Boudica Festival returned to Coventry “celebrating the talent of womxn in the music industry”. Held at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum the festival has three music stage areas and two ‘learning spaces’. As you might expect from a festival of this nature the styles of music entertainment varied widely. Nyotaa, a Coventry local, performed in the Cafe Stage area playing a mix of Pop, RnB and Soul. Mamajay sang original material and popular folk songs from her native Kenya. At the Covered Court Stage rapper Truemendous added elements of Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul to her story-telling lyrics. Live Algorave created mathematically generated music – algorithms, calculus and Fourier Transform has never sounded so good. The workshops offered hands-on art and recreation lessons, computer coding and music video creation.
Any festival is a compromise for audience members – tight running schedules mean picking and choosing who and when. You may find yourself, regrettably, having to cut one act short to hot-foot it to see another. It was unfortunate that Boudica Festival floundered from the get-go on the Studio Stage by running almost 30 minutes late. It sadly became a bit of a portent.
The fabulous, and fabulously named, Los Bitchos kicked off in extraordinary style bringing a sense of beach-front party fun to the rain-soaked Midlands. The instrumental band combine Dick Dale-esque guitar virtuoso to 50’s surf-rock and South America street party Samba. The only thing missing was a mini-umbrella topped Margarita to compliment a punchy and vigorous version of ‘The Link Is About To Die’. Serra swapped guitar duties for spirited bongo bashing on the hypnotic and melancholic ‘Bugs Bunny’. You couldn’t help but wonder if the delayed start had already begun to have an effect when Serra announced, with a hint of apology, that the final three songs of the set were, “really short”.
Bryony Williams had acres of space to enjoy on the Studio Stage. The stage area covered most of the length of one side of the white-walled room. Slim flashing disco-lights made into a column from old audio cassettes looked a little incongruous next to the stage speakers. The main stage-lighting looked like a last minute idea but worked well enough. With a full band behind her Bryony’s very personal songs of self-discovery, love and loss, take on a different feel. ‘Scared’ loses some of its touching winsomeness but gains much in the way of sing-along euphoria. ‘Honey’ becomes the sensitive yet banging indie-rock ballad Noel Gallagher should have written. Vocally Bryony sounded stronger than ever – the jubilant and resolute chorus of ‘Whirlpool’ took more than a step heavenwards. Top marks to the bass-player for his accompanying harmony falsetto too.
At the Cafe Stage, in reality a dining area and food & drink sales counter with floor space for the artist, the delightfully sweet tones of Charlie Tophill entertained a growing crowd. Resplendent in gold sparkly trousers and strumming a gorgeous black Guild semi-acoustic guitar, Charlie stood in front of a window with the famous Coventry Cathedral for a backdrop. Her captivating mellow vocal and selection of self-penned tunes impressed; but as more people walked into the room so too the hubbub of chatter increased. Half-way through a thoroughly arresting and entertaining set it became a lost battle.
Virginia Wing began their set in earnest. Singer Alice sang in the remarkably characterful and offbeat manner in which we have become accustomed. The bunny-hops and yoga poses were in full flow too. However, the sound was not right. Things were far worse for the keyboard player – the stage monitor was too quiet for him to hear. Hearing what you are playing is something that is pretty much imperative for any musician. He eventually dragged the monitor from stage-front to under his keyboard. It didn’t improve matters and his frustration became obvious. Seeing several members of the audience walk away was the final straw. The show was abandoned and off he walked in an understandable huff.
We caught the last ten minutes of Live Algorave before heading back to the Covered Court for Tusks. Emily Underhill’s band thumped-out an array of tense indie-dream-pop tunes in dramatic style. Her tender voice carried the emotion and meaning with clarity and potency. Tusks themselves battled throughout the set with in-ear monitor problems of their own. Thankfully the overall sound for the audience was much improved.
Regrettably, the damage was done – the late running and technical hitches had taken their toll. The atmosphere had become leaden and the already small crowd were checking watches, looking up train times and walking away far too early. Enthusiasm was in short supply and that was understandable. We left lamenting many of the bands we had missed, and that we would not see the incredible headliners, Ghum. A sad end to our Boudica Festival experience and one we hope will not be repeated next year.