indie five-piece from Kidderminster. A cool, young image and an easy-going set list made them worthy competition winners. Their performance inspired us to make a visit to the BBC Introducing Stage across the field, to catch the latest breakthrough artists that Herefordshire have to offer- including Wet Desert and Red Room Therapy- two Foo Fighter fan bands with heavy riffs and easy going stage presences (Red Room have the greatest Welsh accents we’ve ever heard).
The thumping, sassy beat of a salsa band called us back from half way across the field to the main stage once again. Although we thought we had missed some Latin American dance troupe, instead we were presented with fiery, ten piece, The Cracked. They spread the happy, hippy, festival love, all sporting bright hats and bandanas with Hawaiian shirts and giving us crazy, joyous music on their trumpets and saxophones and guitars and everything else under the sun. Plus two feisty dancers on stage who shimmied and jiggled for an entire hour straight. We grabbed a few of the sweaty members as they finished their set.
With ten people, you’d think there’d be some clashes, ‘The secret is we all travel separately, can’t do a tour bus!’ The Cracked are a band that began initially as a two piece, then a three piece, then a four piece, and so on, they’re thinking of adding some more until the stage collapses. Although a large stage like this seems to be the only thing that would fit all of their members on, it is the first time they have played at a festival this big. Although they suit the festival stage perfectly with their diverse and bright music. It’s inspirations are just as mixed as them, ‘I’ve always like Sca and afrobeat, and we’re from all over the place- our saxophonist is from Argentina and our percussionist has studied in Africa and Cuba and New York. It’s just a bit of everything.’
As talk turns to the acts following them on the mainstage later that evening, the singer tells us how one band was nearly the death of him, literally… ‘I nearly burnt to death because of Primal Scream, I was smoking in bed listening to Come Together, and fell asleep and set my bed on fire.’ Well there’s worse ways to go, I suppose.
Fuelled by halloumi and chips, we tried out The Floating Globe stage where we caught Lem and the White Fire, another ten-piece fronted by a glowing red-head with Amy Winehouse inspired vocals. We then rushed back over to the mainstage to catch the carnival-esque performance of Molotov Jukebox. As we squinted walking into the tent, all we could make out was the shimmering reflection of frontwoman Natalia Tena’s incredible jumpsuit. Bouncing accordions, jazzy trumpets, sultry vocals, the circus ahead of us was not a chaotic mess, but a bewitching feast for the eyes and ears. It was here that we met a pretty damn adorable kid wearing a bright-pink feather headdress and sporting a flashing light gun-thing, who had snuck backstage with her parents with the hope of meeting her hero, Natalia. Although she wasn’t lucky enough to meet her after the show, she got bassist Tom Wilson instead, which was just as good.
After they had settled down from the madness, Natalia and Tom invited us to join them for a few liquorice all-sorts and a good old natter. After arriving to the venue late, both members were worried that they did not give the performance their all but were pleased with their loving reaction from the crowd, ‘They were such a welcoming audience, it was beautiful.’ Today, however, was a lucky exception, as the mud and grunge of most festivals often ruins the performance for Natalia, ‘A lot of festivals are a nightmare, it’s amazing that people are still dancing in that horror…I love touring instead.’ Tom agrees, ‘You get a much better run doing shows, you have your crew and your equipment and your routine. You’re locked into your zone, you haven’t seen or spoken to anyone who isn’t in your bubble for weeks and you recognise each other by smell alone.’
The journey of Molotov Jukebox is an interesting one, their first performance was done together after just one rehearsal, a number of members needed urgent replacement, ‘We had this bassist that moved to a different beat that wasn’t there…his skill level was actual amazing, it was impressive to move to a beat that isn’t there.’ Another bass player dropped out the day before a gig, one of their trumpet players kept sending a replacement in his absence (so they decided to keep him instead!).
Their lives are in a word, chaotic. Practicing in sheds with a dog named Pickles, performing at festivals they describe Star Wars meets a Western, working separate jobs as well (Natalia is famed for her roles in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, whereas Tom runs a sculpture company that works at festivals including Boomtown and V Festival). To the question, how do you do it? The answer is simple, ‘Coffee. None of us get to sleep very much but otherwise I’m fairly sure you age quicker if you’re not busy. Sleep when you’re dead.’ Preach that.
We Are Scientists were next on the agenda, as they bowled onto the stage in their black suits and gave the audience an hour of witty American commentary and electric, indie anthems that Leah sung all the way through whilst sat at the side of the stage (she’s a massive fangirl). After the show we ended up consuming their untouched cans of cider (Americans don’t drink cider, it’s a common fact), in their tour bus/space shuttle. They begin by quickly by disposing of some fairly inedible looking food, ‘Singer Keith Murray looks at us with a sinister expression, ‘I’m going to feed it to a horse because I hate horses.’ Fact.
The regular questions do not work with We Are Scientists. ‘How was tonight?’ turns into a discussion about egg yolks, ‘It was a cracking start, we cracked it wide open. As with any locked door or safe, you have to crack it open.’ This is when Bethan pipes up, ‘Cracking, reminds me of an egg’, to which Keith replies, ‘But who wants what’s inside an egg?’, bassist Chris Caine agrees that the cracking door analogy is misleading, ‘Yeah but you crack a safe, and it has valuables inside. Whereas an egg just has shrieking babies inside.’ Chris is puzzled, ‘I’ve never seen an egg with a shrieking baby inside.’ Keith is prepared for this, ‘Haven’t you seen any of the Jurassic Park movies?’ Well that is what they did on stage Friday evening, cracked open and released a screaming entity (in the We Are Scientists world). ‘So that’s the short answer to how tonight went.’
Attempting to reign them back in, we ask their opinions of festivals, and like Molotov’s Natalia- they’re not fans of the mud and tents either. ‘I think they’re our least favourite things to musically, in life there are much worse things that can happen to you…’ Keith agrees with his band mate, ‘Festivals are fucking awesome, but as musicians they are the worst things you can do professionally… Well, not the worst, the worst would probably be getting arrested at a border crossing for possession…’ Chris explains in more detail, ‘They’re just the worst in comparison to the best thing you can do as musicians - which is play a club show. A sold out show of your own in an enclosed space, it doesn’t get any better than that.’
With the news that we’re keeping a rather well known broadcasting company waiting, we fire our final question that we feel will suit the band more- as Rebels, we asked Keith and Chris what their most rebellious moment has been so far? After asking us ours first (we were wearing wellies on dry land and drinking cider with Americans- pretty rebellious), ‘You’re asking us to compare our rebellious ways to yours? You cider drinking, glitter welly wearing rebels?’ Chris has an answer on Keith’s behalf, however, ‘He once threw around a bunch of lawn furniture backstage at a festival.’ ‘It’s true, it was in exaltation over my thirtieth birthday. Then I jumped into a nettle bush. I started the day playing a major festival and ended it by picking nettles out of myself. That’s thirty, get ready, that’s what happens to you.’
Chris’s own rebellion is reminded to him by Keith, ‘You got a Mohawk at a Spanish festival, which was a very non-traditional haircut. People everywhere were giving him stink-eye.’ ‘You have to realise that this was about two-hundred-and-twelve-years ago, when the Mohawk was exclusive to the Mohicans’s.’ ‘Daniel Day-Lewis and his consorts, which he saved singlehandedly curtesy of his whiteness.’ It was a relatively tame Mohawk we were assured, Chris went onto to submit a measure and lead a presentation at the UN a week later without batting an eyelid.
The world of We Are Scientists, everyone.
It was time for the final act of the evening. Nothing can prepare a journalist for watching absolute music legends performing from the side of the stage; we stood literally a couple of feet away from the badass bassist Simone Butler of the heroes that are Primal Scream. We remained frozen in awe and shock for the first couple of tracks including one of their most well-known songs, Movin’ On Up. Desperate to get in on the action, we headed out into the hundreds of people that had gathered into the tent to see Primal Scream and found ourselves a nice little spot to get our rocks off. An intense and exciting hour and a half set of those rocky vocals, iconic tunes and awesome visuals left us all in bewilderment as the band left the stage for five minutes before coming back to perform Come Together. Thank god that the tent didn’t burn down from someone’s cigarette! It was midnight, and although there were still Ibiza inspired raves on deep into the night, REBEL called it a day and crawled into our tents still overwhelmed at what a fantastic day it had been!
A slight drizzle through the night left us feeling just a little bit smug about those wellies (though the smugness was short lived, as come nine am when the tent was down, the sun was beating down on Lakefest once again.) We turned ourselves into pack mules and began the hour and a half walk down country roads to the train station (for anyone who cannot drive and wishes to take public transport to Lakefest there are no buses or taxis, and there is a lot of roadkill in Ledbury).
We saw, we conquered, we survived our first festival as Rebel press. Thank you Lakefest.