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Review [Wychwood Festival]

 Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham   fourstar

Hen parties and hippies in the sun

By Pierre Perrone

Published: 05 June 2007

Three years into its existence, the Wychwood Festival is developing a reputation for its wonderful setting, hassle-free vibe and adventurous line-up, mixing seasoned performers and new talent from rock, world and folk. The audience happily includes hen parties alongside hippies, crusties and teenagers, and the odd pensioner couple. Friday featured strong sets by Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, and later Robyn Hitchcock, happily trading Byrds-like guitar licks with REM's Peter Buck, on vacation from REM. Headliners The Levellers played a stormer and delighted their many followers.

Saturday showcased many second-generation performers following in the footsteps of their illustrious parents. Ben Taylor is not yet the equal of James Taylor or Carly Simon, but Martha Tilston, the daughter of the folk singer Steve Tilston, has a poignant vibrato and a witty line in self-deprecating songs about office life and the evils of capitalism. Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, gave a virtuoso performance of hypnotic ragas.

Golem System, comprising members from Argentina, Venezuela and Catalonia, delivered on their promise to play "trip songs in dub". The reggae-infused "Sous La Pluie" and a cover of "Eleanor Rigby" in Spanish demonstrated that they have the potential to match the success of their friend Manu Chao.

Scottish folk futurists Shooglenifty had the audience dancing jigs and reels and were the most aptly named group of the festival, though Camera Obscura ran them a close second. The understated indie-pop Glasgow band is fronted by Tracyanne Campbell, whose winsome voice is reminiscent of Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn. There's no denying the gentle, referential irony in "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken" and "Eighties Fan".

Badly Drawn Boy hadn't played live for two months but slipped easily from his "All Possibilities" into Sister Sledge's "Thinking of You". Rodrigo Y Gabriela proved even keener to drift into other people's repertoires. The Mexican pair of flamenco guitarists riffed their way through Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", when they weren't headbanging in sync. Saturday night's headliners, Fun Lovin' Criminals, name-checked Barry White in "Love Unlimited", but the streetwise New York charm of singer Huey Morgan seemed oddly out of place in a Gloucestershire field.

On the Wickwar stage, the comedian Mundo Jazz made fun of the world-music phenomenon, his presence proof that Wychwood is a broad church, happy to welcome doubters and cynics as well as believers.

On Sunday, Magic Skool Bus, a seven-piece from Northampton with a punchy horn section, certainly woke everyone up. Coming on like a ska-punk Dexy's Midnight Runners, they played an energetic set, justifying their status as the Bloodhound Gang's support band of choice. Supreme wench of the folk scene Eliza Carthy, who has appeared at every Wychwood, brought along Ed Harcourt for sea shanties and murder ballads. Cue much "aarrghh"-ing through "Farewell Nancy" and the jolly romp of "Paul and Silas".

Country Joe McDonald, of course, is a veteran of Woodstock. Accompanied by a couple of mates on washboard and spoons, the protest singer took it back to the spirit of the jug bands, paid tribute to "Janis" [Joplin] and had a pop at the war in Iraq. After "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?", he instructed children to cover their ears, and the singalong peace anthem "I Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die Rag" went down a storm.

The kora player Jali Fily Cissokho, from Senegal, provided the perfect sound for those with a sore head, while later, Ba Cissoko, from Guinea, took the harp-like instrument into the future by adding beats and grooves. Along with Trans-Global Underground, who played on the Saturday, Afro Celt Sound System are the originators of the world-fusion genre, and closed the festival with a set matching the pioneering vision of their founder, Simon Emmerson. Glastonbury is now part of the mainstream of British life, but Wychwood is keeping the pioneering festival spirit alive.










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