Review: James Blunt and Lightning Seeds, Wickham Festival

James Blunt at Wickham   Picture: Sarah Standing (142404-6313)

James Blunt at Wickham Picture: Sarah Standing (142404-6313)

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The Wickham Festival has reached the halfway point and the undoubted star so far is James Blunt.

The singer-songwriter was the openin-night headline and performed a set that justified the fact he had drawn the event’s biggest-ever crowd – in the region of 7,000 people.

Blunt delighted fans be coming on in an astronaut’s suit, telling them his world tour visits to North America, China and Australasia were for warm-up gigs for Wickham, and was even brave enough to engage in a spot of crowd-surfing.

He sang his hits – including High, Carry You Home, Same Mistake and, of course, You’re Beautiful – but found the one or two lesser-known songs went down just as well. And if there were any in the crowd who’d been sceptical about the former Army man’s abilities, the sheer power of his pitch-perfect voice must surely have won them over.

On Friday night, there was a different vibe to the headline set as The Lightning Seeds topped the big-top bill.

They were also very well-received as they belted out the likes of Sense, All I Want, Lucky You, Marvellous and – the highlight for me and many others, including, it seems lead singer Ian Broudie – their first single Pure.

I’ve loved that song for 25 years – can you believe it’s that old? – but that’s the first time I’ve seen them do it live, and it was worth the wait.

But the Wickham Festival – think Glastonbury but on a smaller scale – is certainly not just about the headliners.

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and festival regulars The Oysterband are among other acts to have got the main stage rocking, while other stages gives lesser-known but no-less-talented acts the chance to show off their abilities.

On a huge site, there are numerous trade and food stalls and a friendly atmosphere throughout. And facilities like car parking and the box office appear to be working really well – even when the opening night’s numbers tested staff to the limit.

I’m old enough to remember the Gosport Festival in its 1990s heyday and, with Peter Chegwyn its driving force, the Wickham Festival is now the present-day version of that. And the highest compliment I can pay Wickham is that it lives up to the standards set at Walpole Park two decades ago.

* The festival continues on Saturday and Sunday with Steve Earle, Bellowhead and much more. Tickets are available on the day (cash only) – for more, see www.wickhamfestival.co.uk

- STEVE BONE