The Ocelot’s Jessica Durston recently attended Forestry England’s Forest Live concert at Westonbirt Arboretum (headlined by Paul Weller), and has penned her thoughts down.
You know that song ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by the Kinks? The dreamy, lazy picture Ray and Dave Davies paint within the lyrics of that number?
Well attending Forestry England’s Forest Live concert at Westonbirt Arboretum earlier this month felt like I had stepped inside that world. The warm and soft setting summer sunshine, a drink in hand, and a line-up of incredible performers to enjoy – blissful.
The arboretum provided the most beautiful venue for attendees to enjoy performances from the one-and-only ‘Modfather’ himself, Mr Paul Weller - and his special guests.
A large screen was set up, which provided unlimited access to a great view of the main stage from wherever you were sat or stood.
The first of Paul Weller’s special guests and support performers, Seb Lowe, took to the main stage first to kick things off. His punchy, powerful lyrics and vocals cut through the expansive forested arena at Westonbirt and set the tone and level of great professionalism that was to be maintained throughout the evening.
His politically fuelled tracks demanded the attention of the thousands of audience members present. During the performance I saw glimmers of a young Billy Bragg within Seb. He creates music to make statements and his songs ‘Terms and Conditions’ and ‘iPhone’ (which he performed during his Forest Live set) amongst others are vehicles within which he can communicate his thoughts and feelings about the world we live in.
He was joined by two bandmates, and the trio showed themselves to be maestros of the strings creating a melodic cacophony with guitars and a violin.
The second band to take to the stage were Far From Saints, fronted by the Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones. Kelly and his bandmates Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker brought a touch of Americana to Wiltshire with their smooth ballads and countrified-rock numbers.
The band had such a full sound, and the harmonious marriage of Kelly and Patty’s vocals was something to behold. Far From Saints gave effortless performances of their own tracks (including ‘Let’s Turn This Back Around’ and ‘Screaming Hallelujah’) and covers of some all-American classics.
Listening to the group was transporting – you could imagine yourself sipping whiskey on a porch at sunset or driving in good company on the open road across any number of the US states.
The band’s setlist included unique covers of the well-known and well-loved tracks ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around’, and ‘American Girl.’ The group whipped the crowd up, especially those individuals within the standing area in front of the stage.
Now that the concertgoers were all fired up, it was time for Paul and his band to make their much-anticipated entrance. Lasers, smoke, and lights were set up and the excitement was palpable.
Mr Weller strutted onstage accompanied alongside his cohort of talented band members. The full band included two guitarists, two drummers, a keyboardist, and brass section. Weller himself took to swapping between playing his trusty guitar and sitting at the piano for his more mellow ballads.
Once the group were all set up and ready to go, the magic began – Paul started casting his spell on the audience. The laser lights added to the melodic hypnotic atmosphere that the band were creating. Swirls of blues and greens blended with Weller’s vocals, and the fingers of smoke for a mesmerising display. He had barely got through his first couple of numbers, when crowds of people started to wander down towards the foot of the stage, drawn to Weller, like moths to a flame.
The Mod king was transfixing from start to finish. He’s unbeatable at what he does. He’s professional, effortlessly cool, and has maintained his iconic vocals and his impeccable sense of style. His band have a unique sound, and his soulful vocals still do his varied body of work justice. It’s no wonder that during his slot, hundreds of people kept coming to gather at the front within the standing pit to worship at the altar of the real musical genius.
His impressive set lasted around two hours, and the band hardly took a minute for a breather. Even though the rocker celebrated his 65th birthday last month, he is showing no signs of slowing down, and his talent and level of performance has not faltered over the years.
Paul put together an eclectic and all-encompassing set that took attendees on a tour of his diverse discography that has earned him the legendary status he possesses today. His chosen tracks spanned all the way from his earlier years, right up to his latest album Will of the People (2022). He even treated those present at Forest Live to a rendition of a new song he worked on with Noel Gallagher, (that will be released soon) entitled ‘Take.’ This ensured that there was something for everyone, irrespective of what decade they decided to jump on the Paul Weller fan-train.
Aside from his solo work, Paul threw in some songs from his days with the Style Council (the foot-stompin’ ‘Shout To The Top’ and firm favourite ‘My Ever-Changing Moods’), and threw in ‘A Town Called Malice’ from the Jam days for good measure.
He also slipped in popular tracks like ‘Peacock Suit’, ‘The Changingman’, ‘You Do Something To Me’, in between some of his more-forgotten creations, and some of his more recently released songs.
Further personal highlights for me were two that he performed from his more recent albums; ‘On Sunset’ (a track dripping with soul from the 2020 album of the same name), and the title track from his 2015 album ‘Saturn’s Pattern’ (a track with such an addictive groove and beat).
A little before the end of his set, Mr Weller invited Kelly Jones back to join him on stage for a duet version of fan favourite ‘Broken Stones’, which was met with much applause.
Aside from the sensational performers, another aspect of Forest Live that I was impressed with, was the acoustics and quality of the sound, despite the fact the stage and speaker system were set within the expanse of a large forest clearing. Weller and his special guests all sounded crisp and clear, and it would not have mattered where you stood within the field – you could hear everything perfectly.
This show marked my third time seeing Mr Weller in concert, and hands-down it was the best of his concerts I have seen so far, due to the atmosphere and his brilliant choices for the setlist.
As I have mentioned, Paul, Seb Lowe, and Far From Saints were playing this Westonbirt Arboretum date as part of Forest Live - the major outdoor live music series that introduces forests to new audiences in unique, natural woodland arenas around the country.
The Forestry England team say over 2 million people have attended a Forest Live gig in the last twenty-two years and have enjoyed great music whilst supporting the nation’s forests when buying a ticket.
Forestry England work to create beautiful places for people to enjoy, run invaluable conservation projects, and keep growing trees (last year the organisation planted some 6.8 million trees). Forestry England make it their goal to care for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests sustainably, and welcome around 363 million visits annually.
It was a wonderful experience to be out within nature and enjoy an outdoor concert organised by the Forestry England team. Forest Live reminds people of the good that nature (and music) does for the soul. Music lovers that wish to enjoy a unique feeling of togetherness within stunning settings should definitely treat themselves to a ticket – and you’re helping support forests, it’s a win-win!
More information about Forest Live, its other headlining performers, and its remaining tour dates can be found online at https://www.forestryengland.uk/music
Photo credit - Johnny Hathaway
Photo credit - Johnny Hathaway