Rarely does a weekend in the north of England pull together so perfectly with something for everyone – a royal wedding, an FA Cup final, exquisite weather and an inaugural music festival to take you to a beautiful park and listen to artists play to the backdrop of a glorious architectural folly and stunning views across the bay to the mountains.
I’m sure that this unused to vastness of riches led to a few decision-making crisis’ and we always find something to moan about (hey it’s what makes us British) but there is no doubt the Highest Point Festival, held in Lancaster’s stunning Williamson Park and overlooking Morecambe Bay to the distant Lake District hills was a huge success.
The crowds enjoying the sun facing the main stage under the Ashton Memorial.
Held over three days (Friday – Sunday), rain never bothered it once and safe to say the thousands who bought tickets averaging around £40 got remarkable value for money, with headline acts including Ocean Colour Scene and Hacienda Classical – these gigs alone would cost at least that.
So they came in their thousands, filtering up the hill from Lancaster and in through the dappled sunlight of the trees into the undulating glory of the 54-acre park to enjoy music set on multiple stages, including the main stage with its natural ampitheatre of grassy banks up to the imposing Ashton Memorial and a stage set into the back of the folly itself (The Chris Glaba Memorial Stage), where the shining lights of the BBC’s Introducing stage played a eclectic series of sets.
Three smaller stages included the Dell, with acts ranging on the Saturday from Huey Morgan to Dan Letts, the Waterfall beer hall with it’s hip-hop boogaloo Big Things plus the Sundial with its Headphone Disco.
What was unique about the festival, as well,as the lack of mud, was that it never felt over-crowded, its aforementioned natural richness meant you could get close to the stages without a black eye or stomped-on flip-flopped feet and even those picnicking and drinking in the sun had a fine, unobstructed, view.
Something I appreciate at my age as a seasoned festival-goer I am no longer.
I attended just the Saturday, which dawned a glorious day with those determined to embrace the royal wedding in style, drawn early to the park to watch the festivities on a huge screen placed at the base of Ashton Memorial, while sipping prosecco, gin-mixers and beer from the plentiful and reasonably-priced food and drink concessions organised across the festival site on a token system.
There was plenty of family-fun for the daytime crowd, with theatre performers, glitter artists and a six piece brass band with their very own Las Vegas-style Elvis and Little White Chapel.
As the sun bore down into late afternoon, more arrived to catch the first acts from around 4.3opm.
I flitted between the main stage, BBC Introducing and the glorious sunlit slope of grass overlooking the stunning bay where the gradually lowering sun provided its own headline performance.
I first caught Manchester-based band The Moods, their seemingly endless cast of characters (it’s actually a collective of 10) filled the stage at the back of the memorial with their reggae, hip-hop, dram and bass vibes setting the feet-tapping with an upbeat vibe.
Then to the main stage and Cast, a band I caught live previously in my Brit-pop student days. The line-ups may have changed and been re-drawn in the dramatic decades since but I remembered immediately why they were darlings of the mid-1990’s.
Next up Yorkshire-rock band Embrace, a band I am not as familiar with yet immediately knew all their songs – Ashes, Gravity and so many anthemic favourites.
I would go so far as to say this was my favourite act of the festival, with lead singer Danny McNamara drawing in his mid-afternoon crowd who only had to turn around to watch the FA cup final on the big screen, with good humoured energy – getting his audience pumping up and down. If he could do it at 47, he commented, why couldn’t we?
Then a rush up the hill back to BBC Introducing to catch Rae Morris, a Blackpool lass who is now the ‘overnight success’ darling of the airwaves but as a regional journalist, I know has been plugging away at her trade for years, something she alludes to as she names all the pubs she has played in Lancaster, with a bit of help from her faithful fans at the front.
Rae was given her first big chance locally by BBC presenter Sean McGinty and he is here to see her playing a live gig in Lancaster – after a dash up the motorway from playing at the Royal Wedding BBC radio show in Windsor for Radio Two presented by Chris Evans.
She is ethereal on stage, her melodic voice a foil to the electro beats, her dancing an emotional and mesmerising experience – her joy infectious.This is a woman in full flow and she is a joy to watch and hear.
I’ve changed my mind. She was my favourite.
Nonetheless, we rush halfway through her set to try and catch Ocean Colour Scene, already in full flow down on the main stage. Again a deja-vu from back in the day, this is a band who have never stopped and the crowd is caught in the moment.
Safe to say that it is not just Harry and Meghan who will mark this particular Saturday, or indeed weekend, as a right royal high point in 2018.
Hot off the press: It has been confirmed Highest Point will return in 2019 on May 17, 18 & 19.