Neck of the Woods: A musical walk in the park

There was a sprinkling of rain from grey skies as the gates opened on the first-ever Neck of the Woods festival – but those who thought that may be a bad omen would have been proved very wrong.

The event took place in Earlham Park, part of the UEA campus on the western edge of Norwich, and featured four main stages (two open, two in tents) as well as a makeshift fifth stage on top of the double-decker Climate Bus. More on that later.

The park proved to be a great little site – compact enough to be able to get around easily, meaning visitors could maximise the number of acts they got to hear, but spacious enough to never feel claustrophobic. The line up (as we previewed a couple of weeks ago) was impressive, even despite the loss of a few acts including The Goa Express and Matilda Mann due to travel and health issues.

In general the staggered stage timings were very well done, too, avoiding too many clashes, and the arrangement of the stages was done carefully which meant that for the most part there was little sound bleed. Stage management was impressively smooth meaning that almost all of the acts stayed to their advertised times. But anyway, on to the music …

First on the main stage, Norfolk locals Youth Killed It brought a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy. They piled straight in with their special brand of energetic punk-inflected indie rock, heavy on the guitars and the enthusiasm. On top of that heavier base they added some bouncy, almost ska elements which kept the sound fresh and appealing. 

After that I went to find Lozeak on the tented Propaganda stage. She and her band performed while bathed in a weird yellow light, as the sun emerged outside and filtered through the roof. That only served to complement her attitude-packed brand of alt-pop. Lozeak’s vocals verge on falsetto, but always on the pleasing side, and that sound worked very well with her tightly-knit live band: resonant hyper-fuzzed bass guitar, spot on drums and imaginative lead guitar. ‘Red Flag’ was a standout number, as was the set-closer, her newest release ‘Hate Me Too’. The fact that this was only Lozeak’s fifth ever gig tells you she is absolutely an artist to watch.

A complete contrast next, back on the main stage with Lottery Winners. They are consummate entertainers, playing a set sprinkled with banter and performing absolutely rock solid music. The set bounced along with appealing energy, and it was impossible not to walk away from the set smiling.

Not long after, Deco played an energetic, vibey set in the Adrian Flux tent, which unfortunately all but drowned out Kitty Perrin who was performing on top of the Climate Bus parked nearby. That was a shame – she is a remarkable talent, playing what I’d describe as pop-inflected folk songs, which tell honest stories. Despite the challenges of the sound, Kitty was upbeat and engaging – one to catch live if you can.

Back to the main stage for Lauran Hibberd who I was really happy to see added as a late addition to the line-up, having missed seeing her a few times in other places. She has perfected her brand of slacker pop punk, distilling and bottling it into a slick show, but one which stays true to message. She was fizzing with attitude, fully engaging with the crowd, and just brilliant to listen to. The set stayed high energy throughout and included a preview of her foot-stomping new single ‘I’m Insecure’ (riffing, as only she could, on her battle with irritable bowel syndrome).

As soon as The Snuts strutted on to the opening samples of ‘Burn the Empire’ you could see why they’ve risen so far, so quickly. The band are made for days like this, with songs such as ‘All Your Friends’ translating easily to the vast space of the open-air stage, and they wowed me with their rare combination of grit and polish. They’re a band who are not afraid to risk offending, but at the same time embrace their audience with honesty. Swigging Buckfast, lead singer Jack Cochrane owned the stage, and pretty much the park, for the whole set. The audience sang along eagerly, particularly during the closing song of the performance, ‘Glasgow’

Keeping the line-up varied, it was Dodie’s turn on the main stage. She was really very good, exuding an indefinable kind of warmth and positive energy. She is one of those artists who really does bring her whole self to the stage, and seems to bring out the best in everyone around her – including her full band and the audience – too. The songs and the instrumentation were diverse with everyone looking thrilled to be there and throwing all they had into it. Dodie herself was in full command and handled all her duties – from clarinet playing to drumming, as well as wild dancing – with ease. “Back in a minute!”, she shouted, rushing off only to return about a minute later having somehow gone through a complete costume change, from hand-crocheted sweater and flowing skirt to a navy-coloured uniform. 

Sea Girls were next – clearly among a lot of fans at Earlham Park (including the very lucky guy who goes by “A Norwich Fan” on Twitter and who clearly had his day made by a personal mention from Henry Camamile). Their set was tireless – 45 minutes of pure joy, overflowing with moments of exuberance, including Henry climbing on the barriers to get up close and personal with the seething mass of fans. ‘Paracetamol Blues’ was a top moment of the set for me.

At this point I decided to spend a bit of time over at the smaller ‘Kili Presents …’ stage which aimed to showcase some slightly lesser known acts. It was a bit of a shame that more of the festival-goers didn’t venture there, but the upside was a much easier-to-access front row view. Miya Miya were a new band to me, and they were impressive. They’re male and female fronted, with vocal duties shared between Gini and Jordan, and this gives their music a fresh and interesting feel, while remaining unashamedly pop-centred. 

I had been particularly looking forward to Tom Lumley & The Brave Liaison, and they didn’t disappoint, absolutely blazing through a high energy set on the intimate stage. Their latest single is ‘Comedown’, and those chunky yet innovative riffs sounded even better in the open air. Tom and the band clearly live to play live, and that true commitment to their craft can be seen – and of course, heard – very clearly.  

Craving even more, I headed back into the throng and submitted myself to the absolute raw power of Yonaka. Their slightly late arrival on stage after an uncharacteristically slow changeover and instrument check only seemed to add to the atmosphere of tense anticipation as the tent filled to capacity. They opened with drums, heart and soul-vibrating bass and then guitars, paving the way for Theresa to stride on to the semi-darkened stage before launching straight into the first song at full pelt. The rest of the set passed all too quickly, with the band delivering moment after moment of brute force but well-meaning artistry. The only let up in tempo came with ‘Creature’, which nevertheless came across very strongly, while ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Punch Bag’ were predictably full on. The crowd was left happily overwhelmed, but desperate for more. A Yonaka performance is like a punch-up with a favourite sibling – it’s rough but there are no hard feelings, and you feel even more loved afterwards.

As darkness finally began to fall, and a proper chill began to set in, The Kooks appeared on the main stage to see out the festival. They focused their set around their debut album, released 15 years ago, and that was fine by everyone. The audience seemed to hang on to every moment of the set and the band fed on that energy, pushing through without let up all the way from ‘Seaside’ at the start to ‘Naive’ at the end. While perhaps not daring, this band was a solid choice to headline a new festival: the mood was upbeat, satisfied, carefree – and listening, I think everyone realised how much we needed that.

Words and photos by Phil Taylor