When you are privileged to attend a lot of festivals you quickly come to realise that whilst many have all the component parts of a great festival, there are very few that have that elusive special ingredient
Great bands? - Check.
Great food? - Check.
Great bars? - Check.
The truth is that if you want to put on a boss festival then it's not enough to just assemble a bunch of parts and hope that it all comes together. It's just not.
Having been first staged in 2003 you could say that Beautiful Days has had time to get it right and it's fair to say that it most definitely has got it right - in spades.
Set in the picturesque grounds of Escot Park in Devon BD starts off with a site that is small enough to organise but big enough that there's space to move around.
More importantly first interactions count and from the guys at the front gate to Martin who helpfully points me in the direction of the hard standing for motorbikes (another tick for BD), everyone is helpful and chatty.
Why is this important? Well first impressions matter and when the lady in the wristband exchange offers you a cherry and has a chat about the charities that Beautiful Days supports it means that people actually do care that they are putting on a festival that people will enjoy and remember.
So the first thing to get out of the way is that Beautiful Days is a family festival. What this means is that families are actively encouraged and there's a lot for small people to do but it never becomes overbearing. I'm sure we've all been to 'family festivals' where you spend the entire weekend with bruised ankles from the bloody trolleys and a selection of vendors that spend the entire time trying to suck as much money out of your wallet as they can. This isn't what BD is about.
Sure there's merch, and many of the activities cost extra for the tiddliwinks but they aren't ridiculously overpriced or rammed down your throat.
So if you are there with the kids it's a family festival, if you're there for the music it's a music festival and if you want to get off your face in the dance tent then you're in luck.
Anyway I get there at a reasonable time on the Friday and it's clear that most people were there waaaay before me. Anyhoo I find a spot for the tent, load up with camera gear and go and find the lovely Laura who issues my press pass and I wander off to try and find some liquid refreshment. As it happens I am in luck as the bars are provided by the Otter Brewery and there's a goodly selection of ales and fruit based drinks for the ladies. So I make a purchase and sit outside the big top for The Levellers Acoustic set.
One of the best reasons to go to a festival is to find bands that you wouldn't ordinarily come across and it becomes a theme of the weekend for me as I find bands that I know, bands that I don't and bands that I really should have come across but haven't.
Friday (mainly music and beer)
Rews are definitely in the middle category. Never heard of them but liked them very much. A two piece rock outfit that reminds a tiny bit of Slaves (but more of Royal Blood) they kick off the weekend on the main stage and they are interesting enough for me to photograph and note that I need to check them out later. Vox & Guitar Shauna struggles manfully on with an avocado sliced finger and they put on a very good set indeed.
A band in the -definitely-should-have-heard-of category are The Dualers. Ska, bluebeat and reggae they should have been on my radar a long time ago because they are good, very good and it reinforces my feeling that this is going to be a good musical weekend.
I decide to wander over to the Big Top, more in search of food than anything and also to see if they have improved the dreadful lighting. They haven't but the food is good and I end up experiencing the final set of The Mahones European tour.
The Canadian high energy, punk folk band were another revelation and they massively rocked the big top. The best bit about a festival is accidentally discovering a band when you wander off looking for something else.
Back to the Main stage for Vintage Trouble (Excellent), Feeder (Excellent) then the quandry as I really wanted to see Hives on the main stage and Black Water County at Bimble Inn.
So off to the Bimble Inn I trooped to try and get some shots of the Bournemouth folk/punk/steam/irish people and failed miserably.
Bloody BWC had packed out the bimble and I couldn't get anywhere near. In the end I sat outside and enjoyed the spectacle of many more people trying to get into a tent than it would hold.
As I sat on the bank drinking ale and having a chat with a very drunk man who told me his life story I could hear the throng in the Bimble singing the original BWC songs and it is clear that the guys are now world famous in the West Country.
Saturday (mainly beer)
Saturday dawns and I'm looking forward to a few bands today, the first off is Dreadzone. These guys are regulars at BD and their infectious reggae beat is perfect for an afternoon spent sitting in a field.
Next up a band from my youth. The Skids were a top band when I started getting properly into music which certainly dates me and it appears that they may have aged but certainly not mellowed. The band may have the odd new member but they haven't lost any of their fire.
Shed Seven are band that were unbelievably first popular a good 25 years ago. They've started hitting the circuit again and they are better than ever with new stuff that is gaining a lot of critical acclaim and a back catalogue that makes you wish it was 1995. There are new shed heads in Devon after this methinks.
Headliners Manic Street Preachers are one of my favourite all time bands and the chance to shoot and watch them was just too good to miss. A surprising choice to headline the Saturday at Beautiful Days given James Dean Bradfields' admission that they'd 'not exactly hit it off' with the levellers back in the day, they were nonetheless an excellent centrepiece for the occasion.
Whilst they too have a stunning back catalogue what struck me most about the set was the interlude where Bradfield got the entire crowd singing along to 'Can't take my eyes of of you'. It shows that a top quality musician can hold a crowd with just an acoustic guitar and a great song
Sunday (more beer)
Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest so we have a leisurely breakfast then go and explore the site. We meet stiltwalkers, fire eaters and magicians and have tea with wood whittlers and watch as numerous kiddwinkies paint, chop and saw their Sunday morning away.
I'm interested to go and see Henge on the main stage as they are billed as being out of this world and frankly I'm not sure whether I liked them or not. They were 'aliens' that played mainly electronica and tried to explain to humanity where it was going wrong. I couldn't work out whether it was supposed to be a comedy act, a slant on serious music or whether they really did believe they were aliens (maybe they really were!). I tried hard to hate them and failed.
Another of my must see festival favourites were on next. Dub Pistols are one of the best reggae/ska/dub bands around and they always give a fantastic show, this year's BD was no exception. Their catchy music is so infectious that the whole main stage was dancing and I was left with an earworm of one of the most popular songs for days afterwards.
Jah Wobble is another name from my past and the former PIL bass was in Devon with his new band. I really enjoyed his set as he veered between Nietzsche, Cartesian Dualism and Harry J and the Allstars. An eclectic mix indeed but refreshing and he strikes me as a musician who has plenty of stories to tell but who doesn't take himself too seriously.
I'd found that Russ from Black Water County wandering across the bridge and he'd tipped me off to Gogol Bordello as probably the finest exponents of gypsy punk around. A bold claim indeed.
Without doubt if they are nothing else they are a photographer's dream and keeping up with them, even if it was only for four songs was nigh on impossible. I had no idea what they were singing about but you couldn't fault their enthusiasm or passion for the job at hand. A1.
Finally we ended up at the traditional and much loved Levellers set. What to say other than they ended the festival in fine style with their usual brilliant set (sadly without a manflu ridden Jeremy) and I'm pretty sure that every person still at the festival was in the field to see them.
What is the missing X-factor that makes an ordinary festival a great one?
For me it's an attitude of mind.
Beautiful Days seems to me to be set up not as a money making opportunity but as a celebration of how a medium sized festival should be.
There's a lack of commercialism with fairly priced and quality food and drink and a well run site. There's a great selection of bands with good headliners and a lack of repetitiveness in the bookings.
More importantly than all of this is that this festival has a great attitude of mind. The security are all happy to have a chat and stewarding of the site doesn't feature the overbearing jobsworth attitude that dogs so many of today's events. Everybody I came across was helpful even though they may have been tired and had been working long hours for many days.
A final shout out has to go to the people of Beautiful Days. Without doubt they are the best dressed, biggest taker parters and the happiest festival crowd I've found.
Beautiful Days isn't my favourite festival but it's in the top one.
Beautiful Days Gallery - the people
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