Royal William Yard Festival

Writer Juliet Cornell enjoyed the first ever Music Festival at the historic Royal William Yard

Royal William Yard Festival 27th 28th May 2017

 The Royal William Yard Festival this past weekend truly celebrated “Peninsula Living”, featuring six music stages, delicious artisan food stalls and vintage vehicles. When thinking about attending I wondered quite how it would work? Having now experienced two glorious days of entertainment I’m left thinking “How could it not work!”

The Royal William Yard is an absolute jewel in Plymouths historic and cultural crowns. Built nearly 200 years ago as a Naval Victualling Yard, it has been managed since 2004 by Urban Splash, an award winning Regeneration Company. As part of their ongoing pledge to become a ‘cultural hub’ in the city, the inaugural festival was held this weekend, curated, organised and delivered by Romeo & Juliet Echo, the festival was planned from start to finish in under five months with thanks going to Jim Pascoe, Craig Roxburgh and the many local services and businesses from across Plymouth who made the event possible in such a short time frame. What a glorious ‘first’ this was. Blessed with beautiful architecture and a phenomenal geographic position at the mouth of the river with views out on to the sound and in towards Cornwall and the Tamar, even the weather was in agreement as the Royal William Yard was bathed in truly spectacular sunshine for most of the festival.

Walking in, there was an immediate feeling of a happy buzz. The smell of great tasting food wafts to my nose in the same way that snatches of music called me in different directions. Ticket sales and wristband allocation was efficient but informally relaxed as was security, a refreshing change from the usual experience at music festivals. Wandering through the throngs, a wedding party seriously raises the fashion stakes as they wait excitedly and glamorously for their wristbands.

Festival going is all about curating your own visit, either sticking tightly to a pre planned schedule that gives you the chance to see everything you want to or allowing serendipity to guide you to both favourites and new experiences. I tend towards the latter, but this weekend a professional military musician who had one or two targets of his own accompanied me. After we had eaten and chilled out at Sundeck Sup BBQ and Beats we headed off to see our first agenda item, Oompah Brass.

Oompah Brass, where to begin? Rock’n’roll Brass, with not a drinking song in sight, thank goodness. The acoustics of the Harbour Maritime were a little awkward for this band, but it was easy enough to move around to find a good place to improve things. Their reworking of Queen, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry classics among others were energetic and entertaining, but it was also easy to recognise that these are really talented brass musicians. Would I download tracks from this band? Perhaps not, but would I see them live again, definitely. Quirky musical entertainment is great for expanding the mind.

Molotov Jukebox is a band I would download tracks by and would definitely pay to see again. Their wide-ranging style of music made for an impressive closing set on Saturday. Fantastic energy drives this bands performance and it makes for a vibrant, memorable experience.

In other places across the yard we caught a great set in the Secret Garden from local favourites, Vince Lee and the Big Combo and were treated by Dead Rose Music Company in Factory Cooperage.

Sunday saw us target The Royal Marines Band and Seth Lakeman. Both fantastically suited to this venue and performances which were every bit as good and visceral as each other. Military music moves people with strange magic that allows us to feel emotional almost in the first few notes, and when it’s played perfectly, as it was here, that effect is multiplied. Seth Lakeman on the other hand playing to his home West Country crowd weaves a different kind of wizardry. Notes seemingly plucked fresh from a Dartmoor stream weave in and out of the surrounding landscape, like they were made for each other, which of course they were. Hearts well and truly filled we roved, ate great food, caught moments of unknown but captivating music and met old friends and acquaintances, some not seen for many years.

However who or what myself or anyone else saw or did at this festival is largely irrelevant. The great take-home message is that as a punter I felt this was an outrageously successful first Royal William Yard Festival. Everyone involved in the planning and organisation has given Plymouth something to be really proud of.