Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, UK, 4-7 August, 2022 | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022  

Years & Years

Underworld, Years & Years, Jungle, KEG, Róisín Murphy, Pozi, PVA, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Ibibio Sound Machine, Snapped Ankles, Willie J Healey, Orlando Weeks, Pale Blue Eyes, Pip Blom, Gretel Hänlyn

Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, UK, 4-7 August, 2022,

Aug 16, 2022 Photography by Shaun Gordon Web Exclusive
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Wilderness is now firmly established in the mid-summer calendar, showcasing top music, arts, food, wellness, and family fun to around 10,000 festival goers in mid August. Set in the beautiful, though sun-parched, grounds of the Cornbury Estate in central Oxfordshire, it offers four days of peace, calmness and serenity, punctuated by a multitude of opportunities to dive deep into the events and opportunities on offer. Indeed, so much is going on, all of the time, it is quite nice to just sit down with a cold drink, and enjoy doing absolutely nothing at all.

Arriving on Thursday, it is easy to see why this festival is so popular with families, young people and older people too. Whilst on the surface it appears to be a ‘posh’ festival, and could be described in days gone by as ‘middle class’, there are so many layers here, allowing people to gravitate to the areas that appeal to them. On the first morning, walking through the open greensward camping areas towards the festival fields, which within a day or so would be blessed with multi-coloured tents of all shapes and sizes, this festival has a sense of space, an openness that seems to be at the heart of what Wilderness is all about. Heading for the main stage arena, the first area encountered is The Sanctuary area, a place where wellness and mindfulness therapies, such as yoga and massage, are plentiful: some free, some paid for and booked well in advance. As the festival moved into the weekend, this space became busier, and for those wanting the refresh and re-energise, The Shala offered a HumanDala mass yoga session at 11am every morning – not too early for those having enjoyed late night fun.

The Shala
The Shala

Thursday, though, was also the start of the music programme. The Jumpyard stage and the Stargazer stage were perfect places to get into the groove. Programmed, as ever, by Chris Tofu’s Continental Drifts team, The Jumpyard playing out like a mini-Truth Stage at the Glastonbury festival, opened with DJ Tofu, and a lively skiffle-pop set by the Thrill Collins trio, followed by similar crowd-pleasers, Showhawk Duo and Brass Funkeys. There’s no doubting The Jumpyard’s ability to shower people with a little love and happiness throughout the weekend, no matter who is playing on stage.

Thrill Collins
Thrill Collins
Showhawk Duo
Showhawk Duo

New for 2022, the Stargazer stage at Wilderness has a line-up of indie and alternative music for those wanting something different to the mainstream offerings on the main stage. Ideally situated next to the Michelin starred tasting menu tent and the champagne bar, it neatly encapsulates the range of tastes catered for at the festival.

Closing Stargazer on Thursday night were PVA who have built a reputation as a blistering live band. Their pounding, techno-inspired rhythms meet singer Ella Harris’s half-spoken vocals to great effect - like LCD Soundsystem crossed with Dry Cleaning. With their debut album out in October, these are exciting times for the trio.

PVA
PVA

The Main Stage kicks Friday off with a perfect pop-packed set from Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Competing with all else that Wilderness has to offer, Ellis-Bextor launches into her 2001 cover of Cher’s “Take Me Home”, before a moving on to a high energy performance of The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”. It was also interesting to hear a Moloko song in the set, “Sing It Back”, given Róisín Murphy was also on the Wilderness bill around 24 hours later, though the couple of thousand crowd didn’t seem to mind or care. Closing songs, a Madonna cover and her own “Murder on the Dancefloor”, round off a terrific performance.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Sophie Ellis-Bextor

The whole point of Wilderness though, and makes it a most-refreshing change-up from many summer festivals, is that it’s not all about music. There is so much else on offer, with the afore-mentioned The Sanctuary area, and also branded tequila, gin, vodka and champagne bars, to complement the typical drink offerings in the busy bars. Similarly, if food is your thing there is high-end banqueting and fine dining, as well as the more traditional festival food offerings, such as the tasty ever-tasty The EnglishIndian street food, and the eponymous Cheesy Chips, so popular with the late night crowd.

Cheesy Chips!
Cheesy Chips!

Back to the Main Stage, and Ibibio Sound Machine delivered a glorious set of afrobeat rhythms tuned in with drum-and-bass. Eno Williams, on vocals, is such a great performer, and while the sound is the product of a whole band, Alfred Bannerman on guitar gets plenty of opportunity to show off his riffs too.

Ibibio Sound Machine
Ibibio Sound Machine

Sounds from the arena are brought to a Friday night conclusion by the Jungle collective, led as ever by Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland. Having seen Jungle at the sunset set at Glastonbury in 2019, their closing performance was no less energetic. Jungle has an uplifting bounce to their music, and its nigh impossible not to feel the feet tapping away to the funky rhythms of recent single, “Good Times”, or older favourites, “Casio” and “Busy Earnin’”.

Jungle
Jungle

As the Main Stage closed, Stargazer, The Jumpyard and The Valley push on. Friday night at Stargazer has a thrilling double bill of Snapped Ankles and KEG. A festival does not seem complete recently without Snapped Ankles playing late at night, wearing their trademark forest costumes and playing their hypnotic and surging Motorik beat rhythms, the singer moving into the midst of the crowd during the set to whip things up further. KEG follow in the late-late-night slot, which their boisterous ‘throw everything in the mix’ sound is made for. Sometimes chaotic but always interesting, their energy was infectious.

Snapped Ankles
Snapped Ankles
KEG
KEG

After the formal stages close, music continues in the bars around the festival site, and the younger masses head for The Valley. Daniel Pearce AKA Eats Everything delivers a powerful pumping DJ set here in an arena not dissimilar in atmosphere, and ambition, to Glastonbury’s The Temple stage in The Common.

Eats Everything
Eats Everything

Saturday brings a much more settled approach to festival wandering. With Main Stage programming strong across the day, and on Stargazer and The Jumpyard too, more emphasis was given to the music content. Orlando Weeks, ex-Maccabees frontman, opened the Main Stage, though the 30 degree heat may proved too much for some, as the crowd was sparser than might be expected for such a talent. Similarly, Willie J Healey delivered his garage rock / Americana influenced tunes to a limited, though appreciative, audience. It was not until Craig Charles’ teatime appearance did the Main Stage raise the collective heartbeat. With a finger on the disco / funk pulse, the DJ’s set got people a-dancin’, and everything was fine in the world again.

With crowds moving back into the main arena again, Róisín Murphy, as ever, gave a scintillating performance, blending some of her own music with her Moloko hits, including “Sing It Back”, with several, mostly on-stage, costume changes. Murphy is a perfect festival artist, bringing energy and such a sense of fun to every occasion, and she has that rare ability to connect with audiences.

Róisín Murphy
Róisín Murphy

Saturday’s Main Stage programme was closed by Olly Alexander’s Years & Years’ electro-pop project. The late evening headline slot brought darkness, which, in turn, gave way to a mesmeric and fabulous show, with incredible lighting, video backdrops, a telephone kiosk and roller skating. Reflecting the multi-talented Alexander’s artistic range, a set highlight was his piano rearrangement of Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin”, taken from the Channel 4’s ‘It’s a Sin’ drama about living in the 1980s shadow of AIDs, in which he plays the lead role of Richie Tozer.

Years & Years
Years & Years

Away from the Main Stage, the Stargazer Stage was coming into its own. With an outstanding stage management, sound and lighting team, this newcomer stage proves a popular with festival goers. Not dissimilar, though smaller, to Glastonbury’s William’s Green stage, Saturday brings a wealth of talent, evidence of excellent programming. Earlier in the afternoon, the instantly likeable Pale Blue Eyes had a joyous upbeat sound that was easy to get swept up in. Their second song and latest single, “Star Vehicle”, is a perfect example. Singer Matt Board’s distinctive voice adds a dreamy element to the mix, giving the song an optimistic, blissful feel - music to lose yourself in. Their enjoyment of playing together comes through in their set, which they seemed to enjoy just as much as the crowd. Pale Blue Eyes are supporting Public Service Broadcasting on tour in the autumn, and are another band to watch out for.

Pale Blue Eyes
Pale Blue Eyes

That same night sees POZI followed by Pip Blom. Whilst most would probably describe POZI as post punk, they only use that as a starting point. Live they have a unique sound with impassioned drumming, atmospheric bass, and a violin that runs riot through the set, adding menace, tension, and sometimes melancholy. Many of their songs have an angry political edge which they enhance by all singing, both separately and together. Meanwhile, Pip Blom are a feel-good band with two albums already released, which don’t come close to capturing how good they are live. Their catchy songs fizz along live - with Pip herself putting body and soul into each chorus, the late-night crowd enthusiastically enjoyed the set. Finishing with a couple of bangers in “Keep It Together” and “Daddy Issues”, she left a smiling happy crowd.

POZI
POZI
Pip Blom
Pip Blom

Sunday brings the sun, and another 30+ degree day. Wilderness has its most relaxed day, with attention for given to the plentiful activities away from music stages. The cricket match is a regular feature, and hundreds gather to watch a fancy dress equivalent of the leisurely game where the scoreboard showed that the number of streakers exceeded the number of runs scored. More 1970s Benny Hill-type farce than 2020s ‘Naked Attraction’. Elsewhere, hundreds more headed Lakeside for swimming and boating, and sunbathing. For those wanting a little more seclusion and privacy, The Lakeside Spa beckoned, offering hot tubs, a sauna and private swimming.

Two final day stand-outs were Gretel Hänlyn, on the Stargazer Stage, and Damian Lewis and Kansas Smitty’s band on The Forum Stage. First up, West London’s Gretel Hänlyn. Having played her first gig just a few months ago, and hearing she grew up on a diet of Nick Cave, we couldn’t resist seeing Hänlyn on Sunday afternoon. Her distinctive, husky singing voice, reminiscent of Nico, suits her dark tinged but catchy songs such as opener “Apple Juice”. She even found time to make a young fan’s birthday before closing with the euphoric post breakup song “Motorbike”. Later, Damian Lewis performed several Americana-style songs from a forthcoming debut album. Lewis’s performance was warmly welcomed by an appreciative crowd, and the star of ‘Homeland’ and ‘Billions’ was clearly at home on the stage, as he is on the screen.

Gretel Hänlyn
Gretel Hänlyn
Damian Lewis
Damian Lewis

Certainly, the Main Stage saw its largest crowd of the weekend, with Underworld taking a dancy crowd through their hits back catalogue, culminating with “Born Slippy”. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith were playing their only UK festival date in 2022, and Hyde’s high-kicking around the stage, mesmerising and fun in equal measure, brought the festival towards a tremendous and satisfying conclusion.

Underworld
Underworld

As the crowds drifted away into the night, you couldn’t help feel that Wilderness 2022 has been an all-round success. The blend of music, arts, wellness and food is irresistible, and given there is something for everyone it certainly is one to pencil in for August 2023.




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