Started by six friends in 2007 as an “antidote to the massive mainstream festivals” – and boy at that time did we need it – 2000 Trees has grown to become one of the best medium-sized festivals in the country, now capped at a 10,000 capacity. While the musical line-up is broadly based around the founders’ love of alternative rock, in truth it’s far more eclectic, especially the many smaller stages dotted around Upcote Farm, with everything from hardcore screamo to acoustic sessions in a fairy-light lit forest.
The sunshine immediately leads us to the Main Stage where Imperial Leisure already have the crowd bouncing with their buoyant saxophone-led tunes, including a triumphant cover of ‘Jump Around’, to which the masses happily oblige.
A quick pit stop sees the melancholic Wallflower open their set at the adjacent Neu Stage, before heading to The Cave – normally the home of the heavier bands at the festival – for something altogether punkier. It’s only after insisting on playing the entire length of ‘Stacey’s Mum’ for their walk-on song that Nervus appear, but it’s certainly a fun mood that continues throughout. Mega hit ‘Sick Sad World’ lands first, and sets the tone for a great half hour of fun. ‘Skipping Needle’ sees a fan who recently covered the song online get up with the band to play guitar, and by finale ‘It Follows’ they invite the whole audience onto the near-breaking stage for one big dance. A hard act to follow, and an early highlight of the whole weekend.
Not to worry though, as, over at The Axiom – today hosting festival-regular Jamie Lenman’s ‘Lenmania II’ takeover – Brighton’s Orchards keep the momentum going with giant inflatable pink rubber rings and plenty of tunes to dance to. In what has been their breakthrough year, it’s great to see a crowd singing all the words back at them. There’s even enough mutual respect for guitarist Sam Rushton to walk off pretending there’s no time left for closer ‘Luv You 2’, before returning to strike the now infamous opening riff to a fully appreciative audience.
As you’d expect from a rock festival, it doesn’t take long for things to get heavy again, albeit not in quite the way you’d expect. As acoustic singer-songwriter Brightr explains over at the Forest Stage, he’s had a difficult couple of years, culminating in the release of his downbeat EP ‘Two Sides’. It makes for a melancholic half hour, but is rescued by a pleasingly triumphant rendition of ‘We’. “Those who know me will know this song” he says, and indeed many do to end on a much happier note.
The desperately fashionable YONAKA are next up at the Main Stage. Heading from Brighton (where else) their stage presence is that of a big band already, and – with her bright blue hair and eagerness to join the crowd at the first opportunity – in Theresa Jarvis, a front woman who means business. While ‘Fired Up’ is easily their most complete song, it’s the range on tracks like ‘F.W.T.B’ – from hardcore to psychedelia – that really showcases the band’s potential.
After some food at one of the excellent stalls, there’s just enough time to catch the end of De Staat, with the tribal bass-thumping sound of ‘Witch Doctor’ leading into the excellent ‘KITTY KITTY’, which could easily be the bastard child of Rage Against The Machine and Jurassic 5.
As the dying sounds of Turnstile playing ‘Gravity’ ring out from the Main Stage, it’s over to the Word tent for the first of the newly-expanded three nights of comedy at 2000 Trees this year. Cited by one of the acts themselves as “One of the nicest festivals to play”, it’s easy to see why in such relaxed atmosphere complete with deckchairs and straw bales, expertly MC’ed by Rich Massara. Tonight sees a variety of performers including the dry but surreal Tom King, who ends up covering his beard in Bovril, David Hoare and his witty musical comedy, and whirlwind ‘mum on a night out’ banter of Lindsey Santoro.
If you’re after a festival band who always deliver then look no further than Flogging Molly. Even though this is a well-versed crowd, the beauty of their Irish drinking songs is that everyone can’t help but join in with the frivolity. From the opening catchy violin riff of ‘(No More) Paddy’s Lament’ the dancing starts, and continues through classics like ‘Drunken Lullabies’ and ‘Devil’s Dance Floor’. With such an array of personnel and instrumentalists on-stage, all seemingly having the time of their lives, the band themselves are endlessly infectious. Led by the master of ceremonies, frontman Dave King, it’s a beautifully orchestrated party, ending with a perfectly juxtaposed bittersweet ‘If I Ever Leave This World Alive’ before one last skank to ‘The Seven Deadly Sins.
It’s fair to say that headliner Frank Turner has come quite a long way since he topped the bill at the first 2000 Trees in 2007. Back then, his breakthrough album ‘Love, Ire & Song’ was only a few months old, and he was playing solo shows virtually every night following his departure from Million Dead. While the work ethic is still the same, these days he’s now very much Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, backed by his excellent band, and has propelled himself far past being, in his own words, “some skinny half-arsed English country singer”.
With a very distinctive and choreographed stage set-up – a clean and white aesthetic, including Matt Nasir’s solid white-fronted keyboard, set against the band dressed in their now customary black and white – it’s all very polished. The same can be said for the tunes – with only a 70 minute slot, this is very much a greatest hits set against the clock. We start with ‘Get Better’ and race through all the big guitar singalongs. Usual crowd favourite ‘Photosynthesis’ comes early, and, even without the usual breakdown, still finds time for the sit down/jump up participation from those watching.
Of course it’s that crowd connection and fun side that has made Frank Turner a star today, even if his current pop leanings could be said to be quite a stretch from the punk folk troubadour of all those years ago. For those fans, more is to come later in the night, but for now we get songs like ‘Little Changes’ with its arena-style call and response “woahs woahs” and dance-move instructions. Only new single ‘Sister Rosetta’ brings some respite in the usual acoustic section. By the time the band return for the end of ‘Be More Kind’ there’s no let up with ‘The Next Storm’ rolling straight into ‘Try This at Home’ and then ‘Recovery’.
Time is so short that ‘Four Simple Words’ ditches its usual piano-led opening, going straight into the mosh pit section, which is exactly where Frank heads. As he disappears into the crowd, it’s not the last we’ll see of him tonight, but for now it’s been an electric and hectic set, and a triumphant return.
Having missed his set earlier in the day, it’s good to catch Holiday Oscar over at Camp Reuben once the main stages have finished. Long a tradition of 2000 Trees, the stages in the campsites – whether simply a platform under a banner, or in this case a tiny round tent – are one of the beautifully unique things about the festival. Going mic-free, it’s a struggle to hear against the adjacent fairground, but his soothing crooner voice manages to just about rise above the chart music backdrop. His style is split into what he calls “sad songs and happy songs”, but he focuses firmly on the latter with excellent renditions of ‘I Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ and ‘Creative Occupations’.
Next it’s over to Camp Turner for their Open Mic night. All day there’s only been one name actually listed on the chalk board by the stage, that of “Giant Fucking Moth” at 00.30. After some impressive tunes from the stage regulars as well as drop-in punters, as many had guessed, at some point after midnight a tall hooded figure emerges. Sure it’s that of the eponymous Frank Turner, back for some late-night acoustic fun.
If his earlier set could have been accused of pandering to the more mainstream crowd, this is very much a gift for the older fans. Opening with his first solo song ‘The Real Damage’, there’s then a hugely charged singalong to political rant ‘Love, Ire & Song’, before we’re treated to something more light-hearted in B-side ‘Hits & Mrs’, ‘Wessex Boy‘ and his cover of “the most perfect song ever written” ‘The Outdoor Type’, all with note-perfect backing vocals from the small gathered crowd.
Fan favourite acoustic album tracks ‘The Opening Act of Spring’ and ‘Don’t Worry’ follow in what has been an incredibly intimate set full of laughs, anecdotes and fun, with a huge amount of respect from the crowd. For all the Main Stage bravado and success, it feels like he’s equally at home here, which is great to see. “Is everyone having a nice time? That’s all that matters.” he says before launching into final song – and, in this situation, the only song he could end with – ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.
It’s an emotional end, lauding the festival and his mate Larry – “When I wrote this song nobody gave a fuck about what I do with the exception of about 8 people, one of whom was Larry”. In a weekend of singalongs, it’s easily the most heartfelt, and the huge smile on Frank’s face says it all.
Derry’s The Wood Burning Savages kick things off for a sunshine-filled Friday with their protesting political punk on the Main Stage – and for once with cause for celebration as ‘Lusitania’ is dedicated to the recent news of the Northern Ireland Government passing a bill to allow same-sex marriage.
Over in The Forest, it’s nice to see Gaz Brookfield back to his roots playing solo, stripped back without his recent full band accompaniment. Despite some sound issues it’s a welcome return, albeit one quickly curtailed by the first of several clashes of the day.
With that in mind it’s over to Brand New Friend in the Axiom. The Castlerock sibling-led band are what might be described as ‘geek punk’, albeit young, full of energy, vitality and potential. Lead by an irresistible dual male/female vocal and flanked by pastel pink and baby blue guitars, they’ve got the style and sound to become something really big, and, in ‘Girl’, a hit early Blondie or even Bowling For Soup would be proud of.
In a busy afternoon the clashes continue, so it’s a whirlwind couple of hours that takes in various acts including the Corrine Bailey Rae comparable Gemma Bradley in the Forest, Oxygen Thief covering ‘Pass Out’ in the Axiom and itoldyouiwouldeatyou at the Neu Stage. The latter impress, and while frontman’s Joey Ashworth’s bleached blonde hair is gone, he remains distinctive with his characteristic round glasses, and white and pink ‘Fight Back’ G.L.O.S.S. t-shirt, bouncing around the stage as his bandmates shadow him all dressed in black. While ‘Gold Rush’ sees him sing the song down the front in amongst the fans, the standout moment is a huge singalong to the infamous coda of ‘Young American’.
Over at the Axiom, Sean McGowan is a man whose style has somewhat altered over the last couple of years. While last year he was covering Billy Bragg over on the acoustic stage, now he’s more comparable to Jamie T at his poppiest. Playing with a full band, as per recent debut album ‘Son of the Smith’, it’s a much different sound that is appreciated by a busy crowd in the tent.
After a break due to incarceration – not something you hear every day – The Dangerous Summer are back as a three-piece. It seems to have done nothing to dampen their polished stadium sound, which considering frontman AJ Perdomo says he was “off his tits at the silent disco” the night before, and seemingly still now, is even more impressive.
In a nice juxtaposition, Hampshire four-piece Indigo Lo take to the Neu Stage immediately after with their lo-fi vibe. Reluctant frontman Joe Grimshaw and his long bleached hair bring an obvious Nirvana comparison, but in truth their sound is more a mix of White Lies, and, even on ‘Reload’, Soft Cell.
In an afternoon of quick gear changes, there’s time to catch a little bit of the current iteration of Plymouth’s punk band Crazy Arm tearing up the Xtra Mile takeover at Axiom Stage, before heading to see the end of Cavetown and his melodic acoustic tunes as afternoon sun creeps through the trees in the Forest. The highlight, as always, is his rendition of Toy Story’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’, which is the cutest thing anyone will see all weekend.
Forgiving them for the ridiculous dollar sign in their name – Angel Du$t soon have The Cave bouncing to their pop punk and 90’s grunge crossover, while over at The Axiom Jim Lockey & the Solemn Sun strolls on to ‘Boys Are Back In Town’ in what seems to be the start of something special, returning after several years away, and now once again under their original name. Opening with ‘A Song About Death’ to a full tent, it’s an instant huge singalong, with a frontman who is clearly glad to be back – after all, it was only five years ago he proclaimed to this festival that he’d never play these songs again.
For some respite from both the music and the sun, it’s over to the comfy deckchairs of the Word stage albeit backed by the overriding sound of Pulled Apart By Horses blaring out from the main stage. First up is some Spoken Word and poetry, including verses about there being love in taking the bins out, men’s mental health (‘Yes, we get sad too’) and being a single dad. This is swiftly followed by the awfully named Comic Sans Script, a Cheltenham improv doing various skits and games borrowed from Whose Line Is It Anyway and Mock The Week. Unlike the edited TV shows, watching it in realtime is always a bit hit and miss, but it’s worth it for some excellent laughs scattered throughout.
Much like the previous sound clash, once The Wildhearts start up on the main stage it’s pretty much game over for the Word tent. While a perfectly serious band, compared to a lot of the more young raw emotion of the DIY acts over the weekend, this is certainly more tongue-in-cheek Dad Rock from Newcastle’s elder statesmen. That said, amongst the Status Quo-esque crunching guitar riffs and elongated solos, they do have one true singalong in ‘Let Them Go’, made all the better by special guest vocals from the ubiquitous Frank Turner.
Like many of the smaller acts at this festival, Skinny Lister are one with a huge cult following gained from relentless touring. The mosh pit starts from the opening beat of new lead single ’38 minutes’ and never relents. One of the band’s best assets is their variety, ranging from the traditional piratey sea-shanty sounds of ‘John Kanaka’, to indie hits ‘Geordie Lad’ and ‘Wanted’, and anything else you can skank to in-between. The usual flagon of rum is passed around the crowd, who are joined by vocalist Lorna Thomas to lead the dancing and do some crowdsurfing. By the time traditional closer ‘Six Whiskies’ rings out, the pit is replaced by hundreds of people linked arm in arm, swaying along – a perfect ending to one of the best sets of the whole festival.
For a completely different pace it’s back to the Forest for Mull Historical Society who is joined by Suede guitarist-turned-producer Bernard Butler. In truth it’s a far tamer collaboration than it suggests, and probably one misplaced for this time of day.
The same can’t be said of the headliners – a quick flypast of Möngöl Hörde topping the bill at the Axiom Stage reveals frontman Frank Turner in an incredibly sparkly waistcoat and glittered face. Naturally it’s a mixed crowd full of his solo fans as well, and as such sees a fairly light-hearted take on the hardcore band ethic.
It’s then over to the second half of headliners You Me At Six at the Main Stage. They are a hard act to pin down – one of a handful of UK bands that came out of the US teen punk rock era of bands like Fallout Boy and All Time Low. Always a strange premise – they do at times seem like a parody, none more so than when pre-encore closer ‘Reckless‘ appears instantly to have been directly stolen from The Killers ‘When We Were Young’. Luckily this is something the band have recognised and incorporate the original into the final few bars.
Afterwards it’s over to the Word tent for some comedy from dry Scot Stephen Carlin, with a (possibly too) sophisticated routine about his rural childhood village being incredibly progressive and having “the highest rate of homosexuality in the UK”, based on the schoolyard insult of everyone being called “gay”. It’s a joke that runs pretty much the whole slot, but genuinely keeps getting funnier. The set flags somewhat with a more random World War II piece, followed by some wayward ad libs about the state of modern festivals – which after two days of partying, is preaching to the wrong crowd, but still leaves as one of the best acts of the event.
Of course at 2000 Trees, despite the live music being over, the night is far from done. The Silent Disco has become one of the festival’s big selling points in recent years – with four full nights and a variety of options, including one huge party at the Main Stage with DJs battling it off on duel channels. Tonight also sees The Cave play host to the endlessly energetic live covers band Thrill Collins, who keeps everyone entertained until the early hours.
The final day opens with childhood friends Ian Fraser and Luke Gruntz, better known as Canadian rock band Cleopatrick, who’ve already amassed a huge online streaming play count. Ironically sounding like a number of British 2000’s rock bands – think the heavier side of Arctic Monkeys – the loaded riffs are a welcome hangover cure, as the boys look set to be making their way up the bill in future years.
As the unmissable sound of Americana from The Drew Thomson can be heard in passing to the bar, it’s back to the Main Stage for Vukovi, who despite being relative newcomers have a distinctive early Naughties nu-metal influence.
Today’s first visit to the Forest sees Xtra Mile singer-songwriter Rob Lynch in fine form, despite some hesitance, including asking how many of the crowd are actually here to see him. In a varied set, we get a new song followed by a cover of Finch’s ‘Letters To You’, requested by someone online earlier in the week. An emotional ‘Lord Knows I Have Tried’ sees friend James from Deaf Havava join him for vocals, before ending on fan favourite ‘My Friends & I’.
A few years ago the festivals organisers joked about putting a crazy golf course in the main arena, and so they did just that, and what better time to have a round with the unmistakable backdrop of Muncie Girls from the Main Stage. They are quickly followed by more feminist action in Soeur for their second set of the weekend following The Black Queen’s cancellation. Their atmospheric alt-rock does well to fill the big spaces and they certainly look one to watch for the future.
Over in The Axiom Martha have a different agenda – pure indie pop. Despite a half-empty tent (everyone is off watching Deaf Havana’s acoustic performance), it doesn’t stop the dancing. In ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ they have the indie hit of the summer, while finale ‘Ice Cream and Sunscreen’ provokes a well-deserved mass singalong at the end.
It’s apt that the final sunshine of the Main Stage weekend belongs to long-time festival favourites The Skints, who duly oblige with their upbeat ska, urging the weary crowd to dance one last time.
For those with tired legs, another longstanding favourite – and one who has played 2000 Trees over half a dozen times now – Murray Macleod from the The Xcerts, returns to a packed Forest Stage crowd. It’s almost a carbon copy of his 2018 performance – an interactive set full of between-song banter. This time though we get a cover of ‘Stacey’s Mum’ – weirdly in it’s second outing of the weekend – and ‘Live Like This’ which as he explains, is much better than the last time he played it – to two people in a car park in Poland. He ends with ‘Aberdeen 1987’, again abandoning the stage as per last year’s finale, to perform in the middle of the seated crowd, for one of the most spine-tingling moments of the whole festival.
Before the final headliner there’s just time for one last visit to the Word stage for some comedy with Usama Khan delivering some excellent, if cringeworthy, one liners.
Like many of the acts to grace the festival, Deaf Havana have a long history with 2000 Trees. Back in 2015 they headlined what was then a much smaller 5,000 capacity event with their fairly generic brand of hardcore rock. But time has moved on, as have many personnel within the band over the years – most notably the other members firing founder and screamo vocalist Ryan Mellor, followed by guitarist Chris Pennells.
Now very much a project of frontman James Veck-Gilodi, it’s fair to say they don’t take themselves as seriously these days. They returned in 2017 to play a fan-picked set in The Cave that included a cover of Oasis’ ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ after a mix-up with their similarly named debut album track, while earlier today the Forest stage saw them perform a version of ‘Angels’.
James is quoted as saying the pop music direction is very much his doing – with his brother Matt recently recruited to the band dead against it – and indeed set out to make their recent record ‘RITUALS’ have a drastically different sound to previous work. On stage it makes for a strange musical mix, but has given them a depth of back catalogue strong enough to push them into the top slot with no fear, especially following their triumphant Brixton Academy headline show last December.
Opening with the stadium rock sound of ‘Boston Square’, we segue somewhat meanderingly between the heavy ‘Fever’ to the more recent chart dancefloor hits of ‘Hell’ and ‘Holy’. For the older fans, ‘Anemophobia’ gets an outing alongside more acoustic-led favourites ‘The Past Six Years’ and ‘Hunstanton Pier’.
For an act who seem hardly settled themselves, it’s a reasonably coherent set, and with the excellent ‘Happiness’ – albeit stolen straight from Marcus Mumford – and ‘Trigger’ they have songs worthy of any headline set. By the time recent disco hit ‘Sinner’ closes out the night, it’s fair to say this is a band who have really stepped-up to the mark.
Camp Turner is a second home for Rob Lynch at 2000 Trees with ‘My Friends & I’ having become something of an anthem for the campsite. In this his third visit, much like his earlier official set, he seems humbled, albeit demanding the crowd stand-up instead of the initial polite seating arrangement. It works, as soon they are singing drinking songs, chanting his name and yelling requests.
Starting with ‘Broken Bones’, he’s soon at a loss of what to play, apologising for his “terrible second album” before launching into 2018’s antithesis comeback ‘Baby, I’m Not a Runaway Any More’. With Deaf Havana’s James and Matt Veck-Gilodi in attendance there are shouts for their long forgotten hit ‘Friends Like These’, which does indeed get a short snippet from Rob, before fulfilled requests of ‘Whiskey’ and Finch’s ‘Letters To You’ again.
’31/32′, the opening rant to his debut album follows, one more quick swig from the now-legendary Camp Turner bag of wine, before the infamous ‘My Friends & I‘ finally beings to huge smiles. One big singalong throughout – as the last chorus rings out, that should be it for the night, but the crowd won’t stop singing the refrain. What follows is carnage – 27 minutes of carnage to be precise – as the lines “My friends and I, we’ve got a lot to live for / My friends and I, we live the good life, at least just for tonight.” repeat over and over, and over, again. There’s crowd surfing from Rob, James and many others – and each and every time it nears a conclusion, somebody fires life into it again.
It’s the perfect end to a great festival, and one you can only hope continues for years to come.
If you’re thinking about heading to Upcote Farm for 2000 Trees Festival 2020, check out some tips for 2000 Trees first-timers. Tickets are available directly from their website now, with various instalment plans and discounts.