Thetford Forest June 17, 2023
by Paul Hammerton
It’s a sure sign that summer’s here when Forestry England’s Forest Live concert series rolls into Thetford, bringing internationally-known performers to a magical setting.
Tonight’s headliner is Paul Weller, but the supporting bands on the bill make an early arrival a good idea.
The opening act is Oldham-born singer-songwriter Seb Lowe.
Accompanied by a violinist, his catchy tunes – with a political slant – help him build a good rapport with the standing portion of the large crowd.
He makes the most of the opportunity of this high-profile support slot, and a fair few people will be checking his tracks online as a result.
The stage crew are super slick and there is little time to wait for Far From Saints.
Usually touted as the new project of Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones, the band is much more than that.
Their main strength is the vocal harmonies between Jones and US-born Patty Lynn (who’s wearing a Jam T-shirt).
With tight backing musicians, there are hints of country and the performance would not be out of place at a Midwestern rodeo.
They end with a rocking cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl. As is custom for support acts, there’s no encore, although the reception they receive would justify one.
Anyone heading to Latitude would do well to check them out.
The joy of these forest concerts is that there are different things to get out of the evening.
For some it’s garden chairs, a tasty picnic and the chance to bring exactly what you want to drink while enjoying good music in a beautiful setting.
For others it’s the chance to get great close-up views in the standing area right at the front – and when Paul Weller takes to the stage the standing area is comfortably packed with diehard fans, and the atmosphere is electric.
Weller shifts effortlessly between guitar, piano and acoustic guitar, changing the mood at will.
Two percussionists, Steve Pilgrim and Ben Gordelier, drive the set while the saxophonist multi-tasks with two saxophones, flute and melodica on a number of songs, and added to the mix is versatile guitarist Steve Craddock, a long-term Weller collaborator.
The setlist ranges across Weller’s career, from Start by The Jam via Style Council favourites to the unrecorded Take. Amongst the standout tracks are Stanley Road, Sunflower and It’s A Very Deep Sea.
The timing of Wild Wood is perfect with the sky darkening and the trees beside the stage starting to glow under the blue and green lights.
Weller appears happier than he’s sometimes seemed in the past, and engages with the audience throughout the evening.
Talking of audience engagement, Lowe – tonight’s opener – finds his way into the middle of the crowd during Weller’s set and is greeted with hugs and high-fives.
At the start of the show, Weller had promised a long set list and, boy, do we get it. After 90 minutes and more than 20 songs he leaves the stage, but he announces the encore with “Welcome to Part Two”, ahead of another five well-judged tracks.
And there’s a nice touch when one of the long-time organisers of these Forest Live concerts is brought on stage as a thank-you.
With a back catalogue as extensive as he’s got, it’s impossible for Weller to satisfy everyone, but the finale of Town Called Malice is surely a universally welcome curtain-closer.