Up And Coming Festival Poltimore Is An Essential

by James Wijesinghe

Photo credit: Poltimore Festival.

Our taxi curled into the romantic shadow of Poltimore House, its scaffold-smothered stature would be an emblem for the festival’s essence of collaboration and support. The soul choir’s radiant sound check coaxed us through the gates and into the heart of that Eden, where our faces were baptised with sparkles from the ‘Glitter Barrow’.

This was not a festival just for incredible sounds. Theatre, spoken word, film, art, laser tag and much more were all on offer. Along with plenty of quirky local food and drink venders, all your favourite front-of-forum eateries were looking a lot better amongst the trees and ribbons than in front of the INTO building. We ventured forwards into the Enchanted Woods where Enid Blyton’s novel of the same name was being adapted joyfully into theatre at the humble Tree Stage. I later had a spoken word appearance there. Embarking further through these woodlands of rainbows we stumbled across a patch of fallen tombstones. Upon closer inspection they appeared to be yoga mats. They would later become the death-beds for those attempting to twist their bodies like Rubik’s Cubes. Lastly, the university’s slacklining society could be found tricking betwixt the trees at the far end of the Enchanted Woods.

Despite its brightness and bounciness, the bouncy castle was dwarfed by Poltimore House. Inside the derelict delight, visitors could find the unique Courtyard Stage, corridors of artwork, film screenings and theatre, all in the chipboard realms of the house. This was a perfect opportunity to escape the midday rain that had begun to soak into the hay bales but not dampen our spirits. Delmer Darion are an electronic production duo that I was particularly looking forward to seeing (see to Poltimore preview http://pearshapedexeter.com/poltimore-festival-2/), following their performance at Poltimore Festival’s launch event with Private Agenda. Their ethereal set featured a rendition of Can’t Stop which samples Helena C-J’s cover of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ original, and as their glistening synths swelled in the room, a transfixed audience was spellbound.

Psychopomp, (esteemed winners of Battle of the Bands), also gave an incredible performance at the Courtyard Stage. The possessed dancing of their frontman Matt is as essential to the music as each of the instruments. Another band that saw success in Battle of the Bands were Chiara and the Vu. Yet despite not winning the competition, they found themselves on the main stage. A funky five-piece nonetheless. Perhaps the most touching set was The Little Unsaid, where the modesty and strength of the wounded building was a perfect coupling with the intimate singer-songwriter. Outside on the Lawn Stage, Pattern Pusher took over the audience (literally), as they charged through the crowd picking up a massive conga-like-line during the jubilant performance – leading a charge towards their upcoming EP release.

As the Cornish cider coursed through our veins, the coils of fairy lights spiralled amongst the branches of the garden. The final piece of theatre had finished in the Chapel and a throng of anticipation built around the Lawn Stage. Matthew and the Atlas, our headliners, were to perform the final set after Haunt the Woods. Matt and his band have been described as ‘the British Bon Iver’, but on this night, the profound uniqueness of the artist left him unparalleled. The band even huddled into the crowd to perform an acoustic rendition of Come Out Of The Woods, in what might have been the most poignant moment next to Poltimore House. The essences of both hurt and hope lay tickly between the artist and the building. Children danced with ribbons. Everyone danced with smiles.

Poltimore Festival is an essential Devon festival. It’s growing every year, having been developed from Arts On The Move Festival, and now represents both the hard work of students, and humanity. Go for the music. Go for the poetry. Go for Poltimore House and Grounds. But certainly go for the Pollock-ed bathtub and the guarantee of fun.