Small is beautiful. This isn’t just Clash’s five-foot-six reviewer boasting, though – we’re talking festivals, and the intimate ‘boutique’ gathering, Beat-Herder, is as stunning as they come. It operates outside the ‘corporate world of cock’, according to its programme, so instead of brash advertisements littering the scenery there’s art installations, quirky speakeasy bars, and bespoke stalls wherever the eye wanders.
Lots of love goes in to every detail, and inclusive friendliness oozes from the surroundings. Whether you’ve come to see Stanton Warriors’ abrasive breakbeats shaking this green and pleasant land, or to nestle yourself in the purpose-built Working Man’s Club for an ale and an earful of folk, we’re all herded comfortably together under the same banner. As an added bonus, unlike the wash-out of 2012, this time the site’s bathed in golden sunshine – probably ordered by the super-efficient organisers to make Jimmy Cliff feel at home before his Sunday headline set.
Truth is, for a boutique festival Beat-Herder’s getting pretty big. The secret’s nearly out. There’s even an extra field acquired this year, 12 stages, and rumours of 30,000 attendees. The line-up too is deceptively big for a small site. Stages are hidden away in forests and tiny tents, but mixing therein are the likes of Shackleton, Bondax, Dub Pistols, and the king of eclectic marathon sets, Mr Scruff. The first night is even capped off with a huge set from legendary big-beat icons Groove Armada, who get everyone raving in unison by pulling out ‘Superstylin’’ et al amid a huge light show.
For fans of bands, this year belongs to Kettering psych-meets-prog outfit Temples, who bring out a befittingly colourful set in the new field on Saturday as part of the Maison D’Etre line-up. With an album on the way, their trippy ‘70s-influenced sound is super tight, and recent single ‘Colours To Life’ – a foot-stomping T.Rex-style stormer – is a big hitter in this sunken-roofed tent. Fellow Heavenly labelmates TOY pull off a tinnitus-inducing set in the same tent, with their distorted krautrock blasting full force from the speakers. Their self-titled debut’s finer moments are near mosh-inducing – ‘Motoring’, ‘Kopter’, and ‘Lose My Way’ make people lose their shoes. Bristol’s live dance band The Other Tribe bring the party vibes to the main stage in a standout performance as well – tribal paint, Indian headdresses, more energy than any fizzy drink that gives you wings.
The best of the fest however is Jimmy Cliff. Despite being in his 60s, the reggae legend radiates youthfulness and positivity. He dances around the stage clad in a Jamaican scarf and sings the classic ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ to a crowd enjoying the best life has to offer. It’s a show concentrating on the greatest hits in the huge back-catalogue at his disposal, plus a few choice cuts from last year’s ‘Rebirth’ album. With the sun setting ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’, and ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ perfectly fit the optimistic tone of the whole weekend.
So make sure you go next year – it’s the biggest small festival around!
Words: Simon Butcher
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