Review: Storming Bastille – PennFest, Buckinghamshire, Saturday July 22

Review: Storming Bastille – PennFest, Buckinghamshire, Saturday July 22

Image: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.

Words by Sally Churchward.

It could, so easily, have been a wash out. The weather was definitely not on the side of festival-goers on the second day of PennFest in Buckinghamshire. Whilst the weather had been fairly kind to those watching the likes of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Johnny Marr the day before, no doubt some would-be festival goers looked at the ceaseless precipitation, decided to cut their losses and stayed away. 

But for those who donned their wellies and waterproofs, it was well worth it. In fact, there was an ‘all in it together’ spirit amongst those sheltering/partying in the various tents, including the sheltered VIP area, or braving the rain for the main stage and more, that arguably made it even more fun than if the sun had been blazing. Perhaps another reason was a lot of people had come because they were local and it was a social occasion, so they were there to socialise as well as for the music.

I’ve rarely chatted to so many strangers in such a short space of time, but found myself sharing a table, chips, and conversation with fellow festival-goers throughout the day. This was a fairly intimate festival. You could do a loop of the site in around 10 minutes and there were a smattering of food stalls to choose from.

Early main stage acts played their hearts out to small crowds braving the rain. The Bad Day rocked with catchy, punky guitar and drum-laden tracks. Beth Morris brought soulful danceable songs to the gathering on the barrier. 

Picture: Sally Churchward.

The Big Top and Warehouse tents were crowded, both because they offered shelter and because of the strong line up, particularly of DJs, they featured. A cry of ‘it’s time to get the festival started’ went up as a Bob Marley tribute struck up in the Big Top tent.There was little hope of getting inside The Warehouse once Brandon Block’s set was underway and likewise Craig Charles was playing to a packed house. The likes of Dick & Dom, DJ Fresh and Mr C also played to large crowds of partying festival-goers.

There was also a chance to see some emerging talent on the Introducing stage, and although that meant braving the rain, the intimate stage boasted an audience throughout the day.

Back on the main stage, Musical Youth saw one of the first bigger outdoor crowds of the day, willing to overlook the rainfor the chance to dance to some beautifully executed reggae and fun banter. The band played the likes of Wild World, Good Thing Going, Never Gonna Give You Up, The Youth of Today and, of course, their biggest hit. Frontman Dennis Seaton teased the crowd by promising a number 1 from 1982, before proceeding to play snatches of songs such as Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and Zoom, so that by the time they launched into the first bars of Pass the Dutchie, the crowd were whipped up and cheering. 

They were followed onto the main stage by Embrace, who it was clear many had specifically come to see, and understandably so. 

The band all looked delighted to be there, launching into the crowd pleaser, 1997’s All You Good Good People before frontman Danny McNamara invited the audience to sing along to Come Back To What You Know.

Picture: Sally Churchward.

“If you know the words sing along, or just sing the bits you know and then go ‘la la,’ it’s what I do anyway,” he joked.

Danny went onto marvel at the fact that their first album, The Good Will Out was released 25 years ago and dedicated Nature’s Law to all the fans who have been with the band since, noting that he recognised a number of familiar faces in the crowd. 

He later observed that when it rains heavily there are the people who decide not to bother and those who say “it’s raining, f*ing have it,” which the audience was made up of, and dedicated Gravity to us all.

The finale came much too soon, with the crowd more than happy to follow Danny’s request to jump up and down on the chorus of Ashes. The band looked like they’d had a great time and the buzzing audience certainly had. 

Corrinne Bailey Rae was second from the top of the bill and showcased stunning vocals that transported the crowd from a very wet Buckinghamshire field with sunny Sunday afternoon vibes. It was music to warm your soul and she couldn’t have looked happier to be sharing the day with the audience as she played her own songs along with the likes of Bob Marley’s Is This Love, noting that everyone can get behind his message of peace and love.

Picture: Sally Churchward.

At her invitation, the crowd joined in on Trouble Sleeping but the big hitter was always going to be Put Your Records On, which had the crowd cheering and screaming as she showcased her incredible voice. Corrine looked delighted and touched by the huge reaction she deservedly had. 

Bastille were the Saturday night headliners. They started big with massive crowd pleaser Good Grief, showcasing their signature style of sombre subject matter contrasted with an incredibly upbeat tune.

Frontman Dan Smith was leaping all over the stage from the outset, with energy that belied the fact that the band are well through their Bad Blood X tour and had been in the Netherlands the night before.

His energy was matched by the rest of the band, with special mention for touring band member Charlie Barnes, whose ability to do a head over heels whilst playing a plugged-in electric guitar is simply mind-boggling. Keyboard player Kyle Simmons was similarly energetic and the crowd were right there with them, jumping, clapping and singing along from the first note to the last of the entire set. 

This festival set was a contrast to the Bad Blood X tour, which sees Bastille’s debut album in order, before moving on to some favourites although there was plenty of crossover. 

The band drew on all their albums to play a crowd-pleasing set of big hitters. Good Grief was followed up by What You Gonna Do??? and Things We Lost in the Fire. 

The rain poured down but no one seemed to care except, perhaps, for those standing behind people with umbrellas – at least bassist and more Will Farquarson seemed to think this might be the case, lightheartedly taking time to describe the stage show for those who couldn’t actually see it. 

Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.

He later took to the mic to share that ahead of the Bad Blood X tour he’d had to go online to find tutorials of how to play these early songs, as he’d actually forgotten, before introducing the title track.

Later, Dan introduced Doom Days saying it felt quite depressing but also suitable for the weather adding, ironically, that it was “classically upbeat and happy” (spoiler alert for the uninitiated – it really isn’t). It would have taken more than apocalyptic subject matter to bring down this crowd.

Dan is known for going on a walkabout in the audience and despite the mud bath the crowd was standing in, this was no different, though he did pop off to change out of his trainers to some more practical wellies and a hoodie, before disappearing into the crowd singing Flaws.

Seasoned Bastille fans could be spotted when they heard the opening bars of The Draw and got their hands in position above their heads to form Bastille’s trademark Δ shape and draw them backwards during the chorus. For those who weren’t sure what to do, Woody was on hand to lead the crowd like some kind of low-key rock/indie/genre-dodging Jane Fonda. 

Other tracks – all crowd-pleasers – included Quarter Past Midnight, Of the Night, Weight of Living Pt 2, and an even more upbeat than normal take on Happier.

Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.

Dan was joined on No Angels by the incredibly talented Bim Amoako, one of the band’s regular backing singers, along with Senab Adekunle. Her voice is stunning and her soaring vocals stood in perfectly for Ella Eyre, who sung on the original and who joined Bastille last week at Alexandra Palace.

Whilst the Bad Blood X tour kicks off with Bastille’s best known and most anthemic hit, for a festival crowd, Pompeii made a fitting big end. 

This version began stripped back and slowed before launching into the familiar sing along track, featuring Woody’s unmistakable drums with the whole field singing “eh eheu, eheu,” 

Objectively it might be surprising that an imagined conversation featuring a smattering of Latin between a couple of people caught up in the Pompeii disaster would be such a huge, sing along, jump along hit but that’s part of the eclectic individuality that makes Bastille such a success. 

Anyone who had wondered if it was worth braving the mud and rain would have known they’d 100 percent made the right decision as the final bars played and the band waved and walked off to rapturous applause. 

For some, the night was over, making their way to their tent or home through the mud. For others, there was more partying to be had in the tents, courtesy of DJ Luck & MC Neat and M Blaze.

PennFest is an intimate, diverse festival that’s definitely worth getting your wellies on for. 


*Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, our reporter due to visit PennFest on Friday was unable to attend. Friday’s line up featured Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Johnny Marr, Gaz Coombes, local crowd pleasers Dizzy Fish, The Cuban Brothers, Artful Dodger, Bad Manners and many more.

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Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.


Picture: Sally Churchward.



Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.
Picture: Sally Churchward.
Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.
Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.
Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.
Picture: Sally Churchward
Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.
Picture: © GigshotZ – Chris Elliott.


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