Another year – another triumph … what a thoroughly splendid festival this is. Some festivals can conjure up a great atmosphere; a few manage, maybe for one song or one conversation, to produce that elusive magical feeling – that vibe, where everything just gels into the perfect moment. At an Off The Tracks event that feeling just hits you in waves. Again and again. It doesn’t just happen of course – it’s worked; the organisers have had twenty five years to perfect it; the crowd consciously generate it; the performers feed off it. As a relatively seasoned reviewer I’ve rarely experienced a background buzz like it. It permeates everything – all the time.
The location helps of course – this is no ordinary festival. It’s small and perfectly formed. There are permanent camping facilities on a year round camp site … they have proper brick built shower and toilet blocks for goodness sake. The festival is held amongst converted farm buildings – the main stage is in the farmyard. There is a real pub and diner on-site. A couple of the barns host a real ale jamboree with around 80 beers and ciders. Real Ale prices started at £2.80 a pint. They sell venison on-site from their own 12th century herd. You couldn’t make it up. You can sit down at tables and chairs to eat and drink. Chances are the main stage headliners will be sat at the next table. It’s civilised. There are no idiots. People leave their prejudices and emotional baggage at the gate. Everyone is nice – it’s all how it should be.
Sat in the bar one night, someone said ‘My heaven would have a pub – and this would be it’. Interesting belief system but I got their point. It’s chilled, it’s relaxed, it’s open most of the night, there are some great sounds. The crowd – oh the crowd…. More diverse characters and rum sticks per square inch than I’d thought possible. Everyone is a potential friend - it’s that good. Start thinking about all the best bits of a three night house party and you may start to get the idea.
OTT has always catered for a diverse crowd – the musical policy and programming are always imaginative and deliberately challenging, they keep the kids occupied, and the peaceful Energy Orchard field is always on hand to sooth the body and soul should things start getting a little too hectic.
Bloody cold at night – but the sun god Ra smiled benevolently on the faithful over the weekend. The days simply flew by in a haze of good times and sun cream…. here’s just a snapshot of what we remember:
Cracking Friday night ska from Pauline Black and The Selecter; polished, energetic, dynamic, and just the job to get the chilly crowd bouncing. Some interesting programming later on with Salsa Celtica’s smooth melding of celtic rhythms with Latin American beats on the main stage, up against the raucous rock-folk tomfoolery of Shamus O’Blivion on the second stage. Polar opposites on the ‘folk’ scale some may say. It didn’t matter – we alternated between the two. Each band offering the crowd something special, unique, and very good. We finally made the call on Shamus who not only played an excellently rowdy set and generated a simply splendid atmosphere – but they also turned up with their own Morris Troupe – The Megadeath Morrismen! (no – seriously). Marvellous stuff – and not a bruised knuckle in the house.
Blimey – Barry Ashworth – what a guy. His Dub Pistols DJ Set was an absolutely stormer. His linkage and timing provided a masterclass; an absolute roller-coaster ride of a set – finishing with a crescendo of brilliant beats. He’d told us before the set that he’s had a long day. He didn’t mention it had started three days earlier! An absolute showman – Top Stuff.
Saturday witnessed a great set from The Paperboys, before another highlight in the shape of Leatherat Acoustic; a surprise addition to the bill. One of those bands that can seamlessly move into acoustic mode to highlight nuances in the music and lyrics that can sometimes be in lost in their full-on band show. Particularly for a largely impromptu set this was excellent.
Alabama 3 – what can you say? They laid down sleazy acid country on a wild OTT crowd. An absolutely marvellous show. Grasping the occasion by the throat with I’m Johnny Cash as a kickstarter through to the mayhem of a raucous encore (featuring some likely suspects from the audience up on stage) for Hypo Full Of Love – this was one of THE sets to be consigned reverentially to the annuls of OTT folklore. Later in the bar, Larry Love was in raptures about the sheer quality of the OTT sound rigs and the professionalism of the sound crew. No one was arguing. As an aside, it may have been post set euphoria, but Mr Love was musing on the potential for an Alabama 3–Hawkwind collaboration at some stage for OTT. Stranger things have happened – and you heard it here first!
Sunday – What a tremendous day musically. We’d just returned from Rehab after Saturday’s excesses to catch the wonderful Blair Dunlop. An immense talent and mesmerising stage presence for one so young. The audience were enraptured. (Read what motives the guy in an exclusive FFA interview here)
Next up were Neverland, although featuring the two festival organisers this was no vanity project shoe-in. Reformed from their 1990’s heyday and back out on the road again the boys sounded excellent. Powerful and accomplished celtic tinged rock music good enough to grace any stage.
2013 Spring OTT provided the launch show for the mighty Merry Hell’s new album ‘Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain’. The band were absolutely electric. This is folk-rock at its finest; Merry Hell are the real deal – an quality outfit. Excellent musicianship, deceptively meaningful lyrics delivered with real conviction, and all wrapped around sing-along choruses, the crowd loved it. New album highlights like Loving The Skin You’re In, Waiting For The River, and a brilliant reworking of Iron Man (from their Tansads past) had the whole place rocking. A genuine festival highlight. (Read an exclusive FFA interview and background to their stunning new album here).
Special mention to the beautiful acoustic soundscapes of Woolly Mammoth over on the second stage. Some of the best musicianship of the festival – and that’s a pretty high benchmark!
Orchid-Star delivered some great world music influenced psy-trance in a wonderfully spacey set before The Popes closed the main stage – raucous gritty celtic rock of the highest order. An excellent way to round off the main stage shebang.
FFA have said it before and we’ll say it again – whilst the performers are integral to the festival (and mighty fine they all were too), they are just one facet of a much bigger thing; you could roll up at OTT knowing hardly anyone on the bill and yet still come home elated. Every one and every thing plays its part at OTT. Crowd – Artists – Location. It just all works.
The second helping of the 25th Anniversary year takes place in August 2013. Dreadzone, Ozric’s, and Leveller Simon Friend’s Seismic Survey have already been announced… (Details HERE) but as I said, OTT will always be much much bigger that the bands that perform. You go to OTT to play your part - to be part of an ‘event’ – and long may it continue.
Article by Barrie Dimond