Warrington’s RivFest 2017 was an emotional success and Getintothis’ Jackie Lees was there to report from the front lines
Priestley College, Warrington was the location for the 2017 RivFest music festival on September 2nd 2017, raising funds for The River Reeves Foundation.
River Reeves was the guitarist with Warrington band Viola Beach who, along with the other band members Kris Leonard, Jack Dakin and Tomas Lowe, and their manager Craig Tarry, tragically lost their lives after playing a gig in Sweden in February 2016.
Nineteen year old River‘s parents and family, led by his father Ben Dunne, formed a charity – The River Reeves Foundation – to inspire and fund local youngsters to pursue their ambitions in music and the arts. The festival is now in its second year at Priestley College where River had been a student. An additional stage was added this year, The Viola Beach Introducing Stage, with a nod to the BBC Introducing Stage where Viola Beach had played at Glastonbury, a perfect platform for new emerging artists to display their talent – and they certainly did.
In all thirty-five acts took part, it should have been thirty-six but unfortunately The Jakobins had to withdraw from their performances here and at Liverpool’s Musicians Against Homelessness event due to one of them sustaining injuries in a car accident. Warrington’s Mayor Les Morgan, opened the main stage and started proceedings off by bursting into song himself. Many of the bands had a personal connection to Viola Beach but none more so than the first performance of the day by River‘s younger brother Quinlan Dunne and best friend Ollie Hughes.
Ben Dunne took to the stage himself to introduce the next band, Model Aeroplanes, he explained that they had been with Viola Beach on that last night in Sweden, they ‘had a few beers together and waved them off’. River‘s parents had later gone to visit them in their hometown of Dundee as they tried to piece together the events of the night and so felt it fitting that they should be here playing the main stage. There were many reflections from the other bands playing over the course of the festival. Eliza And The Bear recalled having Viola Beach tour with them and on the last night they had joined them on-stage for their song It Gets Cold , they dedicated the RivFest performance of it to their memory. Given that it’s a fantastically rousing song anyway, the crowd were bouncing. Overall, Eliza And The Bear‘s set was one of the absolute highlights, their energy is infectious.
There was a strong and well received early main-stage set from St Helens four piece, Stillia, while over on the Introducing Stage, Andrew Knight‘s acoustic set was underway. With such strong line-ups on both stages the difficulty was choosing where to be, for every act witnessed, there was inevitably another one missed.
Highlights from the introducing stage included Shakedown Stockholm who always deliver, along with their own material they performed a hauntingly beautiful cover of REM‘s The One I Love. Two of Deltasonic‘s Liverpool signings, God On My Right and TV ME featured along with Megan Clements-Patterson, Emel Michael, Manalishi, 4AM, The Lookouts, Joe Hill, Carl North and The Lonely Hearts and Status. Also performing were Leeds based Caro who were chosen by Getintothis as one of the strongest featured acts at last year’s Off The Record conference and who were equally impressive this time around.
Other highlights were Pacific, Psyblings and Saytr Play whose Iggy Pop-esque frontman Fred Farrell later joined Weekend Wars for a number on the main stage. With such high calibre bands on offer, it was disappointing to miss any of them, however, the award for that act we most regret NOT seeing must go to Off The Grid Even heading back to the car to leave RivFest, yet another conversation was overheard about just how good they had been – a note has been made to get out to see them perform live very soon.
Back on the Main stage, another real high-energy mark was the outstanding set by Man And The Echo, a hometown band who are enjoying national acclaim. Frontman Gaz Roberts apologised to parents and asked them to cover the ears of any youngsters before going on to deliver their song I Don’t Give A Fuck What You Reckon which is a very funny ode to social media. They also included the song, Distance Runner, an obvious choice as it’s written about Warrington and was met with great enthusiasm from the crowd who were on their feet and bouncing along, it’s hard not to.
They were followed by young Brighton based band The RPMs who, as Viola Beach were, are doing very well through the BBC Introducing service. Manchester’s charismatic The Rainband were up next, followed by Warrington’s own Slydigs and Weekend Wars from nearby St Helens. The latter’s song She had been a great choice for the theme tune for the early festival promotional video.
Max Vickers, finalist from The Voice, and Mo who was the overall winner both played slots, singing independently and then joining forces to sing together. Max with his new band 32 TENS, are celebrating the release of their first single, Insane Asylum this week. He has a quirky style, distinctive vocals and an endearing cheeky charm, off-stage he and bassist Roy Muscutt even went to the trouble of presenting a young fan with a hastily assembled ‘bouquet’ of lollipops when they discovered she was celebrating her twelfth birthday, their impromptu kindness making her day extra special and winning her and her friends over forever.
Music aside, the event was incredibly well organised with everyone well catered for and plenty of the practical on-site provisions that make the difference between a good and bad experience. With both of River‘s parents working in education, his father as a headteacher and mother as a teacher, and the charity being geared to the support of youngsters, there were lots of activities for children and the whole site felt secure and well managed enabling families to completely relax and enjoy the experience right through to the end.
After a brief set by DJ Thomas Turgoose, Ben once again took to the stage to personally introduce the iconic Billy Bragg explaining that St Swithin’s Day was a song that River would take the mickey out of his dad for attempting to play on his guitar and so again, held a personal significance for the family. Towards the end of his set Billy explained that, “I write angry songs and come out here and sing them in the dark and when you cheer at the end, I know that I’m not alone in wanting to make changes“. Later the crowd were asked to chant, “this is what solidarity looks like” so it could be recorded and featured at the end of his new single, a calling they took up with great gusto. He closed with his song New England which, in the spirit of absent friends and lives lost too soon, he dedicated to Kirsty MacColl who’s cover of it was to be her biggest solo hit, already primed for singing along, the audience saw him out with style.
Maximo Park made a quiet entrance onto the stage and then burst forth to finish the festival spectacularly, well worthy of the headline slot. Appropriately after following Billy Bragg onto stage, Paul Smith in his trademark suit and trilby hat explained that their new album Risk to Exist is centred on empathy and solidarity. Drawing from their extensive back catalogue including songs such as Going Missing as well as playing their new material which has a distinctly more electro vibe to it. A track taken from their third album Questing, Not Coasting with its beautiful lyrics and Smith‘s spinning theatrical stage moves was a favourite moment from the set – “frozen stardust falls, wide eyes can see it all“. A song about rain and lightning which was not something anyone had to concern themselves with as the sun shone on RivFest all day, Viola Beach‘s symbolic multi-coloured umbrella’s had remained tightly rolled except where they were being used as parasols.
With so much homegrown talent on display, Warrington, sitting inbetween and often overshadowed by the pull of Liverpool and Manchester, has demonstrated that music is alive and thriving and Viola Beach have allowed the town, figuratively and geographically, to take centre stage.
Pictures by Getintothis‘ Chris Lees