BEFORE another edition of the experimental music festival gets underway, EDWIN GILSON spoke to its founder and a performer on this year’s line-up to talk about its unique appeal

THE idea of escape is on a lot of people’s minds in dreary January. While some will be planning exotic getaways in the sun, however, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy a blissful trip.

Lewes Psychedelic Festival has been providing a generous dose of expansive alternative music since it was established in 2009. This year’s headliners, British rock band Wolf People and Swedish group Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation, epitomise the forward-thinking nature of the event which is held in the historic All Saints Centre.

Listening to co-founder Chris Tomsett talk about the merits of the festival, it’s easy to understand why it’s gone from strength to strength over the last nine years. Respected musician Richard Norris dreamed up the event with Tomsett, while local promoters Melting Vinyl have taken over the reins in recent times. Tomsett’s visual light show will illuminate the walls of the old building like trippy cave drawings.

“I really like the idea of being in a packed out, colourful venue, soaking up the good vibes in stark contrast to the January greyness,” says the artist, who goes under the name Innerstrings. “Initially it wasn’t a conscious decision to host it in January but it gives us all something to look forward to after Christmas.”

Tomsett has a point. It seems a canny move to host LPF at the very start of the year rather than the mad festival season in May. And, as Tomsett points out, Lewes has its fair share of alternative music heritage.

“That historic setting of Lewes adds to the event,” he says. “The town has psychedelic history of its own; Pink Floyd played here in 1967 with Dave Gilmour and Syd Barrett both in the line-up. That only happened twice to my knowledge.”

While the Floyd are perhaps the best-known British psychedelic rock band, Tomsett credits a contemporary Australian group with contributing to the resurgence of interest in the genre roughly a decade ago.

“Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker album blew up [in 2010] and added to the momentum,” he says. “Of course, there are psychedelic festivals all over the world now but when we started Lewes Psych Fest it was quite a new concept.”

Of course, all this begs the question: what is psychedelia? Loosely the term is understood as a mind-altering state, “characterised by a profound sense of intensified sensory perception” (thanks Tomsett has as much difficulty describing it as anybody else.

“Psychedelia, today at least, is something I find impossible to define. Richard Norris and I were trying to nail this question a few years ago but were left scratching out heads.”

It’s a cliche, but should psychedelic music simply “take you to another place”, as it were? “Most definitely,” says Tomsett. “All good psychedelia is transportive.” In this age, anything from guitar rock to electronica to ambient drones can be filed under the genre, and Tomsett reckons this “diversification” is a good thing. Otherwise it would have “become stagnant and people would have lost interest”, he adds.

Lewes Psychedelic Festival is keen to showcase the best new acts on the local scene, too. One such artist on the bill this year is Dog in the Snow (playing on the Saturday), the solo project of Helen Ganya Brown. She talks enthusiastically about the festival and says it’s an immersive experience for musicians.

“I think having the festival in blue and empty January gives everyone a weekend of escapism in the magical and quaint little place that is Lewes. The air is still really cold so it’s cosy to hole up in the womb of the church.

“The festival feels like a whole experience as opposed to just going there and seeing one act you really want to see. It will feel like I’m part of an overall event and it should be a nice way for more people to discover my music.”

As Tomsett looks forward to another attractive edition of his event – and specifically its headline acts – he sums it up nicely.

“Both bands will have the crowd in raptures,” he says. “The festival’s ethos is to create something joyous.”

Lewes Psychedelic Festival
All Saints Centre, Lewes, January 26 and 27. For tickets and more information visit or call 01273 48639.