My favourite weekend of the year, bar none, has sadly been and gone. But in its wake it has left behind memories that will stay with me for many more years to come. The line-up for 2017 was a curious one. Though it was lauded as their most ambitious to date, there weren’t actually that many names I was familiar with. While previous festivals had gathered together some of my favourite up-and-coming artists, 2017 was all about adding new names to that list… as well as checking in with a couple of old favourites of course! I wandered around the pastoral paradise clutching my programme like some racing punter following his gut; the key difference being that Barn on the Farm kept up the trend of providing nothing but winners.
Though BotF has become a recurring tradition, this was my first experience of the exclusive ‘Intimate Friday’, wherein the small crowds of those privileged few gathered in the eponymous barn. Singer/songwriter Charlie Straw really captured what the day was all about. With a small arrangement and a big voice you can bring time to a stand-still and get everyone to share in something special. South London-based artist Lola Young, a late addition to the line-up, proved to be a fantastic new talent as she wowed the crowd with her honest and touching lyricism. Mirror Fury created a dark and dramatic atmosphere, the kind of vibes you’d expect from a classic bond theme, and surely get the award for best song title of the year for ‘Burning Like a Witch in the Rain’.
The folky stylings of Sivu, the pseudonym of songwriter James Page (no, not that one!), wouldn’t sound amiss drifting from some historic Parisian cafe, while Prose combined indie and hip hop for the most eager and energetic audience of the day. Belwood favourite Isaac Gracie was on top form with his Jeff Buckley-esque vibes and The Amazons played a stripped back set for the first time, and in doing so they breathed new life into the tracks and made me finally see what all the hype is about. The night’s secret headliner turned out to be the one and only Nick Mulvey, but due to the extra number of those who attended this year’s super special intimate Thursday, we were all packed into the barn like sardines!
As a new day began and the rest of the farm family began to arrive, the festival was once again buzzing with life. Indie quartet Devon kicked off the barn stage with great enthusiasm and some of the best drum work of the weekend, and the genre defying Tom Walker opened the main stage with his charming and powerful voice. Brighton based alternative rockers High Tyde brough some big hooks and caused the first ever mosh pit I’ve seen on the farm, while Rhys Lewis, with his slick soulful pop, really stood out on the outdoor stage as a real “one to watch”. There was drama on the main stage though as the frontman of The Magic Gang fell offstage and had to be taken away by paramedics.
One of my biggest highlights of the weekend was Nina Nesbitt. Debuting new tracks from behind her flower adorned mic stand, it was my first real taste of her music and it left me eager to hear more. There was also new music from the lovely Lucy Rose who shared some Neil Young inspired tracks from her new album. The Big Moon showed why they have been such a hotly tipped act as they created a sound somewhere between Haim and the Pixies, all while maintaining a real sense of fun and friendship. Sundara Karma merged indie rock with hints of new wave and got one of best receptions of the day, before James Vincent McMorrow closed the main stage. His atmospheric soul soundscapes, alongside his older, more bluesy material, had been imbued with new-found energy that I had not seen from him before. He certainly exceeded my expectations.
When Sunday arrived with its glorious golden rays, there was no denying that this was one of the best weekends they’ve had weather wise. Sunshine and good times often go hand in hand, and this was no exception. York band The Howl & The Hum reminded me a little of Holy Holy, and made excellent use of storytelling in their songs. The feel-good summer songs kept coming with Bad Sounds bringing some funk and disco to the main stage, and the incredible Keir channeling Price and Alabama Shakes during his soulful set on the outdoor stage. Free-spirited Irish siren Lyra stunned the barn with her dark and witchy Kate Bush vibes, and Seramic played a rare stripped back set on the outdoor stage, with their dreamy R&B proving to be a real crowd-pleaser.
Clean Cut Kid were the biggest surprise of the weekend, as such indie pop bangers as ‘Pick Me Up’, ‘We Used To Be In Love’ and ‘Vitamin C’ sounded worlds away from the studio versions, injected with tons more fun and positive energy. Benjamin Booker brought a taste of the deep south to the south-west with his gritty rhythm and blues, while Black Honey brought plenty of slick style and attitude to the outdoor stage. BotF legends Amber Run made a triumphant return to the farm, drawing the most dedicated and exuberant crowd of the weekend. Playing to a hero’s welcome, they even brought out Lewis Watson to help out with fan favourite ‘I Found’. Belwood Award winner Rationale closed the outdoor stage, and he just gets better every time I see him. The whole crowd joined in with his infectious “Dad dancing” and he ended up being one of the most talked about acts of the weekend. Headliner Tom Odell brought the weekend to a close, really giving his all as well as showcasing what a brilliant group of musicians he has by his side.
Barn on the Farm and Belwood Music both have something in common: a passion for new music. This year though it seems like they beat me at my own game, and I left the farm (tired and sunburnt) with a long list of fantastic new artists to check out. In a way it offered an insight into what the first couple of festivals must have been like, as they overcame every obstacle to build a sense of community and share a few rising stars with the wider world. Both of those ideals still ring true, perhaps more so than ever. The wonderful folks at Barn on the Farm still have a keen eye for talent and they bring together such a warm and friendly collection of music lovers to make for something so special. The magic just never wears off! Counting down the days till next year…