After countless glowing reports about the magic of The BeatHerder Festival over the past few years, I couldn’t resist its allure any longer. Surely it wasn’t as perfect as everyone makes out? In the midst of what is surely the most grotesque British summer on record, I braved the rain to finally find out.
After a convenient 40 minute journey from Preston to nearby Clitheroe, we arrived on site. 7pm – not ideal. The positive aspect of arriving was the location, which grabs you instantly; an idyllic woodland nestled on an almost cartoon-like hill, surrounded by old-fashion circus top tents, the arching white of the main stage, small plumes of smoke from the various food stalls, and clusters of tents creeping round the back. Very exciting. The woodland (Toil Trees) acts as the central point, with the entire festival blocked around it in a giant Beat-Herder circle.
Down a dirt track, round to the right, get parked. Back on the dirt track, collect tickets, back to the car, collect belongings and camping gear, up to the main entrance – running out of steam rapidly…
Understandably the best time to arrive would have been the Friday afternoon -unlucky for those without the day off work. Two queues were in operation when we arrived, taking around an hour to get through, and into the camping site. We put the delay down to security checks, which understandably - as with any festival - need to thorough, but even our travel-hardened patience wore thin as not that large a queue seemed to take an absolute age to move.
Eventually we make it through, and set about choosing the perfect camping spot. Which, by this point, didn’t exist. The biggest tip I can give when attending this or probably any weekend camping event – take the bloody Friday off work! We eventually ended up with a rather nice spot right near the second main entrance, so all worked out fine in the end. With the threat of a monsoon type downpour looming, tents are swiftly erected (mine a handy pop-up model – or not so handy, but more on that later…), wine necked (classy), anoraks on, and off we go.
By this point it’s dark and dewy, but within about 20 minutes we’re in awe of the incredible atmosphere; electric. The lighting throughout the whole site is perfect, i.e. plenty of it, without the need for harsh spotlights. Old fashioned circular bulbs dangle from trees and poles directing you around in a subtle, warm fashion. All very inviting, and rather soothing. The mix of attendees in terms of age is immediately evident. Teenagers charge around, older music fans gently stroll, those having 'more of good time' blindly plod, but all with huge smiles on their faces. This is by far the friendliest and cohesive festival atmosphere I’ve experienced - and I think I feel that much reported 'Herder magic' already!
Set times consulted – time for tunes. Our main Friday base is Toil Trees, reached via the marvellous woodland village containing an outdoor cinema, tattoo shop, salon, off-the wall wood shack bars, and new for 2012, a chapel of rest… or should that be chapel of raving! Blasting out hip-hop if I remember rightly. We make it to the Toil Trees stage, where it was all going off. Our main draws are Utah Saints followed by Fake Blood, both delivering outstanding sets of pumping house - Blood’s with a darker, electro tinge. Excellent stuff. We dance our socks off and are thoroughly impressed by both. Well into the party spirit now, it's time to explore.
A quick pit stop in the Reggae tent, another new and by the look of things very welcome addition for this year’s event... and then suddenly we’re in a tiny tent dubbed ‘John's Snug’, decked out as a granny's front room, playing loud old-skool House. Of course, what else?! The perfect place to really let your hair down. After a last fling in the Drum & Bass tent, one of the more traditional festival style setups, it’s time for bed. A truly awesome start to the weekend.
After the night before, which was full of mega party beats, we weren't feeling so sprightly. Luckily, the soothing sounds of The Orb were playing in the Toil Trees mixing electronica and dub, and helping to ease us back into the day. Despite the soggy showers, nobody was disheartened from having a good time in the mud. We went for a wander round to see what else was on. Along the way we were drawn into the Working Men’s Club for a slice of post war shuffle from Rob Heron & the Tea Pad Orchestra. The walls were plastered with familiar faces; James Brown, Nora Batty and Ken Dodd to name a few.
We later headed to the main stage for Orbital, who put us back into full party mode, and then over to see Goldie in the Stumblefunk tent, which was a bit of a let down due to the sound being far too quiet. Similarly, Nathan Fake later on in the early hours seemed to suffer the same problems in the Toil Trees. The winning tent to chill out in after trenching through the mud all day would have to be Bushrockers Hi-Fi, whose reggae sounds made us completely forget about the mud outside.
Sunday starts as Saturday ended; gales, rain, and a distinct drop in temperature. Fabulous. The hangover subsides by lunch time, so we make a break and dismantle our tents, pack up our belongings and head to the car before embarking on the final day of musical festivities. Well at least that’s the plan,
I am unfortunately well and truly thwarted by the DAMNED POP UP TENT. Seriously, what is the point of these monstrosities of human creation? Either myself, my two friends, or a poor stander-by are all incompetent, or these things are a nightmare. Impossible to dismantle, IMPOSSIBLE I TELL YOU!
Safe to say after about half an hour the tent was binned. R.I.P tent.
By mid-afternoon the Sun is out, my party is refuelled (and dare I say re-drunk), and bouncing along to the infectious sounds of The Lancashire Hotpots. I’d heard a lot about these guys and prejudged they would be my worst nightmare, but how wrong I was. You simply cannot fail to smile, or howl - depending on the intoxication level - at their up-tempo tales of such vital issues as Chippy Teas, Beer drinking at the Olympics, and Shop Mobility Scooters. Just brilliant, and the perfect way to re-energise for the last day. We're definitely looking forward to checking these guys out again soon.
With temperatures rising nicely we position ourselves in Toil Trees to catch a couple of hours of Mr Scruff. Always on form, the turnout is big for Scruff’s housey-disco-tunes. Begrudgingly we move on to catch Dub Smugglers in the ‘new for 2012’ Trailer Trash tent. Another massive surprise, their winding, melodic, reggae sounding dub is strangely hypnotic. By now I am officially a master of skanking – FYI. Back to Toil Trees to catch the end of Mr Scruff, and then we head to the main stage for the big finale...
Not being what you'd call a die-hard reggae fan, the final two big weekend headliners The Beat and Lee Scratch Perry weren’t exactly filling me with excitement. But continuing the theme of the whole weekend, they blew me away. The Beat’s performance was tight, on point, just generally brilliant. Such a perfect genre to finish a festival with. The crowd was heaving, all grooving along in the best of spirits. I have to mention the lead singer, whose voice was pure reggae gold, and also his son, some of the best rapping I’ve ever heard. Lee Scratch Perry is another kettle of fish completely... ‘Hello Manchester!’ kind of sums the whole thing up! A true eccentric, Perry’s performance is memorable to say the least. I’m not sure we heard one complete song to be honest, but the adlibs more than made up for it. I’m not even going to attempt to repeat some of his lyrics, but take my word for it, bras were thrown (not mine), and the Perry went down an absolute storm. What a legend.
With darkness upon us it’s time to leave the ‘Herder and get a good wash. A weekend of firsts and brilliant surprises, I am hugely impressed with everything. Even the queuing systems - which at the time seemed inefficient and cumbersome - on reflection aren’t much of an issue. The layout, facilities, diversity in everything, is fantastic. The best atmosphere of any festival I’ve been to, Beat- Herder can’t be recommended enough. I can’t wait for what magical surprises they have in store next year!
Words: Chris White
Photos: Ian M Palmer