Giving out the name of your blog when it’s called ‘My Shitty Twenties’ is always fun, especially in front of little ears. Still, all those Ts sound good through the ventriloquist-tight teeth of one reluctant to say something out loud. It’s a scenario I found myself in at Beacons Festival last weekend, much to the amusement of box office staff.
“It’s a Tumblr about Portaloos,” I said.
As it turns out, a lot of the overheard conversations at the festival were about toilets, or lack of them. I could write a blog post about it, but I won’t, because we didn’t let it ruin what was a wonderful weekend.
There were four of us in our party: my friend Claire, her broken finger, me and Tom. Count the bags-on-wheels and we made a pretty sorry caravan. When we arrived, after two trains, a minor bus crash and a taxi, a kindly dad helped us shift our camping gear.
“We’ve been here since Thursday,” he said, “The kids love it; it’s like a mini holiday.”
I was a bit envious then that we hadn’t been able to make it down until Saturday – Funkirk Estate was gorgeous, surrounded on all sides by hills, easily accessible from the local town, small and simple to navigate.
The family camp site was full, but I half-expected that given our late arrival and the ‘first come, first served’ warning on the website. We pitched up elsewhere, but still had access to the family facilities. Whilst the Breakfast Club didn’t have the hotly-anticipated cartoons, it did deliver story-telling and workshops in a space that was warm, comfy and dry. Those three words are bliss when it’s a boggy one: Saturday afternoon was glorious (clear, paraglider-peppered sky that turned pink at dusk,) but Sunday was barely light, very wet and squelchy underfoot.
The brilliant Ladybird team worked tirelessly to provide muddied children with all manner of entertainment. Elsewhere, the Into The Woods tent was a colourful but calm space and home to one of my festival highlights: a screening of We Are Poets, a mesmerising documentary about some of Leeds Young Authors‘ journeys to compete in USA poetry slams. As the film ended and Claire and I sniffled a bit, some of the stars took to the stage for a surprise live performance and Q and A. (Tom’s questions: “How far away was it when you went to America?” and “What are your favourite bands?”)
Speaking of bands, we’re up to Sunday, shin-deep in mud and I haven’t mentioned music. The line up for Beacons was ace, but there’s no point in trying to see someone in particular when you’ve got a child in tow. On Saturday afternoon, Tom flung himself about to a bit of Bok Bok, which delighted his fellow ravers. Later on, Ghostpoet provided rhymes and goosebumps – and I got to see a whole ten minutes of Andrew Weatherall’s set before Tom’s batteries ran out. But the big one, the reason why Tom was so excited, was the Sunday night headliner…
Toots and the Maytals are best heard in the sunshine, so I wasn’t sure how it would go in a dark marquee. We took Tom back to our tent for a pre-gig siesta and when we emerged, the site was draped in thick mist. It all added to the finale atmosphere, but what Beacons was lacking was an outdoor stage. Big tops might keep rain off, but venturing in with a little one is daunting, especially when the ground’s a quagmire. Dads tried to heroically hoist their kids up on to their shoulders but struggled to balance in the sludge. Tom was gutted when he realised he couldn’t see Toots, but we hung back and the power nap paid off: he danced his way all through the dazzling set, which included Funky Kingston, Monkey Man and the ubiquitous 54-46 encore (Toots’ voice is so good.) At the end, a friend who didn’t have a broken finger found us and we managed to raise Tom above the crowd. He must have glimpsed the band for 30 seconds, but he was made up.
“That was amazing! I can’t believe it,” he huffed, red-faced, all the way back to the tent.
The Beacons bill obviously attracted grown-up music fans, but the provision for families was excellent. Yes, there were issues with toilets, but who goes to a festival expecting pristine loos? This was the first year for Beacons and it was clear that a lot of hard work and dedication had gone into making it happen. Yes, they should have ordered more Portaloos, but after all the fuss, they’ll be making sure they get that right next year.
I’d love there to be an outdoor stage, but the music, site, décor, children’s stuff and atmosphere were all spot on. Next time, we’ll try to arrive on Thursday and have that mini holiday.
Over to Tom:
“I loved Beacons because it was a festival I could really boogie at.”
There you go.