Review: Beat-herder Festival

In the verdant green, green, fields, somewhere just left of middle earth and but a shimmy away from the quaint stone villages that must surely be home to Hobbits, a beat is vibrating in the depths of the magical soil.

Thursday, 21st July 2016, 3:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 5:39 pm
Beat-herder 2016 - James on stage

Within moments the sea of bright green grass is turned to dark brown mud, but the laden festival-goers don’t care a jot, they have with them their colourful wellies, their even brighter tents and the cheeriest grins they possess.

The rain may be pouring from an ominous sky but this is Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, the multi-coloured flags are flying, and all are welcome.

The weather, an unpredictable friend, is but another guest in all its guises.

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Beat-herder Festival Photo by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios

Summer is here and with it a small but bright jewel in Northern England’s festival calendar.

The Beat-Herder Festival 2016 was officially begun.

I arrived with some trepidation.

A Beat-Herder beginner, I had retired my festival mojo many moons ago when there were only three or four big music festivals.

Beat-herder Festival Photo by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios http://www.duke-studios.comPhoto by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios

Now hundreds have sprung up, some massive, many with modest beginnings.

Beat-Herder began as a rave in the Lancashire hills in 2006 – a vibe that that organisers have deliberately fought to retain.

At heart, this an inclusive, friendly, festival where children are welcomed and music preferences all catered for.

Crazy dressers are actively encouraged (Saturday is even fancy-dress themed – this year was R) and a bit of bonkers really helps.

Beat-herder Festival Photo by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios

Its motto is ‘love thy neighbour,’ and hedonism its by-word.

With ticket sales capped at a modest 12,000 to retain the festival’s egalitarian feel, it remains intimate, manageable and traversible in half an hour even in mud-wedged boots with drink in hand.

It is rare in that there is no cap on booze being brought in, despite the festival plea to buy from the bars – which basically fund a great deal of the event.

Despite that, this is the biggest festival to date and organisers had worked hard to improve roads, drainage, accessibility and amenities – a litter bond even promises a fiver in return for a bag of rubbish in a bid to clear up the site.

Beat-herder Festival Photo by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios http://www.duke-studios.comPhoto by: James Abbott-Donnelly | © 2016 Duke Studios

We arrived on Friday faced with putting up my first tent in years, luckily the rain stayed away until it was up, a little skew-wiff but what’s a dodgy canvas amongst friends.

The blow up bed was more challenging, but was aided by a fellow-festival goer and suspected band member with boy-band looks and wearing moon-boots and a poncho, whose electric pump sorted it in seconds (we camped in the crew and artist field).

It was Friday night and the beats were already just getting started –and it was already nearly time for headliners James (they replaced original headliners Primal Scream after Bobby Gillespie sustained an injury) on the Beat-Herder main stage, whose short and characteristically energetic set was the icing on the cake if not the end of a magical evening, characterised by ‘who cares’ driving rain and sticky mud to rival Glastonbury.

I was lucky enough to be allowed in for an interview, in their back-stage tepee, just before their set – a surreal experience and characterised by the fact they were still trying to decide on the set-list – the only thing they were sure about is not playing Sit Down. Probably wise, given the mud.

Yet this is far more than a music festival with stage. Bea-Herder is a community, with dozens of quirky anomalies – where else can you vanish into a phone box, or dance on a retro car, or watch as a dance club bursts flames from its roof, in time to the beat.

Up the hill and magical in moonlight was the Toil Trees stage, the house and techno heartland where you could dance in the woods until dawn.

You could pray to the beats in the Church, including Sunday Service.

Or you could retreat in to the Working Mens’ Club, where notices instruct you not to look the bar staff in the eyes.

You can relax to the sounds in the Smoky Tentacles Shisha Lounge, enjoy swing lessons or yoga in Pratty’s Ring, go hardcore in the fire-breathing Fortress or funk – in Stumblefunk.

Anything goes at Beat-Herder.

On Saturday the Clitheroe Ukelele Band woke up campers from the same stage as not just James, but Donovan and Miike Snow.

The line-up is like a cocktail menu where you can mix your own to suit and be shaken, stirred or simply sing-along.

Some of the world’s biggest DJs played here – including Techno veteran A Guy called Gerald and BBC 
Radio 1 DJ B-Traits – this festival has a stellar reputation for its dance roots.

For me the highlight was a spell in the Maison D’etre, a club-like space with mud floors.

It took in some stellar live music on Saturday afternoon from my position sunk into a brown leather sofa – covers band Late for Life has me singing along, Bang Bang Romeo blew me away with powerful vocals and attitude while Northern Soul collective Samuel S. Parkes (known as Sparkies) brought the groove.

But a word for the food.

I wasn’t expecting much but every whim is was catered for – from fresh pizzas to chicken, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, a stand specialising in Scotch Eggs.

Everything is seriously tempting and prices not ridiculous, if not cheap.

Beat-Herder-land is a magical place and the festival a glorious, hedonistic, adventure through the senses.

Like so many others, and given the chance, I shall be returning to middle earth and following the beats with the herd once more.

Nicola Adam