Guilfest might just turn out to be one of the summer’s best kept secrets, mostly because its target audience is not the typical festival-goer and has to already be there to truly understand its charms. Once through the gates of the gloriously city centre-located Stoke Park (10 minutes from a train station, even closer to the bus, within walking distance of the high street shops) it soon becomes obvious that it’s because of, not in spite of, the eclectically bonkers bill, the commuter belt location and the gastro-grub on offer that Guilfest truly deserves its reputation as one of the UK’s most family friendly festivals.
First of all, get over the preconception that ‘family’ friendly means ‘stuff for toddlers to do’. It doesn’t (although there is plenty for toddlers to do, of which more later): a family can be a middle-aged couple and their teenage children, it can be pensioners and their thirtysomething offspring. It can be a family group comprising all ages from nine months to 90. This is the crowd Guilfest needs to attract. After all, who’s going to go to a festival in the middle of Guildford unless they live there already? When the potential pool is limited, a big net is needed.
In order to survive, Guilfest needs to be something for everyone, while simultaneously being self-aware enough to know that ‘everyone’ actually means ‘everyone who lives between the M25 and the M3 and is too lazy to go to Glastonbury’. Having established this, it hits that demographic with such stunning accuracy the result is truly impressive.
Exhibit one: Friday evening. Hassled parents of small children do not go out on Friday evenings. They are too knackered after a week’s work on top of family duties. Tweenagers do not go out on Friday nights either, much as they’d like to. Twentysomething clubbers and indie-types, plus older clubbers and indie-types with no children, go out on Friday nights. So this is when Guilfest offers up Hadouken and Orbital, Fucked Up and We Are The Ocean. Fucked Up? In Daily Mail heartland? Guilfest, we really do salute you.
This is the festival hardened clubbers can take their auntie to (hint: drop her in the ’70s disco tent), but all in context, and Friday night is not her time. Friday night is for We Are The Ocean fans to kick one another in the face be happy about it. And yet, at the same time it is the right place at which to read out 7th birthday wishes on the main stage to small boys in the audience watching the (once Beautiful) South.
This should not, on any sensible level, make logical sense but bizarrely it does, though the Unison tent bearing banners threatening that the government will take away the police may be less well-judged. The moment when festival goers and lefties are bonding over cuts in the security budget is the day the world as we know it really has changed forever.
Luckily, UnisonZone is not where the crowds are gathering. The crowds are gathering in front of Orbital, as the brothers Hartnoll prove to be the perfect closers for a summer evening that’s almost too warm. They’re not too much of a nostalgia trip, not too trendy and edgy, just right for the commuter belt crowd before them. Named after London’s M25 ring road, in honour of its central role in connecting the early ’90s rave scene, they may just have found their spiritual home.