Barn On The Farm gave Ed Sheeran his first ever headline slot at a festival back in 2011 and they have been helping to put artists on the map ever since.
Their focus has always been breaking artists and over the years organiser Josh has become very good at it showcasing not only Sheeran, but also Ben Howard, Bastille, Gabrielle Aplin,Wolf Alice, Matt Corby, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, George Ezra, Hozier, Catfish & the Bottlemen, James Bay, The Staves, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Jack Garrett, Amber Run and Bear’s Den.
2017 presented a change in direction, the first year that BOTF have gone for well known stars with Tom Odell and James Vincent McMorrow headlining. In his programme notes Josh says “it’s a huge statement of intent; we came to the realisation that despite our incredible history of picking the next big artists we are still a small, relatively unknown festival in the middle of nowhere. All of these huge stars had played to a tiny crowd on a tiny farm and no one knew about it.” He goes on to say that “we love the intimacy that that brings and it’s part of what makes us who we are but it’s now time to spread our story so we can welcome more likeminded people to the Farm to experience the magic.”
There is an incredible feel of family at BOTF, artists mingle happily with the festival goers. They watch each others sets and relax amongst their extended BOTF family. Security guards are the same year on year and recognise you when you arrive on site. Organisers Josh, Oz, Alice, Abbie and Matt wander around happily chatting to their guests. It’s my third year and as you stroll around you see many of the same old faces wearing their old wristbands like a badge of honour. There are bigger festivals, much bigger festivals where millionaire artists perform to over 175,000 people paying near £300 a ticket on a 2000 acre site but there simply aren’t any festivals that do it quite like BOTF. I hope spreading this wonderful story doesn’t dilute this incredible thing that happens every year at Over Farm in Gloucester.
This year there were lots of wonderful high points and one or two surprises. Talking of surprises, it was a lovely surprise when a friend who had booked to see the intimate Friday couldn’t make it and gifted me tickets for the intimate Friday. I was really disappointed for them but so happy to get the chance to go. I had been lucky enough to see Bears Den headline this part of the festival last year but tickets for this year’s event were like gold dust and I’d missed out despite living on my computer on release day! I couldn’t believe my luck when the headliner was announced to be Nick Mulvey, an artist I’d seen a few times before but never in such close intimate quarters. He was preceded by the excellent Amazons who sang an acoustic set which simply proved how good this young band are after appearing on the Outdoor stage last year. Nick Mulvey’s set was hauntingly good as he mixed old and new and mesmerised the crowd in the wooden barn. Surely the huge attraction for the artists in this part of the festival is the rapt attention afforded the music.
Over the next two days I was treated to the usual journey of discovery and reacquaintance. BOTF always fuels my ticket purchases for the coming year as I try to see the artists I enjoy perform in other venues, and it also offers the chance to see performers that are very much part of the BOTF family continue to grow and flourish.
On the Saturday, after pitching my tent and watching the good hearted help given by the team at the festival to everyone arriving, I got down to the business of music. First on the list was Tom Walker who I had seen the previous year and then caught a couple of times live subsequently. He played the outside stage last year but opened the main stage this time and it was immediately evident that the time spent on the road has created a very tight band. Tom’s performance was powerful as ever and was the perfect way to open the weekend for me. Hopefully next time a later slot will give him the bigger audience he deserves.
Highlights for me on the Saturday were the excellent Island, and The Beach. Island were a new band for me but certainly one I’ll be checking out in the future whereas The Beach I first saw supporting Sunset Sons, another member of the BOTF family, and once again he proved that he is a singer to watch with meaningful lyricism and honest delivery. His mum watched from the audience and it must have been a special moment as a packed wooden barn sang his lyrics back to him.
Saturday for me was then spent at the main stage as I watched the mesmerising Nina Nesbitt sing new material and enchant the audience in the process. Following on was Lucy Rose who never fails to deliver and whose lovely voice must surely have won new fans at BOTF; she seemed genuinely surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience despite the high quality of her set.
Squeezed betwixt these lovely ladies and the headliner was the stand out performance for me on the Saturday, as Sundara Karma literally blew the roof off of the main stage. With his glamorous rock delivery and a heady combination of Florence Welch and Jarvis Cocker like swagger, lead singer Oscar “Lulu” Pollock truly epitomises what is special about this band. It’s almost impossible to take your eyes from him as he delivered songs that all sounded like hits. Their debut album ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ is a must listen, and surely this band will go on to headline at BOTF in years to come. That is if they are not busy headlining at Glastonbury, as I’m sure this band have the potential to be huge!
The headliner for Saturday was James Vincent McMorrow who has just released his fourth album ‘True Care’ in May of this year and brought his special talent and beautiful vision to life on the main stage. He reduced some of the audience to tears and was a quite lovely way to close the day out.
Sunday started as every Sunday does at BOTF with an excellent coffee from the once again incredibly diverse food and drink area. I always like to kick off with something mellow to ease myself in and this year that came in the shape of Jordan Mackampa whose heartwarming voice was poured from the hayloft in the wooden barn like honey gluing the packed audience together in rapt appreciation of his talent. He brought songs written and recorded in his bedroom and shared them with BOTF. He epitomises what this festival does year in, year out and I’m sure his will be a name we hear a lot more from in the coming years. Don’t forget it was Rag’n’Bone Man treading these fields for the last few years and now look at him!
This year my Sunday highlights included Seramic with a stripped back soul-infused set that had the outdoor stage dancing in the sunshine (last year Jack Garrett made sure he caught Seramic’s main stage set and you can see why); the unexpected treat of Bad Sounds on the main stage who will surely fill the euphoric dance infused Saturday night slot one day as LANY did so well this year; the excellent Clean Cut Kid who proved that they have so much more to offer than just Vitamin C and the outstanding talent of Zak Abel who proved once again that BOTF does have its own super talented heart throb. Following this was one of the outstanding moments of the weekend as BOTF favourite Rationale started his triumphant headline slot on the Outdoor stage and once again let his soaring vocals fill the night air as the BOTF faithful swayed and danced; this man is such a huge talent that it can’t be long before he reaches his good friend Rag’n’Bone Man’s heights.
The main stage closed out the night with two powerhouse performances. Firstly, Amber Run took to the stage and reaffirmed their place as fan favourites. They have been through some tough times these past few years and it is largely due to the love from BOTF that they are back, stronger than ever. To see lead singer Joe mixing with the fans all weekend was a joy! Their set proved that whoever headlines this festival, this is their crowd, their festival; a beautiful duet with another BOTF regular Lewis Watson on ‘I Found’ went down a treat.
The final performance of this great event was Tom Odell who gave a performance of such power and class that it will live in the memory forever. I heard people afterwards say he was the best live act they’d ever seen. From start to finish his energy, quality, intelligence and super star power shone through, there really aren’t enough adjectives to describe his performance. He has set the bar very high for future headliners.
In conclusion, this remains the festival that acts as a yardstick for all others for me, big or small. There is no other that is so concentrated on the music and yet still manages to feel so familiar. BOTF often use the term family to describe artists and festival goers alike and it is very accurate. My only hope is that in trying to grow and spread the word, this incredible quality is not diluted. There are many, many festivals these days but none quite like this one!