I am a cider drinker!
Relieved to be away from the Bloom we only had a couple of days off before heading to Beautiful Days, our penultimate festival of the year, and our last working with Oxfam. This was going to be another first festival for, but it felt nice going to the south-west for a festival, somehow traveling that way always feels like going downhill.
We had been pretty fortunate and had been quick to respond to a message wanting people to work the early shift signing stewards in as they arrived on site. This was a bonus as it would mean getting one shift out of the way nice and early, hopefully giving us some time to enjoy the festival a bit more. However, we were once again put on the late shift on the Sunday, but with some begging we managed to get this changed to a Sunday afternoon shift finishing at 6pm. So although the typical summer weather was once again looking poor, I was expecting a much better state of affairs compared to Bloom.
Beautiful Days is held at Escot Park in Devon and is organised by The Levellers, who headline the festival every year. This was going to be the first time that Oxfam had done the stewarding for this festival so it was impressed on us that all eyes would be watching. The site itself was extremely beautiful, with the large manor house overlooking the festival which was set in the middle of a valley. My only slight concern was that water tends to run downhill, so if it did get torrential then it might get quite deep in water. The festival focuses on being a family based event, with a good kids field and entertainment, as well as having performers out amongst the crowd. Possibly the best selling point was the fantastically cheap, blow yer head off cider that was only around 2:50 a pint. This was extremely welcome considering until now a pint was costing anything from 3.50 and upwards. There are a couple of nice bars, and we revisited one of Glastonbury haunts from earlier in the year by going to the Bimble Inn that was situated just past all the stages in its own little hideaway.
The main stage is set just at the bottom of a nicely sloped hill that makes it pretty easy to get a good view even when it’s busy, and I was walking along the hill in the afternoon when I ended up bumping into someone I went to college with that I hadn’t seen for eight years. To be honest I’m amazed he recognised me as I used to have short hair at college, and by now my dreads were past my shoulders. I also managed to make another Scilly connection later on in the Bimble Inn when I ended up chatting to someone who knew the Metcalfs on St.Mary’s – or was that at Glastonbury? Looking back it’s difficult to separate one from the other!
Having the Friday day off was pretty good and we perused the stalls and enjoyed the cider, a little too much in my case so I ended up having an early night but Amy carried on enjoying herself. The music began the following day though, and keeping up with tradition The Levellers opened the festival with an acoustic set in the Big Red Tent that was full to capacity. They played a pretty decent set, I saw them last at Glastonbury a few years ago and was impressed but this didn’t quite grab me in the same way. In the end I came away feeling that if you’ve seen one Levellers gig you’ve probably seen them all. We actually spent a fair proportion of the day hanging around the Big Red Tent, Amy was enjoying practising her hula hoping to the Tofu Love Frogs and I was happy finding money on the floor – £25!
Later on in the evening we wandered across to watch Nouvelle Vague who I was intrigued to see live as I was unsure as to how their sound would translate to the stage and I was pleasantly surprised. Despite being tiny, the two female singers dominated the stage and worked every song to perfection, pinpointing the emotive aspects of each song brilliantly.
Saturday brought a revisit of the rain that had afflicted Bloom so badly the previous weekend and we bravely ventured out to see if the slopes of the valley had turned into a treacherous death slide. We actually made a sensible decision and took a slight detour from our campsite to walk along the road that ran down into the site. This turned out to be a good idea as the hill coming down from our part of campsite was strewn with straw in a desperate attempt to stop the ground from breaking up too quickly. Backstage had turned into something of a quagmire, the backstage bar had become even more of a refuge for the bands waiting around or having just come off stage. Yet despite the rain, everyone was looking like they were enjoying themselves and this was something that kept the festival running to a good atmosphere. The rain did relent and began to only come in showers as slowly the arena began to fill up again as people flitted from stage to stage to catch the next band. I would say that Beautiful Days definitely impressed me as a festival, despite not being particularly huge, it catered well for a variety of festival experiences; families were more than welcome, the alcohol was good a cheap, entertainment went well into the night, and the line up was diverse enough to attract age ranges from 7 months to 70. We had an night shift on the Saturday, both of us stewarding in the dance tent until the early hours, ears plugs supplied. I’ve never used ear plugs at a gig, they’re mandatory for health and safety if you’re working in a stage area, but I have to say how impressed I was that they could keep the clarity of the music, and you could still hear people talking right next to you. However, once you take them out everything suddenly feels so loud and you experience aural overload. Terry was our shift supervisor for the tent, and being a great bloke he let me have a 45minute break so I could go and watch Supergrass play on the main stage. I saw the end of their set, and I was suitably impressed. The crowd was loving it, and in the cold evening air you could see a steady haze of heat rising up from the crowd down near the front. I got to see them play ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, my favourite song of theirs, so I enjoyed my break and then went back to dancing/stewarding in the dance tent. It was all pretty much uneventful work, although I did end up having to look after a Scottish bloke who had taken three tabs of acid and was a little worse for wear. I had to escort him to the Bimble Inn where I did the very English thing of getting him a cup of tea and we sat down and chatted rubbish until my shift was up and it was time to slide back up the deadly hill by the Bimble Inn and make my way back to the tent.
Although the weather had improved considerably by the Sunday, the mud wasn't going to disappear anytime soon, and our last Oxfam shift of the summer was going to be working in the Kids field keeping an eye out for lost children and making sure tents didn't get overcrowded. This was a pretty easy job and we spent most of our shift playing with all the cool stuff that was going on, the giant hula hoops, and loads of drums and percussion instruments.
Also just off to the side of the Kids Field was the Fairy Love stall which sells a wide variety of tutus, fairy wings and glitter. They're at pretty much every festival and we always see them advertising the glitter wrestling but until Beautiful Days we had never witnessed the spectacle, so we made the most of our work time to go and watch two girls in bikinis get into a paddling pool full of glitter and wrestle around in it. Personally I didn't see the need for the pool when there was plenty of mud to be wrestling in but it was still quite funny to watch and I think Amy was slightly tempted to have a go!
I think that by this point in the summer season we had pretty much had enough of the mud, and we knew that we had one last festival left before we had to call it day so we made a wise decision to head straight back to Bristol after our shift on the Sunday and miss out on the last night. The other advantage of this would be that the carpark would hopefully not be too muddy so our chances of escaping would be much higher! So when we were finally relieved of our duties we grabbed another free dinner, watched a little bit of Idlewild in the rain and then packed our stuff and attempted to escape the mud. Amy was ready and waiting in the Polo and I was scouting out the best route through the mud and when we were ready Amy kept to the plan and we managed skid and slide through the mud until we were safely onto the road that would take us away from Beautiful Days.
Despite the weather Beautiful Days was a really good festival, with plenty of good bands, none of them particularly groundbreaking, but good music none the less. The atmosphere helped and everyone was smiling despite the mud and that's all you can ask for really. It would be a festival that I would probably return to, but maybe in ten years (if it's still going, and if it is I expect the Levellers will still be playing the same set) and I would just hope that it hasn't changed too much in that time. So with our penultimate festival behind us we were looking forward to getting to Shambala, heading north for a change up toward Northampton, and seeing out the summer season in style.