Lydiard Park, Swindon
2020 was a horrific year in all aspects, however from the point of view of the live music industry, it was truly awful with gigs being rescheduled and cancelled left, right and centre, forcing the music industry to be pulled to a halt for seventeen months.
However, on Saturday 31st July 2021, the party was revived with the return of MFor Festival, Swindon’s very own family-friendly music festival.
For many, including myself, it was their first gig back since the lifting of lockdown restrictions earlier this month, and this euphoric feeling of celebration (for the hardships that we’ve been through) and togetherness is very evident from the moment that I entered the music arena. Groups of friends and families inhabit both camping chairs (sipping beers and catching up with each other) and the pit (really submerging themselves in the centre of the live music scene).
2012’s X Factor runner-up, Ella Henderson, is the first artist that I catch during the day (my friend and I made the executive decision to go later on in the afternoon to catch the headliners), however, due to unannounced changes to the evening’s schedule, we ended up missing half of her set. That aside, from what we did experience of her set, there was a lot of audience participation: with Ella encouraging everyone to sing along and just have a really good time – something that we’ve all been deprived of this past year. There was also a really good mix of both covers (for example, a little snippet of Post Malone’s ‘Circles’) and her own original songs, including ‘Ghosts’; the song that “started it all” that went down really well with the crowd. However, it should be noted that the crowd seemed a little quiet during this set, but this could be down to the fact that we were situated further back in the arena, giving us the impression that the atmosphere improved towards the front of the stage. This obviously didn’t take away from how happy everyone seemed, though, offering a real feel-good and uplifting vibe. In addition to this, Ella Henderson is a really talented artist, boasting a truly phenomenal vocal range, especially when considering the sound at the festival wasn’t that great, making it difficult at points to hear exactly what was being sung.
Raye is next on stage, which comes as a surprise once again, due to the change in set times, armed with her really upbeat and feel-good tunes. Again, the quality of the sound and the mixing weren’t the best; at points it appeared that the music was a lot louder than the artist, however, this didn’t take-away from the overarching feelings of euphoria from the crowd, who were dancing and singing along regardless. Raye came across as a really great character; engaging with the audience by having small conversations with those down at the front and waving to those in the back, trying her best to involve them in the set as much as possible (I especially appreciated this – sometimes when you’re at the back end of the crowd it can feel a little bit isolating and as if you are missing out).
Unfortunately, the rain came in mid-way through Raye’s set, forcing us festival-goers to undertake a manic dash to put on coats and put up umbrellas before the typical British weather inevitably gets heavier. However, this sudden change in weather didn’t manage to be a downer, with the crowd still remaining in high spirits, and instead starting to dance in the rain as encouraged by Raye, herself (“Oi oi ‘cos we’re British and we do everything in the rain!”)
An hour earlier than anticipated is the advertised headliner, Craig David – something that causes confusion amongst the audience, leaving mutterings of disorientation in the petrichor scented air. As soon as he enters the stage, everyone begins to edge slightly closer. Deck chairs are folded away and picnic blankets are placed back in their bags, as the field is transformed into a dance floor. The setlist contains something for everyone: from some of Craig’s biggest and most well-known hits (‘7 Days’, ‘Fill Me In’) to mash-ups of more recent chart hits (I still can’t get my little head around how he mashes songs up so perfectly?) and real throwback bangers from the early noughties. My best friend, Lucy, was having a great time (mid-way through she pauses her dancing to tell me that she has “no shame for Craig”), however, the real legend has to have been the elderly lady in front of me sporting a pair of daisy shaped sunglasses, dancing and cheering throughout. She was having the absolute time of her life, and when I grow up, I aspire to be half as cool as her.
At half past nine, it’s time for the main event. Sigala enters the stage with an incredible DJ set that really got the crowd going, especially because of the level of encouragement to the audience to scream, sing-along and put their arms in the air. A running theme of this is that the music didn’t appear to be particularly loud, however, you could feel the bass going right through you during the set, which is a sensation that I have been yearning over the course of the past year. In its entirety, the set is energetic and fast-paced, with lots of opportunity for dancing and singing at the top of your lungs as there were a good selection of well-known Sigala tunes alongside some throwbacks from the early 2000s such as ‘I Want It That Way’ by Backstreet Boys. Not only was the music enjoyable, but the kinetic images playing on the back wall of the stage paired with the surprise of not one, but two confetti cannons and smoke machines, really added to the atmosphere of the show. Everywhere in the crowd there were people sitting on each other’s shoulders, and others with their arms around each other, whilst the couple in front of me danced full choreographies together, proving themselves to be the real main characters of the night. This made it feel like a real celebratory and exhilarating moment, considering seventeen months have now passed without human contact or live music. Whilst Craig David would have been great as a headliner, I must admit that Sigala did an incredible job, offering a really memorable set that undeniably got the crowd going.
As a whole, MFor Festival is a really great family friendly festival that has a lot more on offer than just live music, as included in the ticket fee is the opportunity to enjoy activities such as crazy golf, zorbing, bouncy castles, fairground rides, and this year, there was even a challenger tank. In addition to this, the festival site also offers a bar and a food court boasting a range of great cuisines to choose from (I would definitely recommend the vegetarian noodles from Noodle House!)
However, it was slightly disappointing to see that there were some horrendously long queues for the bar, and even worse hold-ups for the porta-loos, of which there weren’t very many, and they appeared to be the only onsite toilets (Personally, I debated going to the toilet for most of the afternoon, however, decided to just wait until I was back home because of the wait and the standard of the toilets). Another issue that I encountered was the fact that the website and emails sent to ticket-holders specifically stated that in order to enter the arena, you would have to present either a negative lateral flow test or proof of a double vaccination, however, this did not appear to be a requirement, raising some questions.
These issues have since been acknowledged by the organisers via social media, and they have promised that this shall not happen again.
All in all, MFor is a great festival to attend no matter your age as there is so much included in your ticket and it’s a really nice feel-good festival perfect for anyone - especially because there is plenty of space in the music arena, allowing you to choose whether you want to immerse yourself in the pit and be part of the action, or observe from further back. I can’t wait to see what the festival will have to offer next year!