As the city of St Albans continues growing into arguably the most popular commuter city in the UK, the need for a large scale, quality music event has grown in tandem. All the situation needed is someone crazy enough to attempt such a thing. Step forward, the organisers of the brand spankingly new Meraki Festival: a full scale, three-day festival, chock-a-block with music, activities, and food stalls from the region’s finest eateries. Its year long advertising campaign was replete with the words, ‘festival magic’; so did Meraki live up to its magical aspirations?
We’re very pleased to say that the word ‘magic’ didn’t end up feeling like a marketing buzzword, but more a feeling synonymous with the entire weekend. The festival’s title is derived from the Greek word, which means 'to bring love, joy, and passion to a task' — as you enter the Herts County Showground site, your eyes drink in the sights of the impressive main stage, a giant inflatable igloo, a full-sized ferris wheel, and hot tubs dotted around everywhere, surrounded by Hertfordshire’s rolling hills.
Vitally though, the festival delivers on the musical front too. Those up early enough on Friday and comfortably sat on a haystack by the wonderful Mr Peeble’s Magnificent Music House stage got to hear the assured debut performance of Jack Hobbs. The festival’s second most foremost stage, the Upside Down stage saw the afternoon in with local looping king, Mark Sullivan, with a husky voice to rival that of Bonnie Tyler, who headlines at the very opposite end of the weekend. He lets loose some cracking tunes, most notably his soulful new single, Bird At Night.
Over on the main stage, St Albans’ own heroes, Billington and Quinn, kill it once again with their excellent Americana - but this is only the start of a very long weekend of fun for co-frontman, Tom Billington, who performs on the main stage again shortly after in his cover band, Tommy T & the Belletones, and also in constant involvement with his wonderful and worthwhile charity, Electric Umbrella — a beautiful organisation which gives adults with learning disabilities the opportunity, including a triumphant main stage show at Meraki.
Hornal is something of a St Albans supergroup formed by the very talented Ian Hornal, who has performed with ELO and 10cc — this band gives him the opportunity to showcase his solo material, with some very talented humans, including Sinead Quinn and Tom Billington, who are very welcome back on the stage. They’re every bit worthy of being the penultimate act before the '80s extravaganza begins.
Before that, though, it would be churlish to miss the rowdiest moment of the weekend, as The Zipheads give us their inimitable best on the Upside Down stage. Under a stunning skyline, the zany trio give it everything, and thus one of the best shows of the weekend, undeterred by most of the punters being at Jason Donovan [on the main stage]. As the much loved aussie appears, he lets everyone know this only required ‘a nice, quick trip down the M1’, before giving the crowd precisely what they’re after: a star-studded set of hits including the Lloyd-Webber penned, Any Dream Will Do.