As I made my way down the long A-road to Norwich I was feeling good. The sun was shining, the tent was packed and the line up was looking pretty incredible: We were headed for Play Fest 2012! On arrival the good vibes continued: on entry to Playfest the Busking Area, set up within the main camp site, was in full flow. Bleary-eyed from the night before, campers were sat cross-legged enjoying the local talent and the prospect of a weekend packed full of festival big-hitters including The Pigeon Detectives, Feeder and Ash. In only its second year of operation Playfest has to be applauded for its ambitious line up: seven stages and across these the opportunity to see nearly FIFTEEN HOURS of uninterrupted music per day!

The Saturday kicked off with Kings and Crows on the main stage. A local band who had assured their slot by triumphing in a competition engineered by Playfest delivered a chilled and polished performance. Solko followed and on their arrival a strong local following joined them to skank in the last of the Saturday sunshine. The 6-piece Suffolk based band looked comfortable on the big stage and a classic ska finale reminiscent of Madness drew in the crowds. We also caught Kamilla Lovett and Killamanjoambo who were equally brilliant and did the Norfolk contingent proud. Playfest have shown a real desire to promote local talent and this has to be celebrated. Even the stalls and catering were primarily Norfolk-based and chatting with festival-goers these touches did not go unnoticed.

The Saturday evening line up was strong and Reverend & The Makers took to the stage introducing new material with front man Jon McClure encouraging the increasingly growing crowds to “bounce”. ‘Champion of the World’ of course made an appearance although was determinedly placed in the middle of the set. However finishing with ‘Silence Is Talking’, showcasing Laura McClure’s talent on the trumpet with a sample of Low Rider (I spent hours humming it before finally surfing around Youtube to find it was on the Marmite Advert!) was a stroke of genius and upped the energy in time for The Pigeon Detectives.

Fresh from their ‘Summer By The Sea’ tour The Pigeon Detectives delivered a high-energy performance and probably gave my stand-out moment of the weekend when lead vocalist Matt Bowman invited anyone in fancy dress on to the stage. The image of Bowman singing with a backing of farm animals and a bloke dressed up as a care bear was just too good to miss and the intimacy that Playfest and the like present is possibly one of the reasons why The Pigeon Detectives have decided to focus on independent festivals this year. It was the first set which maintained its vigour throughout and song-after-song was met with a massive response from the crowd. Bowman appears to have worked heroically on perfecting a couple of stage tricks and these along with a warm chemistry with the crowd allowed the Leeds 5-piece to be one of my highlights for the weekend.

In fact the Leeds band were so good that I missed the first 15 minutes of Roots Manuva’s set. The Big Top was packed to the rafters by the time we arrived but I was lucky enough to catch new material weaved in amongst classics such as ‘All Things to All Men’ and ‘Witness (1 hope)’. The latter gained the best response to an individual track throughout the whole weekend; incredible considering the demographic of the tent contained a high percentage of people who would’ve been in primary school when it was originally released! Although what’s a decade to Saturday’s main headliner, Indie legends Ash? The Playfest crowds were not disappointed and braved what had become torrential rain to witness massive song after massive song.

With a designated dance stage curated by local club night Pow! Playfest’s crowds continued long into the night. The dance area itself was set away through a small walk-way and offered a Full-moon style bar and an impressive set-list covering Friday-Sunday including the likes of Shy FX, Sub Focus and Toddla-T who has recently secured a permanent spot on Radio 1. During the day the area had a slightly whimsical feel to it but by night the place was transformed and a-glow with neon.

Through the night the classic festival weather began to dampen the spirits and the soggy morning after the night before highlighted a couple of areas that Playfest would do well to improve on. Having no cash machines on sight the organisers had wisely organised shuttle buses to run individuals back and forth. However both the frequency and cost were reported to be an issue. Others reported that whilst security and elements that were family friendly on last year had improved that there was a “long way to go”. My own experience may be somewhat skewed as, after being incorrectly directed to an exit, I ended up stuck in a farmer’s field for 90 minutes pushing my boyfriend’s car to safety! In the chaos that ensued we saw another 4 cars directed to the wrong exit and on approaching stewards found they either couldn’t or wouldn’t help and who in turn ranted how understaffed they were. It took a couple of incredibly nice people to join us and also come up with the solution of sealing off the exit. So, Playfest 2013 put some signs up!

Luckily the Sunday line-up was, if anything, stronger than the day before and after a few beers and the mellow sounds of Ria Richie everything seemed a lot better. The young singer/songwriter found fame on Youtube but looked at home on the main stage as she led a stripped back but powerful set. Lonsdale Boys Club followed and were one of my unexpected highlights. Songs like ‘Caroline’ were guitar-led but with a funky pop element that I can see becoming huge in the charts. Does it help that the lead singer is really, really, ridiculously good-looking? Possibly, Yes.

I had been lucky enough to catch Spector at the Camden Crawl recently where they completely stole the show so the East London five-piece had a lot to live up to. The miserable weather had hit with a vengeance by this point but thankfully they did not disappoint. Every song of the set was of a headlining quality but in ‘Never Fade Away’ Spector must surely have an anthem that crowds will be chanting back at them for years to come. Frontman Fred Macpherson has an incredible ability to converse with the crowd and despite appearing a little off-colour his interactions between songs were golden. With a long list of festival commitments this summer and an album due for release on the 13th August I can’t wait to see how 2012 develops for them.

A huge bonus associated with the rain has to be the foot-traffic that fell to the sheltered tents. The minute Tipi tent had DJs blasting out all day and on the Sunday was often crammed to busting. Similarly the Big Top saw an increased crowd and Deers, Boat To Row and Juan Zelada all delivered great performances. My favourite of the weekend was the absolutely show-stopping Federation of The Disco Pimp who had the crowds toe-tapping, swing stepping and just generally having a bloody good time. Headlining in The Big Top on the Sunday night were MC/DJ duo The Correspondents. These two have featured in The Telegraph’s Top Ten Highlights of Glastonbury two years running and after witnessing the energy and flamboyance of their set I can totally see why. Cavorting on a treadmill, fully kitted in cape and basque, front man Mr Bruce’s showmanship meant even those who’d ventured in simply to avoid the rain were entranced. Costumes and dance moves aside though and these two still remain an act worth catching. The procession of DJ Chucks and Mr Bruce’s musical influences from “Jazz to 60s beat, Electro to Dubstep to Drum’n’Bass, then back again” blended to create a time-travelling hallucination within the confines of The Big Top.

The main stage built up with Natty, Scroobius Pip and Delilah before Sunday’s big headliner , Feeder. As a huge fan in the early 00s I was a little gutted for some of the classics to have been waylaid. However Feeder’s material from the new album Generation Freakshow appeared to signal a return to form, with Idaho and Tiny Minds remaining in the forefront of my memory despite never having heard them prior to Playfest. Of course there was room for Feeling a Moment, where everyone swayed. Of course there was room for Buck Rogers, where everyone jumped round deliriously. And of course there was room for Just a Day to finish it all up and to remind everyone what a great band Feeder are. And what a great festival Playfest 2012 had been too.

Review by: Jo Hanks