Jurassic Fields 2016: Review

Now in it’s third year, West Dorset festival expands to two day event with household names topping the bill.

On a sunny but windy afternoon in Bridport, a market town in rural Dorset, mini-festival Jurassic Fields – complete with three stages, a large marquee bar and several food artisan stalls – gets set to welcome thousands of people through the doors for its biggest event yet.

For the first time this year, organisers have expanded the event over two days, with 1980’s glam rock band Doctor and the Medics headlining a Friday evening line-up on the Main Stage, before today’s action.

We start the day over in the new Big Top tent with Jump The Shark, a young Wolverhampton band. They are vibrant and full of energy, albeit largely driven by exuberant drummer and lead singer Tasha Jones. She’s the focal point of an otherwise fairly static group, but you can see how they won the 2015 BRIT Award for The Next Big Thing Music Project with such an enthusiastic hybrid of classic and modern rock.

If you didn’t know the name Mr Jean at the start of their set, you certainly will by the end. For an hour in the early afternoon sunshine the Main Stage crowd is treated to not so much a gig, as a live advertisement. Musically they are a funk covers act (their repertoire covers Prince, Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk), and are very much available as a function band, as they constantly seem set remind us. Their ivory suit clad lead singer – seemingly hurtling head-first into in a mid-life crisis – does at least keep spirits up in his own quirky way, if only between the constant promotional interjections.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Talk in Code, the indie MOR rockers up next. It’s a common problem at small festivals – for every unassuming act who craft their entertaining skills in small pubs and at local events, there are the more serious bands starting out on the ladder, desperate to make an impression without giving up any of their credibility. This shows massively here as unknown, and unfortunately uninspiring rock tunes – think late 90’s indie guitar overspill – fall flat in front of a crowd more interested in the sunshine and cider.

Luckily it’s not long to wait before Southampton-based singer-songwriter Just Millie arrives with some genuinely emotive swagger and passion. Accompanied by only her guitar, loop pedal and occasional cajón player, she’s full of upbeat catchy choruses that bring the afternoon to life. While her original songs show great promise for the future, it’s a cover of ‘Feeling Good’ that really shows her star potential.

After a memorable sing-along set in the same slot on the Main Stage last year, local Bridport duo Shelby’s Elbows find themselves under cover in the Big Top for 2016. Luckily the crowd are equally as enthusiastic and happily belt out the usual array of chart hits and older indie covers, with even a couple of original songs thrown into the mix. The pair’s hard work gigging around the South West shows with their stagecraft well honed for this homecoming gig and serves as the perfect warm-up for the evening’s big acts.

Much like the fate of Talk In Code earlier in the day, the high of Shelby’s Elbows was always going to be a hard act to follow, and it’s one that The Leggomen struggle with. Although equally an indie covers band, their approach has always been slightly more left-field. Indeed, back on the main stage, a downbeat version of ‘Born Slippy’ fails to hit the mark, and is quickly segued into an equally strange ‘Toca’s Miracle’. While not offensive, it’s a bit reminiscent of a Kings of Leon tribute band in the Live Lounge. Later sees frontman Billy Hutchinson wandering through the soon thinning crowd for two Jamie T covers, albeit delivered with the enthusiasm of a band playing to ten times as many people.

After wandering off to one of the excellent artisan food stalls for an incredible Persian Wrap, there’s time to squeeze in a quick secret gig at the tiny Bandstand by Duncan Disorderly and the Scallywags, who graced the main stage the day before. Despite the space restrictions – six band members and all their various instruments in a tent made for two – their gypsy swing is in full flow to a crowd that quickly grows in size.

Of course this is the year though that the Jurassic Fields organisers have really gone big, booking their first household name headliner. Having travelled down from T In The Park, Fun Lovin’ Criminals have spent most of the day on board their tour bus – itself large enough to hold a small festival – parked in full view right next to the main stage.

When they do emerge though, it’s worth the wait, as their star quality is immediately apparent, which front man Huey Morgan gladly milks throughout. They’ve never been a band short of personality, indeed it’s that, rather than the songs, that made their New York stylings memorable in an era dominated by Britpop. It’s now 20 years since the release of ‘Come Find Yourself’, an album which they are currently touring, although tonight it’s very much a greatest hits set.

Although the familiar hook of ‘Fun Lovin’ Criminal’ sets the wheels firmly in motion for an expectant crowd, it’s not long before there are times which they seem a band clearly phoning it in – although not surprising given they’ve been doing pretty much the same act for the past two decades. The sharp suits and stage act are all there, but at times the smooth jazz of songs like ‘Up On The Hill’ and ‘Coco’ simply washes over the crowd.

It’s easy to forget that, for the most part, Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ sound was very much easy listening stoner music, with only the big singles containing anything much in the way of vibrance. Of course, on that note, they have one main joker to their game – ‘Scooby Snacks’ – which they play perfectly, just as the set seems to be drifting away.

For many, it’s the one song they know by name, and indeed is the highlight of the night, despite a strange patronising introduction by frontman Huey Morgan which suggests it’s only being played because someone requested it. If anything it’s the song that’s made their career, without which none of this would be happening. Still, it reignites both the falling crowd and seemingly the band themselves.

The equally upbeat ‘Korean Bodega’ soon follows to keep the momentum going, and suddenly it feels like a proper festival headlining set. Now on the home straight, the lounge sound of ‘Love Unlimited’ survives the snooze with its famous “Barry White” call-and-response, as does their regular cover of “We Have All The Time In The World”. As the end draws, it’s a satisfied, if not overwhelming feeling of contentment.

The booking of such a big headliner was certainly a risk, both financially and reputationally for the organisers of Jurassic Fields this year, but it seems the gamble has just about paid off. The increased ticket price – although with plenty of early bird incentives – will certainly have dettered some of the more casual local punters, and the lack of camping will need to be addressed next year in order to attract music fans from further afield.

To survive – like every small festival organiser knows – Jurassic Fields will need to carve a niche of it’s own, but now that it’s found its feet after three years it’s firmly on the way to doing to. As a family-friendly small festival though, it certainly has its heart in the right place, and that’s all you can really ask for.