Rivalling Glastonbury as the epicentre of magickal hippie Englishness, Stroud is the perfect location for EppyFest. Held in a community hall next to a spiritualist church, the atmosphere is a mix of village fete and obsessive fan convention. Welcome to sleepy Middle England, with all its occult oddness bubbling away just below the surface.
Festivities begin with guitar-strumming balladeer Tom Slatter. He leavens his surrealistic Sci-fi lyrics with self-deprecating humour, which is charming but overly whimsical in places. A more seasoned and impressive singer-songwriter is Marvin B Naylor, whose 12-string musings combine Bert Jansch-level melodicism with Roy Harper-style tonal shifts, free-form song structures and sudden swerves into tremulous falsetto.
An early EppyFest highlight are the electro-acoustic improvisation duo Darkroom, consisting of Michael Bearpark and Andrew Ostler, swollen to a trio on this occasion by their Turkish guest player Elif Yalvaç. Mixing laptops with modular synthesisers, guitars and woodwind instruments, their set features a series of explorations into Eno-esque ambitronics, ebbing and surging before the sonic storm clouds finally dissipate to allow soft rays of Floydian guitar to shine through. Potent stuff.
Bringing 50 shades of jazz to Stroud are The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet, led by Israeli-born virtuoso drummer Asaf Sirkis and Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas. Their agreeably multicultural mixtape sound ranges across genres and continents, with Sirkis covering the percussion spectrum from sloppy post-rock clatter to Gene Krupa-style dynamic wallop.
A faint aura of legend surrounds prog folk veteran Judy Dyble, whose half-century in music includes integral involvement with Fairport Convention and the embryonic King Crimson. Backed by a tight band that includes two keyboard players, her EppyFest set applies cut-glass trilling to songs of rueful introspection and pastoral celebration. Behind her impeccably English reserve, there’s grace and darkness, and a quiet emotional force in melancholy confessionals like Silence and the Crimson classic I Talk To The Wind, all arranged and delivered with a watchmaker’s precision.
Former Cardiacs keyboard player William D Drake and his band are EppyFest regulars, having topped the bill at the very first gathering five years ago. Their richly embroidered headline set is a carnival of queasy listening and psychedelic sea shanties, picking up the prog punk music hall ethos of the Cardiacs but without their seething Dadaist mania.
A rollicking, purposely wonky cover of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic is about as rowdy as they get, but most of this joyous late-night performance has the slightly sinister sunshine sweetness of vintage Syd Barrett. A fitting finale to a day of magic and mischief in this leafy corner of old, weird, psych folk Albion.