By Laura Clark
40+ bands, 5 stages, 1 hill. On Saturday 21st July, Chalfest returned to the (not so) sleepy village of Chalford for the second year running. The prognosis was looking good from the outset, with a cheerful volunteer stationed at the gates, offering glitter to new arrivals. Once inside, I was transported to a simpler time - standing in the middle of the village green with Johnny B. Goode playing in one ear (Drifted, Albert Stage) and the Royal Wotton Bassett Swing Band's version of 'Summer of 69' in the other. The band gave an impressive rendition of Bryan Adam's hit, with crystal clear timing and plenty of pizzazz. It was a quintessentially British scene, with the obligatory mad characters entering stage left, right and centre.
Young and not so young people were playing with hoola-hoops across from the bandstand; a trio of tie-dyed boys with electric blue Mohicans darted past; mythical creatures and mad scientists wandered the plain, looking to get back to Narnia or maybe Bussage - going by the sign post. Alice was already half-way down the rabbit hole, before she'd hit the 'drink me' bottle.
The Bob Porter Project, in the Bar stage went down like a smooth pint of Budding. The Cheshire cat art work (designed by students at Thomas Keble School) might have claimed 'we're all mad here', but Bob and his gang's blend of Alt country and Roots Rock was nothing but cool, calm and collected. Alice and the rest of her gang could be found congregating at the side of the bar; the life size sculptures were another impressive student creation - a nod to Chalford's popular 'scarecrow hunt' perhaps?
While some punters were busy relaxing at the Bar Stage, others opted to get their 5 a day (and 5 minutes of exercise) at the Bike Access Project stall. Judging from the queue for their bike-powered smoothies, the only peddling needed was during the making process. I managed to grab a quick interview (and much need rest!) with company member, Alfie Stephens: 'We're here at Chalfest for the second year and it's really cool because we've seen the festival triple in size in one year. Last year we did 300 smoothies, 350 in fact and hopefully we're going to do more today. The sun's out a little bit, so it could happen...'
Over on the mainstage, Dick and Dom had ventured out of the bungalow and were causing havoc in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile Tootles and Nibs (not to be confused with the rodent YouTube sensation 'Nibs and Tootles') kept the younger children captivated with their imaginative, immersive theatrics.
Another highlight from the day-time line-up had to be Solomento; they certainly made the sun shine a little brighter with their up tempo, traditional East African beats, which incited some not so traditional dance moves: demonstrated by a Greenpeace volunteer, who skilfully combined dancing and litter picking during the set.
Chalfest's Got Talent runner up, Ben, also demonstrated a plethora of skills: channelling a young Bob Dylan, with a punk edge: smart Doc. Martin shoes and sharp-edged rhymes. His lyrics are seemingly timeless: the line 'carousel inside your cell' was inspired by David Cameron's stint in government, but could be aptly applied to the recent cabinet reshuffle. Ben gave a self-assured performance and credence to the claim that 'Chalfest has talent'.
But it's not only Chalford that has talent; the Stroud Fringe Choir gave a heart-felt performance and delivered a well-balanced sound. Their spine-tingling harmonies, interesting use of percussive effects (reminiscent of Eric Whitacre) and sense of camaraderie, drew in the crowds. From fuzzy feelings to furry creatures, jazz wizards Cantaloop and Tek Gremlin followed commendably with a technically accomplished set that got toes tapping.
Providing a less civilised alternative, but equally quality playing and singing - The Dry Seamen's post-pillaging after-party was well under way at the Bar Stage. Front man Bill Flint-Heart Billinski cut a wild figure, with a vocal style resembling Suggsy and Captain Jack Sparrow after a few rums. When lyrics are supplied with the proviso 'for mutinous mob participation' you know you're in for a good time. As promised on the website, a billboard with the words bobbed up and down amongst the audience, like the Jolly Roger navigating the high seas.
No hymn sheets were needed for Casual Six's set of 1980s classics. Playing hits from the Rolling Stones, Wham! and Queen, dressed like Wimbledon's mixed doubles line-up Casual Six were knocking them out of the park. The spirit of Bucks Fizz in the body of John McEnroe, their pitch perfect performance had the audience singing along from start to finish. Game, top set, unmatched.
Meanwhile at the Bar Stage, Sasha and The Shades were shaking the dust from the stage with their tumultuous Texan sound - don't let the Hawaiian shirts fool you, these guys are mad, bad and mean business.
On the other side of the hill The Proclaimers provided the perfect tonic for a humid summer's evening. The much loved Scottish ensemble put in a top quality performance and got everyone marching to their beat.
Rounding off proceedings at the Bar Stage, special forces were at play during The Secret Police's set. The band had the whole tent singing in unison and grooving until closing time.
Creating a scene over at the Albert Stage that Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud of were Tankus the Henge. For one night only, trading Route 66 for the dusty trail to Chalford hill, they had the joint jumping and the piano rocking - literally. Either it was the cider deceiving me or by an extraordinary feat of engineering, the piano rocked back and forth with every Grieg-esque 'power' chord and ragtime roll. Every instrument seemed to have its own unique sound world, veering vociferously from Baroque to boogie-woogie. One thing is for sure, they had the crowds bopping to their beat 'on the road' back to Chalford.
Taking the audience to another place entirely, somewhere 'Over the Rainbow' were the mainstage headliners, The Basement Jaxx. Seamlessly mixing one classic hit after another, with some unexpected alternatives thrown into the mix, they had the crowd throwing some serious shapes. 'Are you alive Chalfest?' they called out - after brief glance at each other for confirmation, we decided to answer in the affirmative. As for Chalfest, it is undoubtedly alive and well. Long may it continue!
Laura Clark is a freelance journalist based in Stroud. She has written for: Musical Opinion; Teaching Drama; The Kensington Magazine; the CBeebies annual; Top of the Pops and the BBC Music Magazine newsfeed.