You’ve got to hand it to Guilfest. That first weekend in July was probably the most cluttered for music festivals in one corner of the country that I can remember, something that was the undoing of three. Blissfield’s (Winchester), Redfest (Redhill) and Wild in the Country (Hertfordshire) all bit the dust due to poor ticket sales. Whether this is a result of not an exciting enough line up, too many events in one area, or that credit crunch we keep hearing about is tricky to say, but the amount of festivals certainly didn’t help. In addition to those, ones that did go ahead were Wireless (Central London), Mighty Boosh and Hop Farm (Kent) and what turned out to be a shambolic Zoo8 (also Kent). Point being, given how the word was Guilfest was struggling financially twelve months ago, it’s a testimony to the organizers and the event’s reputation and loyal following that it remains as strong an event as it is.

So what of 2008? The fourth we at R13 have attended. One change from previous years was a ban on bringing your own alcohol into the arena, a requirement of licensing. As an aside to this, the extra revenue the festival will have made from bar takings will definitely have pleased the bank manager. That said, only having cider made from pears with not a sight of the conventional apple is an error that needs addressing.

Regular readers will know the deal with Guilfest by now. A far cry from the likes of Reading and Download in terms of atmosphere, and V or Wireless for ramming commercialism down your throat. This event is chilled out, family focused and features an intriguing mixture of nostalgia, emerging, overlooked and local artists. The main stage, which is now named the Commercial Radio Stage, (seems local station The Eagle isn’t considered a strong enough brand in Guildford for Guildford’s biggest music event) featured three headliners that can be viewed as nostalgic. The Levellers, who celebrate twenty years in the business, Blondie, with a set that marked thirty years since the release of ‘Parallel Lines’ and The Australian Pink Floyd Show. The latter may be very successful in their own right, but there’s no hiding from the fact this year’s event was closed by a tribute band when previous years has seen Madness, Billy Idol and Status Quo!

Others to fall into the ‘blast from the past’ bracket included Kula Shaker, Dodgy and The Damned.

Arguably one of the biggest achievements by the bookers this year was landing Fightstar to headline the Rock Sound Cave on Saturday night. With Bowling for Soup also headlining the Ents24 Stage that night, alongside Blondie Guilfest had an eye-catching trio for the middle day. British Sea Power and X-Press 2 further bill toppers who easily fit in at much larger festivals.

Of the emerging acts, Frank Turner, The Mirimar Disaster, Go:Audio and Sacred Mother Tongue all caught the eye in the Rock Sound Cave, but sadly one defining memory from here of 2008 was the technical difficulties they had on Friday night, which led to poor sound quality and bands not running to time, ultimately resulting in the excellent 65Daysofstatic only getting twenty minutes in their headline slot: hardly the way to round off a long world tour.

The pick of the local acts were two Guilfest regulars. We catch folk singer Laura Colegate every year, and tell anyone who’ll listen how great she is, but return twelve months later to find she still hasn’t progressed up the ladder towards wider success. Two thoughts struck while watching her set this year. She covered ‘Valerie’ which is now more famous because of Amy Winehouse than The Zutons, and if ever there was a blatant opportunity to judge Colegate’s great voice here was the moment. Also, we watched her set from the comfort of hay bails, props in the Surrey Advertiser Stage for some late night barn dance affair, and couldn’t help but be amused by the idea of the carnage that would be caused if Reading and Leeds decided to install these in the Lock Up Tent.

Steve Morano started his own campaign via the Guilfest forum to get enough support to force the organizers to put him and his band on the main stage, he’s played on the Ents24 the past two years. Instead he got an early Sunday afternoon spot in the Rock Sound Cave, something that actually suited him perfectly and a set of classic rock inspired tracks went down a storm.

Unexpected highpoints elsewhere included electronica act The Egg, and the amusingly named Wobbly Squadron, we checked them out because of their name but found that if you like Gong, Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind then you’ll love this lot.

The most memorable downer was the position of the Funky End dance tent. It may be “Aldershot’s Number 1 Bar”, but it got pretty intrusive when trying to watch acts in the Rock Sound Cave or Surrey Advertiser Stage. The reggae of Dave the Hair early on Saturday afternoon was a plus though and did make for an excellent soundtrack to late breakfast in the sunshine.

The food and beverage options were as ever sufficiently varied to make life tricky for the indecisive consumer. The Australian Steak Baguette and an “award winning” Lincolnshire farm burger stall were must visits.

The toilet correspondent can report that these were far from unpleasant, bog roll on tap is something of a culture shock for those of us used to doing things the hard way.

The atmosphere at Guilfest remains among the friendliest for UK festivals. These things are of course down to personal taste to an extent but the main stage did seem to be far weaker than in previous years, however the curious music lover is always guaranteed to find something of interest if they wander for a bit. Friday seemed to have a lower attendance than in previous years and Brian Jonestown Massacre seem to have taken the award for most divisive act of the weekend. Those who didn’t get them found them to be very out of place, and not fitting the family focused label, however fans argue they were simply frustrated by a poor turn out.

Over all though this was another successful year for Guilfest and we certainly intend to keep turning up.