LARMER Tree Festival this year was one of great contrast – Friday’s hugely inclement weather which put a dampener on proceedings gave way to Saturday’s stunning sunshine to dry things out, lift the mood for a space-themed fancy dress day and bring back the festival buzz. The vibe continued to take off well into Sunday night.

It was a brave move to have acclaimed performance poet Kate Tempest headline Saturday night as the ranty Londoner is not everyone’s cup of verse, but here she was, on her own first festival headlining gig, accompanied by regular collaborator Hinako Omori on keyboards and a throbbing bassline so deep you could feel it thudding through you.

I marvel at her ability to remember so many lines and to encourage dancing to her earlier works before plunging into her new work The Book Of Traps And Lessons, Stirring stuff, which was well appreciated.

What a contrast to the genteel Kate Adie who, earlier in the day was being interviewed about her life and work.

And the great thing about this festival is that there is always something else to see. The excellent retro r’n’b of True Strays provided an excellent alternative in The Social, a more intimate, tented stage.

And then there was Southampton’s effervescent BASH! In the Village Inn (or main bar as we sometimes call it), a venue providing the best place for showcasing local bands, such as Salisbury veterans Passenger Club, the inimitable Pronghorn and Hampshire’s Lady Winwood’s Maggot.

Incomparable, gnarled veterans Gomez would have made excellent headliners. Their early evening set of extended grooves topped with the contrasting voices of the ursine Ben Ottewell and guitarist Ian Ball was perfect festival fare – and they even brought on folk guitarist John Smith for a couple of numbers, as well as their children to dance.

The Wave Pictures, a trio producing a mighty big sound, were Main Stage highlights and Czech band Circus Brothers proved that the popularity of the klezmer-style Balkan genre shows no sign of slowing. Despite sounding a little ragged, London Astrobeat Orchestra channelled Talking Heads with enthusiasm.

The mighty beatrapping duo Antipoet were at their anarchic best in a crowded shelter in the pouring rain as a set of intermittently child-friendly familiar favourites – We Play For Food, Gimp Night and the sublime Wrong Question – mixed with excellent new material, quite literally went down a storm. Larmer without punk poet Paul Eccentric and double bassist Ian Newman, who is currently starring in a TV advert for Haribo, just wouldn’t be the same. They were just as good two days later.

Sadly, Sunday’s headliner Jack Savoretti was forced to cry off with tonsillitis, but perennial Larmer favourite, the pianoman Tom Odell stepped into the breach with his usual crowd-pleasing set full of gusto and even an attempt at a Savoretti cover. He certainly didn’t phone it in, as might have been expected from a late replacement.

He was preceded by the excellent KT Tunstall, an artiste successfully looping when ginger Ed was still in nappies, who appeared as part of an all-female trio and included a cover of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down amid all her hits.

A Sunday surprise was discovering that Manchester chanteuse Ren Harvieu’s band included Romeo and Michele Stodart from The Magic Numbers. They liaised after Romeo saw her on Jools Holland’s TV programme and got in touch.

And there must be an honourable mention for Scottish poet and stand-up comedian Elvis McGonagall, who is just tremendous.

As ever, there’s much too much on to take in everything, but my festival highlight came by happenchance. Taking shelter from the rain we came across folk singer and activist Grace Petrie whose slot had been rescheduled from the following day. What a find.

Petrie has been operating a little under the radar since 2010 with her emotive and powerful protest songs, but really should be better known. She performs with warmth, conviction and great humour and her style is best described as the female Frank Turner mixed with Chris Wood and hints of Billy Bragg, and there can’t be much higher praise for a folkie.

Larmer Tree is evolving, it’s now firmly a three-and-a-half day event, founder James Shepard is no longer fully involved, a few things have been shifted around, venues altered (the ARC is now the slightly smaller Peacock Palace with chairs removed), a cinema has been added, the treatment/spa section has moved to a better, more spacious area and workshops have proliferated to the nth degree (‘gong bath’ or ‘doodling does you good’ anyone?).

However, the quirky, family friendly feel of this boutique festival remains intact, delightful art installations have burgeoned and can be found in the most unexpected places – the trail of broken instruments in the woods is stunning.

The expansion deeper into the wilds is welcome, the legion of volunteers and staff continue to be the most affable anywhere, pleasingly single use plastic bottles are not sold anywhere and, thankfully, the main stage PA is loud enough to drown out those irritating audience members whose idea of a good time is to chat throughout a set.

Here’s to 2020 and the 30th anniversary festival.