As Saharan temperatures scorch the country, and with Southgate’s Three Lions daring us to dream again, Over Farm in Gloucester welcomes two thousand savvy punters to the ninth edition of Barn on the Farm. With stages dotted around working barns, ostrich paddocks, an onsite masseuse and a microlight glider offering flights for a modest fee, the festival has the feel of an intimate village fete. Except the youthful organisers have had the bright idea of inviting some of the hottest British bands along for the party.
After two days of largely acoustic acts (special mention to a spellbinding set from Billie Marten), Saturday brings the indie-pop bands that are the big draw. Sporting a vintage England shirt, Ten Tonnes treats the main stage to a set of energetic indie. With an album not even out yet, Ethan Barnett already has a slew of solid songs and the likes of ‘Born to Lose’ give the crowd a kick up the arse early in the day.
The music suffers a lull in mid-afternoon as the Three Lions swat aside Sweden, but with football (at the time of writing, but erm – not at the time of publishing) still inexorably coming home, normal service resumes on Over Farm.
Gengahr bring their A-game, delivering tight riffs and powerful vocals and The Pale White crack through a scuzzy set in the afternoon sun. But in a showdown between the pale kids, there is currently only one winner. On a mission to achieve global domination by sheer force of their bangers, Pale Waves arrive onstage to bright lights and humming synths and waste no time showing why they’re the hypest band around.
Heather Baron-Gracie commands the stage like a seasoned pro, peppering the set with Robert Smith-inspired poses to go with the band’s deliberate aesthetic. ‘Television Romance’ and ‘Heavenly’ are already staples, excellent riffs and slinking bass perfectly complementing Baron-Gracie’s soaring melodies and attention-grabbing performance.
The comparisons to the pop-crossover of the 1975 are there for all to see, but this is a refined version, the crude product distilled down to the very purest essence of euphoric 80s pop and injected directly into the bloodstream. Latest single ‘Kiss’ somehow manages to pack two of Pale Waves biggest hooks yet into one song, and serves as a stark warning that their debut album will raise the bar considerably.
Alternately grounding songs on her vintage Vox guitar and staggering across the stage, Baron-Gracie is 2018’s newest rock star, with a note-perfect rhythm section providing the platform for a well-conceived identity. ‘New Year’s Eve’ and an affirming ‘There’s a Honey’ close out the weekend’s best set, Pale Waves breezing through the Barn between massive engagements at Hyde Park and Rock Werchter but leaving their presence firmly felt.
Sunday brings sunstroke, unbearable heat and maybe a bit of a hangover in the mix. Marsicans are the ideal antidote in an early slot, bringing a rambunctious energy to their punky indie tunes. Drummer Cale is the only member who stays still, with guitars, bass, and synths traded as freely as the main vocal between a group that are clearly thick as thieves.
Songs from their debut EP win over the frazzled audience and by the end of their short set hands are clapping, fans are bouncing, and sweat is dripping for the first of many times on a sweltering day. Sea Girls bring a similar vigour with a committed dose of catchy indie rock on the Outdoor Stage, featuring a guitar solo of Three Lions and a walk in the crowd for singer Henry Camamile.
Anteros showcase their self-described ‘bitter dream pop’, with vocalist Laura Hayden paying homage to Blondie and Yeah Yeah Yeahs with both her delivery and camera-friendly performance, leering down to the barrier to snarl choruses.
Later in the day, Brighton’s Fickle Friends bring the temperature down with a stripped down set inside the Wooden Barn, treating fans to rare acoustic arrangements of songs from this year’s ‘You Are Someone Else’. With lead singer Natti Shiner sat astride a Cajon providing percussion, the band even throw in a tender cover of The 1975’s massive ‘Give Yourself a Try’. The arrangement accentuates the vulnerability of the song’s lyrics, as well as throwing a bone to more casual listeners.
As the sun sets and the heat dissipates, Mystery Jets belatedly take to the stage for a rare appearance this summer. Recent release ‘Curve of the Earth’ is still well-represented, with ‘Telomere’ opening out into widescreen, before classics ‘Flash a Hungry Smile’ and ‘Serotonin’ get the crowd pogoing with a reminder of the Londoners’ poppy beginnings. Blaine is in fine voice, opening up and soaring over the crowd, while Will Rees continues to dazzle on the guitar. Bassist Jack Flanagan it hardly needs saying is obviously having the time of his life stage-right.
A technical mishap means the band arrive late on stage, and their set is trimmed as a result, but the Jets shrug it off by powering home with two of their finest songs. ‘Bubblegum’ represents the meeting point of past and present, an urgent synth riff unfurling into a galaxy-spanning chorus. It’s a reminder that beyond the light-hearted indie-pop that made their name, Mystery Jets have grown into some of Britain’s most accomplished and affecting songwriters.
“We’ve got time for one more!” shouts Blaine as a stagehand delivers a warning. No matter. The looped bongos of ‘Two Doors Down’ are greeted with a roar as the Jets wave goodbye with a festival uniting chorus that leaves the crowd thirsty for more.
With its tenth anniversary coming up next year, a host of regular local acts and the ability to pull in some of the best up and coming bands, Barn on the Farm is one of the festival season’s best kept secrets. Whatever the weather, don’t miss out on this one next year.
Words: Dillon Eastoe