BARN ON THE FARM // FESTIVAL REVIEW

July 4th-7th | Over Farm, Gloucester

I have been meaning to attend Gloucestershire’s Barn on the Farm for a while now and what better time to attend than for its tenth anniversary celebrations? The 3000 capacity festival takes place each Summer on Over Farm and, over the past decade, has garnered a reputation as the go-to festival to catch the best new indie and folk names before they become megastars. Previous line-up posters boast a seemingly never-ending list of huge names, including Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Ben Howard, Catfish & the Bottlemen, Rag N Bone Man, James Bay, Pale Waves and Jack Garratt.

The site itself is small but not overcrowded. There’s a clear community spirit in the campsites without sacrificing the personal space that you often must leave at the gates of other festivals. It’s an idyllic location; you can wander around the farm and say hello to the chickens and ostriches. The resident dogs mingle with the crowds. There are secret hide-outs, hidden artwork and the occasional piano. A lot of effort has been put into creating a beautiful location that suits the chilled vibe of the event.

The main affair kicked off on the Saturday but 1000 lucky punters got an intimate warm-up on Thursday and Friday. Most of the early birds were BOTF regulars who trusted the booking team to deliver a line-up expertly curated to their tastes.

Rising stars like Au/Ra and Bloxx delivered crowd-pleasing sets while rumours circulated over the mystery special guest headliners. Gavin James dropped in on the Thursday and, somehow, the festival had managed to keep it a secret that The Vaccines were playing their first ever show in Gloucester to just 1000 people on the Friday! I did not hear anyone guess this in advance of the ‘Your Love Is My Favourite Band’ drum-skin being revealed on the Outdoor Stage. Regulars expect these special moments from BOTF, but even the festival’s super-fans seemed surprised to see Justin & co tearing through their catalogue of indie anthems with all the confidence of a band used to playing to much larger crowds.

One of the considerable benefits of the size of the place is that it’s perfectly possible to walk from one end of the main arena to the other in about five minutes, and so you can catch a lot of music each day. The Main Stage acts do not clash with the other two stages which makes it unusually easy to wander back and forth without any major clashes. I comfortably caught fifteen full sets on both days. Of course, you’ll need to allow more time if you require a bar stop en route.

Bar queues were a bit longer than you’d normally expect at a festival like this. I suspect this might be a side effect of BOTF’s fine environmental policies: you pay a £3 deposit for your first cup and this is then topped up each time you return to the bar. As the drinks aren’t pre-poured, I did find myself waiting in line more than I wanted to.

Millie Turner opened the Outdoor Stage on the Saturday. She’s certainly got the tunes – ‘Night Running’ and ‘Swimming Pool’ sounded like electro pop classics. Later on the Outdoor Stage, Edinburgh indie band, Vistas were the first to get the sizeable crowd dancing. L Devine paid tribute to the LGBTQ+ community with the sublime ‘Daughter’ and made it clear why she has to be a mega pop star very soon. The excellent Indoor Pets cranked up the guitars louder than anyone else on the bill that day and singer/songwriter Lauren Aquilina encouraged the first big singalongs to her acoustic “songs about ex-boyfriends” played with her current boyfriend and guitarist.

Too few people turned up to see Anteros frontwoman, Laura Hayden, parade the stage with all the swagger of 70s Debbie Harry but those who did were rewarded with wall-to-wall pop bangers from their recently-released debut LP. Playing afterwards, and to a much bigger crowd, Nina Nesbitt played her fourth year in a row with a set focusing on her 90s R&B influenced second album, which included well-received Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears cover versions.

Over on the main stage, The Howl & the Hum, joking about the 11.30am start, welcomed us to their “Zumba workout” which turned out to be a gigantic, alluring soundscape of melancholic guitars and powerful vocals. Between making songs about bridges and Fiat Puntos sound beautiful, singer Sam Griffiths was the first of many artists to struggle to open the canned water, until an audience member helped him out.

Easy Life’s recent Radio 1 support helped to ensure that a large crowd turned out for their jazz-incorporated pop hits. They have had some mixed live reviews but, for this set, they appear to have struck the balance between slick and laid-back. Gabrielle Aplin is a BOTF regular who said that she had been “looking forward to this all year.” Her recent electro-pop material like the should-have-been-massive ‘Miss You’ felt slightly out of place next to the earnest folk of her earlier work like ‘Please Don’t Say You Love Me’ but it was all equally well received here.

Swim Deep’s main stage set started with Rozalla-sampling new single, ‘To Feel Good’ and took in a mix of favourites from their first two records. I have seen them a few times over the years – sometimes excellent and sometimes not so excellent. But this was a dazzling set of grungy, baggy indie for a band that ought to be booked for a lot more summer festivals.

Saturday’s headline act, Sam Fender, had to pull out at short notice and it was a credit to the booking team that they managed to secure a similar-sized replacement in the form of Dermot Kennedy. Clearly a popular choice with punters, the main stage was packed with people who knew every word to songs beyond the anthemic ‘Power Over Me’ and ‘Outnumbered’. The Irish singer/songwrtier’s voice is undeniably powerful and his set was certainly a hit with most people, especially those of us who automatically gravitate to anything that sounds a bit like Rag N Bone Man.

In a clear example of the fickle nature of the serious-man-with-affected-vocals genre, Maverick Sabre’s far more powerful and varied set drew a less favourable response as the restless crowd chatted away waiting for the main event seemingly oblivious to the similarities between the two artists.

The Japanese House headlined the indoor Barn Stage on Saturday night. It’s a difficult stage to get into, as people tend to cram around and outside the doorways, despite there being ample room inside at the back. I managed to squeeze my way through to enjoy an impressively moving set which elevated the songs to majestic heights. The barely-converted Barn has the acts performing above head height which means you can get a good view from wherever you stand, even when the world’s tallest man turns up and stands in front of you thirty seconds before the band begins.

I just about managed to get into the Barn again the next day to see Maisie Peters. This brand of light-hearted, acoustic pop about break-ups (for John Lewis ads) doesn’t normally work for me. It was easy to understand, however, why the vast number of people crammed into and around the barn were won over by this confident and sincere set. Thanks to a bit of help from Love Island, Maisie’s star is rising and I am sure she’ll be another artist that Barn on the Farm can add to their ever-growing list of successful alumni.

Sunday highlights included the soulful sounds of Samm Henshaw who had the field two-stepping on command, Irish rock band whenyoung’s infectious hooks, The Pale White winning their “£10 bet that we are the loudest band this weekend” and Youngr taking Over Farm to Ibiza with his impressive loop pedal and live drum-based dance mash-ups.  Youngr is at his best when sampling the likes of Delirium’s ‘Silence’, The Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’ or Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’. His set is a welcome injection of energy and an obvious change from white people with guitars and relationship problems.

There is a positive, friendly atmosphere at Barn on the Farm and so it feels appropriate for the review to be the same. The festival’s sense of community extends to the artists who play there. So many of the acts have played in previous years. Amy Winehouse-influenced Lily Moore described it as her “favourite festival” and had been there since Thursday and Only The Poets said they played at 11am in the barn last year and are delighted to come back to a bigger crowd on the outdoor stage.

It is this shared sense of belonging that helped the festival to secure two of the biggest artists in the country right now. George Ezra played a secret set under the guise ‘Reggae Zero’ and said he wanted to “give (the audience) a surprise”. Backed by an impressive brass band and playing all the hits from his two multi-platinum records, including ‘Paradise’ and ‘Budapest’, his unadvertised appearance did feel like a gift from the organisers to their audience.

Similarly, three thousand people tried to cram into the Outdoor Stage field to see Lewis Capaldi, who knew exactly what the crowd wanted from him. Note-perfect renditions of mega-hits like ‘Grace’, ‘Bruises’ and ‘Hold Me While You Wait’ were mixed with inclusive crowd interactions in which he dedicated a song to a newly-engaged couple, after explaining to them that, statistically, they are unlikely to stay together. He joked that his set was not for fans of rock & roll and was “all one note” but, as the weekend’s biggest singalong took over the field for his number one hit, ‘Someone You Loved’, he made Over Farm feel like Worthy Farm.

US singer/songwriter, Maggie Rogers, headlined on the Sunday night. Whilst she had a much smaller crowd than Dermot Kennedy, George Ezra or Lewis Capaldi, her set was the highlight of the entire weekend. Far better live than her slightly over-produced album, she burst onto the stage with boundless energy for the first track, ‘Give A Little’. The stage was Maggie’s dancefloor as she threw herself across it in a manner which was simultaneously controlled and spontaneous. Her extraordinary voice soared through the tent, encouraging people to come down from the hill outside and join the party.

Whereas Dermot’s crowd thinned towards the end the previous night, Maggie’s grew as she progressed. By the time the confetti cannons erupted for ‘Light On’ – a joyous moment Maggie described as “all her dreams coming true” – there were far more people in the tent then there were when she started. She returned for an acapella encore – a risky move at a festival – which she rightly predicted would be “the perfect way to close Barn on the Farm”. Her desire to “not be the asshole that shouts” was largely listened to and the crowd were sent on their way feeling Barn on the Farm’s birthday celebrations had been a genuine party.

See the video for ‘Light On’ by Maggie Rogers here: