The festival season in Britain, like summer itself, is a variable beast; anticipated with sunny optimism, occasionally delivering high times and new thrills, yet often departed damp and demoralised. Narrow the location to the North of England, and the extremities heighten further; the hope of sun and fun intensifies, and the risk of rain and ruin permeates.
So, with that in mind, every year, festivals set themselves up in fields and on land across the north and invite the weather to come and have a go if it thinks its hard enough. And every year so far, the festivals, and its hardy goers, win.
Summer 2018 was a doddle; dry and with spirits high, a night at a Yorkshire festival became like a flight to Primavera, as the only thing campers were getting drenched in was sunshine and good times. Perhaps that set a high expectation and false security for Summer 2019, when festivals lit their bonfires, and the weather-lords began to throw water on them. And guess what? We all remembered that a little rain is not going to dampen a lot of spirit.
It all began in early May, at the superb sprawling stretch across the city, Live at Leeds. Hosted on a bank holiday weekend that often entices out the rays oddly early, this year there was less temptation to hang in the Brudenell beer garden and more incentive to head into the concert rooms, whether there or at the 20 venues of varying sizes. Local lads Marsicans epitomised a day that takes in unknown upstarts and exciting headliners, with both an intimate set on the Farah store’s pop up stage and a rocking show at O2 Academy.
At the other side of the same month, Slam Dunk filled the bank holiday weekend’s Saturday at the end of May. From its early years, this event has grown from an indoor punk gathering and to an outdoor multi-stage happening. Temple Newsam showered revellers with all conditions in its single day at this year’s biggest ever Slam Dunk, who pogoed nonetheless to an impressive list of names, including NOFX, All Time Low and Bullet For My Valentine.
Out of Leeds and down south to Sheffield, Tramlines started sodden with sweeping sideways sleet over beautifully bleak Yorkshire hills, to surprise Aussie newcomers Planet and to reassure Welsh warriors Manic Street Preachers. This is not the stuff to stop this crowd, and by the weekend the rain rain had gone away and didn’t come back another day, not for The Courteeners, not for Lewis Capaldi, and not for the singing along out loud crowd.
The following week, July showed itself to be quite the month of climate change, fluctuating from the hottest day ever recorded on the Thursday to thunderous skies circling Deer Shed on the Friday. This glorious festival filled with all ages, quickly swapping pumps and shorts for macs and wellies. Somehow, the downpours emphasised the beauty of this North Yorkshire showcase, as the volunteers remained smiling, the site remained usable, and the music remained magnificent.
Whilst the open air main stage continued with terrific sets from headliners Anna Calvi, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Ezra Furman, the covered second stage came into its own, not just as shelter from the storm, but as a joyous atmosphere for the likes of enchanting indie kids Penelope Isles, hardcore doom showmen Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, and political psych toe tappers She Drew The Gun. A uniquely inspired and inspiring festival that the weather is powerless to prevent the families of music lovers from enjoying. Unstoppable.
But the gloom would not relent, and over the following days tried to cause havoc on the same side of the county for Richmond Live. Despite flooding from the overflowing River Swale submerging set ups in advance, organisers were determined for this lovely local festival to go ahead. Not only were folk not put off, they came out en masse towards capacity for the festival’s largest ever turn out to see headlining favourites The Lightning Seeds light up a dark night.
On the same weekend, another legendary nineties act performed at another sell-out event, this time in Barnsley, where The Proclaimers would walk 500 miles to play at Underneath The Stars. Perhaps more like underneath the showers this year, the folk leaning line up including Billy Bragg, Kate Rusby and The Unthanks brought a beautiful unity to stand up collectively, fight the power, and embrace each other. With that kind of attitude, the natural elements are to be enjoyed not endured, whatever they may bring.
Which leaves us with a couple of big ones for the summer’s end. The Bingley Weekender, somehow not the same as the usual Bingley Music Live but with the same retro line up of Ocean Colour Scene, Doves and James, plus modern political punk heroes Idles, ends August and starts September fondly.
The weekend before, Leeds Festival, on the August bank holiday, attracts up to 90000 people, mostly having a messy old time, and often with added mud to increase the experience. Expect big crowds for big names such as Leeds Fest favourites Foo Fighters and rising stars like Glasto famous Dave, but also check out some things new on the BBC Introducing Stage.
Most importantly, follow in the muddy footsteps of the half a dozen successes above, who individually and collectively have made one thing mighty clear: nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on my parade.