It’s nearly a decade since the last British Sea Power Festival at Tan Hill. I honestly, didn’t believe there would be another one. So I was surprised to hear that BSP were holding a new festival in a castle!
The castle in question turned out to be Muncaster Castle and as expected, it was in the middle of nowhere at the edge of the Lake District and very little local accommodation. So despite my usual ‘no tents’ music festival policy, there was no way I was going to miss this festival and I am so glad I didn’t. The festival was nearly perfect, simply like minded people getting together to celebrate the band we all love.
As you might expect from a British Sea Power festival, it wasn’t your normal festival featuring lots of ‘very British Sea Power’ things, such as birds of prey displays, hikes across the fells, miniature railways, bingo (Bo Ningen style), book readings, a poet laureate and very appropriate heron feeding
The event actually didn’t take place in the castle itself, but a farmer’s barn next to the castle’s entrance. I arrived fairly early to find a much better organised setup than I expected. Martin had brought up Brighton Dome’s light and sound engineer and they had worked hard to setup a professional stage with good sound. Even the castle owners mucked in to make sure everything went smoothly, with the husband of the castle’s Lady and her children helping out.
It was also unusual for a festival in that prices were reasonable and facilities decent. Access to the Castle grounds and a tour of the castle was included in the ticket price. This meant we had access to the castle’s cafe and toilets. So hot water and cooked breakfast’s were available every day. Also, the castle’s information centre was right next to camp site and this had proper toilets with hot running water! The only issue was the shower available was best described as ‘makeshift’ and most of us avoided using it. Instead using the hot water in the toilets for a flannel wash. But all in all. Much better than I expected, and much less smelly too.
From a music perspective, the lineup was fairly light in terms of artists but full of quality with the likes of Snapped Ankles, Bo Ningen, and Squid. British Sea Power also played a set each day. Effectively, the festival was two full days spread over three days, starting Friday evening and finished early Sunday evening.
Penelope Isles opened the music. They have supported British Sea Power and are a pleasant way to open the festival.
Next up were one of my favourites of 2019. The excellent Squid. Squid have an anarchic but fun punk sound. Oddly, they elected to play pretty much all new stuff which made me happy as I had seen them before, but despite this, they seemed to get a positive reaction from the early festival crowd.
Lost Map, with their close connection to British Sea Power had a big influence over the festival providing several artists for the lineup. First up was Rozi Plain. Rozi is a great artist. I have to admit, I didn’t buy into her when I first heard her, but she has grown on me the more I’ve seen her and listened to her music (I think I’ve just mellowed into her sound). She writes great catchy indie folk pop tunes.
The next band didn’t work for me and were the only miss-step of the festival, DSM. I just didn’t get them. It was time for a (cheap) pint and some food.
Pictish Trail was next. I’ve photographed him a few times for Daylight Music and he’s a bloody nice guy. If you’ve never seen Pictish Trail, you need to. Johnny Pictish is a such a charismatic host who welcomes you into his wonderful surreal world. Tonight was no different.
British Sea Power play a set each evening three nights. There were basically a walk through the some of corridors of their vast back catalogue. Friday and Saturday’s set, pretty much playing to a captive audience and Sunday’s set, a low key set of some of their more rarely played songs. They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear, including my favourite song, Lately. So I was very happy.
Closing the evening was a DJ set from the Poet Laureate, Simon Ermitage and a set from the UK’s ‘premier Jonathan Richman covers band’, The Modern Lovers – featuring many familiar faces.
Day 2 started with a walk around the castle’s garden and a very informative guided tour of the castle by members of the Pennington family who’ve lived at the castle for 800 years. So they know a little bit about it’s history!
Early afternoon activities were focused on the castle’s music room(?) for a performance by Last Map’s Callum Easter, a reading from Luke Turner with musical accompaniment, and a interview with author David Keenan. Oh, and a display of the castle’s Birds of Prey!
The evening’s music was pretty much spot on. Opening the evening was the delightful Celestial North featuring BSP’s Woody and his wife. A fun bingo session with Bo Ningen adding a touch of psychedelia to bingo. A interesting chat with Joy Division’s Stephen Morris. A fantastic poetry reading by Simon Armitage. The excellent Mr Ben and the Bens and full set by Bo Ningen and British Sea Power.
Closing the evening were Snapped Ankles. New to many in the audience, I had seen them several times and was looking forward to seeing them. You have to see this band live. They’re such a great live band. Dressed as shamans, they mix all kinds of primal rhythms to create an infectious sound that you can’t help but get caught up in.
Closing the evening was Steve Davis spinning some discs. Yes, I do mean that Steve Davis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people being so excited to meet a celebrity. Although, to be honest, his set was a bit heavy going and eventually drove people back to their tents!
Like all festivals, day 3 started with a short trip on a miniature railway followed by a six mile hike across the Cumbrian fells!
While I do a lot of walking, I’m pretty much an urban (London) rambler. So this was a bit more difficult than my normal walks. I stupidly decided to carry my camera bag. Luckily, I’d lightened the load a little. But it was harder work than I expected.
Oddly the festival’s final day had an early finish with a BSP short set closing the day at about 7pm. This left be in a quandary as to whether I should stay one more night or try and make the long drive back. Before that however, there was still some interesting music from My Little Brother, Will Burn and Hannah Peel, BSP side project – Slow Tree and Steve Davis’s own excellent band, Utopia Strong.
In the end, I decided to head off home. For pretty much the whole weekend, it was difficult to get a Three signal except for in some selected places. However, when I managed to get a signal, it appeared that there was a weather front moving in. I had hoped the bar would have stayed open after the BSP finished, but pretty much everything closed as BSP’s set finished and I didn’t fancy sitting in a tent in the rain, so I quickly packed (broke) my tent and cut my losses heading across the Pennines to my parents rather than risking driving several extra hours to my home.
But despite this blip at the end of the festival. The whole weekend felt like a renewal. My parents knew I’d enjoyed myself as they said they could hear the enthusiasm in my voice as I talked about the weekend, even when talking about the few negatives!
Pretty much everything went well. Even when the toilets next to the barn had to be closed, the Castle team managed to get more delivered to the site late on a Saturday night. (I guess it has bonuses living in a castle!) It was great to see BSP and fans bring their families and dogs along giving the festival a relaxed feeling. Compared to my usual festival where I’m rushing around between venues trying to catch as many bands as possible, this festival just happened at it’s own pace and gave me a much needed boost.
Hopefully, I won’t have to wait as long for the next Krankenhaus!