LIVE: Fort Fest 2016

By Mark Johnson

During the summer months there are few better ways to spend a weekend than at one the UK’s many music festivals and with the likes of Slam Dunk, ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees on our doorsteps, the UK arguably has some of the best around. Perfecting the festival format however is no simple task and 2016 has seen its share of casualties. Newly created Anchored to the Sound festival was forced to cancel before the event could get off the ground and even the established Hevy Fest had to call it a day after a six year stint. Not to be dissuaded though, Fort Fest emerge onto the scene, hoping to put the rural countryside of Bedfordshire on the festival map.

Hosted by The Fort Records, the weekend boasts an impressive line-up consisting entirely of UK bands. With the likes of Lonely the Brave, InMe, Arcane Roots, Black Peaks and Young Guns on the bill, Fort Fest can certainly be applauded for attracting some of the country’s most notable alternative acts. The well curated itinerary also allows less established, upcoming acts to share the stage with some of their more experienced peers and with all the action taking place on one main stage, the dreaded festival problem of clashes is easily avoided.


The festival opens with a series of lesser-known acts, providing a platform for upcoming British talent to showcase their abilities. Bad Touch are the most memorable of these, their Led Zeppelin inspired classic rock packing the necessary riffs and foot tapping rhythms to warm the crowd and will be ones to watch in the future.

The atmosphere rises considerably once Eva Plays Dead hit the stage, vocalist Tiggy Dockerty bringing swagger and sass in bucketloads as she struts around the stage, belting out a succession of huge, infectious alt-rock choruses. The band are an extremely tight unit and showcase some massive tunes, including the catchy ‘1950s Woman’, helping to raise the performance bar considerably despite the onset of rain.

Black Peaks play the first half of their set in darkness thanks to an issue with the lighting rig and though they can’t be seen, they can certainly be heard. Vocalist Will Gardner has the uncanny ability to scream his face off and pitch a note at the same time, and with the rest of the band smashing their way through complex timings, dynamic song structures and meaty riffs, they make a lasting impression on the crowd. .

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Kingdom Keys are the most impressive of the daily opening acts thanks to their coherent, accomplished and confident on-stage persona. As well as the watertight instrumentals, great vocals and catchy pop-rock songs, the band visibly believe in their music and this positive vibe spreads to the crowd, creating a perfect atmosphere to raise the spirits for what was promising to be another wet day at Fort Fest.

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The ever accomplished and melodically breathtaking Press to MECO take us deep into the afternoon with yet another flawless performance. Singer/guitarist Luke Caley tries everything in his power to coax those hiding from the rain in an adjacent tent to join the rest of us outside. Those willing to get wet are treated to one of the UK’s most talented bands demonstrating how to perfectly execute three-part vocal harmonies while jamming out complex rhythms. The band recently finished pre-production on their much anticipated second album and we can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Grumble Bee’s position, high up on the Saturday night bill, provides them their longest set to date which, for a band with just one EP to their name, is a huge achievement. As well as performing ‘Disconnect’ in full, the band add three new songs to the set for the first time. Their on-stage performances tend to be markedly more raw and expressive than on record and this performance is no different, making it difficult to get a good feel for the new material, but if you expect another slab of addictive, solid, rock songs you won’t be far off. Having written all of his music as a solo performer, it’s good to see Jack Bennett’s touring band starting to gel. With an upcoming support slot on the Emarosa tour and more dates to follow in October, they’ll continue to get tighter as a unit. 

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Arcane Roots seem to have a philosophy that you’re only as good as your last performance; each time they get on stage, it’s their best performance yet. Ever since Jack Wrench (of In Dynamics) joined the band on drums they’ve never sounded tighter and with Andrew Groves hitting every single note of his soaring vocal melodies, they’re a perfect band to add to this bill. Particularly impressive is the way the band thank the organisers in a genuinely humbling and supportive way, clearly happy to be part of this celebration of upcoming British talent.

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After an action filled day of well established acts, Sunday allowed a series of lesser known bands to showcase their abilities. Common Youth, THISCITYISOURS and Phoenix Calling are certainly ones to watch in the future, each band leaving the stage with a confident performance behind them that will no doubt put them on people’s radars.

The day though belongs to The Xcerts who own the stage with a barrage of infectious singalong anthems that are perfect for a sunny festival evening. Some bands are designed to be listened to live and this three piece is certainly one of them, Murray Macleod’s character filled vocals being all the more impassioned in the flesh. The Xcerts are another band that proves the strength of the UK alternative scene, one that we can all be proud of.

For festival debutantes, Fort Fest have done a fantastic job with this inaugural event. The stellar line-up’s promise of promoting British talent couldn’t have been much better, with plenty of the country’s best on show. The sound quality of the main stage is flawless throughout the weekend, something not all festivals can lay claim to and, speaking to many of the bands about their experience, all are quick to praise the attention to detail and excellent hospitality of the organisers. For all the many positives, the key component missing from the weekend is the audience. With no more than 300 in attendance on any one day, there is far too much grass on show in Fort Fest’s well arranged field. A lot more tickets need to be sold to make the festival sustainable, but with such a good foundation to base the next one on, we’d put our money on this atmospheric, brilliantly managed new entrant becoming a regular on our list for years to come.