What better way to spend the summer than at a music festival? You get to see the bands you love, discover new favourites, have a few drinks and soak in some sun while you do it. Well, that’s the idea isn’t it? In reality, the sound is often terrible, the site’s a glorified swamp and you are so far behind a sea of flags that you can only tell who’s on from watching the giant screen.
On Saturday, we chose an altogether more civilised option and headed to the glorious Westonbirt Arboritum to catch Tom Odell (and friends) as part of the Forestry Commission’s “Forest Live”. It’s a rather smaller, shorter and altogether tamer experience but I’m finding it increasingly hard to knock the clear sightlines, clean toilets and a total absence of spaced-out crusties. A younger me might have missed the chaos but that guy was an idiot anyway – this? this is the life.
Alfie Connor started things off but seemed a little low key from where we were watching. Described as “a breakout artist to watch” on the forestry website, I’d go for “pretty good but hard to remember much except he sounded very like Luke Pritchard from the Kooks”. Many either agreed or were just too engrossed in their picnics to notice but the applause was warm and frequent and I’m sure I’ll be eating my words soon enough. Rae Morris was next up and her arrival stirred the place to life with a set of summery pop and hazy reflection all delivered by an ethereal, Bjork-y voice (she’s actually from Blackpool) ready-made for the setting.
And then, shortly after 9pm, Tom Odell came on stage and a forest instantly becomes a church. With an early setlist including new song “Friday Night” and some of the biggest tracks from his award winning debut album, the show is full of energy and an intoxicating mix of rock, blues and almost gospel. Experienced live and up-close, songs like Hold Me and Can’t Pretend show off Tom’s incredible voice better than any recording ever could. However, it’s the tightness of the band and their gorgeous multi-part harmonies that really impress – and it helps that they seem to be having the time of their lives too.
Later, as the dark takes over, the pace and mood changes with a stripped-back string of ballads haunting the summer air. Heal, and new songs Somehow and Constellations see various members of the band leave the stage until we are left with just Tom, a piano and his mesmerising cover of Real Love (or “the penguin song” as the moron in front of us insisted on shouting). Finally, with the audience in an expectant hush it was time to pick things up again for a barnstorming finish to send the crowds home buzzing.
An amazing voice, a beautiful setting and a wonderful show. I wonder what the NME would make of it?