Looe Music Festival - 19th-21st September 2014, Looe, Cornwall

So here it is, my local festival at the end of the summer and one of those that is growing in reputation. For those that don't know Looe, it's a sprawling, labyrinthine Cornish fishing village full of bars, odd shops and the constant smell of fish. I love it. For this one weekend of the year, however, Looe is turned in to a maze of tents, marquees and pubs with musicians squeezed in to the tightest of corners which makes it even more charming. Arriving on the Friday my companion and I were full of anticipation and ready for a string of live bands - a feeling that was slightly tempered by the queue to pick up wristbands which was a little excessive. Nevertheless, we soon got our wristbands and then it was time for the music....

Samba Kernow in full flow
Thirst was paramount so we hit the bar and once we stepped outside we were immediately faced by the sight of a dozen pounding women of varying ages with a couple of gents in the back row. Rather than the hen party we originally thought it to be this was actually the local phenomenon that is Samba Kernow (https://www.facebook.com/SambaKernow?fref=ts). The rhythm this group produces is infectious, tight and irresistible which would normally be enough to keep my interest by coming to a festival with someone harbouring a raging hangover has it's downsides. So, we moved on to the beach where the main stages are located to check out the action. There we found 3 Daft Monkeys (https://www.facebook.com/3daftmonkeys?fref=ts) who were in full swing, entertaining a packed ten with their gypsy-folk-punk. The blend of fierce acoustic guitar, smooth bass, lively violin and tight drums was a heady combination and the dance floor comprised entirely of sand made for an intriguing if not entirely stable folk-mosh.

Back to the front of festival area - largely to avoid the Brand New Heavies - where we caught the tail end of the entirely sparkly and slick Falmouth Soul Sensation (https://www.facebook.com/falmouthsoulsensation?fref=ts). The Cornish collective shook their tail feathers and did the alligator like true soul kings and queens with the crowd lapping up every soulful, sweat drenched note. A quick about turn saw us facing the opposite stage where Mod legends The Lambrettas (https://www.facebook.com/TheLambrettas?fref=ts) launched straight in to their set which, although tight, was a little lacking in punch due to the quiet soundsystem. The quartet worked through their late 70s mod revival hits and had the crowd lapping things up. We wandered over to the Portbyhan Hotel to catch Black Friday (https://www.facebook.com/blackfridayplymouth?fref=ts) but a combination of a long week and a delayed start time meant we couldn't hack it and the first night ended there. Weak, I know.

Wandering through the afternoon sunshine drenched streets of Looe there was a palpable excitement in the air as people danced in every corner and music poured from the bars. A man playing a cigar box guitar in the doorway of a shop has a gaggle of enthralled listeners young and old but we don't have time to hang around - we have a date. Down on the beach, the Adrenalin Quarry stage is playing host to a rag tag bunch known as Tankus The Henge (https://www.facebook.com/tankusthehenge) and the crowd are lapping it up. Imagine, if you will, a bunch of classically trained Jazz musicians who have run away to join the circus and, on the way to the big top, they picked up some tapes for the journey. Those tapes influenced their sound with like of Madness, Chas'n'Dave, some East European folk, Jay Kay's dress sense and then they got to the circus where they added in the performance element. The horns, the piano, the dancing, the megaphone, the guitarist with a broken foot, the shouty bassist and a drummer trying to keep them all swinging to the same beat - it's a heady mix and one that the crowd on the beach absolutely lapped up.

Lucie Marie Closier + Guitarist
A sashay in to the Beach Bar tent was predominantly for the purpose of getting a beer but while we were there we caught Lucie Marie Closier (https://www.facebook.com/lucieeofficial), an Essex based singer who recently appeared on the Voice. Now, I don't want to knock the ambitions of a 17 year old but it did seem odd that this girl was put on the second biggest stage at the festival so sing cover versions accompanied by some muted acoustic guitar. Vocally, Closier obviously has talent but hasn't found her channel yet and when the biggest cheer of your set is for the guitar being properly plugged in half way through then you know you've got a way to go.

Wild Food Kitchen
Turning our attention back to the main stage we find Toseland (https://www.facebook.com/OfficialJamesToseland) in full rock swing with the band covered head to toe in black leather and a whole lot of hair. If you like your rock on the soft metal side of things with an 80s tinge then these guys might just be for you but we needed something with more meat so we went a-wandering. On said wanderings we came across the glorious Wild Food Kitchen (http://www.wildfoodkitchen.com/) who are, strictly speaking, not a band but do a mean pulled venison burger and nettle falafel that is worth mentioning along the way.

Sound Of The Sirens

With full bellies and the sun firmly out of sight we made our way to the Harbour Marquee to catch the highly rated duo Sound Of The Sirens (https://www.facebook.com/SoundoftheSirens). These ladies are firm LWM favourites but this is the first time I've seen them live and I was not disappointed. The tight, two part harmonies are the perfect juxtaposition to the fierce, agitated acoustic guitar playing and rib shaking bass drum rhythms. Sadly, the inebriation of the crowd and the sound check of the band at the other end of the marquee didn't quite give the pair the respect their intricate and imaginative melodies but nevertheless I'm glad to have finally seen them live. Although the slick and groove based Blues of Kris Dollimore (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kris-Dollimore/145892765585961?fref=ts) and has band were tempting we headed back to the main stage to catch a bit of headliners Squeeze (https://www.facebook.com/squeezeofficial) instead. The London legends didn't disappoint and rattled out the hits including 'Take Me I'm Yours', 'Up The Junction' and fan favourite 'Cool For Cats'. The crowd on the beach lapped it up and, despite a slightly weak soundsystem, the night was capped in fine style....or so we thought.

Tankus The Henge @ Zute Bar
Ambling back in to the heart of Looe we remembered that our friends Tankus The Henge were due to play a second, more intimate set at the Zute Lounge so we thought we'd pop in for a closer look. What we found was a venue full to bursting, a mob of people 5 rows deep clamouring to get in and a couple of bewildered security guards doing a great job of trying to manage the situation. Inside, the jazzy, New Orleans infused tones of the band started to seep out and they drew me in despite the throng. Squeezing between the masses it really felt like a moment was occurring that people would talk about for a long time to come as saxophone and trumpet were played awkwardly, wedged in around the drummer and the singing could be heard even if the singer could not be seen. This is what festivals in cities, towns and villages are all about and will surely be one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Surely....

OK, I'm going to hold my hands up and apologise to the majority of the Sunday bands right now but I was flagging a bit so I didn't get to see as much as I ought to. Nevertheless, I did catch a few key performers and what I did catch was largely good. The big pull of the day for me was over on the Adrenalin Quarry stage were Kernow boys Crowns (https://www.facebook.com/crownsband) took to the stage to treat the crowd to their unique brand of rock'n'roll mixed with a Cornish folk style that makes you want to dance or at least jig on the sandy dance floor. Rumours were abound that this would be the last performance by the band which would be a great loss if true but a clever marketing ploy if not. Only time will tell*.

DfunK @ The Beach Bar
Shuffling over to the Beach Bar we find an unlikely pairing of a young lad with an acoustic guitar and what appears to be Terry Pratchet on bass. This is, in fact, a stripped down duo version of Exeter band DfunK (https://www.facebook.com/dfunkdevon) but don't underestimate them, they have the power of the funk. Despite some fairly persistent technical issues, the pair persevered through a set that included funk, blues, jazz and soul but at the core was some superb guitar playing, a rich bass and smooth vocal style. I'd love to see the full band but these guys did a powerful job on their own and converted a good number of the audience in to fans with many a nod of approval visible among the crowd.

Back on the main stage and there was excitement in the air as the sun started to set and a bunch of men in red kilts appeared to roars of approval. Red Hot Chili Pipers (https://www.facebook.com/redhotchillipipersofficial?ref=ts&fref=ts) were the party band of choice with their brand of soft rock covers featuring a trio of pipers where a vocalist would normally be. The shtick was entertaining for a song or two but I've never been a fan of the bagpipes as an instrument so we decided to leave the masses and head for the back streets. What we found was a particularly tasty pulled pork sandwich, a seat by the harbour walls and the last few songs of a bearded folk singer who we affectionately named Blind Seamus Maguire on account of his lilt and white stick. As the stars began to spark on the water this seemed like the place to leave the festival.

There are myriad festivals around the UK and the South West has more than its fair share but Looe Festival is something a little bit special. The whole town opens its arms and doors to the public and all you have to do is open your ears and minds to ensure you have a great time. I'm already looking forward to next year when I will plan better and catch more of the music. Possibly...

*sadly the official Crowns Facebook page has confirmed that this was the band's last ever show. I will take off my hat and bow my head in respect.

More information: http://www.looemusic.co.uk/