by Ben Farmer
Cornwall born, Derby based singer songwriter Ben Farmer was invited to play this year’s Y Not festival in August alongside the likes of British Sea Power, Razorlight and Dizzee Rascal. He was kind enough to write this lovely journal for us about his experience. Read on…
Right. Here I am. I’m back, sitting at my desk, coffee beside me, having caught up on sleep. I’m warm, showered, and with absolutely no pain at all in my legs, feet, or lower back. My ears aren’t ringing. I’m dry, happy, well fed, and comfortable.
And I want to go back to Y Not.
My name is Ben, and this year’s Y Not was a proper experience for me, not least because it’s the very first festival I’ve ever played at (more on that later). I saw and heard things I’ll keep with me for a very long time; I saw a man from Essex chastise an enraptured crowd for clapping along to his songs. I drank some cider that no man should piss, let alone drink. I saw a nutter – a proper raging nutter – climb the Giant Squid canvas roof whilst playing a set. And I heard at least one new relationship being forged in love and sweat in an Argos tent.
Join me, fair readers of FCK LDN, as I try and remember what happened under the influence at what was probably the best weekend festival I’ve ever been to.
All men blame their sat-navs for their terrible driving, but I swear, mine is working against me. I’m a bit short tempered anyway, because my two fellow festival reprobates Harry and Shane (I’ve changed their and everyone else’s names for fun) decided that we’d prepare for a weekend of music and drinking with an evening of music and drinking. I’m hungover. Ryan’s in Derby certainly knows how to put on a good open mic.
Anyway – we make it to the festival. I’m getting in for free because I’m doing a set on the Hog and Barrel stage tomorrow, so we wait at the box office for a while. The staff members are lovely, but don’t have the Hog and Barrel stage’s guest list. After about 20 minutes of uncertainty, some wonderful young man slaps a wristband on me anyway, and sends me on my merry way like a Victorian boy thief.
“That was easy,” I say to Harry and Shane, who by now are wishing they claimed to be members of White Lies. We didn’t even have to show a parking permit when we drove in. I literally just said “I’m performing on the H…” and they let me park up.
Carrying everything to the campsite is a bit of a struggle, because we’re men and we’ve planned ahead in terms of beer. I’m amazed by how close everything is to each other. Last year I went to Download with a girl who insisted I carry all liquids, and my arms elongated. This trip isn’t even half as bad. I’m sweating of course, but I’m still cheerful as we drop our intoxicating luggage and start pitching our tents.
Unfortunately, it’s later than I was expecting, and over the way I hear the heartbreaking sound of Bare Knuckle Parade kicking off Y Not Festival 2014 without me in the audience. I shared a stage with Bare Knuckle Parade a few weeks ago, at the Hairy Dog in Derby. They were the headlining band and I was the awkward acoustic opening act. Lucille, a roots band who are also from Derby, played that show as well. They’re playing Y Not this year, too. I start to feel like I’ve got connections.
By the time we’ve finished, BKP have already finished their set. Harry and Shane crack a Fosters.
“Seriously, lads,” I say sadly, “they’re great. Their audience participation is amazing. We’ve missed out.”
Harry and Shane crack another beer. They drink very quickly.
Still, the evening is not lost: we’ve got Goldie Lookin Chain to look forward to later, and some other bands I’ve yet to discover. I buy a camping chair from a lovely Cockney who sticks to his sales pitch with true East End grit.
“Na, na, ma’e – we’re runnin aaht, I swear.”
My cash is literally in his hand as he says this.
“Thanks, man,” I say, walking back to my tent.
“Seriously, ma’e, they’re sellin out well quick, innit…”
I leave him to himself, get back to camp, and pop a Guinness. The sun’s out and the air’s warm. This chair is actually quite comfy. It’s turning out to be a good night.
The British need to pre-drink before anything can be comfortably attempted means that we miss the James Warner Prophesies, but we get to the Giant Squid before Max Raptor begins their set.
It’s difficult to really enjoy a band without knowing any of their songs, but it’s also very difficult to watch Max Raptor and not enjoy them. The vast majority of campers won’t be here until tomorrow, so the audience, though big, is smaller than the band deserves. I’m able to get within a row of the crash barrier, maybe because I’m very small. I’m in front of the bassist, moshing occasionally but mostly listening to the heavy but melodic songs. The sound engineer’s done a great job; each instrument has its own place in the mix, the drums have the chest punch they need for live rock, and the vocals are crisp and present without being harsh or trebly. Although I won’t be able to remember any of their songs particularly well later, that’s more to do with my memory than the songs themselves; I’m going to become a fan over the coming months. The vocalist tells us all they’ve been at Y Not many times before – hopefully they’ll be there next year and I’ll be better prepared.
The band close their set to strong, enthusiastic applause. I make a mental note to check them out on BandCamp when I get back to the real world. (I hate and will not use iTunes.)
Goldie Lookin Chain take the stage after we’ve popped back for a beer. I love this festival already. It’s small enough that you can literally pop back to your tent for a beer. They lead with “Ice Ice Dildo”, and it sets the tone. It’s puerile and nasty, teenage and silly – but that’s what we’re there for. This is the third time I’ve been GLC live, and they’re always good value. You’re not exactly getting Queen at their prime when you see GLC, but you are at least getting a good night.
Someone tries to steal my hat, and I scare a few people chasing after him. I’m not in any way a scary person but I’m the kind of chubby that people confuse for hench, so whoever it was drops it and runs away, and a helpful lad points me to where it got dropped. I say thanks. I don’t have a can to give him, but I would have. I go nuts for GLC’s most famous song, Guns Don’t Kill People, as does everyone else. The crowd loves it. It’s safe as fuck.
About 20 minutes later, GLC close their set. As I say, it’s the third time I’ve seen them, and I’ve had a good time of it. I’m not a huge rap or hip-hop fan, but I’m smiling.
Harry, Shane and I pop back to our tent to try and make friends, and a few tents away, we see a pair of people dancing drunkenly to old pop punk tunes.
Be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
We strike gold. Kelly and James are fantastic fun and we end up spending almost all of the weekend together. Both are volunteers, but Kelly’s shifts are so early that she’s back most days before Harry, Shane and I have even woken up. James has got a camp of mates across the field, but sticks with us for some of the festival. Absolute legends.
We’re camped in the Quiet Zone, so we move the party down the hill. Harry and Shane start telling people that I’m playing the Hog and Barrel Stage the next day, and that they should come along; I start to get a little worried, and then have another Guinness. Well, yolo and all that shite.
The party down the hill livens up, and we meet some lovely people – one of whom finally manages to successfully steal my hat.
Ah, well. Easy come, easy go; can’t let these things get you down.
After we’ve finished listening and dancing to a surprising amount of Pink, we’re ready to get some sleep. I stop off at the toilets for obvious reasons, and on the way back, I pass by a tent that is full of the sounds of what is obviously very new love being made.
I wish I could repeat what they said to each other, but that’s a little perverse and voyeuristic to publish. I’m still laughing when I get to sleep about an hour later.
Sometimes you meet people, out of nowhere, who are so perfectly your kind of person, that you fall immediately in love with them, regardless of gender, age, race or religion.
Mike walks merrily over to our tents, like a powerful Northern Abraham Lincoln, and says the best thing one human being can say to another;
“We’ve made too much bacon, you lads want a sarnie?”
No words. sheds tear
That’s how we met Alan and Grace. I love Northerners. It’s true what they say about everyone north of Sheffield; they really are more friendly, and you really don’t want to upset them.
Fortified with bacon, we all head to the Hog and Barrel stage. I’m wearing my Free Hugs t-shirt, which I like to do when I’m playing. I have to get there early to prepare for my set, plus Dave McPherson is playing a surprise set before me.
The tent is almost full when we arrive, and the nerves kick in proper. Dave’s my new favourite acoustic songwriter, ever since I saw him at Derby’s Victoria Inn and his songs knocked me down with their beauty. His set starts with Spring: Hearts Need Blood, a song which I’d argue ranks as highly as even his best work with InMe. He follows with Faster the Chase, an InMe single that gets everyone singing along. For one second, I stop feeling nervous. But then Dave’s set comes to an end, and it’s time for my own.
Paul Herron, who booked me and who is running the Hog and Barrel stage, tunes his band mate (and brother) Steven’s guitar and hands it to me. And I’m on.
I have completely no recollection of my 20 minutes onstage, but I remember coming off and feeling absolutely amazing. I perform two of my own songs, as well as two covers, and a mash-up that I always get far more positive feedback on than any of my originals. I have an amazing time. I practically float offstage, I feel so light. A couple of people talk to me afterwards, and I want to talk to them properly, but I’m light-headed and shell-shocked, and I get the feeling I come off like a bit of a spaceboy. I’ve clearly still got a long way to go.
After my set I’m consumed with the need for whiskey, so we go back to the tent. We stay there for a surprising amount of time, because Grace, Alan, Kelly and James are the kind of people it’s really easy to talk to for 2 hours. We miss Three Minute Heist, who ashamedly I have yet to see live. I regret this, because I’ve heard their music online, and they’re just my kind of thing. Fortunately, they’re a Derby band, so I won’t have to go too far to catch them again.
Due to Harry’s undying love for Reuben and all its remnants, we all go see Freeze the Atlantic at the Giant Squid. These guys are good, but again, I don’t know any of their songs, and they don’t have as much infectious enthusiasm as Max Raptor. I’m left slightly underwhelmed. I don’t know that much of Reuben, but while listening to a live set on YouTube a few weeks ago, several of their songs jumped out and made me need to investigate further. Nothing of Freeze the Atlantic’s set makes me feel that way, though I do have a good time watching them and I probably will research more of their work over the coming weeks.
I’m then dragged to Razorlight. I hate Razorlight. They’re a terrible band and I have nothing good to say about them. I’m forced to stay to the end. I try not to let it ruin my mood.
After this, we’re faced with a dilemma. Five headliners clash: Reel Big Fish, White Lies, Andrew WK, Derby legends Follow You Home and Hog and Barrel wonderfolk meisters The Sons. I’m unable to decide, and let the others choose. In the end, we go to see Reel Big Fish.
They’re good. They’ve got songs I’ve heard before, and they’ve got stagecraft in spades. They play the exact same song four times in different genres, and it works really well. We’re all waiting for Sell Out, but a nice surprise comes when they close their set not with this, their most recognised single, but a masterful cover of Take On Me. The crowd is in love with them, there’s a great sense of the band and the audience bonding, and everyone skanks until no more skanking can be skanked.
On the way back, Harry and I duck into the Giant Squid stage to see Andrew WK’s solo set. It’s… unbrilliant. There is a party here and the party parties hard, but we’re seeing him without a full band, and all I can remember of his performance is one 30 minute keyboard solo with a random pirate onstage bringing the stagecraft. If I was on something, this would be a great tent with a great atmosphere, but I’ve been drinking all day, I’m tired, and if I can’t see Andrew WK with a full live band, I’m not interested. We get back to the tent and I’m almost immediately asleep.
Our band watching day starts early. Across the fence, I hear the unmistakable sound of Bare Knuckle Parade. Some genius has booked them for a second set, and we’re not going to miss out on them again. I rouse the troops and we head to their stage.
As mentioned, I’ve gigged with BKP before, and they wowed me then. As they’re not yet as well known as they deserve to be, Harry and Shane don’t know any of their songs, but BKP’s songwriting prowess impresses them. When I saw the band the first time, songs jumped out at me; The Ballad of Gummy John, Leading the Blind and A Song for the Damned stand out as always. Their anarchic cover of Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple has the audience bouncing even this early in the morning. There’s banter, there’s sing-alongs, and the band sound great: their sound engineer has done a fantastic job, and every instrument sings clean and bright. The band end their set with their traditional closing number: Star of Dundee. This song isn’t my favourite of theirs, but I’m in the minority: there’s a jigging, bouncing crowd all the way up to the last note. I love Bare Knuckle Parade, and Shane especially is impressed. After the Knuckle, we meander into the Giant Squid stage to see Beasts.
Now I know I should absolutely never say bad things about bands, because it’s tough to create music and promote it. But Beasts, to me at least, were a bit bland. It’s possible that they’re an absolutely blasting live band when they play the club circuit, but I can’t help but think that Beasts just sound like Nirvana playing Feeder covers. A lot of bands sound like that. I won’t blame my opinion of Beasts on a bad mood or a hangover, either, because I’ve just seen Bare Knuckle Parade rock a tent and they put me in a really good mood.
Beasts, if you’re reading, I don’t mean to offend you. You just weren’t for me.
We’re all excited for Beans on Toast, but there’s a bit of time until then, so we absorb the festival atmosphere. We decide that our festival family needs a mascot, so we carve a face into a sausage, but a cigarette in his mouth, and call him Richard Johnson. (Later, after the festival, we’ll all join a group via Facebook called the Richard Johnson Appreciation Society.) We go on the Ferris Wheel, where Kelly takes a picture of me and Harry looking supremely confused by the height. We start a mudfight. We pop to the Hog and Barrel tent so I can thank Paul for booking me again, but he looks busy, so I leave him alone, sit down, and we see a comedian instead. We dance for a little bit in the rave tent. Kelly and I go to a hippie yurt to learn how to juggle: a 3 year old boy finds that he likes throwing juggling balls at me more than juggling. Bless him.
I think, possibly even more than the bands, this is what I’ll remember most about Y Not. It’s the letting go and doing random things you wouldn’t normally do, letting your guard down and making friends with strangers, trying new things. Watching Shane eat an ostrich burger, you know, that kind of thing. It’s wonderful to not have to be anywhere, do anything, or impress anyone. I feel good. In the coming week, after I’ve got back home, I’ll miss this feeling more than anything else.
Beans on Toast is in the Quarry, and he is fantastic. Again, I only know a little of his work, but his songs do jump out at me and compel me to research albums. Stand out tracks include I Fancy Laura Marling, MDMAmazing, I Can’t Get a Gig at Glastonbury This Year, and most especially The Price of Rice. The crowd doesn’t let him go – he does his own fake encore, but that’s not enough, and we call him back for a real one. This is one of the music highlights for me. Excellent set from a talented guy.
Next is the Fratellis. I only know that one single. The atmosphere’s good and Kelly especially is really into them, but I get the feeling that a lot of people are waiting for what’s next, and audience response is a bit more muted than I was expecting for a band that absolutely everyone in this country has heard of.
Then Dizzee Rascal turns up.
As mentioned, I’m not urban music’s biggest fan, and before tonight I hadn’t heard anything of his music. But the atmosphere hits, and it is absolutely incredible. I’m on my feet, pogoing and dancing like an absolute loon for an artist I’ve got little knowledge of. One thought keeps running through my mind: how am I enjoying this so much? Because it’s incredible, that’s why.
I can’t remember any of the songs of the main set, but there’s just so much mutual energy between Dizzee Rascal and the crowd I can’t stop smiling. It’s indescribable. The encore marked a particularly strong moment in his set: with an off-the-cuff “Right, then, let’s give them what they want” the show ends with his most famous single, Bonkers.
Everyone’s having an amazing time, even after Dizzee’s left the stage. That, my friends, is how festivals are headlined.
But the night’s not yet over. Fuelled by Harry and Shane’s tales of the campfire the night before, we all go back. And it’s wonderful. There are a good 100 people here, and someone, somewhere, starts singing. Before long everyone’s joining in. We do the usuals – Wonderwall, Bohemian Rhapsody, Angels et al. We’re all drunk, tired, warm around a fire, and smiling. There’s a sense of community. Everyone here knows that on Monday we’re all going back to day jobs, rent, and cancelled plans, but for now, we’re here to have a good time, meet strangers, and sing on the top of our lungs like no one’s listening.
It’s liberating. It’s what this festival is all about.
I go to sleep in my tent with a huge smile.
Tomorrow – Pt 2 of Ben Farmer’s Y Not journal.