Wilderness 2019 music highlights

At last year’s Wilderness festival I saw some amazing bands, a number of which I’ve either seen since at solo shows or I still have in my regular playlist rotation, and so I was a little disappointed when I saw this year there was less music to suit my particular palette scheduled. However, I needn’t have worried: I just had to look a little harder, and thus I still came back armed with a list of bands to follow up on. One (of the many) nice thing about Wilderness is that I get no phone reception there, so can actually switch off, but it does mean there’s a post Wilderness research phase I have to go through as I process my notes from the event, and for the music I thought I would share the list I’d made. The order here is pretty much the order in which I saw them, and I’ve thrown in some random youtube videos that I found so you can get a quick taste for each artist.

Last year I mostly hung out at The Hearafter stage which had lots of great bands on it, but this year that stage was swapped out for something less to my tastes. However, for the Saturday afternoon the stage was temporarily taken over by The Great Brain Robbery, who I believe were responsible for ranning last year’s The Hereafter stage. From this session my highlight was the awesome Annie Bea and her band. Annie Bea sang some great new-orleans style blues, whilst herself giving off the aura of a 20s jazz singer (including chaise longue on stage, which was a nice touch). Her band were similarly very good; they had a guest fiddler who did a great job of filling in where there might have been a guitar solo, mimicking that high end of the fretboard with lots of vibrato style. The guitar on stage was also an interesting pawn shop style strat with a single pickup and no tone or volume controls (apologies, but if you are willing to read music reviews by a guitar builder this is the kid of observation you’re going to get ;).

Alas, as is often the case with the smaller stage artists, she doesn’t have a full album out yet, but there’s bits and pieces out there both on her website and on youtube, like this one:

On a tiny stage in the corner of one of the bars, ran by Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, there was some great small jazz and blues bands playing. Sam 3 had an amazing energy as a vocals-free jazz team, along with the biggest pedalboard I’ve ever seen, which their guitarist used to help his guitar fill the space freed up by having no vocalist: using lots of modulation effects, a looper, and working the entire board well during the set to create some very nice sounds. Their drummer and bassist also did a fantastic job of driving the pace and energy, and the entire band were clearly having a fun time. Unfortunately I’ve not found any info on the Internet about them, so something to keep an eye out for.

Also on the same stage was Markus Bonfanti with The Delta Trio playing a strong growly blues game. Markus’s show I only caught the end of their set, but thankfully Markus does have a bunch of recordings, including albums, out there, so I’ve been making up for that today. In contrast to the variety of sounds Sam 3’s guitarist was playing through his pedalboard, Markus was getting some amazing sounds just from an old Harmony Rocket H59 plugged straight into a Fender Twin Reverb. Not to imply one was better than the other - both guitarists got great sounds to suit their styles, and it was wonderful to get to hear the contrast. 

As a Wilderness tradition Ronnie Scott’s also have been annually taking one of the bigger stages on the Saturday evening, and this year was no exception. This year they hosted the band Incognito, a funk-jazz band with enough members to fill the stage: again a nice contrast to the three-piece outfits on the smaller Ronnie Scott’s stage. Incongnito fielded two guitarists (some kind of Gibson ES and a Deluxe Telecaster for those counting), three brass, two drummers, bass, keyboards, and three vocalists. Quite the ensemble, but well utilised so that they all had their moments and it didn’t sound like a single wall of sound. Jazz is not a music form I’ve managed to get into before, but this year I’m hoping that all the Ronnie Scott’s music has given me some threads to pull on. 

In a change of pace over on the main stage, we saw Caravan Palace, a French electro-swing act. I have to confess that whilst I find electro-swing entertaining, I’d assumed it was just pulled together digitally - mixing samples of old swing records with new electronically made music. How wrong was I: Caravan Palace is a full band and they perform everything live, including some live swing dancing (watch out for the mic hand over in the below video, and now imagine a roadie legging it across a stage 4 times the size to do the same thing, it was quite impressive :). There’s still a digital element in there: I’m fairly sure the acoustic guitar on stage had a midi pickup, as it seemed to be making piano sounds at one point. Again, not that that’s bad, rather to the contrary, it was great to see my expectations broken in many ways by this set. 

Also on the main stage the following day, were Cosmic Strip, who we saw last year on The Hearafter stage. They’re listed as shoe-gaze music apparently, but I’d list them as alternative or psychedelic-rock. I have to confess, whilst it was great to see them again, they’d been put into that awful main stage opener slot, where (at least at Wilderness due to it being very spread out) there’s not much of an audience and no sense of real connection between the artist and audience. Still, it was good to get to hear them live again all the same. Their lineup had changed since last year, with the lead singer handing over second guitar duties to a new member, which I think has given them a slightly more punchy sound overall, with the second guitar now being more a second lead in a different style. Kit wise they’d also moved from hollow bodies to Fender offsets (both a jazzmaster and a jaguar), and one amp had gone, I assume to replaced with a Helix or such given their modulation heavy sound (which makes my game of gear spotting much harder :).

Finally, I went to a guitar workshop on the folk style stage by Smith and Brewer, who turned out are Cambridge locals. They did a mix of playing and a guitar playing Q&A. Their music style was mostly a mix of folk and country style songs, with the pair duetting both vocals and guitar playing to make a wonderfully rich texture, delivering much more than you’d expect from a couple of blokes with acoustic guitars. I was worried the Q&A part might struggle without an audience fully armed with guitars, but the session quickly found its feet, and there was some good discussion had about tunings and the challenges of playing with two guitars, and some desperate attempts to avoid playing Oasis on request. Unfortunately their next Cambridge gig (despite being in the place I get my beard trimmed!) is when I’m up doing my own festival appearance at Wuthering Bytes later in the month, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them in future.

And that’s a wrap for Wilderness 2019 musically - if you need me to do a list of the wines and gins I tried, let me know and I can try remember enough for that post ;) It just goes to show, that if you put enough music up, even if the overall trend isn’t to my tastes, there’s bound to be some gems in there, you just need to go find them.