Top Marks For CrownFest

Sitting by a controversially purple outside bar, contemplating my debatable definition of the term “festival,” yesterday in Bishop’s Cannings, while Freddie Mercury sauntered past and the sun toasted me another shade closer to “calypso berry” on the Dulux colour chart… this isn’t your average day in this sleepy Devizes-hugging parish, it’s the meticulously planned and aptly named “CrownFest,” at their only central village pub, The Crown.….

Because while grateful for the pub trend of sticking a man with a guitar under a gazebo and hoisting in a hotdog van, it hardly constituents a “festival.” Even the Easter musical event at The Crown received a higher-scoring mark than that, and it wasn’t labelled a festival; just a free social gathering. This time around though, attendee’s entrance fee was exhausted with a proper stage of quality sound and pyrotechnics, and the semi-permanent marquee where performers were shoved into a corner of last time, this time was filled with a whopping selection of affordable homemade pasties and sausage rolls; that’s me set in for the day!

Okay, so here’s my vague scoring system; to me “festival” must include multiple happenings; variety, if you will. If you’ve one act, or even one and a support, it’s a concert. If you’ve one food choice, it’s a beer garden barbecue, and if you’ve one barrel of flat, warm ale, well, you’re really asking for it!

I’m pleased to announce, with a great line-up, two bars plus the pub operating as usual, two barbecues, aforementioned pasties, sweeties and doughnuts stall, a kiddies fairground ride, and Devizes’ Italian Job airstream caravan, who I strongly suspect are following me around the local festival circuit(!) for an inaugural village festival, CrownFest ticked all my boxes and went way beyond expectations.

With a Queen tribute headlining, for example, a local spray-paint artist laboured the entire day, reconstructing a colossal portrait of Freddie Mercury, to be auctioned for charity. Just one of many unique elements which drove this mini-festival to punch above its weight, and a marvellous time was had by all. In a nutshell, it was a generous slice of fantastic.

On paint, a few nick-picking peevish keyboard warriors would’ve had you believe the Crown’s intentions of bringing a community together for a party was counterproductive, highly illegal and a nuisance to the tranquillity of life in Bishop’s Cannings, should you follow pitiful Facebook rants. Desperate for an angle, it backfired bizarrely, through petty complaining that the outside bar was painted purple! But if shock, horror meanderings divided a community online, there was no sign of it in the actual.

Despite the town carnival clashing, the event was moderately attended. The damning report for said pessimists is only a handful arrived from town, rather the bulk was made up of villagers, overjoyed entertainment of this calibre had parachuted into their village. Still though, to those unconvinced I’d say, I accept your concerns and respect your desire for tranquillity, but give and take in this world, and for just one night a year, a little compromise wouldn’t surely go amiss? While a significant event for a small village, noise levels were controlled and full-proof yet friendly security kept the peace; it hardly reached the intensity of living in Pilton.

The alternative is the reality of many a village pub, and excuse me if I’m wrong on this, but I also believe the Crown was suffering from the damning predicament prior to new tenants, that they fail to be a hub for villages, resulting in a dull life for its inhabitants. Providing such a service is essential for a demographic, as if house prices aren’t bad enough to drive the young away. Village pubs should take heed of the remarkable turnaround of the Crown at Bishop’s Cannings, owners employing local youths on a grander scale, building bridges between folk and providing entertainment to an otherwise archetypal sleepy community. Jazzy and Gary, you should be very proud of your achievement, and CrownFest was surely symbolic of the respect you’ve earned since taking the tavern on.

Eddie of Tunnel Rat Studios appears to have made coordinating the musical element his baby, the icing on the Crown’s cake. Though, running ahead of schedule, my bus journey ETA fell short of catching Pete Lamb’s Heartbeats, I can console myself upon the notion we’ll meet again some sunny Full-Tone day, and not forgoing, a band I’ve been meaning to tick off my must-see list, Devizes-based Paradox, were bundling equipment on stage superfast.

Paradox are entertaining, period. Kicking off with the Kinks’ You Really Got Me, and particularly adroit with the Beatles’ Day Tripper, yeah, they’re predominately covers, but their few originals came to a hilarious apex with a soon-to-be redundant satirical stab at Boris Johnson. Still, they were fun all round, and frontman, Derrick Jepson slogged it out as an amusing compere.

With George Wilding reassigned to a cruise job, and Isobel Thatcher signed off with covid, any doubt the two unfortunate cancellations would affect the schedule were abandoned when guitarist and sax backing for Thatcher surprisingly, mostly to themselves, produced a sublime set.

Then two hard rock bands, Melksham-Devizes crossover Plan of Action and Pewsey’s Humdinger contested for the best Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell cover, but also separately blessed the afternoon with back-to-back rock cover sets, that, while not entirely my cuppa, were exceptionally accomplished and certainly got the party going. While it was the heavier end of the scale which floated my boat from Plan of Action, covering Foo-Fighters yet also fantastically replicating Ready to Go, by Republica, the most appealing from Humdinger was certainly the breezy and encapsulating cover of Stereophonics’ Dakota. Both took no prisoners; drink was taking effect and CrownFest was gathering pace.

Confessions time; I neglected to tell John of Illingworth he was up for a mighty fine review regardless, until after he dropped me off home! Though despite following two heavy rock bands, this duo acoustic set with Jolyon Dixon, for me, was the kingpin in the line-up. Illingworth are so utterly skilful in driving a cover headlong into sentimental city, it’s always a pleasure. With heart and soul channelled, two guitars and a foot drum are all that’s required from Illingworth to produce breath-taking versions of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and The Beatles Hey Jude, among others on this refined setlist; The Waterboys, Oasis, et al. Songs which could be considered cliché if anyone other than Illingworth were stamping their authority on them.

Time was nigh for the finale, Real Magic from Leicester pulled out the tribute act costume shop to replicate a marvellous homage to Queen, of which goes beyond comparison, likely because I’ve not witnessed another Queen tribute before. If doubts of how well they’d accomplish such a feat were mildly enthused with quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless were absolute perfection. Through every legendary hit they covered them with precision and finesse, it was a sight to behold, truly confirming the kind of magic CrownFest had monumentally achieved through just their first attempt. What a wonderful way to end the day, as villagers lit up the area with a true bond to be proud of. Spot on, I say.

I believe some folk need to get over the antiquated notion festivals are only for a raging mob of crusties, as trends have changed dramatically from the anarchist balls of the eighties or illegal raves of the nineties. Music festivals are today a stalwart of family entertainment, churches of popular culture and performing arts. They’re controlled, they’re mainstream, and the industries’ essentiality for them will not be put off by a whinging minority. It was great to meet Peggy-Sue of Swindon 105.5 radio, who for the past year has been producing a show wholly dedicated to local acts, and Mark Jones of Fantasy Radio, as we got along handsomely, chasing the shade in squatting his gazebo. So, if us media giants can get along, I’m sure a village community can too!

We look forward to the possibility of this being an annual fixture, word passed around CrownFest in the heat of the moment was positive it would be, meanwhile they’ll sporadically host smaller music events, and if true it’d be wise to bookmark CrownFest 2023 on your calendar.


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