Larmer Tree roared back in 2018 after a one-year sabbatical with a wonderful festival that caressed the senses. An excellent music and arts festival where the musical element is just one facet of the weird and wonderful variety of entertainment that Wiltshire’s finest could provide.
Our Festivals For All reviewers had an absolute gas at the last bash in 2016 and the 2018 festival simply cemented Larmer Tree’s reputation as one of the most creative, imaginative, and enjoyable festivals around. Take a look at the FFA Larmer Tree Festival 2016 Review for just a flavour of this festivals long pedigree. Many other events large and small who claim to be music AND Arts events would do well to look and learn from the Larmer Tree experience.
The beautiful location of Larmer Tree Gardens on the Wilshire / Dorset border simply overflows with spoken word, discussions, author sessions, comedy, installations, craft fairs, workshops, physical and spiritual therapies, and, and… you get the picture. Overlay all that with an excellent music line-up and this is festival heaven.
Some events strive for years and yet remain little more than bands in a field. Larmer Tree IS the event – it’s now bigger than the artists it hosts. It’s got a buzz about it that makes the spine tingle. The crowd drive that vibe of course, and the attendees were excellent; the place was a melting pot of ages, backgrounds, and interests… but for four wonderful days they become one community – and it was lovely. Incidentally, Larmer Tree certainly goes that extra mile to keep the kids and teens entertained. The depth and breadth of goodies on offer for all ages was commendable. There is entertainment and happenings on offer from early morning through ‘til 3am. With curated stages, a celebration of Women in the arts and much else, it’s no wonder the Larmer Tree festival programme runs to around a hundred pages!
The location helps of course; Larmer Tree Victorian Gardens are a year-round tourist attraction with Water Gardens, lawned Pavilions, woodland walks et al. Maccaws fly overhead and peacocks wander the grounds. Idyllic is the word. The facilities are absolutely on the button with plentiful quality toilets and showers. Quality pervades everything about this festival. For this reviewer, it’s the sheer scale of the frankly weird and bizarre non-music world of Larmer Tree that sets it apart. Indeed, it is genuinely possible to fill your days at this festival without ever seeing a band at all.
FFA lived in The Lost Woods and The Wilds – a large, magical area featuring everything from a Spa & Silent Disco, to obscure arts installations and light shows deep deep into the forest. Often, you’d come across a hidden leafy glade to find a piano or assorted musical instruments, elsewhere you may find giant tree trunk pencils and chalkboards for more creativity on the fly. Elsewhere again, flash theatre and storytelling, a library, or sitting room in a woodland clearing complete with settee and standard lamp! They even had a knitting tent where hardy souls attempted to yarn bomb the entire woods. Crazy stuff… particularly after dark.
Musically the festival was an absolute delight, FFA has never witnessed any fillers or unworthies at Larmer Tree; as with all the other facets of this excellent festival, there was top quality all the way across the many stages. Particularly with the heat, FFA saw loads and missed even more. Here is just a brief snap-shot of the best of the best in our opinion – omission here is not a criticism! If you were lucky enough to attend, then you will have your own favourites and highlights – this happens to be ours…
Early doors FFA were blessed to watch two cracking acts to set the tone and standard for the whole weekend… but not before a calming Gong Bath in the woods mind. Rick Foot over at a packed Village Inn was splendid and off-the-wall (pretty much the theme for the whole festival really). Playing only a Double Bass and accompanying himself with some neat echoes and loop pedal effects, the man simply enthralled. Mournful without being morose – good humoured without slapstick and a nice line in Half Man Half Biscuit silliness. ‘Your House: Full of Twigs’ topped an excellent set. Tawiah! What can we say – it was only Friday and FFA had already stumbled across not only Find Of The Festival but one of THE sets of the festival. Tawiah was wonderful. What a talent, producing a multi-instrumental mash up of soul fused beats with a voice as pure as the driven snow and even roping in her talented brother for rap breaks… The Family Von Rap indeed! The finale of ‘Mother’s Prayer’, featuring samples of her 100 year old Ghanaian Grandmother, went down deep and personal and stole an already excellent set. Cue standing ovation and not a few moist eyes. Excellent. Some fine Celtic folk-rock from Elephant Sessions had the Arc crowd bouncing and were a perfect lead-in for Jake Bugg to close the Main Stage. What a headliner – the crowd went wild and FFA are sure they didn’t even notice it had started raining by that point. Bugg had a ball and fed off the electric crowd vibe. Performer and audience as one. The man even found time for a couple of Everly Brothers / Havens covers. ‘Lightning Bolt’ was the crowd pleaser, but for this reviewer ‘Simple Pleasures’ proved what a class act and a master of his craft young Mr Bugg has become. A fabulous Friday.
Sweltering Saturday witnessed yet another outstanding act – this time Ibibio Sound Machine. This was funky Afro-Beat to get the pulse racing. Front woman Eno Williams had the crowd eating from her hand during a whirlwind performance. Blimey, the woman can sing and dance. Surrounded by excellent musicians the set was just the tonic on a hot afternoon. Festival stalwart Gaz Brookfield caught our eye over in the heaving Village Inn. The guy is a master at the art of telling stories in song, mostly about his choice of automobile if truth be told. Amusing and sometimes poignant, Brookfield is a festival troubadour and enhances any event. All roads led to Main Stage headliner First Aid Kit. Yet another worthy top of the bill – you do spoil us Larmer Tree. Tight as a nut with some stunning vocal harmonies. Fragile and downright raucous in equal measure, this was a wonderful set, leaving the happy clappy crowd baying for more. Later, FFA were held spellbound by the adult storytelling round the camp fire in the woods. The Travelling Talesman took us on a journey of myth and legend with a hugely entertaining retelling of some of the world’s classic tales. Spoken Word is wonderful and this was top notch. Talk about Larmer Tree offering a wealth of multi-media entertainment… follow story telling with first class late-night comedy. Jan Brister left many a male squirming in the audience with a savagely funny take on a man’s world from a female perspective. Excellent material and a very amusing and perceptive comic. Mark Watson closed the show with a great set about, well, life, the universe and everything. Noise leakage between the stages is a recognised problem at festivals, but what a shame Larmer Tree could not either position speakers outside both the Arc and Village Inn or pump up the volume so the large crowds overflowing the tents could hear spoken word performances clearly – maybe next year? FFA danced the night away again to some great beats from SuperSonicDisco over in The Social. A great late-night scene featuring a host of excellent DJ sets over the whole weekend.
Blimey – wot a scorcher! The day seemed to evaporate into one long blissful heat haze. Steve Knightley fought it out for one of the sets of the whole festival. Knightley has one of the most natural stage presences this old reviewer has been blessed to see … its as if he’s performing in your Lounge. This was a particularly chatty set with the great man seeding it throughout with little tales of his life and influences. His cover of ‘Dock of the Bay’ was a delightful surprise, but the conjoined ‘Country Life / Cousin Jack’ brought the house down. Tears were shed. A wonderful set worthy of the main stage rather than the broiling, overflowing Arc, but such is life. A special big-up at this point to the Main Stage sound guys in particular – crystal clear, even in the woods, and some of the best stage sound this old wizened reviewer has heard in many a year. More Late Night Fireside Stories with that man The Travelling Talesman, but not before final Main Stage headliner Public Service Broadcasting simply blew us away. An audio-visual extravaganza which even featured dancing astronauts during the excellent Gagarin. During the set the festival staged a moving illuminated balloon tribute to festival friend George Stuart and did the man proud. A simply wonderful ‘Everest’ closed the set to an ecstatic crowd, but as always, it was the excellent ‘Spitfire’ which had these FFA reviewers in a tail-spin.
So there you have it. As we said at the top of the review – The splendid Larmer Tree Festival is up there with the very best music and arts festivals around.
Article and snaps by Barrie Dimond