In a week that had seen unprecedented rainfall, numerous flood warnings, evacuations, road closures, sink holes and even advice not to travel, "unless absolutely necessary", the prospect of spending three consecutive nights in a forest field began to lose its appeal by Thursday. As beautiful and idyllic as it maybe, Bedgebury Pinetum in torrential rain is not somewhere you'd necessarily choose unless you were a wading bird.
Watching the weather all week made for a somewhat more anxious wait than expected but low and behold, come Friday, cometh the sunshine. The timing couldn't have been better. The sun began to shine, the ground began to dry out and the excitement of seeing some fantastic live acts in such wonderful surroundings was once again very tangible.
Forest Live didn't organise the weather, but, as with every year since the inception of these country wide events, they did do a damn fine job of selecting the artists for this year's performances. On Friday night Kiev flew in from California to treat us to a selection of songs they described as either Rock songs, "weird long ones" or "picnic music". Yak were the Kiev and Foals sandwich filler which possibly doesn't sound that appetising but they were very good indeed. The noisy trio played a brilliant, succinct set that barely took a breathe. Oliver's driven guitar riffs, and in particular, Elliott's relentless machine gun percussion were spellbinding. There was a brief moment paid in respect of the recently deceased Dr John, a great version of last years final single, 'Fried', and an impassioned 'Blinded By The Lies' as the sun shone in the early evening.
The first of this year's headliners at Bedgebury, Foals, followed Yak onto the palm leaf adorned stage beside the plethora of pines. Yannis and his band looked as fired up as the expectant and somewhat boisterous crowd. They started with a lively run through of 'On The Luna' from this year's very well received album 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost'. From the opener and throughout the night the mix of old and new were seamlessly spliced together on an evening that seemed to get ever more energised with each track.
The combination of brilliant musicianship, confident delivery, well balanced production and stunning projections lit up the stage and made for a great show. Foals staple 'Exits' headed up the band's latest single 'In Degrees' and old favourites, 'Olympic Airways' and 'My Number', were segued without pause to great effect. Yannis made three trips into the crowd, losing his radio pack at one point before being rescued back to the safety of the stage. A few more disoriented members of the mosh pit were dragged back the same way as the night went on and the atmosphere grew.
Foals heavier and more intense take on some of their best known tracks, together with a set littered with tracks from their latest album, saw super-charged performances from each of the band. 'Sunday', a fantastic, pumped up, 'White Onions', and 'Syrups' all showcased the quality of Foals new work as well as providing even more of an appetite for the second instalment later this year. It was possibly one of the oldest and one of the very newest of Foals tracks that proved high points of a stunning set. 'Two Steps, Twice', from the band's debut album and 'Black Bull', from the soon to be released Part Two of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost', were quite superb. The combined band performance of 'Black Bull' was electrifying. Yannis cavorted about the stage like a man possessed, giving his everything to a performance he'd already clearly poured his heart and soul into. The weekend was off to a great start.
Predictably the English weather took a reverse turn on Saturday. It absolutely poured it down for spells before the gates to the arena area opened; stalled, and even stopped briefly, eventually capitulating prior to the headliners taking to the stage. Before the main event the covers were taken off the percussion stand, the I-Pads were plugged in, the keyboards wiped down and for the hardy souls who'd braved the atrocious weather K-Klass took to the stage to get the party started. Whilst the rain really did lash down in sheets the flimsy pac-a-macs and wet weather ponchos took a battering but the dancing did begin as a double rainbow shone and 'Rythmn Is a Dancer' rang out across the woodland for the first time.
The rain began to subside as the members of the Manchester Camerata Orchestra took to their tiered seats. The thirty plus musicians settled themselves ahead of the arrival on stage of the conductor Tim Crooks, MC Tunes (An unnecessary, unintentionally? comedic parody that fused Manc mannerisms through an Alexi Sayle meets Loadsamoney caricature) and DJ royalty Graeme Park. Crooks quickly whipped his Orchestra into shape as 'Renegade Master' played and the strings took over to introduce a stunning arrangement of 'Rythmn Is A Dancer'.
The seamless mix of DJ enhanced club classics was faultlessly executed. There was only one or two moments in the whole set where the music actually, and only briefly, stopped. The trio of revolving soulful singers all added something unique in their take on each tune and the sublimely layered score gave a new depth and warmth to familiar floor fillers. As the mix got seemingly ever more intricate and interesting, a superb, horn enhanced, 'Pacific State' gave way to 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)' before moving effortlessly, amid many Whoop, Whoops from the crowd, into a pulsating 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life'. By now the party had well and truly kicked in.
The crowd, adorned in varying shades of Day-Glo sunglasses, danced the night away to the open air 'rave' provided courtesy of Hacienda Classical. Park stood almost majestic at the decks above the orchestra as the old Hacienda sign shone again. If that weren't quite enough Bez, yes he of Happy Mondays infamy, turned up intermittently to inspire even more dancing and Peter Hook took to the stage to join the Orchestra as he performed the New Order masterpiece 'Blue Monday'.
The Candi Staton, more recently Florence Welch, Club Classic 'You Got The Love' closed out the ninety minute extravaganza in celebration of the Madchester clubbing scene. The fluid mixes were inspired and the orchestration at times quite amazing. The Hacienda is sadly no longer with us but the music lives on in the hearts of those that adore it and this inspired, original interpretation is a fitting tribute to an iconic venue and a game changing musical scene and it made for one hell of a Saturday night.
Happily there were no weather issues ahead of, or during, the final evening at Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest. The arena was packed out on a sunny Sunday evening with more grey/white feather cuts, Fred Perry polos, fur lined parkas and Harrington Jackets than at a Quadrophenia convention. Stone Foundation kept the crowd entertained with their fired up blend of Soul soaked music before the highlight of the evening, and the biggest headline act of the weekend, Paul Weller.
Weller delivered a magnificent two hour set that was expertly conceived and executed. Blending work drawn from his immense back catalogue he included songs from his extensive solo trove as well as beloved Style Council and Jam tunes. The Style Council's, 'My Ever Changing Moods', and The Jam's, 'Man In The Corner Shop', were clear early highlights but it was approaching the mid-point of the main set that Weller well and truly ignited the crowd with at first a fantastic, revved up, 'That's Entertainment' and then a sublime, soulful, 'Wildwood'.
Weller switched between a variety of guitars and his upright piano throughout the night, as well as taking time out for a quick drag or two on his cigarette. A mellow 'Broken Stones' and tender, 'You Do Something To Me', shared the limelight with more up tempo numbers like 'Woo Se Mama' and 'Shout To The Top' before Weller closed out the first act of the night with a raucous 'Peacock Suit' accompanied by the brass section from Stone Foundation. He professed to really enjoying his night as he took delight in admiring the spectacle of the full moon illuminating the captivated crowd before him so it was of little surprise that he returned for an encore, not once but twice.
Playing to his audience, he didn't disappoint in the slightest. The final flourish of songs that included The Jam's 'Start', 'Precious' and in the ultimate conclusion, 'Town Called Malice' was nothing short of spectacular. The performance was as powerful and passionate as you could have asked for. The crowd were transported back to The Jam's hey day with a performance that blew you away. You couldn't have asked for more, you couldn't have come up with a better setlist and you couldn't have wished for a more fitting climax.
Forest Live 2019, set in the magnificent Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent, proved once again to be a winning formula, delivering outstanding performances from great acts in a beautiful setting. Foals started the ball rolling with aplomb, tearing up the stage with an incendiary performance. Hacienda Classical mixed up an original and inspired homage to the club scene, and some of the iconic music it generated, and then finally Paul Weller capped everything off with a faultless, engaging performance of the singer-songwriters best loved songs. A wonderful weekend of fantastic music not to be missed (Whatever the weather!)