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Colchester Free Festival 2015 – Saturday

You couldn’t have hoped for a better day to kick off the festival. While early fears of weather going between overcast and heavy rain may have worried everyone, the skies are clear, the ground dry, everyone’s in good spirits and there’s a good crowd of people relaxing on the grass even before the first act, PollyPreacher, takes to the stage. When she does start her performance, everyone siting instantly goes quiet; the haunting, minimalist, performance of just guitar and vocals sounds absolutely stunning. It’s hard not to just stop and listen. The set gets even better for the last couple of songs as she’s joined by Krista and Nicholas on bass and drums respectively, sounding more a bit more complete. The slow paced songs, when completed by the drums and the bass, really pull at your heart strings. They’re completely intense and yet still wonderfully stunning. I’d love to watch a full set complete with band.

With a slight change of pace and approach, moving from what’s essentially a solo project to what may well have been the biggest band on the main stage all weekend, the next act for me was Rony Rosado, a Mexican native who performs traditional Mexican music and, wow, was it enjoyable! The large band sounded at times like they were jamming and yet the vocal styling of Rony brought it all together, creating something which sounded like the soundtrack to a huge party. Every member of his band were completely on point and the songs, while sounding improvised at a lot of points, sounded tight overall. It was one of those sets that just puts a grin from ear to ear. Usually I’d have said this is the kind of music you want to end a night but, in the context, in the beautiful sunshine, Rony and his band sounded just right.

Taking a break from the music for a while, I stumbled my way over to the Spoken Word area, just in time to catch the end of a mime act, which I’ll admit confused me for a second, not really knowing what was going on. After a short break Martin Newell, “The Greatest Living Englishman” took to the stage, with a selection of short stories and poems to read. There’s something about Newell’s voice which just draws you into the stories, most of which had amusing elements to them. My only criticism here was that I could have carried on listening to him for twice as long as he had! A 

witty, excellent, man. He’s performing with literary hero John Cooper Clarke at the Arts Centre in December and I couldn’t possibly recommend that pairing more – that’s an unmissable show, as far as I’m concerned.

Shortly after that came the live debut from Monster Florence, the gathering of master sound engineer Tom Donovan with a group of MCs, live drums and live saxophone (why not!). A lot of people have described this as the set of the festival, and I understand why. The mixture of live instruments with programmed samples and synths worked perfectly, creating an intense yet danceable selection of songs. I only hope that they can bring the live show to more stages, everyone deserves to see this.

Back over at the main stage, Hobo Chang are already in full flow, their funky music layered with some of the best vocals heard over the weekend. The guitar and bass lines locked in well, the drums were tight and the keys added a sense of atmosphere as the vocals wailed over the top, their front lady making full use of the space as she sang her heart out. Top quality stuff!

Next up on the main stage came So Called Humans who made me feel a bit lost for a second. Their sound, psychy indie rock, performed to that standard could easily have been expected at Reading or Leeds that weekend. Despite this being the first time I’ve heard the band, their sound took over the park like a layer of fog, fuzzy guitar and synthesiser floating over. Their approach was drama free, getting the songs down and not a lot else, but that’s what you need in a band like this. It certainly wouldn’t take a lot for them to reach a bigger audience nationally.

F.O.X. graced the stage with a fairly large following moving forward to greet them. This is my first time seeing them as F.O.X, although I still have memories of them performing as Angry Vs The Bear while at University locally, supporting basically every band who came through, with a stage of TV sets showing cartoons. Gone are the gimmicks, in that regard, but the talent obviously remains, the well written pop beats meeting Zoe’s voice to create an enjoyable selection of poppy music. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the near future with the release of Hypoxia Pt 2.

The penultimate act for the evening, if you haven’t heard of Surge by now where have you been? They seemed to be enjoying playing a far bigger stage than the pubs and bars they can often be seen in allows them; throwing themselves around the stage while thrashing their way through a set of relatively new songs. Of course, they’ve not really been around that long but already some of their songs are showing a maturity unexpected so early on. At this rate their debut album is going to be absolutely genius.

Closing the main stage for Saturday is the job of local legends Animal Noise who clearly already have the audience on their side, the barrier packed out as they walk onto stage. Their slightly messed up folk music, described by the band as ‘moody swamp music’ came with equal part danceable beat, equal part stunning vocal. Despite being the headliner and being somewhat veteran when it comes to festival performances I’d say their sound was a bit more loose than some of the acts but it works perfectly in the context of their music. They seemed quite happy to put all of their energy into the performance, despite having to perform again later in the evening at Tankton, their bass player jumping around the stage, grinning alongside the rest of the band. Looking out into the crowd there wasn’t a single face that wasn’t smiling as they worked their way through their set. There’s a reason why they’re doing so well for themselves at the minute, with their recent signing to a Sony subsidiary and slots at major festivals. They certainly deserved their placing on the bill.

After a glorious day, with unexpected stunning weather and a load of excellent music it was time to get stuck into an after-party for the evening before another day in Castle Park. 

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