Bushtock Festival – 23rd June 2018

It’s always a positive sign when punters have travelled from far and wide for a festival, so I was pleased to learn that some had come all the way from Cologne to attend Bushstock, a one day, multi-venue festival in Shepherd’s Bush. As I queued up for my wristband in the sticky mid-summer heat, three German girls told me how Bushstock has become something of a ritual for them. For the full eight years it has been running, they’ve flown over for the promise of discovering new music in grassroots venues. Their absolute trust in the programming doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the festival has been cultivated by long-time purveyors of songwriting talent, Communion. Bushstock is just the annual test to see whether they’ve still got their ear to the ground.

The first to testify was singer-songwriter Angie McMahon in Bush Theatre’s Library. Armed with a semi-acoustic guitar and her undulating contralto, the Australian artist delivered a dynamic set of lovelorn songs torn straight from a page in her journal.

Though there was a string of tempting names up next, we took a gamble on the first special guest of the day. Thankfully, our faith was rewarded tenfold with the arrival of Felix and John of Gengahr. Their unplugged renditions of tender cuts like ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Where Wildness Grows’, along with the intimate confines of Albertine’s Wine Bar, was a match made in heaven.

From one end of the spectrum to the other, Mary Miller brought with her a production-heavy set across the road at Defector’s Weld. Unfortunately, her ambitious blend of skeletal guitars, trip-hop beats, and surging synths were not always done justice by the sound system.

“We only have one song on the internet so it’s a miracle anyone is here”

Second special guest of the day, Matt Maltese, brought things back to basics with a stripped-back set that allowed his token dark comedy to shine though. Then it’s over to Sindercombe Social for husband-wife country duo, Ida Mae, who turn in a set of barnstorming love songs, honing in on their harmonious melodies. “We only have one song on the internet so it’s a miracle anyone is here,” Chris Turpin gawked at the crowded bar, proving Bushstock’s new talent MO as successful thus far.

Unsurprisingly, Sam Fender drew one of the biggest crowds of the day. Nevertheless, the daunting headcount, plus the grandeur of Bush Hall, proved no match for the Geordie’s strident vocals and arresting socio-political cuts.

As the scorching London day began to cool off, we peeled off to catch debut headliners Haus stake their claim. It took half their set of math-rock inflected tunes for the band to warm up, but once frontman Ashley Mulimba sprung into action, it was full throttle until close. The glitchy electronica and anthemic chorus of ‘Levels’ went down a storm, but it was final track ‘Oblivion’ that brought proceedings to fever pitch, as Mulimba leapt onto the bar in a bid to ensure their set was unforgettable.

The headliners may have toed the line at times, but otherwise the day was somewhat of masterclass in songwriting. We made our way home convinced that Communion have yet to put a foot wrong when it comes to scouting out exciting new talent.

Photo by Sam Gormly

Bushstock Festival took place on Saturday 23rd June in Shepherd’s Bush, London.