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Solfest 2023: A Mediaeval Feast

Over 7,000 people took to the countryside last weekend heading to Tarns in Allerdale for Solfest: Cumbria’s award winning family, music and arts festival.

Solfest 23 got off to a rocky start with Peter Hook and The Light, the ex bassist for Joy Division and former member of New Order having to cancel last minute on Thursday night due to him having COVID.

Headliners for Saturday night De La Soul also cancelled due to logistical issues but all this was made up for by the other amazing acts on offer.

The popular subculture festival this year had a mediaeval theme and many revellers were dressed as knights, monks and even horses to celebrate the Saturday Extravaganza, which was also reflected in the artwork made by local artists.

A mural of Shrek - aka one of the most iconic mediaeval characters in film.

Now let’s jump into the performance highlights and reviews of Solfest:

Thursday night was opened up by festival favourite folk singer-songwriter Beans on Toast. A talented wordsmith, Beans writes meaningful social commentary songs in a non pretentious fashion.

Songs such as: The Chicken Song. which looks at the state of the industrial farming of chickens and Take Your Shit Home With You, a tune about the state festivals are left in after they’ve finished.

He concluded with On & On, a favourite of ours that talks about coping and finding hope within the forever polarising world of politics and life in modern Britain.

Beans singing in the heart of the crowd.

Although we didn’t get Peter Hook and The Light for Thursday’s headline slot we SAW THE LIGHT through Oh My God! It’s The Church. Run by reverend Michael Alabama Jackson, this outfit ten piece ensemble took us to church with their performance.

We went into the performance having no idea what to expect but what we were given was the gates to Heaven and the entire performance back to back made us want to believe.

Our personal favourite song was (Where Did You Get Those) Shoes. They are certainly the holy grail of festival performers and were definitely one of the best acts to come out and perform at Solfest in recent years.

Hallelujah! Oh My God! It’s Church performing on the mainstage.

Thursday night concluded at the Solway Bar Stage with old school electronic music duo Utah Saints who really brought us back to classic 90s raving.

Blending a mix of their own original songs and current electro-pop anthems they concluded the first night with a bang.

They performed their hits, What Can You Do for Me and Something Good - which had everyone appropriately doing the running man dance from the music video for the song.

In all our years of Solfest we’ve never seen a Thursday night kick off so hard and Utah Saints got us ready to take on the rest of the weekend.

Something Good was definitely underway when Utah Saints brought down the Solway Bar Stage.

Friday on the mainstage welcomed singer, keyboardist and Reggae artist Hollie Cook: known for collaborations with singers and producers such as Prince Fatty, Ian Brown from The Stone Roses and even Jamie T.

Cook isn’t your regular bread and butter reggae artist and her self titled debut album met amazing critical acclaim.

Solfest is a festival known to really love Reggae whether it’s Roots, Dub or Ska. Hollie Cook gave us all of this and then some with her enchanting voice singing some of her most popular tracks tracks like Sugar Water and Milk and Honey.

Cook gave us the serenity you seek with most Reggae music but also went uptempo with tunes from her second album such as Postman which got everyone skanking from the front to the back.

A sunny evening for a vibrant performer, Hollie Cook had us swaying to her sublime reggae sound.

We're back to the 90s again with Friday headliners Alt-Rock band Ocean Colour Scene. Evolved at the height of Britpop, the band are famed for their hits The Day We Caught the Train and Hundred Mile High City.

Expectations were high and certainly the crowd that gathered was huge but the performance itself lacked the same amount of charisma they were known for 30 years ago.

It felt a bit like they were a cover band of themselves at points but they did pick up pace a bit when performing their hits and the crowd was receptive.

Over on the Tarns Dub Stage famed for its DnB, Garage, Grime and House music was a DJ and producer famed for his mix of all these genres: Redlight.

Redlight burst onto the dance music scene in the early 2010s after being brought up around 90s warehouse rave culture in Bristol which he loved so much he even has a song dedicated to the entire decade called 90s Baby.

He set the precedent for what was to come with the incredible dance line up Solfest brought us and the visuals that accompanied his performance were nothing but short of magic which made everyone feel like they could really let go and have it.

Redlight also performed Lost in Your Love and Get Out My Head. All we can say is we definitely won't be getting that performance out of our heads too soon.

Redlight headlining the Tarns Dub Stage on Friday at Solfest.

Friday evening brought Cumbria’s very own homegrown talent to the stage: Dub Princess, who grew up in Silloth just down the road from the festival, and her band the Hotsteppas from Bristol.

Dub Princess & the Hotsteppas understood the assignment when it came to getting a crowd going with some Afro inspired beats, Reggae and of course Dub all blended into one with original melodies brought by the Hotsteppas.

Our favourite track was No Fear. Dub Princesses vocal range and the performance as a whole did Cumbria proud.

Silloth’s own Dub Princess performing on the mainstage alongside the Hotsteppas.

The Solway Bar stage welcomed the Amy Winehouse Band to the stage, led by Amy’s original musical director and bass player Dale Davids and Amy’s close friends.

The crowd was almost spilling out of the stage to see a glimpse of what the band calls 'Forever Amy' which is a celebration of her life, music and legacy.

Fronted by the talented young vocalist Bronte Shande - her voice is an almost exact replica of Amy’s and the band added the most iconic flair to her hit classics such as You Know I’m No Good, Rehab and Back to Black.

We really didn’t expect to have experienced such a joyous, unique and gorgeous tribute from Amy’s lifelong friends and were glad we didn’t miss one second of it.

Bronte Shande singing her soul out to Rehab.

Back over at the Tarns Dub Stage was one of the biggest DnB/House collectives to come out of the UK in recent years, Sigma.

They really shut down, showed up and gave us certainly one of the best dance music performances of the whole festival.

You really couldn’t beat the magic of people singing Nobody to Love and Changing in unison, the atmosphere was unparalleled and a union between crowd and performers was certainly made.

Sigma came into the performance definitely with the motto of 'this is what we do' and the crowd followed suit, it was a glorious feast of dazzling dancing and the entire set felt really special.

We enjoyed Sigma so much we forgot to actually take a photo of them. Photo credit: Solfestoffical Instagram.

Often dubbed as one of the leading pioneers of UK drum and bass, Goldie took to the Tarns Dub stage to take us back in time with anthemic 90s bangers.

You’d think after 30 years in the scene Goldie might be a bit wobbly but he showed why he’s known as drum and bass royalty and one of the godfathers of dance.

Goldie souped and fired up tracks from his award winning debut album 'Timeless' like Angel and Inner City Life. They really did stand the test of time with both old ravers and new throwing down hands.

Goldie, 30 years in the game and still managing to impress.

Headlining and closing the mainstage on Sunday was The Libertines. Having seen them before almost ten years ago at Leeds I had high expectations of the ‘Time For Heroes’ singers but when the time came for them to perform they were nowhere to be seen.

The crowd became rightfully disgruntled and it took them over an hour to even start their set. Once the performance got underway it was overwhelmingly disappointing to say the least.

I’d equate the performance to that of Arctic Monkeys at Glastonbury; There was no energy, you could barely hear Pete Dohetery sing and even the most exciting parts of certain songs just fell flat musically.

After the disappointment of The Libertines I needed to find a joyous band to lift my spirits and who better than the closing ensemble for the Solway Barstage: Dub Pistols.

Dub Pistols have previously headlined the mainstage at Solfest and their drummer is even from Carlisle.

The thing that really stuck out in their performance is just how in sync the band was with each other which made the experience all the more fun for the crowd.

They played, rather aptly, Mucky Weekend along with some of their hits such as Cyclone and Rock Steady.

Rub a Dub Dub it’s Dub Pistols firing up the Solway Barstage.

Some honourable mentions for performances include Wilkinson, Mandidextrous, Slamboree, Easy Star All Stars and Dustbowl Revival.

Solfest 23 was a magical mediaeval masterpiece this year and we know we can’t wait for the next one - which is going to be a biggy as it's their 20th anniversary celebration!

What performances did you like best? Let us know in the comments.

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