The rise of the urban festival is striking, a more particular and obvious trend in England with Reading, Leeds and Wireless coming immediately to mind. Following in their footstep is B Fest, Wick’s biggest music festival.
B Fest was not a particularly hard sell for us at invernessGiGs: Ryan the organiser is a very personable guy whose ambition with BFest appears not only to bring a consistent music festival to the area but also to anchor it heavily in the community The choice of music: a couple of mainstream choices (with GUN and Them Beatles) added to by good indie style mix with a local bias, also lent itself to the freshness of the event.
The setting was never going to be a beautiful as their rural counter parts but the charm of walking by the river, and the church spire being seen over the main stage created a quaintness associated to a country fete. The normal bag and banding process was the most relaxed (whilst also being thorough) we have experienced and what an advantage it is being able to take in your own food and soft drinks (no worries about queuing for food or over priced goods (which were unfounded – anyway more later).
The festival setup was small, geographical limitations apparent, but at all times it felt spacious although there were apparent issues with the beer tent creating a bottle neck (yes I noticed) that were unrelated to queues for beer but due to folks reluctance to leave the area and move towards the stage. The result especially earlier in the day was that the area in front of the main stage was sparsely occupied, although it was clearly that the audience could still hear the music from the arena.
A wander round the site confirmed Bfest’s local ambition with the biggest corporate names being MFR and Monster. Every stall had a very local feel to it whether it was the local Indian serving up kebabs and pakora or the sublimely brilliant t-shirt printers where t-shirts were made to order with customised photos. A slight, very slight, issue was the lack of children’s activities for the younger clientele and, whilst there being a few carnival rides, a space for them with a clown or the like would have gone down very well.
The crowd appeared in general younger and certainly appreciative of certain bands (The LaFontaines and Sid Davidson stuck out when we went up to the tent). The drunkenness and misbehaviour appeared a lot less than other festivals, however we did leave shortly before 9 (an advantage/disadvantage of having a 3 1/2 year old reviewer on our team).
We positioned ourselves at the main stage (which was the same stage used at Belladrum stage, but given positioning looked smaller) for the early afternoon where Whisky River Band played on their biggest stage yet. The slot (which was a necessity due to the bands other commitments) did mean that the audience was less than the boys and we were expecting and you couldn’t help but feel a bit of disappointment for them.
The crowd for the main stage did appear to ebb and flow maybe more so than the likes of Belladrum, where the crowd always increases in size during the day, and certainly more than we expected for a two stage festival. Iain McLaughlin and the Outsiders set was as polished (when we mean polished we main as professional and .. we are just digging a hole, The Outsiders provided a strong set of the songs that are becoming burned into our psyche). Ross McEwen of Roadway had stepped in to the gap left by Paul Elliot who was helping coordinate the Cry Fundraiser at Eden Court later in the evening. Special note has to be given to invernessGiGs Jr who bounced out of the toilets shouting “remedy”.
We popped in to see who was causing the near capacity at the tent, to find an acoustic set from local personality Sid Davidson, clearly consolidating his local fan base and reiterating the local feel (“he painted my house” proclaimed a stall holder).
Another wander round the food stands found us overwhelmed by the prices – “are you sure it’s only a pound for chips” and “what do you mean, 60p for water”. It was a ridiculous contrast to even the fairer priced stalls at other festivals. Well done to both the organisers and stall holders for making it the most reasonable festival food so far.
Them Beatles took to the stage in that kind of early evening slot designed for crowd pleasers and they did the job. Definitely a tribute show, playing in role throughout, they did not opt to play all the classics instead keeping to the set list of an early Beatles gig (“if you want to hear the later stuff you will need to come and see us again” saw the only drop in their act). Quite simply the right band at the right time, drawing the crowd close to the stage and encouraging a bit of a dance.
Then a bit of a surprise, the audience was encouraged to hang around as a last minute addition was introduced to play a couple of acoustic songs. At this stage were very interested to see what BFest had pulled out the bag and we were not disappointed when Megan Blyth was introduced. Some of the crowd did stay the two song set including “A Million Miles” and we were again very impressed by her song writing and “that voice”.
The next act and retaining the Liverpool link was Proud Mary, who for us just didn’t cut it and whilst we were told of their achievements – “this ones from our next album” etc – we just couldn’t hack it. We needed something louder, something bolder, something else……..
We found it, with spades. The LaFontaines were blowing the metaphorical roof off the tent. Reviewers often find it difficult to define the Glaswegian band but imagine the zombified remains of Stanley Odd after being infected by Rage Against the Machine. There is a pop undertone, just about evident but nowhere near as blatant as the likes of Stanley Odd, which can be heard in their latest download “Paper Chase”, just. The crowd lapped them up.
It was somewhat of a surprise that the crowd did not return for next on the bill GoGoBot, and despite our previous misgivings they put on quite a show and certainly ventured back into more mainstream listening. It’s funny a fresh listen and the songs fall into place.
And that is where we left. It was light, The Side were getting ready to go on and invernessGiGs Jr was ready for bed (there’s an idea, a festival crèche!)
Let’s face it, BFest will never be a Reading or a Wireless, they have something far more magical and far more honest, a truly local fledgling festival with a commitment to the community.