There’s no getting away from it – festivals in the UK have a reputation for being a bit grim. Last year Glastonbury, Download, Bestival and Parklife, 4 of our biggest, most well known ones were blighted with rainfall and turned into inhospitable mudslides. I wish I could say that it was an exception to the rule, but every year at least one big festival succumbs to this grizzly fate.
So it goes that while we gingerly scroll through group shots of mackintosh-clad wraiths packed into a sodden big top, trying to figure out which ones are devoid enough of gurning to warrant a Facebook post, our friends abroad have nothing but sunshine and coastline to contend with. Probably still the gurning part, though.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The risk of gloomy weather is an ever-present danger, sure, but the UK has such a widespread festival scene that it’s entirely possible to treat your festival experience like any other British holiday and head somewhere so picturesque that it almost doesn’t matter if the weather turns out shit. And hey, if it does, just drink until you can’t feel feelings anymore and go look for the tent Roni Size is playing in, it’s always there somewhere.
These 11 festivals take full advantage of their surrounding environment to give you something beyond a muscular roster of impressive acts and an array of overpriced food stalls. But, you know, that as well.
When? 12th – 15th May
Where? Camber Sands, East Sussex
Who? George Clinton, Hot 8 Brass Band, Gilles Peterson, Submotion Orchestra, Mr Scruff, The Sugarhill Gang, Soul II Soul
One of the earliest marks on the festival calendar, the Funk & Soul Weekender is run by Soundcrash, Rob Waller’s promotional behemoth. During the rest of the year, Soundcrash dominate the London gig scene, and the Weekender behaves almost like a victory lap for them, bringing in all the biggest funk, soul, jazz, disco and dance acts of the moment in a glorious 4-day party on the beautiful south coast. To sweeten the deal, chalet accommodation is included in the ticket price, so you needn’t worry about a tent, or many of the other typical festival amenities. You even get a TV, although lord knows why you’d want one.
When? 8th to 11th June
Where? Holyhead, Anglesey
Who? Lenzman, The Black Madonna, Horse Meat Disco, Levelz, Matthew Herbert, Anchorsong
The UK isn’t exactly short of electronic music festivals, but none are quite as picturesque as Gottwood. You get all the same kind of music you’d find in a breathless one-dayer in middle of London or Manchester, but instead of being spat back out into the urban tangle once the music shuts off, you’re in a gorgeous swath of Welsh woodland. The area around Holyhead is a popular holiday destination all through the summer, but imagine getting that same experienced, couple with the chance to see some of the biggest techno, breakbeat, dubstep and drum and bass artists in the game.
Where? Kelburn Castle, Fairlie
When? 30th June – 3rd July
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Hiatus Kaiyote, The Correspondents, Big Swing Sound, A-Skillz, Tinderbox Orchestra)
There should be more festivals in Scotland. With all the beautiful landscape and a vibrant, often overlooked music scene, it seems a shame that when you say the words ‘Scotland’ and ‘Festival’, the atypical assumption is that you forgot to say ‘Fringe’. Or you were talking about T in the Park. The grounds of Kelburn Castle play host to a few different events throughout the year, but the Garden Party is the longest, and funkiest. With lineups primarily dedicated to soul, funk, hip-hop and all other things boogie-inducing. Add in the fact that it also plays host to a litany of local acts, and you’re on to a proven winner.
Where? Jodrell Bank Observatory, Macclesfield
When? 7th to 9th July
Who? Alt-J, Pixies, Orbital, Soulwax, Warpaint, Andrew Weatherall, Ezra Furman, Flamingods, Rival Consoles, Factory Floor, Max Cooper
It amazes me that Blue Dot is the first festival of its kind in the UK. Sitting in the midst of the Manchester University-run Jodrell Bank Observatory, Blue Dot is a festival by stargazers, for stargazers. Live acts play in the observatory grounds pretty frequently, but for one weekend in July, rave vibes preside over the site, alongside live art, talks from heavy hitters like Brian Cox, comedy acts, a restaurant at the end of the universe and much more. Blue Dot is definitely a festival with, ahem, universal appeal.
When? 14th to 16th July
Where? Ribble Valley, Lancashire
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Gentleman’s Dub Club, Stanton Warriors, Todd Terrje, Ed Solo, Flamingods, East Star All Stars, Beans on Toast, B. Traits, A Guy Called Gerald)
You won’t find a single Beat Herder veteran with a bad thing to say about it. Much like forebears The Big Chill, Shambala and Boomtown, this wondrous 12,000-strong party in the Ribble Valley embraces the bizarre and the enthralling. The stages are endlessly inventive, the acts are lovingly selected and there’s no shortage of things to do outside of the actual music. Oh, and the alcohol is reasonably priced, I’m not sure what else I need to say.
When? 4th to 6th August
Where? Baskerville Hall, Hay-on-Wye
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Jenna & the G’s, Lazy Habits, The Allergies, Eva Lazarus, First Degree Burns, Afriquoi, Solo Banton and the Upper Cut Band)
Easily the smallest on this list, we actually attended a few years back, when the festival was still named Troyfest (after founder Simon Troy), and took place far earlier in the year. It’s since had its name tweaked, and moved to August, but it’s lost none of the appeal. Here’s how it works – campers set themselves up in the grounds of the hulking Baskerville Hall, and then they’re set loose inside, where several rooms have been remodelled into stages and dance floors. Truefest is, in essence, a 3-day long house party in a giant mansion near Hay-on-Wye in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons. It has to be seen to be believed.
When? 11th to 13th August
Where? Houghton Hall, Norfolk
Who? Nicholas Jaar, Floating Points, Richardo Villalobos (live), Adrian Sherwood, Ben UFO, Seth Troxler, Mr. Scruff, Nightmares on Wax, Craig Richards
The only festival on this list which is totally brand new, Houghton is taking an interesting approach – smashing music, art and culture into one festival, all under the watchful eye of legendary DJ and Fabric mainstay Craig Richards. Set in the grounds of its namesake, Houghton Hall, the festival features an abandoned warehouse, a subterranean bowl and full access to the adjacent sculpture park. Given that the festival is being run by the same people as Gottwood, all of this bodes extremely well. If being a newbie is one of your concerns about seeking out a new festival, consider this one – everyone else will be in the same boat.
When? 10th to 13th August
Where? Temple Valley, Winchester
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Madness, Damien Marley, Leftfield, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Parov Stellar, Asian Dub Foundation, Pharoahe Monch, The Skints, The Levellers)
Boomtown might be the ultimate example of an independent festival, but it’s so much more than that. Every year, Lak Mitchell and his team reclaim the site and turn it into a fully operating township, with districts, characters and a narrative which takes on a new form with each subsequent year. The site itself is a stunning mix of rolling hills and serene woodland, and each area has a distinct, and enthralling vibe. Going to Boomtown is like entering a different world. As yet, only one headline act has been announced – The Specials. Check out our review of last year for more information.
When? 24th to 27th August
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Akua Naru, Beardman’s Dream Team, Hot 8 Brass Band, Benny Page, LTJ Bukem, The Mouse Outfit, Nightmares on Wax)
Not to be confused with ‘Shambhala’, which is in Canada, Shambala is one of the UK festival scene’s greatest success stories. It’s been running for well over a decade, but so far succeeded in avoiding the siren calls of expansion and commercialism. The term ‘family festival’ gets tossed around a lot, but Shambala is perhaps the most deserving of it. The stunning lakeside site is perfect mixture of the relaxed and the rawkus, as stages like Kamikaze thump with bass music into the small hours, and various chilled out spots serve tea and soft seating until almost as late.
When? 31st August to 3rd September
Where? Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire
Who? TBA (Acts last year: The Shins, Bat for Lashes, Animal Collective, Steve Mason, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Whitney, Goat, Ezra Furman)
End of the Road has gradually built a reputation as one of the warmest, most welcoming festivals on the calendar. There’s another key element to it though – booking a range of such weird and wonderful acts that walking from one end of the site to the other is like barrelling through the shuffled Spotify playlist of your most eclectically tasted friend, made flesh. You won’t leave End of the Road without discovering something new unless you spend the entire weekend with your ears plugged, and even if you did that you’d have plenty of woodland scenery to appreciate.
When? 7th to 10th September
Where? Portmeirion, Gwynedd
Who? TBA (Acts from last year: Bastille, Hot Chip, Super Furry Animals, Roots Manuva, Echo & The Bunnymen, Gold Panda, Maribou State)
Whoever had the bright idea to host a music festival in Portmeirion deserves a goddamn medal. For those who don’t know, Portmeirion is a strange, beautiful town in North Wales which was designed to resemble an Italian village. It’s a weird, wonderful place, and was famously used as the set for The Prisoner. Now, every September, it plays host to a huge roster of bands, comedians, poets and speakers in a massive cultural supernova. Number 6 is one of those festivals which leaves you utterly spoiled for choice, as acts of all shapes and sizes are spread far and wide across weird and wonderful stages all weekend long. You’ll inevitably miss things, but you’ll discover many more.