Larmer Tree Festival
Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
17-21 July 2019

Larmer Tree Festival

Larmer Tree Festival has been bringing a diverse range of music to family audiences for over quarter of a century now. It’s not the only festival that takes place in this Victorian Pleasure Garden on the Dorset/Wiltshire border and now the team behind its end of summer counterpart and Long Live Vinyl favourite, End of the Road Festival, are more involved in the running, billing and promotion of the early-summer offer. Anyone who has been to EOTR knows that this can only be a good thing.

Larmer Tree Festival has always brought together some of the big hitters, with rising stars of the music industry and a solid local offering. Like Glastonbury Festival, it provides opportunities for local choirs, ukulele orchestras and groups of community musicians to play in front of a festival crowd. And it offers lesser known young bands who tirelessly work for recognition with a real chance to step up as a festival act. That role is a hugely important one in a time where label money or Internet success is king.

One of the first things that strikes you as you enter the site is the sheer number of families. It seems that at least 50 per cent of festival goers have children with them. While not strictly a kids-focused festival in the way the neighbouring Camp Bestival is, it’s certainly up there as one of the top 5 family-friendly festivals in the UK. You can of course enjoy it without kids. By 9/10pm, most kids are tucked up in their tents (or bundled into a garden cart). The genius setup whereby you can camp overnight near your car with a day ticket means it’s a great introduction to the family festival experience without needing to commit to the full weekend.

The summer sun shone brightly for the majority of this year’s festival (with a slight soggy blip on Friday night). We headed down for the Saturday with the fierce and brilliant Kate Tempest headlining. Her set was one of two halves. The angsty, danceable material making way for some slower yet equally powerful songs from the new album The Book of Traps and Lessons. Against a backdrop of dry ice, her silhouette swaggered and swayed and was sometimes eerily still as she shared her poet laureate level observations on contemporary life, referring to politics, social media and feminism. Acknowledging the children in the audience she gave a parental warning about the expletives in her songs but you can’t argue with such well placed swearing.

Ahead of Tempest, turn of the century indie band Gomez brought their laid back pop to the garden stage. Spirits were high as they regaled us with the likes of Whippin Piccadilly and Get Myself Arrested.

Meanwhile, in the woods, the Southampton Ukelele Orchestra pulled in a notable crowd for a merry old singalong to the likes of the Ramones, The Killers and The Undertones. This isn’t about being perfect ukelele players, having tight timing or grade a performance skills – it’s a down to earth gathering of music fans sharing their passion with a festival crowd. And it works a treat.

Larmer Tree Festival

As with EOTR, the festival team totally transform the beguiling woods into a seemingly never-ending exploration into a new world. The musical theme dominated this year’s event, with pianos dotted around, wind instruments hanging from trees and makeshift drum sets created out of old logs. It provides hours of entertainment within itself.

The detail evident around the entire site shows just how well curated this festival is. From the yarn spinning between trees and giant wooden sculptures of insects and other creatures to the sofas, library and games to the discotheque nestled in the trees. You could see the vinyl lovers among us half-horrified to see records hanging from the trees and half in awe of how beautiful it looked. For those fans of both festivals, it’s a familiar formula yet one that clearly works so well.

Local favourites Pronghorn ended the musical proceedings on Saturday night with a rousing set of cowpunk. Take old-school punk, whack it in a cider barrel with some Wurzels humour, The Specials-grade cohesion and a Hayseed Dixie energy and you’re about halfway there to describing this. There aren’t many gigs which attract a dancing lobster, but you never know what you’re going to get at a Pronghorn festival set.

Other acts playing throughout the festival this year included KT Tunstall and Tom Odell stepping in for Jack Savoretti; with comedy from the likes of Josie Long and Nish Kumar and talks from Kate Adie and a range of speakers. The billing is a subtle change of direction for Larmer Tree and you can see the influence of the EOTR team. We’re looking forward to learning more about the plans for next year’s festival.