Neck Of The Woods 2022

Norwich has been home to a few festivals over the years and some still run like the excellent Wild Paths and NNF. The space at Earlham was often used for interestingly alternative free festivals in the 90’s but has more recently been seeing the one off mega targeted marketed money hoovering day fests that seem to permeate city events these days. Not that there is anything really wrong with these things, where else would you get to see Tony Hadley?Ah, but it is too easy to be cynical. I will admit that is how I felt when I saw the marketing for Neck Of the Woods; Cynical. They are just trying the same  thing for the indie crowd. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what then happened.

There wasn’t a lot to go on from the line up poster, but the choice of acts turned out to be excellent. There was a joy discovering new artists and listening to sets played by great bands in a nice environment. Some of this was down to the fact that the festival was not full, although turn out was good, there was still room to move. I think that may change as this festival establishes itself. For a start, we find, in a reasonably small area (practically one large park) there are five stages. This should have been a nightmare in outside acoustics but was actually managed really well with rarely overlapping performances. There was a main stage, an up- and coming tent. Also, a large covered stage for more raucous acts and two satellite stages to set up the vibe (one daringly on top of a double decker bus which was a nice touch and worked very well- all credit to the sound wizard).

I left the festival happy that I had not seen a bad act and I was only aware of a handful of the names before going. I hope the bookers keep this quality up in the years to come.

So on to the highlights

Opening with the amazing Lozeak channelling Avril Lavinge and Gaga, it was criminal to put them on first but those that saw them went home fans. Lottery Winners pogoed around the main stage to bring the party and get the mood set. The wondrous Beth McCarthy brought her A game to the Propaganda stage, one of my highlights of the day. Such a natural performer with an honesty and raw emotion. She writes fantastic songs and when she picked up the guitar she really pulled us into her world of (self-confessed) anguish.

Another highlight, Stone on the Waterfront stage. Excellent post punk thrash and some stunning tunes, incendiary poetry. Finlay is an amazingly engaging frontman and the band have serious chops. I am now a fan.

It’s a bit of a shame for The Snuts who I was looking forward to seeing but unfortunately were occupying similar territory and not doing it so well. They raised the main stage with their more rhythmic psychedelic aspects and certainly won the crowd over but I was still thinking about Stone. Then another new band (for me) that blew me away was The Academic. The songs were so tight and instant and such a great vibe coming from the guys. They reminded me of 90’s Teenage Fanclub and early Aztec Camera. Unfortunately some technical difficulties shortened the set but I will be back to see these guys.

Dodie takes to the main stage in her self knitted jumper of magnificent properties. Her glorious chamber pop and confessional songwriting expounded by strings and great musicianship from the band. She really has gravitas in her field and I hope she continues to be more and more successful as she establishes herself. Definitely my favourite main stage act.

Sea Girls get us all up and going with some Killer-esque but slightly generic indie rock but they do their job well.

I just got the feeling the audience didn’t take to DMA’s, or maybe there was drunk tiredness and lethargy striking at this point. I found them compelling and austere. Indie pop with interesting edges. The aussies looked a bit fraught at points but the songs sounded amazing on the main stage. Maybe a bit too glacial and wide for that crowd at that time. Last highlight was the excellent Kawala – unfortunately also a bit of a victim to this particular stage over running and having technical issues. There is an odd duo based songwriting core (almost Simon and Garfunkel-esque) with a lovely alternative whitewash. Great songs and a fine stage presence with singer Jim Higson and guitarist/singer Daniel McCarthy providing a stable centrepiece for the band to orbit around. Much recommended.

The Kooks headline, not my favourite band of the noughties but they bring the hits, rock hard and deliver that scally swagger that makes for a great end to a great day. Neck of the Woods has definitely got legs. My cynicism is slightly abated. I hope the money men and the marketing team deem it a success enough to warrant a second entry. However, I fear next time it will be much busier if word about this year’s success gets out among the serious alternative indie music fans of East Anglia.

Words and Photos by Mark Stimpson 

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Philip Goddard

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