There aren’t many festivals where you approach by crossing a bridge over a busy fishing river only to make your way through a winding, cramped street before you find yourself face to face with a two stage arena on a beach surrounded by cocktail bars and confused seagulls. But this is Looe Festival and they do things slightly differently, that much I’ve learned over the past four years of coming here. Making my way up to the main arena on the beach on this first evening of the festival, there is friction in the air and it’s the kind of friction that comes at the moment when summer ends, autumn begins and the music gets turned up loud. That said, the colder weather (the festival is a couple of weeks later than usual) and promise of rain didn’t do the crowds any favours and there wasn’t quite the bustle you would normally expect.
No matter, I was on a mission to finally catch sight of an increasingly rare beast in these parts and that meant I had to be on the beach at just the right time, facing in just the direction with just the right pint of Korev in my hand. The beast I speak of is Plymouth lad Chay Snowdon who’s triumphant set on the BBC Introducing stage in 2016 had propelled him on the main stage where he was set to pull the ripcord on three days of live music by the sea. This was my first time seeing Chay and his band live and they did not disappoint in any way; tight melodies, some individually excellent musicians, big bass lines and a solo from the drummer AND the guitarist (but not at the same time). These guys were heavier than I expected in an Arctic Monkeys meets Queens of the Stone Age kinda way which was a pleasant surprise and that was balanced out with some nice 90s influences like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana. If they can lock down a couple of more triumphant endings then they could be back higher up the main stage bill in the very near future so make a mental note on that front.
One of the great things about Looe Festival is that the town opens up all its excellent eateries and then invites a load of stalls in too so this seemed like an opportune moment to go for my annual pilgrimage to the Inkies trailer. Every stall seemed to be offering various kinds of pulled meat but Inkies smoke that meat as well which makes it all the more tasty – I recommend the Dirty Dog unless you’re vegetarian in which case steer well clear.
|The Reverend and his congregation|
With full bellies, it was time to take a mosey around the streets of Looe to see what other music is on offer away from the main stages and, luckily, around the first corner was the excellent Nick Mears playing his chilled, beachy vibes in the Zute Bar which, although small, has the foresight to put its bands on stage in the window for all passing punters to enjoy. No time to dawdle though, I have a date that I’ve been waiting nearly a decade for: Reverend & The Makers. Ever since their first album, this Sheffield collective have had a special place in my heart but I’ve never managed to see them live and they didn’t disappoint. The Reverend (aka John McClure) is an absolute consummate frontman and exactly the person you want to whip a crowd in to a frenzy as the sun goes down on the first night of festival weekend. Dance moves were orchestrated, audience sections pitted against each other to see who could sing loudest and more than once a song was stopped a few bars in because the crowd wasn’t ‘up for it’ enough. Old classics and hits from their new album were bashed out in loud and pinpoint accurate fashion. Despite it being “unseasonably perky” for down south – the Rev kept his coat on throughout – this was an immense set and I reckon their new top 11 album might just creep in to the top 10 if they keep impressing audiences like this.
From first timers to seasoned hands, it was time to hot-foot it over to the Harbourside marquee to catch the tail end of festival favourites the Normals. If you like a tight horn section, Duracell levels of energy, chantable melodies and, well, a dancing panda then the Normals are the band for you enough can only catch the last two songs of their set. The handy thing about the Harbourside marquee is that if you stand at the back for one band then all you have to do is turn 180 degrees to be at the front for the next act and that’s where I found myself for Rupert Stroud. This wasn’t an artist I had any prior knowledge of which is always exciting but, after the incoherent ramblings of the well oiled compere, Rupert and co. set about building some atmosphere. However, the first two songs that followed were fairly forgettable Radio 2 MOR fodder that stirred nothing inside me so it was time to ditch and run back to the main stage to catch the first headliners of the weekend, the Jesus & Mary Chain. Looking out across the audience, you could see a fair proportion of the huddled masses were there to see their heroes work through their hits and the new material that has propelled them back in to public consciousness. That said, this felt like I’d crashed a bit of a closed party so it was time to call it a night for day one. A fine start indeed, let’s see what day two brings…..
Well, day brings rain and I bring the family. Yep, Looe is a family friendly festival so it seemed a good idea to bring the better half and kids along to get their take on proceedings. Despite the ‘reserved parking’ system failing completely (much to the hilarity of the parking attendants) we made it in to Looe in one piece but then things started to go wrong. We couldn’t get in to the car park marquee due to sheer numbers sheltering from the rain. Those musicians that had braved the weather to perform outside had some hardy crowds but these were short sets to preserve their instruments and equipment. From the shelter of Mama J’s we could hear the funky, rocking sounds of Uncle Frank floating across from the main stage but my press passes only went as far as two adults so we couldn’t get the family in to this area. A resilient gnome-like man kept grinding away at his hurdy-gurdy and the food stalls kept on looking expectantly as we walked past but a lack of covered space meant we just had to keep moving.
|The Busketeers - handsome chaps|
For entirely selfish reasons I managed to ditch my entourage and duck in to the Marquee to catch the mid-section of a triumphant set from The Busketeers. One advantage of an ultra-soggy day is that those playing undercover get a bumper crowd and the Plymouth based quartet fully deserved their time in front of a crowd who were crying out for a good time and enough self-generated heat to dry their socks out. The band took the chance to break out a few of their own songs and the crowd lapped every note as these four lookers paused only to swap instruments and then pick up where they left off. The lack of access for the kids, the rain and a relatively uninspiring line up conspired to direct us back to the car via the Thai noodle stall. Rain stopped play.
Better weather, better line up and a better outlook made Sunday a more interesting prospect. First things first, the annual trip to the Harbour Moon to check out the Deviock Community Music Group where some standards were blasted out by the assembled masses of musicians culminating in a triumphant version of ‘Valerie’. This is music in the community in its purest form with none of the pretensions of fame seeking or posturing which can make music so distasteful. Heading over the bridge, there is more of a vibe in the town as the sun has a go at poking through the grey clouds. Sitting on a wall to do some people watching, the sounds of some buskers drift down the street and after enjoying the music I wonder over to pay my dues and realise that it’s the excellent Bache warming up for their set at the aforementioned Harbour Moon.
|Tankus The Henge plus Cornish B&Bs in the background|
Making my way up to the main arena at some pace, there was no time to spare if I was to enjoy the full experience on the main stage. There is some criticism to be levelled at a festival where the line-up seems to change minimally year on year but one regular I’m always happy to see is Tankus the Henge, led by the inimitable Jaz Delorean. Rolling the likes of Chas and Dave in with Jools Holland’s smooth big band delivery as well as a sense of the theatrical is what makes Tankus especially enjoyable. That said, there’s nothing that tops having your little boy on your shoulders dancing like a nutter to forthcoming single ‘You Can Do Anything’ – it’s a special moment. Cast followed on and rattled through their hits quick smart but they were never that big a bunch of hitters back in the day so this didn’t do much to whip up the crowd on this last night of the audience. There was a minor cheer when John Power dedicated ‘Fine Time’ song to Jeremy Corbyn but nothing big enough to suggest a political awakening in this sleepy Cornish town.
So the task of closing the weekend out fell to the dandy’s of the Madchester scene, the Happy Mondays. For many, this was the set that folk had been waiting all weekend for and the joyousness didn’t disappoint in all its baggy, funky and soulful glory. For me, Reverend & The Makers were the real winners of the weekend and the weather was the real loser but then again there’s a reason that most festivals don’t run in to October, in the UK at least. It is great that a town like Looe can put on a music festival of this size and it’s hugely beneficial to a place like Cornwall but if they could just sort out some of the logistics this would go from local festival to national jewel in a few easy and sandy steps. Still, a festival that finishes up on a beach with a firework display and a pint of cider in the hand of this reviewer is alright by me so carry on, good people, carry on.
Looe Music Festival - https://www.facebook.com/looemusic/
Chay Snowdon – https://www.facebook.com/chay.snowdon
Nick Mears – https://www.facebook.com/NickMearsMusic/
Zute Bar – https://www.facebook.com/Zutebar/
Reverend & The Makers – https://www.facebook.com/ReverendAndTheMakers/
The Normals – https://www.facebook.com/thehomeofthenormals/
Rupert Stroud – https://www.facebook.com/rupertstroudmusic/
The Jesus & Mary Chain – https://www.facebook.com/JesusAndMaryChain/
Mama J’s – https://www.facebook.com/mamajsitalian/
Uncle Frank – https://www.facebook.com/UncleFrankMusic/
The Busketeers – https://www.facebook.com/TheBusketeersOfficial/
The Harbour Moon – https://www.facebook.com/harbourmooninn/
Deviock Community Music Group – https://www.facebook.com/Deviock-Community-Music
Tankus The Henge – https://www.facebook.com/tankusthehenge/The Happy Mondays - https://www.facebook.com/HappyMondaysOnline/