Forest Live 2023: Sweltering heat, woodlands, and ‘Madness’ make a memorable weekend

Festival Review

Madness. Photo by Terry Marland.

By Terry Marland

Review: Forest Live Festival – Delamere Forest, Cheshire, UK-June 15th-18th, 2023

Forest Live 2023 

Forest Live is a major annual live music event presented by Forestry England and held across a range of unique woodland settings in the UK.  Income from ticket sales helps look after England’s forests for people to enjoy and wildlife to thrive. Forest Live concerts have been attended by over two million people in the last twenty two years.   

Rock at Night was covering the event for the first time and were at three concerts featuring Madness, Jack Savoretti and Richard Ashcroft. 

On day one it was hot, very hot and some concert goers were visibly wilting in the heat. 

The Hawkmen had a very early slot and I only caught the tail end of their rootsy rhythm and blues set.  The band is an accomplished outfit that has been recognised by a host of national radio stations. Next up, it was special guest Hollie Cook and her band who pumped out a rich reggae mix from her back catalogue.  Her sparkling vocals and charismatic presence combined with her talented band created a unique atmosphere. She has a busy summer ahead on the festival circuit. A special talent. 

Suggs of Madness. Photo by Terry Marland.

The familiar opening of “Hey you don’t what that, watch this, this is the heavy monster sound” heralds in the Madness set opener “One Step Beyond” and immediately had the audience in dance mode. Their set, as you’d expect, featured timeless classics interwoven with later work, including “Baby Burglar” and “If I Go Mad”  that blended together to deliver a highly polished set. 

The Madness fans covered an age spectrum running from pre-teen to the over sixties, many of whom were kitted out in two tone outfits or wearing the trademark madness fez headgear that generated a feel good party atmosphere. 

In between songs Suggs joked with the audience, who were in raptures by the time the main set closed with heavyweight hits “Baggy Trousers”, “It Must Be Love” and “Our House” before returning for an encore of “Madness” and “Night Boat to Cairo”. The band is now well into their fifth decade of performing, is showing no signs of slowing down and has become a British institution. Just wonderful.  

Natalie Imbruglia. Photo by Terry Marland.

On Saturday evening Natalie Imbruglia opened up with a punchy 50 minute set that included chart successes “Wishing I was There”, “Shiver” and “Smoke”. Her biggest hit “Torn”, as expected, received the most emphatic reaction from the audience. New number and as yet unrecorded “Habit” is a future track to look forward to. A great performance that set the scene for the rest of the evening. 

Jack Savoretti. Photo by Terry Marland.

Jack Savoretti  opened with a pulsating ”We Are Bound” and immediately had the audience on side and singing along. His music is hard to pigeon-hole straddling genres that include folk, rock, blues and pop. Either way it’s an intoxicating mix and made for an enthralling performance. He has a magical talent for audience engagement and bounded across the across the reaching all sections of the crowd.  

Early in the set he sat on the edge of the stage with a wine glass at hand and talked candidly to the crowd about how lockdown made him re-evaluate his life. He apologised for taking his career for granted and described how he missed the sense of occasion that live performances bring. This segued into “Too Much History” a touching song written during the pandemic that had Savorretti orchestrating the Delamere audience as he continued to do throughout his set. 

Sunday brought a change in the weather and waterproofs were the order of the day with no need to reach for the factor 7. 

Opening Act Seb Lowe and his  band delivered an attention grabbing set that questioned a lot of the ethics in the UK with a folky and uncompromising in-your-face style. The set included “i-phone” and a new song, the very catchy “I Fell in Love with a Talking Head”.  The band has a busy summer schedule including a high profile support slot at Jamie Webster’s Liverpool Pier Head Show at the end of June.     

John Power of Cast. Photo by Terry Marland.

Indie Rock band Cast had a string of successful albums and singles in the nineties and it’s the singles that made up the bulk of their potent set. Powerhouse renditions of “Fine Time”, “Flying” and “All Change”  resulted in increased numbers of audience members getting out of their seats and making their way to the front of the stage while “Walk Away” had them raising their hands and swaying as one. Some tracks were revved up to include heavy guitar breaks that only added to the power of the originals, such was the case with “Alright” that closed their excellent set in some style. 

Heavy rain fell during Richard Ashcroft’s performance but no one cared, so good was the music on offer and the camaraderie generated by the communal singing. As the former Verve frontman entered the stage in familiar bucket hat and dark glasses, he acknowledged the crowd before taking up his guitar and launching into an electrifying  “Space and Time” from the Urban Hymns album.  As anticipated the set was a mix of Verve songs including “Lucky Man” and “Sonnet” “interspersed with solo tracks including “A Song For the Lovers” and “Break the Night with Colour”.  In between songs, while the rain fell, he exclaimed in disbelief “it’s been cracking the flags for three weeks”, which is an accurate observation as it had been mainly wall to wall sunshine in these parts.   The main set closed with a heartfelt “The Drugs Don’t Work “ before an encore that finished the evening off with Ashcroft and every audience member singing along to “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. A fitting to close another series of Forest Live concerts and sending the crowd home a little wet but very happy. 

Hollie Cook. Photo by Terry Marland.

Going to a Forest Live concert helps Forestry England create beautiful places for people to enjoy, run important conservation projects and keep growing trees. Last year they planted some 6.8 million trees, caring for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests sustainably and welcoming 363 million visits annually. 

Across the arena there were banners proclaiming the Forestry England’s support for England’s forests. It should be said though that in providing a platform for these shows Forestry England also shows its support for live music by encouraging people to come and watch performances which makes it a win-win outcome for all.

More info here 




Terry Marland