Monday, April 23, 2007

Glastonbury - I'm So Over It

Glastonbury may be considered the apogee of the UK music festival circuit, but personally I find the whole set-up all rather too intimidating these days. Even when I last went in 1998, it had become self-consciously commercial, boringly mainstream and knackeringly vast to negotiate (especially in the mud). This year's prohibitively convoluted ticket-buying process then served to drain any remaining dregs of enthusiasm and sentimentality I may have had for Mr. Eavis's legendary West-Country shin-dig. Happily, there is no shortage of alternatives now on offer, with new festivals popping up all over the place every year – so many in fact that it's becoming increasingly difficult to choose. So here are own humble suggestions – an entirely subjective selection, based on personal taste and anecdotal evidence, and as always open to further recommendations from fellow festy enthusiasts...

Great Escape, 14th-17th May, Brighton
As Brighton resident, Great Escape offers me the chance to take in 3 days of top bands in my home town, get a good night's sleep in my own bed, take a hot shower every morning, and even pop home to use the loo without having to wade through muddy fields to do so... ah, bliss! So I had to include this
civilised urban festival option which, even if you don't live in Brighton, has much to recommend it. You could stay in one of hundreds of cool, kitsch or traditional hotels, B&Bs or hostels, and enjoy the general buzz of the city-by-the-sea in May, when the now massive Brighton Festival is in full swing. This year I'm particularly excited about seeing Nouvelle Vague, CSS, Archie Bronson Outfit, Hafdis Huld - and of course will be on a mission to discover new bands amongst the diverse line-up.


Latitude, 12th-15th July, Henham Park, Suffolk
Billing itself as 'More Than Just a Music Festival', Latitude started in 2006 and was widely praised for its alternative take on the usual festival set-up - offering a variety of activities beyond the standard music and stalls combo. Set in the bucolic surroundings of the historic Henham Park in Suffolk, Latitude promises a relaxing rural vibe in which to take in these eclectic diversions, which include literature, comedy,
theatre, cabaret and children's activities as well as an impressive bands line-up – this year topped by the hottest hipsters of the musical moment, Arcade Fire. Having been bowled over by their performance in London last month, their presence alone would be enough to tempt me Suffolk for a second sampling, but I have a feeling that ‘The Fire’ will just be the icing on what looks to be a very tasty cake of a festival. And if AF is the icing, then Dylan Moran, who I have just heard will be playing the comedy arena on the Saturday, will be the shambolically sharp Irish cherry on top.

The comedy tent at Latitude 2006

The Green Man, 17th - 19th August, Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons
Also set in a beautiful countryside location, Green Man is essentially a folk festival, but stretches the boundaries of this genre in its eclectic line-up - with everything from folkatronica to folk-rock on offer. Last year I discovered Archie Bronson Outfit (who are now one of my
favourite contemporary bands), and with 3 stages - all within easy walking distance - there is no excuse for not expanding one's musical horizons by taking a chance on new and unfamiliar bands. The general vibe is chilled and respectful, with lots of families - and children running about happily amongst the friendly, un-threatening crowd. A myriad of global culinary treats on offer puts the usual festival burger and noodle bars to shame, and the condition of the conveniences remained refreshingly salubrious in comparison to my distressing Glastonbury experiences. Reason enough to make the trek to Wales in my opinion…


Marshmellow, 24th-26th August, Somewhere in Sussex
I only just came across this low-key local festival, when a flyer was thrust into my hand whilst at a Rock Karaoke/Can Can night (don't ask) in
Brighton last weekend. I have no idea what it will be like, or even where it is as yet, but from what I gather so far, it seems to be aspiring to a Lost Vagueness type set-up - with burlesque cabaret acts appearing alongside local unsigned bands, as well as alternative therapies and other such hippy-stoner malarkey. Watch this space for further info if, like me, you are intrigued…


Bestival, 7-9th September, Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight
The first thing that attracted me to Bestival was the massive fancy dress procession which takes place on the Saturday night, that and the fact that it has to be more appealing than the island's other uninspiringly mainstream festival earlier in the summer, which, frankly, left me cold last year. I've only heard positive things about Bestival from friends who’ve been, and I’m hoping to judge for myself this year. So far the line-up doesn't particularly appeal, but this will only force me to be more adventurous in my choices of bands, and hopefully come away with some new gems - always a big plus of festival-going in my experience.


All this festy talk is making me come over all giddy with anticipation – still, at least I’ve only got 3 weeks to go until the first one on my hitlist, and I don't even have to dust off the wellies for it... result!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Complicated Lives Seem Less So By Candlelight

“She knitted a jumper, it was child abuse…”

Nick Sheldon, 2007

If only I had been carrying a notepad with me in which to record the many inspired, insane and occasionally profound utterances of my friends over the last few days, I would have enough material for my own (admittedly, surreal) stand-up show. Not that there’s ever a shortage of witty banter amongst my social group, but this weekend’s spontaneous assemblage afforded some of the most quotable yet. I discovered Nick’s immortal words scribbled in my barely legible handwriting on a piece of paper in the garden this morning, having no recollection of writing them or indeed of the context in which they were spoken (perhaps Nick or Harry can help me out?).

It all kicked off on Thursday, when a quick drink after work resulted in accidental tipsiness and the drowning of sorrows between a few emotionally fragile friends, or as we’re now calling ourselves “The Fuckest-Uppest Club”. Then on Friday, Mat arrived back in Brighton with Erika, his visiting Californian friend - who shares with me a penchant for showtunes and sarcasm - and soon there was singing in the street and bonding over chocolate martinis. After a suitably robust hangover brunch in the garden on Saturday morning, the three of us spent the day soaking up the sun on the beach, catching up with other friends, and consciously staying sober (on my part, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s beer-bender-fuelled antagonisms). A highlight of the day was a tour of Embassy Court - the recently refurbished art-deco building on the seafront (previously referred to as ‘Sarajevo Heights’ - before its restoration) in which Mat’s friends Sue and Paul own a flat with the most amazing view over Brighton. Then I discovered that Erika had never tried (or even heard of) Pimms, and my desire to provide the complete British seaside town experience outweighed my not-drinking-until-after-7pm resolve. We sat out in the garden back at home, joined by Damien - who kindly brought with him the essential Pimms accoutrements – and so began another evening of jollity and inebriation.

A quick pint at the Barley Mow was followed by a session at the (not nearly so nice) Sidewinder, at which virtually everyone I know in Brighton, plus a generous supply of non-native weekend visitors, appeared at some point. Being such a balmy night, we took over the beer garden and sat bantering by candlelight until we were forced back inside (the perils of pubs in residential areas). I did feel for Erika, being parachuted into a melange of random strangers - a significant percentage of whom are currently sporting the emotional scars of recent romantic vexations (although one or two embody the exact opposite – you know who you are, lovebirds!). But in typically laid-back Californian style, she charmed her way around the assortment of casualties, distracting us from our complicated lives (thanks love!). An abortive mission to go dancing (we’d left it too late to get in anywhere) was substituted by a brief session on the beach, during which Matty Mo was on one of his bonfire missions. I’m still chuckling to myself at the mental image of him walking towards us with a 12 foot scaffolding plank, then enlisting the help of passing strangers in finding further kindling, including an entire tree – roots and all. Further hilarity ensued when one of these conscripts compared Matty’s fire-building determination to that of Frodo the Hobbit, taking the ring to Mordor (it’s not the first time Matty’s likeness to a Hobbit has been pointed out). Feeling chilly, and slightly nauseous thanks to the toxic fumes from melting tetrapaks, Erika, Mat and I left Matty/Frodo with his new-found friends and made our way back up Freshfield Road. In his intoxicated state, Mat rather endearingly described the sensation of walking uphill as “like walking along a flat surface, but with your head inclined at an angle”, or words to that effect. Also feeling pleasantly altered, I found myself physically attached to Erika the entire way, but luckily she was cool about it.

Sunday entailed the inevitable after-effects of over-indulgence, but was much improved by a decent brunch at CafĂ© 32, followed by paper-reading in Queen’s Park all afternoon - during which we were joined by Damien and his current (rather lovely) squeeze, Gavin. Mat & Erika deferred their reluctant return to London and stayed to partake of the roast dinner that I’d drunkenly promised Nick and Harry the night before - and a civilised start to the evening (vomit anecdotes notwithstanding - thanks Harry) descended into the expected rum-swigging session, and further noteworthy sound-bites (see above). My sorry physical state today is more than compensated for by an underlying sense of wellbeing brought about by the love, humour and kindness of those beautiful people that I feel honoured to call my friends. Photographic evidence of this lovely weekend, and those gorgeous folk who absolutely made it, is online at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is Binge-Drinking a Sin?: An Experiment in Unholy Immoderation

“Did you ever take drugs, stay up late, just to see what you would see?”
Boo Hewerdine, from 16 Miles

During one of the Holy Week services at my mother’s church, members of the congregation were encouraged to publicly acknowledge and purge their ‘sins’ by writing down a particular personal failing on a piece of paper for all to see. Predictably, these vices ranged from ‘vanity’ to ‘intolerance’ to ‘arrogance’, but also apparently included, much to mother’s amusement, that most modern of transgressions, ‘binge-drinking’. This story was relayed to me at the annual Hot Cross Bun fest at the family home in Eastbourne on Good Friday, at which I invariably arrive hungover from my own traditional ‘Last Supper’ dinner party on Maundy Thursday (This year being no exception). In keeping with my recent rebellious tendencies, I chose to ignore the possibly pointed subtext of this anecdote, and instead continued to embrace an ‘unholy’ weekend punctuated by excess. This ‘sinful’ behaviour included an all-day drinking session on Saturday, during which the phrase “someone’s tired” was rather acerbically aimed at my belligerently over-inebriated other half. Needless to say, he was suitably contrite and satisfyingly crapulent the next day, as I left him wallowing in his own shame, to pursue further inebriation and indulgence with friends in London.

The final chapter of this immoderate Easter weekend was rather less excessive, despite taking place in the pub. Almost exactly one year ago, I blogged enthusiastically (http://rowstar.blogspot.com/2006/04/lovely-boo.html) about seeing of my musical heroes, Boo Hewerdine, live at Komedia. So imagine my excitement at having tickets to an even more intimate gig at which he was accompanying Irish folk singer Heidi Talbot in one of my local pubs, The Greys. A tiny, rustic watering hole in the heart of the drinkers’ haven that is Hanover, The Greys has a reputation for hosting quality live music (mostly of a folky nature) as well as excellent food and an impressive array of Belgian beer. It is also one of the only venues in Brighton in which I can feel young and trendy, amidst a clientele that is largely bearded and balding. So, with self-esteem thoroughly restored, and a rather elegant glass of Kriek in my hand, I was ripe for some soothing folk music to conclude my holiday weekend. The combination of Heidi’s ethereal vocals, Boo’s gracefully impassioned finger-picking, and some spell-binding fiddle-playing from the esteemed Tola Custy had an immediate spine-tingling effect. Their set comprised a pleasing blend of traditional Celtic ballads, folksy covers of jazz standards, and several of Boo’s own distinctive compositions. I had a tearful moment when Boo sang ‘Patience of Angels’ during a solo spot – his voice never fails to affect me, and on this occasion the lyrics were particularly poignant. This also gave me the opportunity to show off a little, when the audience was encouraged to join in with the chorus of “There’s a door, in a house, in a street, in a town etc…”. Since I was sat right at the front, my contribution was duly noted and later acknowledged - at which point I was forced to feign complete mortification of course!

As if this feast of musical delights wasn’t enough, the evening also proffered some diverting entertainment of the conversational variety. During the interval I found myself accosted by one of the enthusiastic beardies, who had overheard me (jokingly) refer to the local 9-piece folk band The Copper Family as Rottingdean’s answer to Arcade Fire. Evidently oblivious to the concept of sarcasm, he proceeded to enlighten me as to the illustrious history of this esteemed musical clan, who, it transpires, have been performing since 1898. My jesting continued to go undetected as he then earnestly informed me that no, it wouldn't be the original line up performing at the upcoming (and sadly sold-out) gig at The Greys next week. After the gig, Boo & co stuck around for a drink with the punters, and I was honoured to buy the man himself a glass of wine, in return for which he indulged me in a little (hopefully not too cringe-making on my part) fan-banter. Pleasantly beer-fuelled, and more than a little giddy at having hung out with one of my musical heroes, I bounced back up Southover Street and then sat up ‘til 1am adding Boo tracks to Project Playlist, so that he can have his rightful share of my myspace jukebox. Tired, but still buzzing, I’m sat at my desk having lunch, listening to 16 Miles – an appropriate anthem for my weekend of unholy immoderation