After the roaring success of last year’s festival, Ashcombury Music Festival returned to Ashcombe Park Cricket Club once again, with a lineup stacked full of local and national talent. There were some noticeable differences at this years festival; the increased stage size, outdoor bar and perfect summery festival weather to name but a few, as well as the larger crowd that seemed to grow throughout the day.
Instrumental three-piece Umbrellabird began proceedings, nearly one whole year after they performed their very first show as a band, at exactly the same festival.
They were quickly followed by Alma, a bright young thing of a band with the attitude of a cool-kid teenager to accompany it. I was unsure about what to expect from their performance. The last (and only) time I’d seen them live was at The Underground, when they were taking their very first steps as a band; there was no real sound and I wasn’t convinced that this band wanted to be taken seriously.
But a very different version of Alma stood before me at Ashcombury Festival and I was pleasantly surprised. Their development was evident in their set and collectively they are a band with a sound that is likeable and has great potential. Alma are a band I won’t be letting out of my sight ever again.
Mosley Bar were up next, an indie/alternative rock band I was yet to encounter. The Liverpool based four piece performed songs from their recently released EP titled ‘Royalties’, including ‘Philip’ and ‘Torn Apart’ which were well received by the audience.
Over on the acoustic stage, which was situated inside the main building (and in front of the bar), Oli Ng was preparing for his solo acoustic set of originals. Despite his limited audience, Ng performed his latest single ‘Run and Hide’ and b-side ‘Worlds Apart’ to an astounding level of perfection. Watching him perform and hearing his music, is like climbing into a bed with fresh sheets; regardless of how many times you may have heard his music or seen him live, every time feels like the very first time.
Whether he’s backed by his band or going it alone, Oli Ng creates music that is hard not to adore. His set was quality, his performance was to the book and I can’t wait to see him tackle the main stage next year.
A band who were happily conquering the main stage this year were Camens, formerly known as LazyEye. Having only recently returned from their musical silence and with a brand new identity and style, Camens were an obvious and almost perfect choice for the festival. They performed an entirely new set which featured brand new singles ‘Boys Will Stray’ and ‘Redolence’, ‘Violent Video Games’ and ‘Wasn’t I Enough?’, along with the only LazyEye song to pass the test of time, ‘I’m A Stone’.
Their casual nature and laid back attitude, along with their summery sounding singles and well-rehearsed set, put the band in the forefront of people’s minds. Camens are a band that are hard to ignore at the moment and their set at Ashcombury proved it.
The sun was shining down on Ashcombury Festival when Divenire stepped onto the stage. Sunglasses, shorts and socks with sandals was the only dress code, leaving those that braved last years mid-summer downpour, wondering whether it was all just a bad dream.
Divenire were the answer to everyone’s prayers. Fronted by Dom Morgan and containing talented and passionate musicians, Divenire strode on through their performance with confidence and enthusiasm. Fresh (or slightly groggy) from a career defining headline gig at The Sugarmill the night before, the band were on an obvious high that carried them through until the end.
Their set consisted of their two singles, the popular ‘Caravan’ and ‘Arcade’, as well as tracks from Morgan’s solo back catalogue such as ‘One Last Time’. It seems that with a little help from Divenire, Morgan has stepped into his own sound and the band work well together, with an evident onstage rapport to back it up.
Back at the acoustic stage, John Dhali was singlehandedly pulling in an audience with his personality alone. His cheeky grin, perfect sense of humour and refreshingly positive view of the world, are just three of the factors that make it quite literally impossible to dislike him. And then you hear his music; you wonder what it is that’s making the amplified stomping accompaniment and question whether you’ve ever really listened to music before, especially of this calibre.
Dhali performed his set of life affirming songs, old and new, including ‘Come Home’, ‘Ballad Of A Holy Man’ and current single ‘Here’. John Dhali is an acoustic artist like no other. He’s more than just background music. His songs are coated in his personality and that’s what sets him apart from the rest. He made the audience stop in their tracks, listen to what he had to say and then applaud him like no other act on the lineup.
One of the stand out acts of the day and one that everyone was left talking about, were Release. Like a clenched fist full of angst and frustration and as though he’d been locked away in a cage since his last gig, frontman Caleb Allport took control of the stage and knocked everything out of focus. Highlights of their set included the mighty ‘The Inevitable’, ‘Back To The Old Routine’ and ‘Publik Urination’, which woke up the crowds that were sat on the ground before them. They were loud, they were rowdy, they were over-confident and they were everything that you’ve come to expect from the band and their live shows.
But the main talking point of their set and one that seems to linger on everyone’s lips after seeing them live for the first time, is Jack Mitchell’s incredible violin skills and how he ever managed to fall into a band like Release. That’s a story for another time.
As the evening wore on, the alcohol began to set in for most of the crowd who’d set up camp on the field, with picnic blankets and camping chairs littering the place. There was an overpowering community feel about the entire festival, that never once seemed to falter.
Manchester based rock trio Sly Antics took to the stage towards the end of the day, making good use of their chance to show Ashcombury Festival what they were made of. Performing tracks from their ‘Captive City’ EP including ‘Lights Go Down’ (complete with insane drum solo and funky chorus guitar melody) as well as their brand new single ‘Motion’, there’s no doubt that Sly Antics gained new fans, who walked away with their music ringing in their ears.
As the penultimate act of the festival, Stu Whiston and his band were more than ready for their moment under the spotlight. Whiston’s signature vocals rang out across the field, as he performed ‘Silver’, ‘Run Away’ and a brief rendition of The Righteous Brothers classic ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, which smoothly transitioned into his popular single ‘There Was A Time’.
His adoring (and slightly drunk) crowd were raucous until the very end, when Whiston asked for their participation in performing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, a song that has come to define the hope of the people in recent weeks. Stu Whiston raised the bar and kept it there for his entire set, his music flowing through everyone in the audience.
Headlining this year’s festival were The Killerz, the UK’s No. 1 tribute to the real thing. Before wheeling out a large light up letter ‘K’ and performing their set of Killers classics, a word of thanks was issued by one of the organisers, to everybody who’d managed to make the festival happen, but most importantly to organiser Rich.
He’d spent most of the day running between stages and for Rich and the rest of the team, as the festival drew to a close, it was like crossing the finishing line of a long and very stressful race. Months of organising and planning had paid off. The people had flocked, the sun had shone, the beer had been poured (and drunk) and everyone would walk away feeling giddy with that summery festival feeling we all crave, when we’re sat in our day jobs watching the rain roll down the window.
Ashcombury Music Festival. We came. We saw. We conquered (and we didn’t get rained on once).