Review by Steve Crawford with Photography by Rob Hadley

Seven weeks of continuous hot glorious sunshine, an unrelenting heatwave that England hasn’t seen the like of since 1976. What perfect conditions to send a weekend outside and put all that extraordinary weather to good use at Lunar Festival 2018. Friday 27th July is one such day, swelteringly hot, a few tufts of little fluffy white clouds in a brilliant blue sky and the sun super-heating the festival site and festival goers as they unload various bits of camping equipment for the weekend.

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Sister festival of Mostly Funk and Jazz and The Moseley Folk Festival both of which take place in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley; Lunar is held in the Warwickshire village of Tanworth in Arden, set up in homage to one time resident Nick Drake who is buried in the local churchyard.

It’s back after a year’s break and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Not only is it being held in aforementioned heatwave but also during the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century which sees the moon turn a reddish, rusty colour, known as a ‘Blood Moon’ This promises to be a spectacular site and a triumph of organisation by the folks at Team Lunar.

Lunar’s main arena area is arranged so that the two main stages (the Lunar Stage and the Half Moon Stage) are situated side-by-side. Whilst one act plays the next one sets up. For the audience this means minimum faff and fuss and eliminates travel time. Turn your head to the left, or to the right and you have arrived at the next act.

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Of course as with most festivals there is much more to do and see than just the main stages. There’s the New Breed Stage – a chance for new acts to try out their material; Nutopia based John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘conceptual country’ which as well as hosting DJ acts is also the place to go and hear talks by writers, journalists, doctors as well as doubling as a nightclub where upon entering you are given a medical to check that your aura is in fine fettle and if all in order you are given a new name. In the Crow bar you can learn Northern Soul dancing, Bhangra Dancing, Swing. It also doubles as a club with DJs playing some classic tunes. Around the festival site there are hot-tubs, you can attend yoga classes, storytelling classes, basket making , learn about fungi and even learn to make an actual wand of the expelliarmus variety. So if nothing on the main stages take your fancy (hard to believe) it’s possible to spend the entire weekend doing other things. Unimaginable but possible. But this is Gig Junkies and ‘live music is our drug’ so that’s what this review will mainly focus on. On that note then, in addition to the the two main stages and well worthy of a mention in terms of a live music venue is the Moonshine Barn. As the name suggests it’s a small barn sized venue  where the musical acts further down the bill get to play; ,many of which are from the Midlands area. And again it’s also a multi-purpose venue for stand-up comedy; mini film festivals and the “in discussion” type of events. Walking past the barn ex Labour leader Ed Miliband with floral garland around his head is spotted talking with radio presenter Geoff Lloyd. Miliband in a headband is a surreal thing to see if you’re not expecting it.

As far as musical acts go it’s the Moonshine Barn that turns out to be just as rich with talent as the two main stages and many times it’s a job to get into the barn as so many people are gathered outside jostling for a glimpse of what’s within.
This is the dilemma for the weekend: who do you go and see. It’s impossible to see everything and a compromise has to be reached, so apologies if your favourite act doesn’t get a mention.

Friday 27th Day 1

It’s the Moonshine Barn that offers up the first musical offering of the festival.

Kaytee Dewolfe, hailing from Birmingham by way of Texas is a singer-songwriter and artist (the black & white half bird/ half human creatures that adorn the festival are Kaytee’s work). Ex of Bipolar Baby and The Dark Retreat Kaytee is back with a new project. Billed as Kaytee Dewolfe up until today, the band consisting of regular guitarist Andrew Wilson and Toni Woodward on cello announce a new band name: the particularly apt ‘Low Red Moon’ They play “folk noir” with elements of surf rock (yes it really does work) a Gothic take on folk songs about love rejection and knotweed.

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It’s a quick sprint from the Moonshine Barn to catch the last 10 minutes of The Good Water who are opening up the Lunar 2018 on the Half Moon Stage. No strangers to Lunar they opened up the Saturday in 2016 if memory serves correctly. Back then they were a duo but today have now expanded to include a third member on keyboards. Singer guitarist Rob Clements evokes a little bit of Sandie Shaw as he paces barefoot around the stage, working the his rack of effects pedals to wrangle indie-psychedelia sounds from his Gretsch. They set the tone nicely for the rest of the weekend.

77.78, a new venture for two ex-members of The Bees open up the main Lunar stage, their light-psych  pop evoking a 1960s sun drenched Californian beaches, but works well in a sun drenched field in Warwickshire too. Following on is Walsall born John J Pressley, whose slow grinding, distorted riff-heavy guitar is a quite a contrast to 77.78 and indeed the bands that follow. Someone comments that with his gruff growling vocal delivery he’d make a good slow tempo version of a fire and brimstone type of preacher.

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So far it’s been fairly sparse in terms of actually bodies coming to watch the bands playing, Friday daytime usually being the quietest day of any weekend festival. In addition most of the crowd are trying to find some sort of shade on the edges of the field as it’s an intensely hot day out there as folk avoid the middle of the field, so it perhaps looks emptier than it otherwise would have been?

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The first crowd of any real number to gather today do so for Cardiff’s Boy Azooga. A band whose star is in the ascendant this year having released their debut album ‘1,2, Kung Fu!’ and made an appearance Later… with Jools Holland. Lead by Davey Newington who today in checked shirt bears more than a passing resemblance to a pre-Beatles, Quarrymen era John Lennon.

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Sound wise they’re eclectic, songs starting as one thing become something different as tempos change midway through. “This is the last slow melancholic one, then we pick it up again” Davey announces. As if on cue as they play this song, clouds start to gather and for the first time today the temperature drops to ‘comfortable’. They do indeed pick it up again with a cover of fellow countrymen’s band The Keys with “I tried to find it in Books” and Loner Boogie. Songs are dedicated to dogs / a teacher “who made school bearable” and Davey apologies: “Excuse the bum notes. I had a shot of tequila, but it is my [27th] birthday” after all. They look like they are genuinely enjoying themselves when playing live and not just going through the motions. It seems like they’re destined for great things?

A sizeable crowd has gathered as The Go! Team take the stage. In many ways the perfect festival band and on seeing live for the first time you understand how fitting the name ‘Go! Team’ actually is. They “go” all the time whilst on stage; constant motion; constant bouncing and encouraging the audience to join in . Singer Ninja tells the crowd that’s she’s damaged her ankle (not that you can tell as she leaps and jumps around) so can’t really go for it so we’re all going to have to compensate, the audience oblige, including the Lunar guy in inflatable spaceman suit. She makes a young lad’s day as he is spotted wearing an “album number 3” t-shirt and gets a shout out.

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The feel good hi-energy factor is continued with a DJ set from Basement Jaxx. The Lunar audience is a real mix in terms of age ranges, from the very young, toddlers who sport massive ear defenders in various shades of fluorescent bright, to pensioners. But it’s the folks of a certain age that make their presence felt during the Basement Jaxx set re-living their youth, possibly it’s flashback city time for a lot of people? It’s a joy to witness the middle-aged raving it up in a field and as the bass drops, an impressive sight as hands punch the air in unison. I’m reminded of recent news footage of crowds of England fans watching the World Cup and reacting instantly as one with beer going up and showering down as alcoholic rain. The crowd are co-ordinated. Ah yes, speaking of rain… more of which later.

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Head-liners Amadou & Mariam close Friday’s proceedings, but I have a real dilemma: stay for the whole of their set or go to the Moonshine Barn to see local Birmingham band Dirty Old Folkers, which is where every one of my cohort are heading? As I hear Amadou Bagayoko’s guitar start up with that distinctive African, Malian rhythmic jangle my decision is made and I stay, at least for a while. It’s just delightful to hear, uplifting and infectious and there’s plenty of people in the audience who dance and sway throughout, it’s hard not to stay still to this type of music. I stay for a few numbers but the draw of the Folkers is too great.

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Down at the Moonshine Barn, The Dirty Old Folkers are in full flow as two giant dancing bananas whirl and twirl at the front… and that’s just the audience members. The Dirty Old Folkers bring their very own dancers to most of their gigs and tonight is no exception as both Death and Panda (an actual Grim Reaper…and a panda bear) eventuality clamber onto stage and indulge in the traditional fight. It’s a exuberant set and a fine way to end day one. Heading back to the tents we heed one of Lunar’s mantras: “Look up” as we search for that blood moon. Unfortunately it’s obscured by clouds, a rare sight these days. And is that fine rain we can feel as we head back to the tents? Nah. Must remember to slap on the factor 50 again tomorrow and apply liberally including under festival wristband which lovely blue colour compliments the bright red strip of sunburn nicely.

Saturday 28th Day 2

So, seven weeks of continuous hot glorious sunshine, an unrelenting heatwave that England hasn’t seen the like of since 1976… ends today. It rains. And it’s not just a few summer showers that’ll bring welcome relief for ten minutes or so. No. This is hour after hour of persistent rain of the wet, soak you to your skin no matter how many layers of water proofing you have on, kind. It looks like it’s going to be a proper summer festival in England experience.

A psychedelic, krautrock, electronica theme seems to be the order for day two of Lunar. There’s going to be plenty of motorik beats, ethereal electronic blips & splurts and lots of heavily delayed, phased and fuzzed up guitars. (amongst other stuff).
Matters kick off Saturday on the Half Moon Stage and pretty much do all that has just been described above. A 3-piece Krautrock influenced instrumental band but with a more modern electronica element to them it’s a great start.

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Mother Earth Experiment launching proceedings on the Lunar Stage, have a straight out of the sixties Haight-Ashbury look about them and musical chops to back it up with too. They are tight six piece band that includes a stand-up bongo player with powerful vocals from Mark Roberts over a funky-psych-prog 60s/70s wah guitar.

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Notable mentions of day go to the beautiful breathy vocals of Halo Maud; the unique spectacle that are Heliocentrics and only heard from across the festival site whilst sheltering in tents, refuelling on sustaining delicious, nutritious up-market Pot Noodles, are Plastic Mermaids; the irony of being neither made of plastic nor mermaids can’t be lost on them today?

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Back to the Lunar stage and in plenty time to see the mighty Hookworms, which is more than could be said for today’s compare: 6 Music and Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe, who comes hurtling towards us on the way to introduce the band. “You’re late” someone shouts at him. “I know” he replies as he goes careering past just as the ‘blip-blap, blip-blap” keyboard intro to Negative Space starts up.

The Hookworms either have a very loyal audience or have generated enough interest and curiosity for people to come and stand in the stair-rod heavy rain that persists throughout their set. Maybe that’s not surprising as they have sold out many venues promoting this year’s Microshift album. Apparently at last weekend’s Blue Dot festival you couldn’t get anywhere near to see them. Had the rain not been so persistent surely they would have drawn a much bigger crowd here at Lunar too. They play full-on power noise-psych that’s muscular and pulverising and makes you forget the elements. I realise I should have paid more attention to hydrostatic values of waterproof jackets and invested in a garment with higher value than the one I am wearing, which is proving to have a hydrostatic value of: not at all. Or take a leaf out of T-shirt Guy’s book. I’ve spot T-shirt Guy at several points over the weekend. Apart from jeans and trainers all he ever wears is a T-shirt no matter how heavy the rain. He seems impervious to the weather. So I just give in and go for it, like T-shirt Guy or the Steam-Punk and Stripy Rainbow Cat-Suit fancy dress couple who abandon any hope of staying remotely dry and just dance their way through the set. However, such is the might of the Hookworms that as they finish their set the rain gods surrender and cease the downpour… for a while.

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Particle Kid, from LA is up next and is a lot grungier live than on the tracks heard on Spotify etc. He ends his set by tumbling off stage and rolling around on the ground a bit. I think he’s OK though as he makes a reappearance again later in the day.

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Over on the Half Moon Stage, the mysterious Blackash are about to play. They don’t have names simply known as Blackash #1, #2 etc. and always appear with faces half-hidden behind bandannas. The singer had been described to me as looking like someone from the planet Tatoonie from Star Wars, dressed in a robes and bandages type of affair. But there’s something more of Moseley than Mos Eisley about this lot? It’s one of my favourite sets of the weekend, again in-keeping with the Saturday psychedelic spirit, it’s the epitome of spacer-rock, repetitive drums and bass riffs, slabs of psych-synths and reverb on the vocals and guitars. For their track ‘Black Witch’ they are joined on stage by the previous Half Moon Stage act, Particle Boy who jams along with them as a trio of dance-witches appear at the foot of the stage; proceed to stare out the audience before indulging in some freaky space-witch dancing.

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By the time Saturday head-liners Goldfrapp take to the stage the rain has abated. They draw the biggest crowd of the weekend and their set is something of a revelation for me. However it’s 15 minutes before they’re due on, so it’s back to the Moonshine Bar to catch the start of The Major Toms, one of the best Bowie tribute/cover bands around. They don’t go in for the whole dressing like Bowie thing and they don’t just cover Bowie songs. The barn is packed out, you can’t get inside let alone anywhere near the front and it feels like every single person there is singing along. Not just the adults either, there are plenty of young teenagers there and it’s heartening to note that they seem to know all of the words to most of the Bowie songs being played. Ideally the Major Toms should be playing on the bigger Half Moon Stage such is the crush to get in and see them, but I guess because not doing original material disqualifies them from doing so?

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Reluctantly I leave the jubilant atmosphere of the Moonshine Barn and head off to see Goldfrapp. I own a couple of their albums that don’t really get played much so I’m really not that familiar with their a lot of their back catalogue and am slightly ambivalent about seeing them live.

By the third song in ‘Train’, I’m unequivocally won over and a new convert. Tonight Goldfrapp have something that elevates them just a notch above many of the bands seen so far at Lunar, performance wise at least (not to disparage the other acts, everyone seen so far has been great to exceptional; there hasn’t been a dud amongst them). Alison Goldfrapp is famed for her vocal performances and tonight it is abundantly clear why that is. Her voice is breathy soft & seductive but yet can hit powerful highs such as on ‘Slide In’. I have very little technical knowledge of musical keys, vocal ranges etc. but to these untrained ears it’s a flawless performance, there doesn’t seem to be a note out of place. The band themselves are tight and precise; Charlie Jones’ on his Perspex bass in particular stands out. There is definitely something about Goldfrapp that sets them apart.

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Alison Goldfrapp looks resplendent in an orange outfit with flowing sleeves; I’m not sure what the correct terminology is for this? But as she succinctly puts it: “I’m dressed as a carrot”. It’s probably an haute couture carrot though. For a lot of the set the band themselves are obscured by dry ice and spotlights that shine out from the back of the stage silhouetting Alison, must be a nightmare to photograph?

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They play Ocean, the recorded version of which features Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, will he make a guest appearance tonight? No, unfortunately not. The crowd is on board for the whole set but it’s the big numbers that get the loudest cheers: Number 1, Ride a White Horse and finishing with ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Strict Machine’. So whilst not my favourite act of the weekend or the act I’ve enjoyed the most, Goldfrapp are a formidable live act and tonight’s performance will linger long in the memory and probably make it to the list of best live acts.

Sunday 29th Day 3

Seven weeks of continuous hot glorious sunshine, an unrelenting heatwave that England hasn’t seen the like of since 1976… isn’t coming back today. Again the rain dominates, and I find out what fun it is to take down tents and pack up camping gear in a torrential down pour and lug it through increasingly squelchy, liquid mud to the car. At least I have gone with proper seasoned campers, I don’t think I’d have survived otherwise. Anyway isn’t just another part of the “proper” festival experience?

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Ex Can singer, Damo Suzuki provides Lunar with possibly the most unique set of the weekend. His modus operandi when on tour is to use local musicians as his backing group who improvise over his vocals, which are a mixture of languages, wails, grunts, growls and abstract sounds that he terms “stone age language”. Today he plays with The Lunar Ensemble, who look to be made up of members of Dorcha, the previous band on the bill. Of Damo himself there’s no sign until about 15 minutes before the set is due to end when Dorcha’s Anna Palmer announces: “Everyone. Damo Suzuki” as he appears to applause to take the microphone. The Lunar Ensemble play an extended improvised jam that is clangourous and dissonant as Damo starts what seems to be free-styling over it. Judging by several comments along the lines of “it’s just random noise..” it’s clear this set divides opinion. On the other hand there are plenty of people enjoying it down the front. And it could be considered brave, experimental and music free from traditional constraints. It’s undoubtedly challenging but whilst being performed live quite something to experience.

Talking of artistic performances. Ahoy! ahoy! Avast and ahoy! Tricorn hats and frock coats a-plenty it’s either Poldark the touring musical or it’s Mark Radcliffe’s Galleon Blast? It’s the latter (sorry Poldark fans) specialising in sea shanties and songs of pirating. The prize for most ‘between song banter’ definitely goes to Mark Radcliffe, so even if the music isn’t to your taste they are worth watching just for the comedy element. Although, they are actually a fine bunch of folk musicians.

Jane Weaver provides another stand out set of the festival,but again I suspect the rain keeps many people away which is a real shame. She would have fitted in nicely into the day before line-up. i.e ‘Psychedelic Saturday’. Less harsh than many of yesterday’s acts hers is a more ethereal spacey sound. My camping guru friend summed up the Jane Weaver effect nicely saying that she sent him into a “trance like state of euphoria” After “feeling all shitty carrying all the camping gear back to the car through the mud and getting thoroughly soaked” The healing power of music eh?

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The rain starts up I earnest again part-way through Songhoy Blues’ slot on the main Lunar stage. Despite this they have a decent size crowd who stay, hooked on the upbeat Afro-blues rhythms. Again as with Amadou Bagayoko’s guitar sound on Friday night, Garba Toure, playing a Fender Jazzmaster (usually the guitar of choice for many an indie band) gets that bright upbeat African / Malian jangle out of it. Energetic front man Aliou Toure encourages the crowd to “do some dance moves, right?”, being no stranger to some fine moves himself as he bounds around the stage. The irony of playing their song ‘Sahara’ in this rain isn’t lost on us, but again it’s time to seek refuge and refuge is offered in the form of The Crow’s nest where standing in the entrance it’s still possible to see and hear Songhoy Blues.

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Within the Crow however a DJ set comprising Midlands based music is well under way, which morphs into indie and rock classics: AC/DC played next to Joy Division, followed by Queen, followed by Prince, followed by The Fall and the dance floor throughout is pretty rammed. Out back in the garden area the resident festival fire eaters who also double as the festivals stilt-walkers and inflatable astronauts, put on firstly a display of sword swallowing, (except the swords are replaced by 6 inch nails and scissors and aren’t swallowed but inserted very deep up the nostrils) and secondly fire-eating. Afterwards they explain to curious youngsters just how the go about eating fire, hopefully with the proviso: don’t try this at home kids.

Other notable mentions from the Sunday line-up: Swampmeat Family Band who at the last Lunar festival played the smaller Bimble Inn, (located in what is now the Northern Sky Retreat) at the back of the site, are now playing the Half Moon Stage in the main arena as they absolutely should be.

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AK/DK a more unusual type of synth duo: two drummers who sit side-by-side pummelling their kits with a pile of synths and effects stacked up between them. It’s muscular synth music.

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Park Hotel are reinventing disco invoking both Chic and Talking Heads, especially their guitarist who does some Road to Nowhere running on the spot moves whilst dressed in a white suit a la David Byrne, yet plays funky rhythm guitar a la Niles Rogers, his guitar is even a dead ringer of Niles’ own Hitmaker Stratocaster.

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It’s one final visit to the Moonshine Barn before the Lunar Parade and Sunday’s head-liners. Again another Birmingham band Independent Country, a covers band with a difference. Akin to Nouvelle Vague, who play indie classics in a Bossa Nova style; Independent Country, as might be guessed from the name play indie classics in a country style. It takes a while for your brain to work out what’s being played. People shoot each other puzzled looks as they try to be the first to work out the song being played. Highlights include their version of Come Together by Spiritualized a and boom-chika, ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ version of the Arctic Monkeys ‘I bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor’.

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Before the Sunday headliners there’s time for the Lunar Parade, which sees a dance display and a parade of various people in costume and fancy dress: white Nutopia boiler suit workers; unicorns, Flame Fairy and inflatable dinosaur, before a giant wicker ball inserted into a wooden pyramid is set alight in a pagan Wicker Man manner.

Closing Lunar 2018 and the head-liners are The Stranglers. The Stranglers were the first band I ever saw live. It was the Dreamtime tour at the Birmingham Odeon 29th October 1986. I was 15 and not allowed to go, but went anyway. The subsequent two week grounding I got was worth every minute as I experienced for the first time the exhilaration of seeing a live band and that’s never left me. It’s the gig that all other gigs get compared to. The lineup has changed over the years, with Baz Warne now fronting the band and Jim Macaulay taking over drumming duties from Jet Black who has retired from touring.

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They emerge onto the stage, take up their positions to the sounds of Walt in Black and then launch straight into Five Minutes, hitting the ground running. From then on in its hit after hit as all the old favourites are belted out: Get a Grip, Hanging Around, Something Better Change, Peaches Duchess, Tank. Nice n Sleazy has old archive footage of the band in the 1970s playing on stage alongside strippers projected onto the backdrop The newer material sits well alongside the impressive back catalogue in particular Relentless and 15 Steps. The Stranglers were always good at a subtler quiet numbers too and the middle of the set is reserved for these. Starting with Golden Brown, followed by Always the Sun (and I’m immediately transported back 32 years waiting outside the Birmingham Odeon listening to the band sound checking that very song), and ending this mellow section with Skin Deep. They finish their set with No More Heroes.

They don’t disappoint, they’re on fine, fine form. Dave Green executes a one handed keyboard solo whilst drinking a pint. JJ Burnel still does his low-crouch kick dance as he plays those familiar growling chunky bass lines and Baz Warne is a fine front man. I‘m watching the band with my 12 year old daughter and I think it’s really not fair. She’s 3 years younger than I was when I first saw the Stranglers… and she won’t be getting grounded.

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So Lunar 2018 comes to a close. Despite the weather this has been a fantastic festival and in many ways made it all the more memorable. It’s small enough to get around and experience everything it has to offer, but is big enough to be a draw for some major acts and a wide range of smaller but no less talented acts as well. The rain will have put people off from which must be worrying for the organisers, but we can only hope that it returns again next year.

See the complete photoset from Lunar Festival 2018 here.

2 Responses to “Lunar Festival, Umberslade Farm Park, Tanworth In Arden, UK – 27th – 29th July 2018”

  1. Luke Henry Says:

    Cracking photos look like a top festival

  2. Marta Meazza Says:

    Sounds and looks glorious!

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