Review: Bands, beer and cameraderie at Exile festival in rural Derbyshire

Samba beats filled the air as the last rays of sun beat down on the audience in the most idyllic spot for an outdoor festival.

Sunday, 28th June 2015, 4:19 pm
BeatWirks play at the Exile Festival at Sabine Hay, near Darley Bridge
BeatWirks play at the Exile Festival at Sabine Hay, near Darley Bridge

A more stunning backdrop for the Saturday teatime entertainment by BeatWirks would have been hard to find.

Woodland on one side, green fields as far as the eyes could see on the other in a remote location in the Derbyshire countryside truly summed up the ethos of the Exile festival - an oasis of calm far removed from the fast-paced, technology-driven world of the metropolis.

This festival has been running at Sabine Hay, near Darley Bridge for half its ten-year lifespan - taking over the fabulous grounds of Trevor Milner’s home for a weekend of bands, beer and camaraderie.

Lots of children scamper around nature’s playground in fancy dress when it’s light and snuggle up in sleeping bags and blankets as parents tow them around in small handcarts at night.

This weekend’s festival coincides with Glastonbury - and while Kanye West was giving it large to thousands of fans down south, Derbyshire welcomed The Rotten Hill Gang from that there London to headline last night’s show.

Hip-hop seemed an unusual choice to close what had predominantly been a night of folk/world music - but the act seemed to go down a storm with the youngsters. Specialising in Dickensian hip-hop, the group brought a famous chorus from Oliver! kicking and screaming into the 21st century in one of their best numbers. They performed a much shorter set than preceding acts, undoubtedly sacrificing valuable performance time because it took so long for them to set up.

Highlight of the night for me was a mesmerising set by Harp and a Monkey who captured the crowd’s attention from the off with the song Walking In The Footsteps of Giants, dedicated to the Kinder Trespassers who gave people the right to roam and then went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. A tribute to the forgotten survivors of the Great War - nine out of ten came back from the conflict - was preceded by a story about piper Daniel Laidlaw who was wounded twice but still continued to advance on enemy lines and was decorated with the Victoria Cross.

Campaigning for those given a rough deal by today’s welfare state motivates Eliza P and the Disco Misfits to play outside Ashton under Lyme JobCentre every Tuesday afternoon. They used their spot at Exile to highlight the haves and have-nots in their cleverly worded song Afternoon Teas and continued the “poverty porn” slant by satirising television’s obsession with the theme. Songs such as Fruitcake and a steampunk love song about mechanical Annie launched their set in light-hearted fashion before the serious stuff kicked in.

Derby-based L’il Jim’s Little Squeeze spiced up the show with fiery Cajun dance choons led by the accordion-playing frontman. Impressive rewordings of No Woman no Cry and Games People Play closed a set which included songs about women leaving men and a rare song about men leaving women.

Last night’s concert opened with Emma & The Professor, a guitar/bodhran-playing duo whose impressive playing and rich vocals set the bar high. Songs such as The Devil’s Plough and Old Black Crow were preceded with stories from folklore. Emma & The Professor closed their spot with a reworking of the Pentangle song Rain and Snow….which fortunately it didn’t!

After overnight rain, the weather looks brighter for the last acts of the 2015 festival today (Sunday, June 28).