This Friday afternoon Leeds to Skipton train stinks. Overcrowded and rattling, businessmen are sweating into families crying into chavs swearing into hipsters. Gradually, from Shipley through Bingley to Keighley, the suits and the prams and the obscenities alight, and we become a carriage of skinny jeans and massive beards. 44 minutes later, knees bent and arms stretched, we ra ra ra our borrowed tents and buggered cider, with unused strength of unseen muscle, from murky towns to muddy hills. And we’re here. Greetings from Beacons.
In a stunning Yorkshire Dales setting, Beacons essentially opens up Moorfest, a local festival for local people, to outsiders. The line-up is far-reaching in location and genre. The promotion is hot, offering fun for everyone; music, art, clothes, spirituality, food & drink… for families, scenesters, ravers, boozers, hippies… The last and first year was flooded out. Unsurprisingly, this year is sold out.
The festival is already in full swing and soul, keen campers having arrived last night and today taken in a trio of bands I promise to see at Leeds Fest for missing here. The campsites are small enough to find spaced and big enough to find space. Tent up, cider downed, we leave camp to the relaxed atmosphere of day and enter festival to the vibrant night.
Unfortunately, we do not witness this with the bright vocals and dark beats of Jesse Ware, as planned, but by being misdirected through trawling, winding, unsigned roads to an oddly remote and distant hut, a most unusual and inconvenient location to hold our golden ticket. We then accidently appear on site without passing any security. And now it’s raining…
Despite the open space, Beacons provides ample shelter from the storm. All stages are covered and so the psych-glam-fuzz of Gross Magic in the ‘Noisey/Vice’ tent and the loud dream dubstep of Mount Kimbie in the ‘Stool Pigeon’ tent receive a strong and enthusiastic crowd. Tonight is headlined by dub-rap-reggae master Rodney Smith aka Roots Manuva. Charmingly un-bling and infectiously likeable, we are propelled through dancehalls, schmoozed by Yorkshire Olympic praise, before erupting to alt-Olympic cheese-on-toast anthem Witness (1 Hope).
The night continues but I don’t, laying my head in my new home. This is when some inevitable teething problems become apparent. The party tunes are blared over the camping area and the family-friendly theme is further questioned by an attempted 5am trip to the glory of festival toilets. Minimal in number and unusably covered in your imagination, folk are public-peeing, like enforced Heaton Park Stone Roses hooligans.
Sunshine greets Saturday morning and I feel further refreshed at the sight of people feeling a whole lot worse than me. The food is not quite as delectable as advertised but is passable for a festival so a mediocre breakfast and rather good coffee anticipates the day. Initial confusion letting people onto the site then throwing them back out soon redeems itself by the realisation that the festival is responding to toilet complaints and doing something about it. Kudos. Unfortunately for The Magnetic North, the delay means they begin their mid-day set to themselves but, soon enough, have attracted an audience besotted by their Orkney-influenced picturesque folk tales of seasonal beauty. A lovely opening to shake off hangovers and kick off session two.
Speaking of which, we head over to a real success for Beacons; Whitelocks. Ye olde Leeds pub has recently been taken over by some of Beacons organisers, who have modernised without losing any traditional charm. This approach is exemplified with the on-site Whitelocks, where a terrific selection of real ales are supped by the most unlikely of cool customers. The association may help fill pockets but this is no mere cash-in and the roaring fire for the cold and outdoor benches for the sun make for a welcoming space easy to miss bands for.
But miss bands we mustn’t as Cass McCombs is already riding along his country dirt-track. Expertly played sombre ballads (‘County Line’) fall surprisingly flat though chugging Americana (‘The Same Thing’) fares a little better. Followed by Still Corners, the mood remains static but now sparkles, thanks to both their glorious debut album and vocalist Tessa Murray’s jacket glistening somewhere between iconic front-woman and ironic bingo-caller.
After Julio Bashmore had cancelled his Friday night epic, there are concerns and rumours when Weird Dreams fail to appear next, and Clock Opera later on. The reasons are unclear but, to the festivals credit, the latter is replaced superbly by agit-punk entertainers Future of the Left, and the omissions are helped by a line-up of continuing quality causing inevitable clashes. We choose Japandroids over Splashh and are rewarded with a chaotic riot of noise met by a charged pit to bring in the night.
Next up, Ghostpoet fills the tent with effortless style and an energised set of downbeat tales that have the crowd hip-hopping forward and bellowing back singles ‘Survive It’ and ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’. Headliners and adopted Yorkshire sons Wild Beasts might be preaching to the converted but their sermons are increasingly impressive. Through a back catalogue of awesomely brooding new (‘Bed of Nails’) and awkwardly catchy old (‘The Devil’s Crayon’) classics the crowd shout along, especially and comically on ‘All The Kings Men’, with Hayden Thorpe’s soaring falsetto (“watch me! watch me!”) and Tom Fleming’s warming baritone (“girls from Shipley”).
Sunday arrives with the patter of rain on tent and it seems many remain hidden under canvas until their Pearson Sound induced comedown capitulates. We finally brave the mud for marvellous tea, vintage clothes, tiny golf, bouncy slides, more ale and The Wave Pictures. Perfect 60s sunshine pop somehow fits the falling weather and cheers up a large crowd bopping to infectious off-kilter tunes (‘I Love You Like A Madman’) who now want more! More comes more in tune with the conditions as Leeds’ Hookworms lock-in, groove-out and hypnotise a pleasingly huge head-nodding audience with their thunderous, passionate, repetitive drone and love.
Flagging, an admirable veg curry provides a second wind (so to speak) and we’re off again. Willy Mason is a big draw and reminds us that he remains a big talent oozing authenticity. He delights with audience singalongs (‘Save Myself’) and original classics (‘Oxygen’). Now fully into a relaxed Sunday session, post-rock newcomers Tall Ships get us dancing to wonky electronic riffs (‘T=0’) and roaring organic choruses (‘Gallop’) to create an immediate and lasting impression.
But the end is nigh. Patrick Wolf, Felice Brothers, Cloud Nothings and, of course, Toots & the Maytals await my happy ears but a stinking carriage awaits my knackered body. There has since been much praise but also various criticisms of Beacons; unacceptable toilets, minimal additional activities, unfortunate t-shirts, over/under(?)-zealous security, not what it said on the tin… some valid, all minor. I expect these will be better next year. I expect Beacons will be great next year. It was pretty damn good this year.