Family Gammon & Chips has just spent the best part of the last two weeks on holiday. And I’ve spent a good part of those two weeks coining a new phrase for what we’ve been galavanting about doing – a ‘festivacation’. The definition of which is (according to me, as I invented it) ‘a holiday that involves two or more festivals in a row, with no going home in between’.
We started our family festivacation at the Beautiful Days festival in Devon, and finished it at the Shambala festival in Northamptonshire, with a few nights of camping and fossil hunting in Lyme Regis in Dorset in between.
So this blog post is a festival review, in an attempt to spread the joys of the extended festival holiday experience.
A festivacation is not for the faint hearted – it consists of night after night of camping, what seems like constant camp set-up and take-down, and cooking food in packets because the frozen ice bricks in your cool box only last two days at best, but it brings with it a colourful cornucopia of fun, frolics and fancy dress that will live in our hearts for probably as long as this stubborn fluorescent rave paint flower will remain on my cheek.
Beautiful Days is a lovely little eco-and-family-friendly festival which has been running for 11 years at Escot House, near Exeter in Devon. It’s put on every year by the Brighton band, The Levellers, and is strictly non-commercial, with no corporate sponsorship or branding and it’s not advertised – as one review by John Bownas on Virtual Festivals puts it ‘It’s the festival that sells out every year – by simply not selling out’.
So, how does it rate in our festivacation stakes?
9 Marshall amps out of 10 (or should that be 11?)
With its history linked directly to one of the biggest bands of the 90s in the UK, Beautiful Days is firmly about music. This year saw a corker of a line up, including Primal Scream, The Wonder Stuff, Dodgy, Arrested Development, Aussie indie-punk favourites The Living End, Ocean Colour Scene, Krafty Kuts and of course, two sets by the festival organisers themselves, The Levellers. My favourite (apart from The Levs of course) was Sinead O’Connor, who belted out some of my favourite songs from my uni days, crooned some new ones from her new album, and looked to me to be so fresh and vivacious that she must have been cryogenically frozen since that single teardrop ran down her face all those years ago (probably along with Morten Harket from A-ha I would think – have you seen him lately? He’s hardly aged in 25 years! Anyway, I digress.) As a gesture of appreciation, a single teardrop ran down mine too, although that could’ve been the cider.
Stuff to do
8 juggling balls out of 10
Beautiful Days has six stages – Main Stage, The Big Top, The Little Big Top, The Band Stand, The Bimble Inn and the Theatre Tent. All of these feature music, but you’ll also find comedy, theatre, Q&A sessions, workshops, competitions, open mic sessions, politics, and more music. Just the right amount really – unlike Glastonbury which (I believe) features way too much stuff, making you feel like you’ve missed out on more than you’ve actually seen.
8 Rhubarb & custards out of 10
Beautiful Days festival won ‘Best Family Festival’ at the 2011 UK Festival Awards and it’s not difficult to see why. The Kids’ Area is co-ordinated by Majical Youth Theatre and there is everything your little ones would want to do, and more, including story-telling, circus acts, arts and crafts, rides, music, face painting, fancy dress, comedy and climbing frames. The Theatre Area has loads of stuff for kiddiewinks too. My personal favourite was the game of football that the members of The Levellers play against the festival kids every year – this year I think the score was 308 to 6 to the kids, but it just goes to show what cool down-to-earth blokes The Levs are.
Toilets & general amenities
10 bog rolls out of 10
I’ve been going to festivals ever since I arrived in the UK back in 1999, and these are by far the best festival toilets I’ve ever come across. Cleaned regularly by the heroes that are Andy’s Loos, these are about as spotless as festie dunnies come. With bog rolls constantly at the ready, what seems like a neverending supply of hand disinfectant and showers as hot as Idris Elba’s accent, Thomas Crapper would be cheering in his grave. Doing a poo doesn’t get much better than this!
Food & shops
9 steak and ale pies out of 10
Beautiful Days scores highly on sheer value for money. With ice creams at a very reasonable £1.50 and pints of lager and cider courtesy of local Honiton firm, Otter Brewery, the right side of £3.50, these are festival prices without the painful wincing. Plenty to eat for carnivores, herbivores, fishivores and kiddivores too.
9 water butts out of 10
Almost top marks for its anti-commercialisation stance, it lost a point as I thought it could have pushed its recycling a bit more (Shambala had a £10 recycling deposit) and maybe had reusable plastic cups at the bars (where you pay £1 more for your first drink, but get a cup you keep with you and the bar swaps every time you buy a new drink). The BDs festival site was pretty clean, but not as spotless as Shambala.
The whole shebang
9 glowsticks out of 10
With ticket prices a very acceptable £120 for adult weekend camping, under 5s £5, under 10s £30, under 16s £60, campervans £40 and car passes £15, you get the idea that Beautiful Days is more about covering costs than making a massive profit. I love the atmosphere of this festival – I’ve been loads of times, but twice I’ve had friends lose bags with wallets and phones inside, and both times they’ve got them back almost as quickly as they lost them with all money and goods intact – to me, that sums up this festival. It’s a chilled, fun-filled weekend spent in a field listening to some brilliant music along with 14,999 of your closest friends. And this year – animal fancy dress Sunday, fab finale fireworks, no mud and only one wasp sting. Roll on 2014.
*Disclosure – We paid for our tickets to Beautiful Days. We go almost every year, and think it’s bloody brilliant!