Start the season off on the right foot with our preview of May's top festivals
At the time of writing, an ominous darkness has descended. The sky is pondering its options, considering letting loose another deluge, the verdict steadily edging in favour of ducks. Thanks sky. But… BUT… it is only April and April isn’t good for much because April is still in that dark period we refer to as “not festival season”. Next comes May, which falls under that halcyon time called “festival season”. Sunscreen and cider producers double their output, coats are cast into dark corners of deep wardrobes and everything is as it should be.
In such times of bliss, all you need is a list of optimal places to situate yourself. Say no more. Here’s our shortlist of the best UK festivals in May. Come the bank holiday, you might need to clone yourself to avoid missing out.
The Great Escape
Arrive fresh-faced and full of energy, leave with 23 new favourite bands and an inability to remember what you used to do before you went to gigs all day every day. The Great Escape draws a smorgasbord of exciting, under-sung and emerging talent (plus a few big names) from across the globe to Brighton for four massive days where suddenly every part of the city is a venue. Shopping centre lifts? Venue. The potato section of Sainsbury’s fruit and veg aisle? Venue. Medicine cabinet of the bathroom in your Airbnb? Venue. Brighton, 10 – 13 May | Get tickets here
Country music doesn’t get any fancier than an indoor festival at the Royal Albert Hall. Next thing they’ll be serving Miller High Life in coupes and melting down the crown jewels to festoon their denim jackets. Highways brings in some massive names from the Nashville scene (Kip Moore, Morgan Wade and more) with a load of add-ons to keep the party going, including a country for kids workshop with Alyssa Bonagura, a late night session with Ferris & Sylvester and an afterparty in the Kensington Gardens bar with Baylen Leonard from Absolute Radio Country. London, 20 May | Get tickets here
Midnight Sun Weekender
Any festival that takes you to a castle on Stornoway is a festival worth attending. Actually, anything that takes you to a castle on Stornoway is worth attending (except maybe back-to-back screenings of every Nicholas Sparks movie) but Midnight Sun boosts its appeal further with The Pretenders, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins, the mighty John Fogerty and more. Maybe even worth watching Letters To Juliet if it meant seeing all that lot afterwards. Stornoway, 25 – 27 May | Get tickets here
My bearded theory is that in 2004, the planet was secretly invaded by weak-chinned aliens who had to grow beards to pass for normal human men. They’re controlling the rest of us via chemicals secreted in beard oil and exfoliating scrubs. This Bearded Theory is a four-dayer with a ridiculously brilliant line-up. Our tips are Interpol (obvs), the raucous knees-ups of Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello, indie pop wonders Alvvays and The Beths, Bully’s searing post-grunge and the ever-engaging warrior for good, Billy Bragg. Derbyshire, 25 – 28 May | Get tickets here
Where to start? The line-up is so expansive and star-studded, it might be easier to list the big names in EDM who aren’t playing Creamfields South. The traditional highlight in the dance music calendar made its Chelmsford bow last summer and returns for a second installment of massive tunes with Swedish House Mafia, Carl Cox, Calvin Harris, Tiësto, Annie Mac, Becky Hill, Example, Camelphat and loads more. Chelmsford, 26 – 28 May | Get tickets here
In Between Days
Naming your festival after one of The Cure’s best songs is a good place to start. Booking DMA’s, Ian Brown and Two Door Cinema Club is a good way to continue. There are vague themes to each of the three days, but Saturday’s 80s/90s northwest vibes are especially tasty, with Mr Stone Roses himself joined by Happy Mondays, Lightning Seeds and Cast. Newcastle, 26 – 28 May | Get tickets here
Pulp and Paul Heaton. If you need more than that then you’re a very greedy person who doesn’t know a good thing when you’ve got one. But fine, here you go, have some Self Esteem, The Kooks, The Wombats, Anne-Marie, Reverend And The Makers, Gang Of Youths and tons more. Still not enough? Well, Paul Heaton’s billed with a very special guest singer. It’s probably not Morrissey. Warrington, 27 – 28 May | Get tickets here
The annual indie shindig in Brockwell Park has a line-up with more buzz than a vibrator full of bees. Highlights include Alex G, our recent album of the week-er Blondshell, Black Country, New Road, Chairlifter-turned-avant-popstar Caroline Polachek, Los Bitchos, Joy Orbison, Osees (FKA Thee Oh Sees) and Warmduscher. London, 27 May | Get tickets here
Two days over two sites and as heavy as an elephant sitting on your chest and asking you about your greatest regrets. Slam Dunk focuses on metal, punk and emo, with Enter Shikari headlining the Rock Scene Stage and The Offspring on the Dickies Stage. Further down the bill are delights such as Spanish Love Songs, Millencolin and blue collar, heart-on-sleeve punks The Menzingers. Both sites will also be hosting separately ticketed but thematically related events on the Friday (Hatfield Park) and Sunday (Leeds) as seminal punks NOFX bid farewell with their final shows. Hertfordshire and Leeds, 27 – 28 May | Get tickets here
Main image: Creamfields South 2022. Image credit: Anthony Mooney