Miracle at MantonFest!

Ah yeah, Paul McCartney whisked Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl out of his hat at Glasto, and no one can top that, no one dare try, but on the other side of the west country The Fab Four were rejuvenated on stage, and miraculously commanded the weather!

Okay, allow some exaggeration for artistic licence, but being the only sour point about MantonFest last year was spates of torrential downpour, and the forecast foreboding a repeat, note it tried its uppermost to drizzle, but on the one occasion the crowds thought, “this is it,” Nottingham’s fantastic Beatles tribute, The Fab Four broke into George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun and lo-and-behold, the sunshine returned, to a rapturous applause.

Coincidence, or should these guys try a Paul Daniels tribute next, is besides the point; there were numerous memorable happenings at MantonFest this year, the Beatles tribute controlled clement weather was just the tip of the iceberg.

For eleven years strong MantonFest has been Marlborough’s little gem, punching well above its weight. It’s both communal and friendly, but professionally executed too. If Glastonbury is a city of tents, this day festival is a village of gazebos. Picnicking families return year-after-year, and MantonFest prides itself on a loyal fanbase.

Nit-picking, the focus is entirely on the music, but kids seem unperturbed by any lack of facilities aimed at them. They naturally make their own entertainment, organise a game of football in the ample surrounding fields, more so join the already extensive age demographic and genuinely enjoy the music. Perhaps why The Fab Four were so apt, the Beatles’ early music is the eve of bubble-gum, beguilingly simple for the masses, which makes it timeless.

Talking to them backstage they delighted in the notion they’re a platform introducing Beatles music to a new generation, and in that, plus the fact they are an archetypical four-piece rock band setup without strings and effects, they blasted out the earlier, simpler 45s such as Love me Do and Hold my Hand as a baseplate. And they did it fantastically, with a nod to later Beatles creations such as Yellow Submarine and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but perhaps most absolute to exposing their skills in ballads, such as Something the aforementioned, Here Comes the Sun, and a grand finale of Hey Jude, this was a very entertaining package.

Take a Beatles tribute as red, my mum, caught up in Beatlemania, thrust it willingly down my throat, so I’m bound to enjoy, but the real surprise of MantonFest 2022 was the second tribute, Jean Genie. As it suggests, accomplished musician and writer in his own right, John Mainwaring becomes David Bowie, more so in sound than appearance.

You can rough me up for this, but note while I fully recognise and accept Bowie’s importance in the progression of pop, and understand why he is idolised, I’m a smidgen too young to have been caught up in the fanaticism surrounding him. But this guy wowed, as simple as; assessment is this is way up on my best tributes leader-board, forcing me to view Bowie in a new light. I mean, the guy toured with Bowie’s own band The Spiders from Mars in the nineties, explaining to me backstage the gradual progression to this career point was, as he sounded so much like his influence, through his own original music, he was persuaded first to attribute the fictional persona Ziggy Stardust, “as Bowie killed him off anyway.”

This performance was truer to the definition “tribute” than the standard tribute act, it was part John Mainwaring, being himself hugely inspired by Bowie, but it was also part Bowie, sublimely, his voice and showmanship as close as you could possibly get, and as Starman echoed out, it was a totally mesmerising performance, my highlight of the day.

Unfortunately, while professional and accomplished, I have to say, I don’t think the headliners The Animals topped this. Maybe it was just me, feeling the strain of not drinking myself stupid, of which, looking back on, I’m proud, but at the time at tad niggly! I’d say the line between a real act and a tribute act are blurred, when a man like Mainwaring, with such experience and close relationship with the act he’s attributing is a tribute, but a band with only one original band member is considered the genuine article. I mean, yeah, it’s labelled as The Animals and Friends, but grammar comes into play somewhat. It’s not plural; The Animal and Friends. A rather plodding show, a bit meh in comparison with what went beforehand.

Between the two tributes stood the testament to MantonFest, Marlborough’s pride, Barrelhouse. With bassist Stuart Whant as artistic director, MantonFest is the Barrelhouse fan club’s annual beano, but they’ve the knack to make their show something watchable on repeat. If you ever figured the timeworn blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley,or even when they slip into bluegrass, couldn’t enthuse teenagers today, you need to bear witness to the enduring methods of Barrelhouse, with the growling mysterious frontman Martin Hands, his proficient band, and the reaction of their loyal fans at the one place they’ll guarantee to rule the stage, Manton Grange.

But if Barrelhouse are guaranteed goodness, The Fab Four were what they said on the tin, fab, and Jean Genie was a sublime homage, there was an equally talented act upon my arrival. Rocking up a bit late to catch previous performances, Southend-on-Sea’s Rosalie Cunningham was all I needed as confirmation this was going to be a great day for live music. Program a hundred personas of legendary rock heroines into a computer, from Patti Smith to Suzi Quatro and Debbie Harry to Alanis Morissette, and ask it to compute something analogous, it’d likely create Rosalie Cunningham. She looked the part, she sounded like the part, and in all essence, she was the part.

At first it came across prog-rock, all King Crimson type, but there were riffs to punk, nods to rock n roll, and the band explained they liked it like this, prevented it getting tedious for them. For an audience it was astutely performed, original rock, steady, flowing; the like you’d think you knew already.

All-in-all, Mantonfest is a credit to Wiltshire, but as I said last year, absent are the faces of our own live music aficionados, just a stone-throw away. Marlborough is not the Upside Down from Stranger Things, Devizions, yet those rolling downs seem to divide us into little circuits.

In fact, the only connection to my hometown I made was thinking about my stomach! Yes, amico, that trusty airstream caravan, The Italian Job, usually parked upon the Green in Devizes, was pitched at MantonFest, the wonderful aromas of basil and garlic were as alluring as the seating inside, and for want of a cup of Rosey-Lee, I came bundling out with gorgeous homemade lasagne, garlic bread and rocket, and slouched in a chair below the beautiful slopes of Treacle Brolly; now that’s festivaling Marlboro’ country, something you’re really missing. I’d highly recommend you etch MantonFest 2023 into your must-do-list.


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