Review Round-up: Wickham Festival, 3 – 6 August 2023

Review Round-up: Wickham Festival, 3 – 6 August 2023

Words by Lewis MacLean and photos by Graham Hiley

My first time at Wickham was almost overshadowed by the remoteness of the place, which turned out to be a key ingredient in the beauty of the experience.

As I arrived at neighbouring Wickham Square, I already felt like I was on holiday, and walking to the festival at the top of the hill, I really felt the quiet country lanes soothe me.

Eventually I realised how strong an ingredient this is for a successful festival – a remote field that is still a healthy walking distance from nearest civilisation. I had heard lots of scattered recommendations for Wickham festival over the years so it was nice to finally get there.

The Zombies

Arriving Saturday afternoon to a ready-made sea of mud made me question my own stupidity as I looked down at my everyday shoes, however, there was music waiting so I plodded on tenderly trying to starve my inevitable fall and mud-caking.

The mud was widely reported in the media as some sort of biblical omen, but most sources failed to mention that it only really affected the space between the main stages and food stalls.

There was still plenty of traversable festival out there, especially at the Cave Stage at the bottom of the hill.

My second favourite aspect of Wickham was the perfect amount of space. Those who confined themselves to the main two stages might not have noticed this, but barely a minute away there were other avenues of entertainment.

There were local traders placed thoughtfully in the middle lanes to give space for shopping but also provide access to the tearooms and games playrooms on the other side.

Eric Bibb

Personally, I like the smaller independent festivals. I have been seeking a replacement since the disappearance of Blissfields, and Wickham Music Festival is a worthy replacement.

And, with less commercial appeasement to an industry increasingly obsessed with visual materialism – Wickham seemed like a worthy venture for the fan of music in general.

The Cave Stage

Placed at the bottom of the hill in what seemed to be the unofficial chill-out area, the Cave Stage was home to a lot of local artists this weekend, and it was off to a great start Thursday night with the Laurence Henderson (and/or) Milly Thimaras band following Ben Dlugokecki.

Friday saw local Southampton singer/songwriter, Rob Clamp, wow the crowd as he does regularly and Bobrats finished the evening off.

On Saturday afternoon, I saw the Calum Lintott band grace the stage, and they got things going with a high energy performance. Frontman, Calum, engaged the audience with banter in-between introducing some impressive new songs.

Hopefully they will return again next year to a later timeslot.

After them a young collection of musicians called Beyond the Sons kept up the momentum and definitely showed some promise.

Across from the Cave Stage there was another music stage hosted by St.Vincent College, with various music college students showcasing some interesting performances though out the weekend.

Fishermans Friends

I caught a mind blowing performance from Tom Davies and the Bluebells paying kick-ass blues guitar, while seemingly just warming up – as they launched into their own self written songs that met the quality of any Peter Green, Gary Moore or Stevie Ray Vaughan fans – with riffs that evolved into some elaborate chord progressions whilst respectfully staying on the right side of progressive rock.

Acoustic Stage – Saturday afternoon local singer-songwriter, Steve Lowis followed on from Twisted Fiddle in keeping a fast-growing crowd entertained with a busy selection of covers (cleverly using Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire to distract us from the cold muddy water outside, with the prospect of heat).

Steve is a bit of a ringer when it comes to covers, but I do wonder how many of the audience know how great his own songs are.

Rumour had it there was some form of banjo prejudice going on at the Wickham Festival – this is possibly a clash of rockabilly tendencies at a folk music festival, but I will use folk as a generic default setting in this review – however, without them the acoustic stage would have been a lot less impressive this weekend.

The last act on Saturday was Devil’s Damned Strong Band: both the high quality of their music and the dedication to the integrity of folk music cannot be understated, or even easily explained.

However, the visible happiness of the crowd as they jigged and danced to the music, does easily explain how great their set was.

Crowd at Wickham

On the same stage Sunday afternoon, Rooster Tooth had a similar encounter of banjo prejudice, but they also were the second act to utilise a banjo for a laid back set of equally impressive quality of folk music (technically rockabilly).

I highly recommend catching both of them if you can.

The Second Stage

Seeming to offer something for richer musical tastes, the selection of acts on the Second Stage seemed to oppose yet complement the established commercial acts of the mainstage.

I wandered across at various times throughout the weekend, and for some reason there always seemed to be violin 24/7 – I did wonder if it was the same person all weekend.

A key issue at music festivals is not being everywhere all at once, so I often found myself dipping in and out of this stage – but a few acts stood out.

I caught the Trouble Notes on Saturday and they had a classical feel about them, likewise on Sunday afternoon the Electric Swing Circus had a similar reception from the audience, but there was a hefty folk-laced comedy cabaret presence when Merry Hill played – their song ‘Bury me Naked’ echoed across a crowd of swaying arms, and a chance for a moment of profound reflection on the muddy Sunday afternoon.

The Dhol Foundation

Sunday was a particularly strong day for Southampton artists with Nick Tann and the Whole Family.

Nick Tann has played Wickham before as a solo acoustic artist and has returned with a full backing band. He loved it so much he brought his family with him this time, including long lost bassist (that’s amazing!).

Nick has been writing decent songs for years and with a dedicated and talented band behind them, they get to unleash a layer of repressed funk to get the crowds dancing.

The expectation of the crowd was high now and, for most,  it would be daunting to follow a full band with a solo acoustic set,  but luckily Jonny Moody has always done things his own way.

Armed with his guitar, his voice and his greatest instrument… his personality – Johnny held the fort nicely.

His unique cover of Oasis’s Wonderwall takes away the pain of having to hear Wonderwall at all. He could easily claim this rendition as his own, and whilst he seemed reluctant to sing his own songs, his song, Blue, turned out to be highlight of his set.

The Daniel Eagle Band – who have a gig at Heartbreakers later this week – followed and everything suddenly became really classy.

The frontman engaged with the audience and somehow managed to coax the crowd to the front and the atmosphere became very genuine, paving the way nicely for the next act – Electric Eden – to take the reins and play two encores at the fierce request of the newly converted barn dancing audience.

To say the crowd loved it was an understatement.

The immense power behind this duo of violin and guitar, with the occasional guest appearance from Dan Eagle, has been witnessed on many weekends at the Cricketers Arm in Bedford Place, Southampton.

A fruit of the ongoing relationship between The Cricketers and agency, Zeus Bookings – I honestly didn’t think the evening could get any better.

The Saw Doctors

The Main stage

The Main Stage was host to the established acts playing the Festival, and aside from The Saw Doctors headlining Friday night, the stage suffered a bit of a blow when The Proclaimers cancelled their Saturday night appearance.

I often found it difficult to climb the hill and sail across the muddy sea to get to the main stage, but I did get to catch the Fisherman’s Friends on Saturday and The South on Sunday.

It was nice to hear some recognisable songs to raise the spirits as I came up for air.

However, Sunday night was back on form when I strolled over to see Toyah Wilcox and Robert Fripp – having seen them at Isle of Wight Festival, I knew what was in store, but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of hearing Toyah’s unique rendition of David Bowie, Black Sabbath and Billy Idol songs anyway.

If anything, I appreciated being able to actually get into the tent this time.

[Link to IOW review]

Midge Ure finished off the Sunday night in top form to a fond crowd eagerly awaiting his every note.

He played by far his biggest hit, Vienna, half way through the set, so it suggested he wasn’t anticipating an encore, but my patience was rewarded when I waited for Dancing with Tears in Their Eyes.

Not only does Midge’s infectious niceness wash over the crowd, after all he is one of the men behind Live Aid, but it’s easy to forget how influential Midge’s music has been.

A whole audience of people growing up to discover iconic bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division, but perhaps not yet discovering the importance of Ultravox.

I saw a few young faces in the crowd so perhaps their musical journey will have began last night.

Midge Ure

At such a relatively small festival like Wickham, you will always miss someone that could likely be your new favourite musical offering as even the most diligent observer can visit each stage but miss something.

Even if you didn’t include the artists on the main stage, Wickham is exceptional value for money though, especially if you are not fussed about loud and chaotic dance music (which won’t be there at a folk music festival anyway).

But if you ARE fussed about spending a few days relaxing, wandering around with no expectations to see what music pops up and surprises your tastes, and looking for a place to bring the family for a less extortionate price range than most commercial festivals – then Wickham festival is probably for you.

Regrets: I wish I had caught the Lost Post, Dan O ‘Farrell and Luke Garnes on Friday at the Acoustic Stage and The Dhol Foundation on the Second Stage Friday night – but so much, so little time.

I also wish I had spent more time relaxing at the Twisted Tearoom and enjoying some of the impromptu musical jams by the fire.

To purchase tickets for Wickham Music Festival 2024, visit:

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