It’s nice to start the day with a good story, which is to say, it’s nice to start the day listening to Matt Costa. The North Carolinian’s simple Dylanish songs told tales of people: of ‘Walter’, of ‘Ophelia’, and of ‘Michael Roberts’, an obscure English poet who lived in Costa’s hometown of Laguna. A large noon crowd sprawled about Somersault’s sunny valley in Castle Hill, Devon, as Costa brought everybody together with songwriting influenced by British folklore. “We’re all connected to each other,” he mused. “We don’t need the internet for that”.
Crowns elevated the tempo with their Cornish brand of Dropkick Murphys-style rock shanties, coaxing more Somersaulters to the Main Stage. Neil Halstead followed, slowing the pace once more with a rumbling, rolling set-list akin to the acoustic surf riffs of Jack Johnson, augmented with popping congas and ocean-deep bass lines.
Nick Mulvey’s class act filled the mid-afternoon spot. His sound is soft and subtle, with a percussive, plectrum-free guitar style which brings intricate structure to his passionate melodies. Thousands assembled to clap and sing along to ‘Fever To The Form’ and ‘Cukuroku’, possibly proving that Mulvey has the chops to tap into that something which made label-mates Mumford & Sons so darn popular. This bloke is going places.
The accomplished Niger-based guitarist, vocalist and excellent scarf-wearer Bombino descended on the Main Stage next, heralding a downpour which served only to add another layer of percussion to the band’s Tuareg rhythms and extended bluesy jams. Rain crackled on nylon while the drums licked, the guitars warbled and the vocals took everyone away to the Sahara where we didn’t need spare socks. ‘Aman iman’, Bombino and his band said with beaming smiles. It means ‘water is life’ in Tamashek, but the water would soon dissipate – most likely sick of being ignored.
Bristol’s Fink turned the festival dial down to ‘low and cerebral’, playing tracks from his new album ‘Hard Believer’. Fink’s mumbling tones matched the festival’s tranquil atmosphere, but not Somersault’s busy schedule; he was unfortunately rushed off by stage management soon after having just warmed up.
Amadou & Miriam, on the other hand, were not the kind of act that needs warming up. The mud had dried by now, but most stood and danced for Mali’s infectious husband and wife duo; Amadou laying down some of the catchiest, hip-jiggling tunes of the weekend with his golden strat.
Last on the bill was rugged and curly singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, whose strong surfer brand identity seems to have been the basis for Somersault’s entire conception. He was at home on the Devon stage, decorated with giant driftwood planks like a beach hut cathedral (the stage, that is). To anyone besides his schreechiest fanatics, a two hour audience with Jack alone forebodingly promised a one-note sugary acoustic slog. Happily, Johnson must have been aware of this potential pitfall himself, structuring his show around returning guest performances from Matt Costa and Bombino (big cheers), and fun details like a cutsey cover of the Ramones’ song ‘I wanna be your boyfriend’.
Romping through all the favourites from his impressive album collection, from an anthemic version of ‘Taylor’ to ‘I’ve Got You’ from last year’s record ‘From Here To You To Now’, Johnson meanwhile buttered the crowd up with anecdotes; he’d apparently hurt his foot (in the coolest way) ‘treading on a weaverfish’ when surfing, and was now disguising a limp. Classic Jack. Elsewhere, keyboardist Zach Gill even borrowed a banana costume from the crowd for ‘Banana Pancakes’.
It’s safe to say that Saturday’s headliner left Somersault somewhat enthralled. One man, irretrievably intoxicated and facing the wrong way the whole time, sang along to every word. While the evening might be a hazy detail for some, Jack Johnson’s show will have no doubt forged some happy memories this weekend. Could Ben Howard even try to top this on Sunday?