FORWARDS Bristol 2023
Festival reviews often focus primarily on the bands – pondering who was on-form and who had an off day.
It makes sense since bands are the main draw to festivals for most people, and music blogs write about music.
However, if you’re reading a review of a specific festival, it’s probably either because you were there or because you like the sound of the festival and are considering going to the next outing.
If you’re read-up on FORWARDS and you like the sound of it then I’d categorically and unreservedly say just GO!
FORWARDS festival, as the name implies, is a Forward looking, progressive festival for the open minded music fan.
It’s one of the few festivals that manages to blend being both child friendly – with lots of happy looking children in the kids area, whilst still being a cool, exciting festival for adults who aren’t bringing kids.
The lineups sometimes look a little random when they are released, and yet they make perfect sense when you’re there. With so many generic festivals block-booking the same artists as each other, the FORWARDS lineup is refreshingly different.
There are 2 main stages – East and West – far enough apart to avoid sound-bleed, but close enough that you won’t need your running shoes if you want to catch 2 bands who clash.
Additionally there is the Information Stage with 3 bands in the evenings, plus panels discussing environmental issues.
Food offerings are varied, and what I had was high quality at normal festival prices. Likewise the bars had a good range of beer styles (most by same local “Lost and Grounded” brewery) at typical festival/town centre prices in decent bars.
It feels a very safe festival, and walking back to my hotel across the Clifton Downs and around the streets felt very safe too.
There’s no camping, but if you look on Booking.com you can find hotels which are around a 30 minute walk door-to-door from around £60 a night, or you can take the shuttle bus to Bristol Temple Meads and stay around there.
If you can, I’d really recommend booking an extra couple of days, both to recover from the festival, and to check out the delights of Clifton and Bristol in general. 1 night wandering around Clifton wasn’t nearly enough to enjoy all the fabulous architecture, and quirky independent eateries and bars!
Come along next year and see for yourself why it’s become one of my favourite festivals!
With no less than 3 Mercury nominated artists on the bill (Jockstrap, Olivia Dean and Raye), this year’s winner Ezra Collective plus 2021’s winner Arlo Parks it’s clear that the bookers for this festival really know their stuff.
I was hoping to bring a colleague to share photographing and reviewing duties, sadly they were unable to make it, but on the plus side it meant that I caught a bit of every act on the main East and West stages, and I must stay I enjoyed every single act – and it’s rare you can say that at any festival!
My absolute favourite highlight was Confidence Man.
People who’s taste I trust have been telling me for a while now that I need to catch Confidence Man live. Listening to them on YouTube I wasn’t convinced. Someone described them to me as being similar to 90s pop sensation 2 Unlimited. Whilst that may be a little harsh, it’s fair to say they sounded a few shades too pop for my comfort.
But how wrong I was! From the moment their set began it was clear that they were something special, and their dazzling hi-octane show had no signs of fading when I reluctantly had to pull myself away to catch the next band on the other stage.
It really goes to show that when you put doubts to one side and give a band the benefit of the doubt, you can really discover something truly special. I’d certainly go and see them again when I get the chance.
On a similar vein, another surprise highlight for me was Primal Scream.
I liked them back in the day, but I saw them at Glastonbury 2005 and I wasn’t particularly impressed, not helped by Bobby Gillespie slagging off the audience. Never a good move!
So I’ve tended to avoid them when they inevitably pop up on festival bills that I’ve attended.
But I’d decided to try and photograph all the acts of the weekend, and I’m so glad I did! They were brilliant from the start, Bobby was on fire and all was forgiven!
It’s easy to see why they’ve lasted so long on the live circuit.
Again, the beauty of festivals is being able to check out bands you wouldn’t necessarily buy a ticket for, for one reason or another.
Amyl and the Sniffers is another band people have been tipping me to see for some time, and again they were spot on – with a full-on energetic set.
Raye, Jockstrap, Ezra Collective, Olivia Dean, Jim, Obongjayar, Scalping, Yazmin Lacey and Katy J Pearson were all new to me, and left a positive impression, definitely bands that I want to see more of!
Aphex Twin is an artist I’ve wanted to see for some time, so it was a real “punch the air” moment when I saw he was headlining. He’s quite a brave choice for a festival, as he’s not the kind of artist that does crowd-pleasing greatest hits sets, so I did worry that perhaps half the audience would be left scratching their heads wondering when the tune would start, especially as I overheard people at the next table when I was having breakfast say “Who’s headlining the Saturday night of this festival you’re going to?”, “Some guy called Aphex Twin, I don’t know anything about him”.
But a sophisticated festival attracts a sophisticated audience, and seeing how many Aphex Twin t-shirts there were around on the Sunday, clearly a lot of people had come specifically to see him, and so he seemed to go down really well.
When asking a friend who’d seen him recently in London if he was good, he simply replied “he’s like an assault on the senses” and I couldn’t describe the experience better myself. Fabulous stuff!
Indeed the only slightly negative thing I heard all weekend from talking to people and earwigging, was that Friday night’s headliner Erykah Badu took 20 minutes to appear on the stage.
Her band were playing during that 20 minutes (which I must admit felt much longer!), but it was more like music-on-hold, reminding you you’re waiting rather than upbeat tunes to get the audience revved up.
I think it’s the kind of thing that would probably work at a concert – where most people are massive fans. At a festival, whilst some people will have come specifically for that artist, there will be lots of casual/curious fans who just want to be entertained.
Otherwise though her set was great, an inspired choice of headliner.
All that remains for me to say is: Roll on next year!
The above photo-gallery shows a small selection of the photos I took this year. Please check out our Facebook page for band by band photos at https://www.facebook.com/LiveMusicPix
Click on the artists below to go straight to their photoset.
and perhaps most important of all….