I’ve just got back from Guilfest 2012. I sense such a statement has elicited a few cries of surprise, raised eyebrows and even a snigger or two. Well whilst it is true it’s not the coolest of festivals you shouldn’t be so snobby you bunch of stuck up hipsters, and secondly I have an excuse – I come from that part of Surrey so it was a good chance to see some friends and visit a festival where I could stay at my parents house and enjoy such things as a proper bed and a shower. Guilfest also has a better lineup than you probably imagine. A couple of years back I saw Orbital there and any festival that books them is okay with me.
As a festival they are a little different to your Glastonburys and Vs that look to book the biggest or your Field Days and Secret Garden Parties that try to be cool and underground. Guilfest ultimately tries to serve the local audience and community as they know they’re not big enough to draw people from around the country. As that local audience is skewed towards young families, teenagers a bit too young to go to festivals further afield and an older muso crowd the bands tend to be in three main groups.
The big draws for the families and kids are the big pop acts they get in, with this year’s batch being Olly Murs, Tulisa and Cher Lloyd. With the dancification of pop music in full swing they also had a bunch of bass focused DJs including Benga and Sub Focus that no doubt pleased the teenage contingent. As I write for a dance music blog it seemed best to miss all of them though.
Rather nicely the festival also caters to local bands with a large number of acts from the area filling the lineup on a couple of stages and others doing the early slots on the main two stages. It’s a nice way for the largest event in the area to support the local scene.
The older generation (who I get the impression probably don’t go to a lot of other gigs in the year) are kept amused by a lineup made up of big bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s who are still performing and a large contingent of covers acts to play songs from those that aren’t. The former was fine by me and took up much of my time at the festival but I did feel there was just too much of the latter. Covers bands are fine for pubs and student unions but, other than the very best, festival stages should be left for bands that actually write their own music.
I arrived on Friday, mates in tow, with a mixture of excitement, slight nausea from Thursday night’s drinking and a little trepidation at what this year’s extraordinary summer might throw at us. The latter was clearly going to have something of an impact as we arrived only a couple of hours after the site opened and the main pathways were already a couple of inches deep in mud. Thankfully there were still large areas of grass around the site, particularly in front of the main stage, though we figured that wasn’t going to last long.
After the regulation first beer (especially foul and overpriced Tuborg – why can’t all festivals sell cans? I almost don’t mind paying a fiver if I know I’ll actually get more beer than water) we headed over the main stage. Local band Weyward Chile were starting their set. If it had been 1982 they would have been playing stadiums in America, sadly music has moved on so they were playing to a couple of hundred people mid afternoon on the first day of Guilfest. Still I really enjoyed their blend of 80’s rock and hair metal. It was played with real passion, skill and they really looked the part even if the songs were deeply derivative of classics from another age.
Next up was singer-songwriter Beth Hart who we only watched as we fancied a quick sit down on what grass there was. She was rubbish – just awful songs.
We then moved on to the second stage. At Guilfest the main stage is your standard large festival stage but the second one is much smaller, perhaps the size of the third or fourth stages might be at other festivals. Sometimes I think some of the acts booked on it might have been disappointed but I think it worked fine as it give a nice intimate vibe and made sure everyone playing had a decent crowd. The first act we saw were Macavity’s Cat. I had in my mind they had a minor hit or two in the ‘80s but I can’t find reference to it now so might have imagined it. Anyway they played a folky, country, skiffle thing which was pretty good fun and did an excellent cover of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.
This was followed by the only straight up covers band I saw called The Doors Alive, who liked to do Take That covers. Only joking! Obviously they did The Doors. And they did them okay just not great.
We then headed back to the main stage for The Straits. Once upon a time they were Dire Straits but Mark Knopfler left and they felt it was then okay to drop the Dire part. They played the big tunes from Brothers in Arms and some of their other big hits. It was professionally played, very tight and suitably main stage sounding but not overly exciting and they did tend to let the solos go on way too long.
We then returned to the second stage to see the highlight of day one, Heaven 17. They are a big band to me as they were both key in the electronic post-punk scene of Sheffield and influential in early Acid House. I wasn’t disappointed as they played a great set and their classic ‘Temptation’ was suitably epic.
Sadly about half way through their set it started to rain and by rain, I mean utterly piss down. We had intended to stay for the last band of the night 80’s popsters ABC but hanging around for half an hour during the change over and then an hour’s set was considered a little too challenging as the site was quickly turning into a river. We were far from alone in the decision and the festival seemed to be shutting down early as hordes of people fled for somewhere dry. It was at this point I was very glad to be going back to a bed and not a tent!
We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday to find the heavy overnight rain had turned an already muddy site into a brown sludgy hell. It also seemed a lot busier than Friday with the big name popstars booked for the main stage drawing in a lot more people. Thankfully the bar and toilet queues were always short to non-existent which I think is a real achievement for any festival.
Musically we started the day with Republica who you might just remember from the late 90’s. I quite liked them at the time and they were still kind of fun now but did find lead singer Saffron’s shouty vocals rather annoying. Republica were followed by a quick scout of the local band tents. My compatriots liked one group we discovered whose name now escapes me. They were okay for a pub band on a dull wednesday night but I did think they were all a little too provincial. They even had song about how scary and horrible London is! I don’t want to sound snobby (already told you off for that after all) but if they want to play grim, tough guitar music they might find it works better if they did move out leafy Surrey.
After an excellent dinner of sausage, mash and Yorkshire pudding it was time for Tim Minchin. I’d seen him before at one of Professor Brian Cox’s science/comedy/music things but he only got twenty minutes then, he had a full hour at Guilfest and was totally awesome. He was very funny, had great songs and amazing stage presence. There were even a large crowd of screaming teenage girls. He took the piss out of them but they still screamed.
We did catch a few moments of both Cher Lloyd and Olly Murs as we wandered past the main stage at several points in the day. They were truly untalented and dull if professional respectively. Tulisa was too cool to even turn up. As a promoter and fan I have a particular hatred of no shows but feel it’s even worse when it’s to a event you happily played in the past but now you’re a big tabloid name prefer hanging out in Ibiza to honouring your professional commitments. Still it wasn’t like she could drop any lower in my estimation anyway.
The next good music we saw was Nouvelle Vague who cover post-punk hits in a french bossa nova style. They were very slick and had a pair of extremely hot singers but ultimately are just a very clever covers band – fun but a little insubstantial. Something which could not be said of Saturday’s headliner Gary Numan. As an icon of electronic music I can’t say anything bad about him and as with the last time I’d seen him he put on an great show. But if you’ve not seen him before don’t go expecting early-80s electro-pop, he’s now very, very industrial and that is all he plays. ‘Cars’ did get an airing in a very different style to the original but otherwise there was little from his early days.
And that was the end of Guilfest for me. I skipped day three as I’m too poor to pay for three days festival drinking and more importantly had to get home to write this review for you, our beloved readers! All in all in was a very fun, muddy and wet weekend with some entertaining if not revelatory music.