Innocent Unplugged, 28-30th May 2016, St Clere Estate, Kent

Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

Last weekend saw the second annual festival held by drink maker Innocent in the idyllic Kent countryside.

Billed as a weekend off the grid with festival goers encouraged to ditch their mobile devices with all of the social baggage they bring and kick back, relax and enjoy some good music, fine local ciders and inspirational moments on the beautiful St Clere estate near Sevenoaks in Kent. The main festival site was reached via a lovely walk through the woods and a stroll through a stunning display of rhododendron bushes with their wonderful aroma, so it really wasn’t too difficult to feel chilled by the time you found yourself in the central area. With solar powered hot tubs and an array of well positioned deck chairs greeting festival goers and local award winning Turners cider offering something for every palette from traditional Russet cider through to rhubarb and apple pie cider I’m sure many of the sell out crowd barely made it to the People’s Stage around the corner. For those who did the musical offering was certainly worth the effort.

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Innocent had thought of everything. They had provided motivational speakers, games in the forest and a banquet which included lovingly prepared hoggets, young sheep for the uninitiated, cooked over cherry charcoal and birch wood. They could have been forgiven if they had neglected the music but they didn’t. Both Saturday and Sunday featured an array of talent, which was performed on the People’s Stage under a stunning tent which offered fantastic acoustics and became busier and busier as the evening progressed.

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I was lucky enough to be able to watch the music on Sunday afternoon. I had made a point of this as there were a few artists I really enjoyed and seen before and a couple I really wanted to see having bought and heard their music.

Kimberley Anne - Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley
Kimberley Anne – Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

I first saw Kimberly Anne when she supported Jake Bugg and then soon after at last summers’s Barn On The Farm festival. Her music and enthusiasm quickly get a crowd onside and I was keen to see her perform again. There is an honesty and vulnerability about her that audiences react to and it’s no surprise that there was a queue of people who were keen to meet her after her set and share a “sweaty hug” . Her music could be described as acoustic indie but it is her soulful voice that is impossible to ignore. After her own headline tour last October she will be at Glastonbury later this year with old classmate from the BRIT academy, Adele, and I’d really recommend trying to catch her perform wherever you can.

Jake Isaac - Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley
Jake Isaac – Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

Jake Isaac was another big draw for me as I had first seen him support Ella Eyre and then, predictably, seen him again at Barn on the Farm. BOTF is a festival that seems to draw together all of the next big things over one weekend and Jake is no exception. Signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records, Jake grew up listening to Paul Simon and there are shades of that in his music. In fact, anyone that remembers “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” will be able to feel that incredibly inspirational vibe in Jake’s music. It’s almost impossible not to smile or dance when Jake and his band are on stage such is their energy. His set was a real high point for me, as I expected it to be.

Samuel Jack - Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley
Samuel Jack – Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

An act that I was curious to see was Samuel Jack. His music has featured on a couple of shows I love. Nashville and Grimm have both used songs by this young artist and I was keen to see him perform in the flesh. He was slick and professional and quickly pulled in a large crowd. He is an emotive storyteller with a soulful voice that draws on all of his musical influences of Blues, Motown, soul and roots music. He was born in London, before moving to Johannesburg at the age of 12. Now settled in Dorset, writing and recording in a caravan, Samuel is releasing his debut EP later in the year. Last year Samuel Jack had the privilege of opening The Avalon Stage at Glastonbury Festival and he’s been wowing audiences at a string of private clubs in Los Angeles & London since then and this experience has stood him in good stead if his performance at Innocent Unplugged was anything to go by.

Lucy Rose - Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley
Lucy Rose – Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

Lucy Rose was the headline on the Sunday and I couldn’t wait to see her having enjoyed her two albums to date. She is another artist that has been utilised on TV and from the moment she stepped on stage it was clear that she shares an easy relaxed rapport with her audience as she chatted while her band took what seemed to be an age getting the sound just right. In contrast, Lucy took minutes to be ready and her calmness was contagious as the patient fans waited for her to start. The wait was worth it as she moved through her songs to the delight of the audience with ease and a slightly rockier edge than her recordings. She has just returned from playing free gigs across India and is embarking on a busy year starting in Madrid in June before a string of UK dates. After this great performance, I recommend catching her where you can.

Beth Rowley - Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley
Beth Rowley – Innocent Unplugged. Photo Credit Steve Holley

Before I saw any of the acts I had come along to see I had the fortune to catch Beth Rowley and she was a revelation. I have to confess I had not heard her before spending a bit of time researching her before going to the festival but nothing prepared me for how well she performed. She is essentially a Blues and Soul singer but to pigeon hole her is a sin as she effortlessly moves from genre to genre and seems totally at ease in all of them. She has had success before with a top ten album in 2008.  Little Dreamer sold over 90,000 albums in the UK and Beth was nominated for a Brit Award. She has a new album out this year which is much anticipated by fans and critics alike. It’s no surprise to hear that her influences include Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt as her style draws from all these styles and does so beautifully. She has performed with Burt Bacharach, David Arnold and been on the same bill as Adele and Jamie Cullum. She tours as a guest vocalist with Jools Hollands Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and all of this pedigree makes her a must to see. At Innocent Unplugged she was excellent and I would recommend seeing her live to appreciate how good a vocalist she is. I’ve already booked to see her play at Surya in London in July where she will play a double bill with Samuel Jack, surely a must see.

Innocent unplugged was a great way to spend time. Great music, relaxed atmosphere and, best of all, the joy of not watching music through a sea of mobile phones. I will be making sure I put the dates in the diary for next year and keep my fingers crossed that there will be a hat trick of these excellent  festivals. Well done and thank you Innocent!

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