Venue: Duncombe Park, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Weekend Ticket Price: £95 advance
We all know the story with festivals. They take your money and exchange them for some mud-soaked tent time, and for some people out there this is even endured without baby wipes. People drink White Lightning and pretend it hasn’t just flowed out of a zero-hour contractor’s urinary tract; mud splatters on your crotch are a must-have fashion accessory. And what can you say, we love it. No bed times, no vegetables – it’s the stuff dreams are made of.
But this weekend, while others were crammed up against a barrier by 80,000 sweaty under-age Fall Out Boy fans reeling from their first ever line of over-priced washing powder, I was opening up a world of discovery at an entirely different and under-rated festival experience. Welcome to the world of the local festival.
The first thing the hits you at Galtres is its stunning location. The campsite sits on a gentle incline facing towards Duncombe Park house and the countryside beyond, over which the sun rose in pink splendour after the torrential rain of Saturday evening. A five-minute walk from the campsite and you were in the scissor-cut grounds of the house, 15 minutes and you were having a hangover-smashing greasy spoon breakfast in Helmsley. And all this without breaking through the Berlin Wall (see Glastonbury perimeter fence).
The country’s biggest musical names weren’t wooed by the Galtres bookers, and other than the headliners, I had only heard of a small handful of local names who’ve hit the Duchess in the past year. But it was a pleasure to traipse around in search of new genres. I certainly wasn’t aware that I was a fan of ska-punk-gypsy hip-hop, but Hull’s Counting Coins brought something entirely different to the Oxman Stage (festival’s second stage), and left the crowd who’d flocked from Johnny Borrell’s underwhelming set buzzing.
On the same stage, Maia performed my favourite set of the weekend with a distant brand of folk pop. Songs that started with inventive percussion opened out into powerful trumpet and delicate harmonies. It was just a shame that the stage management only left them with a 5-track slot (‘Give it to the man’, the band joked). And The Hangnails also rocketed out their grungy two-piece rock, although didn’t hit the high that BBC Introducing’s (and a previous Nouse) review gave them.
The Sunday night line-up on the Duke’s Stage (the main stage) brought a flood of hardcore day-ticketers there to relive their punk youth. Although the Stranglers and Undertones hold little for many people our age, I trooped over out of interest only to have my fears confirmed. Hoards of men in their late 50s with a range of Stranglers tattoos, double-denim nightmares and broken dreams screamed out every word of the two bands’ sets, while I laughed at songs which suggested at an incestuous past (‘My Perfect Cousin’) and the dance moves of the crotch-grabbing, thrusting Undertones front man. They did perform their two singles (‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones and ‘Golden Brown’ by the Stranglers) with a panache that energized the whole site, but the quality of these songs does stick out a bit in the mire of era-specific punk homogeneity.
My weekend of music was capped off by late night gypsy and electro-klezmer (a Jewish inspired myriad of high-paced folk and broken beats). York Uni’s own Sarah Horn combined frantic fiddle with harmonised vocals to co-front Aelfen. Their set turned the previously chilled Blackhowl tent into a dancing frenzy, ending in Sarah herding unwanted stage invaders back into the crowd below. Tantz continued the gypsy vibe with a high-paced and exhaustingly gapless set that was more than enough to keep your (by this stage tired) reviewer up into the early hours.
The Galtres crowd is different to your average festival. There were families, sure, but the most noticeable thing was that there were a massive number of performers and straight-up music fans. The former mostly taking yet another day of work off from their most likely mundane day jobs to play a 30-minute afternoon set to 100 people sat on hay bails. The latter little different, spending their summers mooching from field to field in search of another campsite set in the ‘desolate’ landscape of Yorkshire’s ruralities. They’re all ages – and there’s no hiding that there aren’t many 20-somethings here – but it really makes little difference. The image of a crowd cheering a man about two beers short of a face plant dancing with a moon-walking/roboting kid of about six is all you need to prove this. A steward we christened Fisherman John was our best mate by the end of the weekend – indeed I think he was quite sad to see us go when we left the campsite late on Monday afternoon.
Ultimately Galtres was a sensitively organised festival putting on a much more eclectic mix of music than the headliners (and the festival’s branding) suggest. There’s a great mix of workshops to go alongside sets elsewhere – electro-swing and rock’n’roll dancing in the sofa-filled Arts Barge was a highlight on this front. The site’s North Yorkshire location teamed with the local sets that played brought out the range of cultural influences and genres in our region. I mean really, who knew that there’s a quality klezmer band playing out of Leeds? That in itself is an achievement and something that York’s often tunnel-vision music scene fails to see.
Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury and Creamfields. These weekends are fantastic, extraordinary in their scale, and most likely the highlight of every attendee’s summer, but don’t miss out on these festival metropolises’ little cousin. Don’t throw your Bestival fancy dress out yet, but certainly don’t write off the many smaller festivals that have peppered the North East this summer, you just don’t know what you’re going to find.