Off The Tracks is surely one of the jewels in the UK festival crown. Thirty years old and still an absolutely cracking weekend. OTT is arguably the original and most long lived ‘boutique’ festival in the country that has remained true to its roots, and what it lacks in size is more than compensated by the sheer quality of the event and the wonderful atmosphere it generates. Its one hell of a party. Indeed, our FFA Reviewers frequently refer to OTT as more house party than festival… and here’s why:
There is an intimacy, imagination and vibe about OTT that FFA Reviewers love. Take a look at Off The Tracks Summer Festival 2017 Review for just a sample of why our reviewers have rated this excellent festival so highly over many years. The location drives the scene of course, with the festival set amongst converted farm buildings on a diversified farm with its own year-round permanent camp-site, brick facilities, and real pub and diner on-site. Carnivores can even devour the Estates own venison amongst plentiful and decently priced food and drink options. Throw in OTT’s own Beer Festival with upwards of 70 Real Ales & Ciders, and you are good to go with ale prices starting at £3.20! Everything apart from the farmyard is under cover or indoors, and FFA regards OTT as THE end of summer festival season bash, whatever the weather. This year was glorious.
OTT is much more than simply the music, with plentiful options for the kids, the Energy Orchard for healing and relaxation, popup sessions, workshops, and copious bar and seating areas to simply enjoy that wonderful OTT vibe.
Having experienced OTT30, FFA make no apologies for recycling a sentence from our event preview – which in many ways sums up this magical little gathering: ' In a throw away culture of one day fashion and thirty second Twitter Storms, the wonderful OTT once again stands as a bastion of quality, and proves, if proof were needed, that Good. Things. Have. Permanence '.
No festival survives thirty years without delivering something memorable each and every year – and OTT excels. For this reviewer it’s down to the people. Organisers Andy & Boz for simply making it all happen, and the wonderful audience. It is one of the most diverse, musically knowledgeable crowds you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Each and every one prepared to leave their musical preferences and prejudices at the gate to enjoy the huge range of musical genres and first class musicians across all the stages that OTT consistently delivers year after year. There are all types, all backgrounds, all ages grooving together on a farm in Derbyshire – and its wonderful. There is a genuine vibe and sense of community at OTT that so many other festivals lack. Line-ups are transitory – it’s the crowd, and the vibe they generate, that have the permanence.
As we said at the top, the music is not the half of it at OTT, but one thread runs through everything at this event – Quality. The stages, lights, and sound are excellent, the young musicians at the Fleet Arts Introducing Stage consistently very good indeed, and the main stage artists universally excellent – wherever they appeared on the bill.
Here’s just a snapshot of what went down over the weekend for FFA. We saw plenty – we missed plenty more. If we don’t mention your favourite band or ‘OTT Moment’, then more fool us. Omission is not a criticism! We were most likely hammered somewhere else….
What a night. What a scene. Aurora Dawn and the ScreaminSkulls kicked off proceedings for FFA over at the Marquee Stage. Dawn is OTT’s very own Diva. The woman sounded fantastic with a vocal range as diverse as the set list. An accomplished performer, she simply owned the stage and hit the appreciative OTT crowd with everything from electro-pop to deep soul and blues fuelled beats. A wonderful performance, which naturally set the musical mood for the whole weekend.
Over in the Black Barn, the Gilded Thieves brand of folky Americana was an absolute delight. Two acts in and the sheer excellence and musical diversity that OTT provides by default was already at the fore. Transglobal Underground featuring Natacha Atlas were in the rarefied vanguard of artists merging disparate world music with electro-beats, and decades on, they remain a Class Act. This line-up is of course the real deal with original band members aplenty, and they simply excelled. What a mash-up of musical genres, with the rich Asian vocal overlays of Atlas provided the icing on the cake. The place was bouncing to the sounds of the planet – a great atmosphere and International Times indeed.
Metal Fatigue! Most other festivals would have thrown up any old rock covers local pub band to fill a midnight slot. At OTT? Not likely. This outfit were superb. They stamped their own individual style and virtuosity on some of the greatest rock classics ever written and made them their own. We walked in to an absolutely blinding ‘War Pigs’ and from then on we were away with the fairies. Do try and catch these guys – you will never hear a better cover of ‘Echo Beach’. Trust me. Over in the Oak Room singer-songwriter Phil Cudworth regaled a well entertained crowd. Cudworth’s inherent humour shines through in songs covering, well, virtually the full gambit of human emotions. Entertaining stuff. Blimey – Social Ignition were good! Big band Ska with heavy reggae overtones, these guys capped a wonderful evening of late night sounds on all the stages. Another ‘unknown’ band to FFA that blew us away. OTT where do you find this calibre of acts? This festival is past masters at splendidly diverse scheduling of artists from across the musical spectrum. If it’s good – the OTT crowd are open to everything, whatever the genre... and Friday night was very good indeed. We had a ball.
Saturday, and FFA simply enjoyed the weather and OTT Vibe, with the Black Pig Border Morris troupe, Samba, and Belly Dancers providing the eye candy as FFA just lazed around and people watched. John Otway and The Little Big Band delivered an absolutely brilliant set. This is a man fated to become a National Treasure! No mean musician himself, and ably supported by his cohorts, Otway always manages to keep his act fresh as a daisy, with tongue-in-cheek rock extravaganzas and Theremin heaven aplenty. The man simply gets funnier and more entertaining with every viewing. Always a festival highlight. Thanks OTT.
Roots is reggae as a life force, a statement of the ethos of Rastafari, the concept of Life, Love, Unity, and the excellent Talisman delivered a great roots set of fine socially aware lyrics and bouncing beats, before festival favourites Dreadzone hit the stage. The Marquee Stage was rocking to the bands classic dub fuelled electronica. More vocally led in recent years, and with a wealth of quality new album material, the band still found time to please the nostalgia merchants with a few old classics scattered in the mix. A great set and another OTT headliner success. Some fantastic beats were thrown down by OTT stalwarts Zub Zub to limber FFA up for the Silent Disco. FFA freely admit it – these Reviewers are absolute suckers for a decent Silent Disco and DJ Dr Matt vs Flying Sound did us proud. A great cross mix. They managed to prise us out of the barn at 3:30am still wide eyed and bushy tailed. Excellent stuff.
Lazy, hazy, Sunday is usually wind down day at OTT… but Sunday 2018 was genuinely one of the best yet. Kasai Masai was on the ball with some fine Afro Beats. FFA are always amazed at the relative dearth of African bands on the festival circuit, and a big up to OTT for championing this excellent Congolese outfit. Despite the hangover, they had FFA and the rest of the blissed-out crowd dancing for fun. The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican are always excellent mid-afternoon fodder and their hugely entertaining set did not disappoint. Their take on ‘Firestarter’ probably the funniest of a very funny hour.
Talk about the sheer off-the-wall musical diversity of OTT, some robotic cyberman dude then sparked up electronic dirges in the Courtyard to great crowd acclaim. A little ‘OTT Moment’. What a crazy, wonderful festival this is. Mad Dog McCrea’s gipsy folk-rock mash up ended the shebang in style, with ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ in particular getting a great crowd reaction.
Well, there you have it, OTT at 30 years old. Festivals come and go, bands come and go, sadly individuals come and go, but there is a timeless spirit, a boundless energy – that famous OTT VIBE - that endures with this festival. If it gets in your heart – you’ll return. See you all for the fourth decade then.
Article by Barrie Dimond
Photography courtesy of the excellent Graham Whitmore. Check out more of Graham's work HERE