|Off The Tracks Festival 2023|
1st - 3rd Sep 2023
Donington Park Farmhouse, Melbourne Road, Castle Donington, Derbyshire, DE74 2RN, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £100.00
A decade ago, FFA wrote that OTT was ‘a hidden gem in the UK festival crown’ and the ‘best kept secret on the festival scene’. Know what? In an age of transitory pleasures, the quick fix, the 15 second attention span, OTT still delivers. It always has. Not only does OTT have permanence, with a bedrock of quality and value, this Reviewer firmly believes that in its 35th year, the event continues to improve and excel. OTT 2023 was an absolute cracker! There is a loyalty here, a shared kinship between all the players, mutual respect and trust that you simply can’t put a price on. It’s this chemistry which traps attendees in its gravitational pull, year after year. If you go, you return. After decades, OTT still remains an undiscovered treasure to many. Those in the know worship it. Here’s why…
Let’s cut to the chase up front, if you have never experienced the wonder that is OTT, (and you really should), then imagine a wild fever dream where your ideal pub held a festival all weekend, attended by lots of good friends and fellow kindreds, excellently curated, with cracking bands, and splendid food and drink. Sounds good? Also imagine on-site camping, with excellent facilities, where the atmosphere on this permanent camp site is as good as inside the festival. Hmmm – this is sounding very good, isn’t it? Well, my friends, that just about sums up OTT. No wonder our Reviewers always trot out the same strapline of a ‘wonderful House Party’.
Our FFA Reviewers simply adore OTT as a wonderful end-of-festival-season tonic. More House Party than festival (there you go!), the event is held at Donington Park Farm House in Derbyshire. The farm is heavily diversified, and the festival is held in old farm buildings centred around the farmyard. But here’s the rub. Those same farm buildings host a permanent, year-round hotel, pub and diner! Better still, the campsite is a permanent year-round camping facility! So, proper brick built toilets and shower blocks, hardstanding and all the creature comforts of an established site that one would expect.
The festival is all under cover, including the farm yard, with loads of sessions and happenings in the pub itself. Don’t forget that the pub also has a large dining area selling a variety of goodies all weekend, including venison (if that’s your bag) from the farm’s own estate. Expect a real ale and cider festival, healing zone in the fields, enough stalls and the like, plenty for the kids, …oh, and some terrific bands. There is real quality across all the stages at OTT. The organisers have been in the business a long time – and there is always at least one breakthrough act to take the breath away. Expect midnight live music sessions and a brilliant late-night scene.
But all the above is only the mechanics of the thing. OTT is all about its people. There is a wonderful vibe to the weekend. It’s an old school festival experience with all the creature comforts. One of the friendliest festival crowds on the circuit, and an absolutely cracking atmosphere. One little cameo sums up OTT for this Reviewer – someone goes to the bar, comes back 20 minutes later. Where have you been? Oh, I got chatting to some couple, great people… there you have the essence of this bash.
If your idea of a festival is only as good or bad as the bands on offer, then you’ve been going to the wrong festivals. Those in the know (and OTT People KNOW), realise that the bands are just one element of a much bigger whole. A true festival is truly multi-faceted thing of beauty. The vibe, the scene, the camaraderie, the people, are the things that matter. OTT is one such festival. A celebration no less, of the human spirit.
Now then, if you must, here is a snapshot of what went down for FFA. It’s not an extensive list of bands, that would be the Programme Schedule! FFA can guarantee that we probably missed, or omitted, some of your favourite artists. So it goes. These happen to be our favourite moments, if we missed yours – blame the bar or other distractions! We’d likely be flying elsewhere, doing other stuff, almost certainly laughing and talking shite… That multi-faceted experience, my friends, is at the very heart of this festival – the enjoyment of the scene is the thing!
Ye Gods! Roving Crows never stand still; figuratively or physically. Always new directions and re-invention. The current line-up explores some darker sounding, more socially aware territory, typified by a stunning take on ‘Business’, which vied with ‘Bury Me Naked’ as song of the set. There is a mature edge to the band these days… and it all works. But other things remain a constant – the fine musicianship (with some neat fiddle Pizzicato technique), the world-wise lyrics, and, of course, that dynamic Irish flavoured Celtic Folk vibe. A great live band. This band set the marker for others to follow – and OTT didn’t disappoint.
Elephant Sessions! What an absolutely stunning band. Difficult to define, but if you think Peatbogs with Mandolin, it’s as good a starting point as any. Don’t get me wrong – these guys have taken that Celtic fusion mashup into a whole new territory and made it their own. FFA thought them wonderful. They weave complex soundscapes of multi-genre threads with aplomb to create a superb orchestral wall of sound. Cracking stuff. The crowd already loved ‘em long before the band nailed ‘FM’ and disappeared into the night.
FFA wandered, dazed and confused, over to the Oak Room Midnight Session for the Latino vibe of The Sugar Tree. New to FFA, but what a class act and a lovely chilled vibe over in the recently developed Oak Room outdoor area. Expect covered tables and patio heaters! It’s a lovely atmosphere in this remote corner of the festival. The Sugar Tree were another unknown OTT outfit that blew us away. Hugely entertaining, tight, musically sound, great range of material (the ‘Alien In New York’ cover was splendid), and some marvellous Beatbox! What’s not to like? That’s not the half of the late-night reverie that OTT serve up. They covered all bases, from the classic Reggae and Roots of DJ Edgie, to the roller-coaster EDM ride that was the Dr Trippy experience. An eclectic descent in to madness ensued. This is why the infamous OTT Friday Night is mentioned in hushed reverential tones by those in the know. Talk about Bang For Bucks. A great night.
Xander & The Peace Pirates are a really excellent outfit who went down a storm. The interplay between electric and acoustic guitars in their sound stage sets them apart sonically, and whilst the guys can certainly rock it up, they absolutely excel in the more thoughtful numbers like the divine ‘Searching for the Light’. Spookily, it was a rare cover (Sign ‘O’ the Times), which did for this Reviewer. X&TPP do Funk! Only midafternoon and OTT was already buzzing. An Dannsa Dub !! Where do OTT discover this high calibre of act, consistently, year after year after year? Rather like Elephant Sessions, this is another splendid Scots Celtic fusion act taking fusion music out to the boundaries. Underpinned by Dub Reggae with EDM and Trad. overlays, with some beautiful flute/fiddle interchanges, FFA thought them one of the Sets Of The Festival, and in this company – that’s praise indeed.
Coincidently, the next act up were also vying for set of the weekend – MonkeyTrial. Textured layers of mellow ambient electronica with chilled guitar infills. Largely improvised around basic soundscape templates, this Reviewer thought it all exceptionally good as they took the Black Barn occupants away with fairies. Earlier in the day, FFA buzzed around the Dreams Stage sampling the nectar there, like you do. This festival ALWAYS does their bit to promote largely undiscovered musical talent. In the 21st century, never has it been easier to create music – never has it been more difficult to get it heard. OTT certainly redressed the balance with Peet Jackson. This Reviewer is a sucker for a talented singer/songwriter with passion and talent, and Jackson is all that and more. His musical range, experimentation and pan-genre setlist was excellent. His cover of ‘Walk of Life’ proved he can take his music anywhere he chooses. Do check the fella out. Quick word on the splendidly raucous Headsticks. FFA love it when a band drop a radical style change into their set – step forward ‘Paper Flowers’. I must have gotten some grit in my eyes – a beautiful and powerful song.
Now Then. Arguably best crowd reaction, something a little leftfield, a band that typifies everything that OTT is about. A band that had the whole main stage audience literally bouncing – Ladies & Gentlemen I give you Kissmet! Bhangra on acid, lyrics in Sanskrit, Sub-Continent fusion. A melting pot of everything good about the world. This outfit always delivers. A promoters dream. A crowd’s delight. Wonderful stuff. Dreadzone ended the Main Stage programme in some style. The band did sterling work and were musically and vocally fine on their 30th anniversary tour, but frontman and focal point MC Spee is sadly missed. Get well soon mate.
And so… into the small hours with another wildly diverse OTT triple header. The wonderful Dr Matt & DJ LipGlossBoss Silent Disco – officially the hottest place on Earth at 2am. A brilliant atmosphere. FFA had to loosen our Underslunkeys for the sonic delights of Zubzub, who laid down some terrific beats, between weaving over to the Midnight Sessions Henry John’s one-man classic rock & blues extravaganza. OTT’s scheduling is a masterclass in musical diversity of the highest value.
Punters who elected to leave early Sunday missed an absolute peach of a day. Late subs Skarantinos sent the early afternoon revellers into Ska heaven, with a polished set of Ska, Two-tone and Rocksteady classics. Remarkably good. OTT sure know how to mix it all up and still get it to work – its only Congolese Afro-beats from festival favourite Kasai Masai! This is great Soukous writ large, with interwoven rhythms from an excellent band and larger than life frontman. Happy, Good Time music, and great crowd reaction.
Noble Jacks closed the stages with a truly wonderful set. Alongside the folksy Americana, this Reviewer heard the next generation Levellers in the mix. Trust me, that’s praise indeed! They’ve taken that strand of English stomping folk into a different direction and made it their own… like all the best bands do. A fittingly excellent band to close an excellent festival. Oh, and did we mention that the weather, like this wonderful festival, was absolutely glorious!
Postscript: to those lucky enough to attend – don’t swan off after the stages close, the bar is still open, the vibe is even more chilled, and much later on, an impromptu ‘band’ struck up - how very, very OTT!
Article by Barrie Dimond
Photographs by the excellent Graham Whitmore