Rating: 4 out of 5
On a clifftop above a beautiful sandy beach, a mere stone's throw from where Charles Dickens used to spend his summer holidays, Wheels And Fins Festival sprang into life over the weekend. In the shadow of the North Foreland lighthouse, the surfers' paradise of Joss Bay played host to an eclectic line-up of DJs and bands as well as providing an outlet for the thrill-seekers with its Skate U.K. Mini-Ramps Champs events.
Aside a mammoth field of cabbages bordering a golf club and affording stunning views of the English Channel, the Wheels And Fins site is one of the more unusual on the festival calendar. The mix of music, skateboarding, bike battles, beach yoga and alternative Punch & Judy among many other things saw to it that variety was in abundance. Tim Peaks Diner showcased up and coming talent, the sizable dance tent threw down some seriously dirty beats courtesy of the plethora of DJs and the main stage played host to some great acts, including The Libertines-headlined and curated Sunday Sharrabang.
Friday's highlights included some fantastic bluesy rock from Broken Witt Rebels. Having just returned from America, following completion of their second album, the band were in fine form. They belted out some soulful renditions of 'Loose Change', 'Snake Eyes' and finally a rousing run through of 'Shake Me Down'. Danny Core's rasping vocal was in full flight coming across like a mixture of Bon Scott and Paolo Nutini. In the dance tent, Philip George blew a fuse, literally (lights out, the lot), with his seismic bass beats before getting back on track, rather perfectly, with Au/Ra's 'Panic Room'.
Brighton DJ and producer Kideko drew a modest crowd over on the main stage as he played out his own material and mixed in others, including a great take on Riton's 'Rinse And Repeat' whilst an animated set from High Contrast kept the dance tent alive with some brilliantly bent and warped tunes, neither of which uke playing northerner Gemma Moon could hope to compete with over in the Tim Peaks tent.
It was left to Friday's headliner Sister Bliss to steal the limelight with her Faithless DJ set on the main stage. Flanked by two huge HD screens on either side of the stage and with some fabulously creative videos, she pulled in the majority of Friday's festival goers as she transitioned into place on the decks aside the departing Kideko. With a set spliced with plenty of Faithless classics, as well as Tears For Fears among others, in a lively and entertaining set, she hit every beat along the way. Dressed in her trademark silk jacket, sporting an angled blonde bob and working her accentuated cheekbones to full effect, Bliss looked like she was as completely immersed in her music as the crowd.
Saturday ushered in yet more great acts and yet more good weather on the South East coast. The Mini Ramps Champs skate boarding got into full flow and over near the main bar the Extreme Bike Battle bore witness to some very well executed riding and a great deal of faith and trust from the prostrate volunteer as bikes of both pedal and motor power passed over and toward him within a whisker.
Winsford's The Luka State brought the first big musical highlight of the day with their boisterous and blistering performance. It began with a drum solo as the band invited the crowd over to join them before they launched into a great set that included tales from the bedroom, desperation of having nothing to do but play footy and songs including 'Kick In The Teeth' and new single 'Bury Me'. The band were, as the phrase goes, 'tight as a gnat's ass' with some snarly percussion and inspired bass lines. The covers band that followed, Blow, drew a smile if little else. Freddy was probably spinning in his grave as they set about 'I Want To Break Free' and Brian May would have despaired at the attempt to replicate the guitar solo but it was entertainment, if not all intentional.
Covers came to be a recurrent theme as Saturday and Sunday went on. Madonna's 'Borderline' was given an airing by the incredible Tom 'Mouse' Smith, Wide Eyed Boy gave us Bowie's 'Heroes', Medway band Drawstring belted out a super take on the Beatles' 'I Saw Her Standing There', Mic Righteous delivered a slice of Nirvana and, finally, The Libertines treated us to a few choice cuts from Chas And Dave.
As the sun shone over North Foreland, five-piece band Modern Strangers strutted in style as they delivered a harmonious, falsetto-flavoured sound like Roxy Music re-imagining a musical chic not often seen these days. Sub-Focus pulled in the ravers to the dance tent in a curiously placed mid-afternoon slot dropping some shape-shifting bass along the way. Did the earth move for you? It did for me! The BGS were no doubt monitoring the activity on their instruments fearing it was an small quake!
Over on the main stage three girls from three countries, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland and England, came together as one to provide an unexpected festival highlight. Hey Charlie, in matching mini-skirts and tees, shook up the afternoon with an eight track set of perfect Power-Pop. Starting with 'She Looks Like A Dreamer', 'Hey' and the incredibly infectious 'Heartbreaker', Hey Charlie were full of relentless energy as they rocked out with an impassioned and very entertaining performance. 'Annabella (she's a killer)' sounded fantastic before the band closed out their set with fully loaded 'Cheer Up Princess'.
Reigning Days, who'd "driven six hours to play for you" (all the way from the South West of England), were in a serious mood as they took to the stage. Addressing mental health issues (a theme touched upon across the weekend by more than one artist) and simultaneously talking about a recently (too soon) deceased friend, Mat Kenwood, they took a little time to warm up. Once into their stride they began to enjoy the event. "I've had a bloody lovely time", said lead singer and guitarist Dan Steer as he polished off tracks including 'Renegade' and 'Crazy Horse'.
Frazer, from Sheffield, were the penultimate main stage act. Returning to the festival they'd also played last year they spoke fondly of their time here, the people they'd met, especially those in the Dolphin pub in Broadstairs, and even brought with them an inflatable dolphin to help entertain the crowd. "It's our favourite festival of the year" they said, closing out a polished set with new single, 'Something I Said'. Meanwhile Friction were 'having it large' in the dance tent before giving way to Camo And Crooked's warped and distorted tunes whilst over at the Tim Peaks stage it was Dirty Laces who were tearing it up. With a set worthy of an early main stage slot they deftly delighted those that had come to hear them. With a youthful swagger and psychedelically infused indie sound the five piece were a revelation. Playing songs off their last E.P, the Modern Age, they capped off a great performance with 'Set In Stone'.
Saturday headliners Feeder packed the main stage arena to close out the day with a spectacular show. The sixteen tracks showcased the very best of the vast Feeder back catalogue in front of a very appreciative and engaged crowd. From the introductory 'Feeling A Moment', through 'Renegades' and right through to a joyous version of 'Just A Day' Feeder captivated all before them. Playing their last festival of the summer, you were made to feel it was something special for them too. 'Just The Way I'm Feeling' headed up the sing-a-long of the huge hit 'Buck Rogers' before 'Insomnia' and a run out for one of their older songs 'High', and, although it had a false start, 'Seven Days In The Sun' was definitely a set highlight.
Sunday saw the arrival of the Sharrabang; The Libertines-curated main stage event which included it's very own, very well attended tattoo parlour, a merch stand replete with Margate FC, Libertines-emblazoned football shirts and a history of The Libertines show delivered in a Punch & Judy style tent which was absolutely hilarious. Luke Wright, Essex poet and theatre maker, was compere for the day as the festival well and truly came to life with a far larger attendance than on either of the previous two days.
The ladies of Lock fired up the mainstage with an electrifying performance playing out their gothically-infused electro. Gita Harcourt and Edie Langley's vocals cut crisply through the seaside air to attract a growing audience. Edie looked every bit the rock star in her platform boots and red cat suit as she and the band, as well as their dancers, performed 'New York And Paris', 'Cinema' and new single 'Hey Campadre' to great effect. Luke made us smile with tales of his "big gay face" and poems about houses that used to be boozers as well as quipping that a few local hoteliers were going to try their hand at some Rock n' Roll later.
John Power of Cast delivered a different and refreshing kind of performance from any other on the main stage during the afternoon as he teamed up to perform an acoustic set that started with a fabulous rendition of 'Sandstorm'. 'Fine Time', 'Guiding Star' and finally 'I Guess I'm Alright' sounded wonderful with the boys from Luca State even hanging around to appreciate the final day. Equally, but in a vastly different way, local Margate boy Mic Righteous enthralled the crowd as he gave a lot of love out to his kids, those who'd supported him through some difficult times and told everyone to love themselves... "that's the key." Dipping down into the crowd, instigating a sing-a-long and generally just enjoying the whole afternoon, Mic livened up proceedings without a doubt.
Cabbage and then Reverend And The Makers were further mainstage highlights on Sunday with both drawing sizable crowds. Cabbage loved the view they had across the sea and apologised to everyone who had to look at them as they blasted threw an incendiary performance that was topped out by 'Terrorist Synthesizer'. Meanwhile the Reverend, Jon McClure, was suffering from man flu, applying liberal amounts of Vic to get through it and talking about his, and his family's hereditary big noses! "I'm never sure what to expect down south" he said, "I'm a rock star up north." 'Open Up Your Window' started a string of tracks that went down very well indeed. 'Shine The Light', "The best song off FIFA" according to Jon, 'Heavy Weight Champion Of The World' and lastly 'Out Of The Shadows' sounded awesome.
Echo And The Bunnymen played a rather subdued and somewhat disappointing set before the final mainstage act of the night. In a rather workman like performance, Ian and his band didn't seem to have their hearts in it. Whether it was because of the time, the support slot or just that they have become tired of it all, I'm not sure, but it was by no means vintage Bunnymen. 'Seven Seas', Killing Moon' and 'Rescue' were all good, new track 'Somnambulist' stood up surprisingly well and a funky, upbeat 'Never Stop' did see them hit their stride later on but Ian's vocal was in and out and the bass heavy mix didn't help sell them to a newer audience. In the dance tent things were decidedly more lively with Example and DJ Wire performing to a fully engrossed crowd of people ready to party.
The celebrations came to a triumphant head as the festival drew to a close, the mainstage arena became packed out and to the delight of the expectant crowd The Libertines took to the stage. Ripping into 'Horror Show' and then 'The Delaney', it was clear that the boys in the band had come to party themselves and enjoy their last gig together for a while. Pete and Carl were in fine form and at times just hilarious with comical asides and exchanges going back and forth across the stage all night.
There was a tribute to Chas And Dave along the way, a stage appearance from Viv, "Britain's finest cleaner", a guest appearance by Mic Righteous on Gunga Din and some brilliant improvisations from Pete. Both Pete and Carl were sporting their Margate FC footy shirts, Pete's only lasting three songs until he stripped off to his vest. Carl lasted a little longer but then began what at times during the Libertines set looked like a mating ritual as the two vested men pecked away at each other on the mic. 'Likely Lads', 'Can't Stand Me Now' and an exquisite 'You're My Waterloo' defined a fantastic set. Carl's piano and guitar solo on Waterloo set against Pete's vocal is a beautiful things to hear and see.
After talk of The Big Lebowski and of Pete's now infamous breakfast eating exploits at Dalby's Café in Margate getting more internet and press coverage than any album release the boys played on with riotous takes on 'The Good Old Days' and then 'Time For Heroes' before departing the stage. It wasn't long before they were back for their encore much to the relief of the crowd who were wanting, and in need of, just that little bit more. A four-track encore ensued with 'Up The Bracket' sounding just superb before The Libertines rounded off an absolutely stunning performance with the obligatory 'Don't Look Back Into The Sun'.
Wheels And Fins grew bigger and better this year with a far broader roster of bands, more major acts and an inspired decision to have a curated stage by Margate's biggest 'local' band ever, The Libertines. The Sharrabang was all that it was meant to be; a celebration, an event and a day out to remember. There were some spectacular performances from across the site over the weekend, from the skaters to the bikers, and from the DJs to the artists and acts that had made this year's festival quite special. If Wheels And Fins can maintain this kind of momentum, its status as a boutique festival may have to be rethought!