Larmer Tree, back after a year’s hiatus, has changed – mostly for the better – and remains the ultimate family-friendly festival.

Sure, it has condensed a little – both physically and in terms of length, but a bit of refreshing keeps everything alive.

There was no superstar opening night (previously Jools Holland, Van Morrison, Tom Jones) so it now has more of a pure festival vibe throughout.

So we had a four-day weekend event (with limited programming on the first night) with the usual huge range of artistes and family activities and the odd peacock wandering about.

No stellar names were on the bill – Jake Bugg, First Aid Kit and Public Service Broadcasting topped the three nights – but the festival’s limited capacity has always meant no real superstars during the weekend.

Instead, as always, the joy of Larmer Tree is making unexpected discoveries. It’s like watching a series of unknown support acts – and unearthing a good number of gems on the way.

The site has changed – one of the main stages has been replaced by the often-packed Village Inn bar where performers at one end struggle to be heard over the cacophony of drinkers struggling to get in and get served at the other.

Some refinement is necessary and, sadly, the beer provider has changed with no more Ringwood.

Conversely, the Larmer Spa space for therapists and eco-friendly hot tubs has expanded into a new area, leaving the previous cramped Secret Garden as a chill zone. A new site entrance has also thankfully saved collective miles of foot-slogging across the site.

Larmer Tree, will also, I am convinced, be the first festival where more well-heeled punters stay in camper vans and caravans than tents.

Highlights included raucous Scottish folkies Elephant Sessions, the aforementioned Jake Bugg and Public Service Broadcasting, folk superheroes Chris Wood and Steve Knightley and the ranting poets Antipoet and Elvis McGonagall.

Unexpected delights were served up by The Wandering Hearts, Arcade Hearts, Sorry About Shaun and the Southampton Ukulele Jam’s singalong around the Lost Wood campfire.

And it’s the small details that create the big picture – the musical instruments hanging from trees in the woods yearning to be played, the art installations, the vegetarian friendly food, the workshops, the balloon parade, the friendly stewards and security staff and, most of all, the beautiful festival vibe which should be transferred to our broken society.

Larmer Tree is back and it’s like it hasn’t been away.

Here’s how the weekend went


Low-key Thursday is concentrated in the Village area of stalls, food outlets and three venues as the main stage doesn’t open until Thursday with many folk still to arrive for the weekend.

Chancing upon The Antipoet was a bonus, with the eccentric duo of Paul Eccentric and Ian Newman mixing anarchic poetry ranting with double bass in a family-orientated version of their greatest hits.

Channelling Simple Minds were Gosport’s Arcade Hearts whose booming ’80s vibes were topped by Dan Surridge-Smith’s excellent vocals. The boy is most probably destined to go far.

Despite an Isle of Man village-inspired name, guitar band Port Erin are very much a Wiltshire threesome with big sky tunes, tight grooves and a solid performance that comes only with experience.


Larmer Tree just wouldn’t be the same without Southampton Ukulele Jam roaming the site and playing at the drop of a hat. Led by the effervescent kilted Scotsman Colin McAllister, SUJ’s extensive repertoire of popular tunes from The Ramones to Oasis proves they can be relied to uke up everything they touch.

The breathy vocals of enigmatic Chelou were vaguely reminiscent of Thrills mainman Conor Deasy, but his look was more Benny from Crossroads as his enhanced guitar/percussion sounds swept gracefully over us.

Always good value, Elvis McGonagall and the Resurrectors matched perceptive, anarchic stand-up poetry with a skiffle sound. His punchy performance observed life through a razor-sharp wit and was continuously hilarious.

Staying with the Caledonian theme, award-winning Inverness five-piece Elephant Sessions powered their way through a set of rumbustious contemporary folk tunes which lifted the crowd to their feet. I couldn’t hum one now, but they were great at the time.

Did Jake Bugg peak too soon with best hit Lightning Bolt back in 2012 when he was fresh out of nappies? Not at all on the evidence of this 90-minute set of short, sharp songs which at times was pure rock’n’roll. He’s carved a niche for himself with a classic guitar, drums, bass, keyboards line-up, aided by great material. His nasally twang irritates, as do his constant thank-yous, but give the boy a chance – at 23 he’s an established performer with an excellent show.

Boy were Songhoy Blues loud, but the joyful Malians’ energetic set mixed multiple genres to create a hybrid we shall call ‘World Rock’. Powerful, bold and fun music which heralded needed but unwelcome rain.

Among oddities can be filed Rick Foot, the double bass-playing jazzster whose world weary, cynical songs might have had more impact if he’d been mixed higher and Noah’s House Band who erred towards the eccentric end of the folk canon with quirky songs written in their ark.


An unusual day in which female artistes only appeared on the main stage which, in part was curated by Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus and which was hit by cancellations and programme changes.

Opening up was Cherie Jones (stage name just JONES) whose r’n’b sounds washed inoffensively across the arena, followed by the enthusiastic Kurdish-Dutch singer-songwriter Naaz, who only really engaged when she started to rap.

Best of the day on the main stage were outstanding four-piece close harmony quartet The Wandering Hearts whose infectious Americana country tunes and excellent songs should rightly propel them to the high orbit inhabited by the soulless Shires.

Ibibo Sound Machine and the ultra-loud Tune-Yards (including an on-stage proposal) were followed by headliners First Aid Kit – Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg with a mature three-piece band (including trombone), a flashy set and a good light show.

Sadly, they didn’t shine, but went down well nevertheless. It was all a little too clinical, too samey. Harmonies between sisters are always good – but too much here and lead vocalist Klara is a little strident. They rocked out occasionally, but more variation, more light and dark, is needed.

Elsewhere, the mighty Chris Wood was welcome relief in a dark big top on a hot day. His self-effacing nature, tear-jerking tales of family, love and loss and quietly subversive political songs and social commentaries keep him firmly in the upper echelons of Britain’s songwriting folk heroes. As ever with rambling Wood, you can hear every word, feel every note and experience every emotion – and it all seemed so effortless as songs simply poured out of him

Determinedly unsigned Somerset singer-songwriter Gaz Brookfield, vocally reminiscent to my ears of late-period Joe Strummer at times, deserves a bigger stage for his relentlessly-toured observational vignettes of the human condition.

On the same track, neu-folkie Roo Panes has a richly evocative voice but seemed more serious on the whole. And tucked away in the Village Inn was newish (since 2017) Dorset contemporary folk band Sorry About Shaun who are quickly making waves with their lively sets – and have added legendary former Van der Graaf Generator cellist Chas Dickie to their ranks.


Promising duo IDER kicked off main stage proceedings with electronic pop tunes. Great things are expected of them, apparently. Also, mark down the first time you heard stylish Goat Girl’s twanging, jangly post-pink guitar sounds.

No Larmer Tree is complete without Steve Knightley, half of Britain’s best folk roots duo Show of Hands. A packed ARC saw him in retrospective mood, on an aural autobiography of his musical life, with Dylan and Springsteen references aplenty.

The highly regarded Nick Mulvey also works in the folk roots world, a far cry from his days as drummer with jazz outfit Portico Quartet. Here he was is a simply joyous mood – perfect, mellow Sunday evening fare – spreading love across the lawn.

It was left to the immense Public Service Broadcasting to close proceedings for 2018 with a bang. Last seen here in 2014, the original nerd rock trio (now a quartet) have since added a sprinkle of showbiz to their driving hard rocking dance anthems– as well as augmenting their sound with a brass section.

It’s magical, infectious heavy rock played to a background of old information films, archive footage and propaganda material. It shouldn’t work, but it’s absolutely brilliant. And in Wrigglesworth, PSB have an absolute machine of a drummer

J Willgoose Esq and co’s latest offering Every Valley, about Wales’ disenfranchised miners, featured heavily, bit there was also room for old favourites from the space race, plus Spitfires, Everest and Titanic.