|Venue:||Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire|
|Writer:||Pete Hughes, Robin Kappen-Rutterford|
Wilderness is a festival that embraces the eccentric and over-the-top, they encourage dressing up and the variety of amazing costumes could easily be the highlight of the festival for visitors. Into this environment Crystal Fighters were an obvious choice. A band with a clear aesthetic, they covered the stage in Navaho tapestries and front man Sebastian Pringle wore a baggy shirt of the same design.
At the centre of Crystal Fighters’ performance was their Txalaparta, a Basque percussive instrument that resembled a workbench played with wooden batons, often by two people simultaneously. It formed the backbone many of their rhythmic songs like 'I love London' and 'I Do This Every Day', alongside the computerized drums that are another hallmark of the band’s fusion music.
Australian outfit Sheppard played to a relaxed crowd on the Bandstand Stage, and they soon had a large majority up on their feet dancing to their synth-driven indie pop. 'Cheese On Toast', a cheerful look back at 90’s culture, was a clear highlight; people evidently still love the Power rangers. Visually, the band was a hodgepodge of jumpsuits, skinny jeans and neon rave gear. At times their music was also disjointed as they switched from classic pop vocals courtesy of Amy Sheppard and the over-enthusiastic crooning of George Sheppard.
We were Evergreen have a sound made for festivals; delivering jaunty ukulele riffs, hand claps and faultless boy/girl pop harmonies they sat pretty above a crowd of dancing animals and maidens with garlands in their hair. The band created a sunny soundscape that reached its zenith in the single Baby Blue. Their sound, like so many in the Folk Guild Tent and Wilderness in general, shows the changing face of Folk music. It is perhaps fitting that at the old site of Cornbury Festival, great bastion of folk and real ale bellies, a newer generation were dancing away to electronic-infused pop medleys with a clear folk influence.
We Were Evergreen were a firm favourite from the year before and were clearly comfortable in their environment, they told the crowd this was their last festival of the summer and that they intended to enjoy it; they did.
As soon as I walked into Wilderness I knew I liked it. People were camping in the woods, and then as I walked out into the sunlight, the jumbled disarray of tents looked like they had been gently rolled by a giant hand on the gently rolling Cornbury Park estate.
Not the standard bustling corporate metropolis of Reading or Glastonbury; the serried ranks of overpriced tat merchants clamouring to rip off an equally enthusiastic crowd of inebriated dickheads- here the first tents I saw were for a jewellery-making workshop and a wilderness survival class (not the festival, the Ray Mears one. I think).
Ok, so it wasn’t actually a hippy commune. In fact, everything was just as overpriced as at any festival, you can’t ask someone to travel all that way with a rented van and stove and not cover their costs. But it was nice stuff at least, I had real ale, a really well-cooked Massaman curry and a venison burger.
The first act I caught on the Main Stage were a suitable folky female trio called The Staves who had an Indigo Girls sort-of vibe. There was quite a lot of folk. We then went to the symposia tents which all weekend held talks on a variety of interesting subjects from the Mars Rover to a Literary death match.
We walked in first on a talk about the poetry of the Amazon, which I wanted to like, but rapidly became painfully upper-middle-class. When our orator taunted us to “Axe your philosophy, pour Agent Orange into the eyes of the forest people, tie Shakespeare’s hands behind his back” we had to leave. The other talk going on at the same time, while less painful, was a rather dreary lecture on permaculture.
Local folk band Stornoway preceded their main stage appearance with an acoustic set snuggled in a tufted hillside which was somehow in aid of Friends of the Earth. Personally I preferred them plugged in, especially one great moment where they segued into Watching Birds with the Countdown theme tune.
Other highlights worthy of mention were East London’s Goodbye Leopold, three girls in hallucinogenic fluorescent leotards who sing a diverse array of African and Indian folk song in beautiful harmony, and Denis Jones, who, despite appearing in the folk tent, used a formidable array of synthesisers to get everyone on their feet and dancing to some powerful dubstep influenced electronica.
What I really liked about Wilderness was the higgledy-piggledy atmosphere. I went to the press tent and said: “I can’t find a list of times anywhere for the different stages” and I was told “That’s part of the ethos of the festival, people are encouraged to walk around and discover new things” (or, it transpired, spend £6 on a programme, just for the convenience of knowing when the bands were playing so you could plan your day). Robin and I are already planning our visit next year...
Posted: Thu 16 August 2012