Thursday, August 23, 2007

Green Man Festival 2007

I can't imagine better compensation for enduring relentless downpours and trudging through endless mud-slicks for an entire weekend than being treated to some of the best live musicaround in one of the most magical settings in the country. Last weekend was my second time at the Green Man festival, and this year was even better than the last - which was pretty damned good! We arrived lateish on the Friday night, driving straight from work, and so missed most of the Friday acts. Though we were just in time to see Tunng, an affable 'folktronica' set-up, whowere attempting to raise people's waterlogged spirits by appearing in Hawaiian shirts and throwing beach balls into the crowd. Last time I witnessed a band attempt this kind of stunt at a festival (The Levellers, Glastonbury 1997), they were repaid with heartless mud-slinging! But Tunng kept the audience happy with their Kings-of-Convenience-meets-Captain twiddly-pop-folk, and the occasional comedy rock-out moment. Anything had to be better than the alternative on the main stage – the incensingly contrived Joanna Newsom – and it seemed most of Tunng's fans agreed. I actually overheard one guy say to his friend - who was departing to catch the last of the grating harpstress's set - (in a simultaneously sulky and jeering voice) “Go on then, enjoy your warbling...”.



Tunng in the Folkey-Dokey tent

After a deliciously reviving Saturday brunch at the Thali Café, we watched the Moon Music Orchestra before popping down to Crickhowell (the local village) to replace my wellies, which had unfortunately split just as the rain decided to settle in for the day. After lunch we saw the distinctly forgettable PG Six and the crowd-pleasing Broken Family Band, during which I spotted a fellow Brightonian in the audience – a friend of a friend who I've met a couple of times at parties. In true festival spirit I bounded over and introduced myself, much to his and his companion's bemusement. But once we'd established the connection, we got chatting and agreed to meet up later. Feeling pleasantly invigorated by this point, I fancied a boogie, so we decided to give the DJ tent a go. Peter Fowler was playing a mad mix of prog-rock and happy-house, and we threw ourselves into the throng with gusto, managing to take photos and dance at the same time! Justin Spear (of Freakzone fame, and son of the Bonzos Roger Ruskin Spear) was up next on the decks, and continued with an appropriately eccentric set, of which some uber-cool French lounge sticks most in my memory.



Dancers in the Rumpus Room

70s folk-legend Vashti Bunyan provided the perfect wind-down after all that dancing, and we sat on the hillside letting her soothingly ethereal vocals wash over us. Earlier in the day we'd spotted a mammoth bonfire being built in a tucked-away field, and this provided the perfect escape from the cringe-makingly cheesy Robert Plant, who was headlining the main stage. Eagerly soaking up the warmth of the now roaring fire, we sat listening to a guy nearby lecturing his genuinely enraptured friends on the secret life of bees. This set the tone for a wonderfully sociable evening of surreal banter, raucous laughter and plenty of spontaneous entertainment. There's something so primal about sitting with friends, or strangers, round a campfire. It seems to bring out one's tribal instinct, and in this case, enhanced the already convivial atmosphere of possibly the friendliest festival I've ever attended. Michael and Steve (the Brighton boys we'd bumped into earlier) joined us, making the experience all the more special - forging new friendships in such a magical context is a rare pleasure indeed. 4am rolled round before we knew it, and most of our gang decided to knock it on the head, leaving Michael about to get in on some energetic drum-jamming that was going down - and apparently he stuck it out til sunrise – respect!



Michael, Steve & Ant, bonding by the fire

Sunday brought a welcome end to the rain, and a fitful lie-in, during which I kept catching bizarre snippets of conversation, such as: “we've had a gazebo incident” outside the tent. Another hearty breakfast (this time from the Chai café) improved our mild jadedness no end, and set us up for a day of more outstanding musical exploits. First up were Soft Hearted Scientists, followed by the unsigned, but excellent Laughing Windows, who impressed with some mesmerising psychedelic prog-rock in the Do Make Say Think (but with vocals) mould. I'd been looking forward to introducing Ant to Misty's Big Adventure (who Jen and I had loved at last year's festival), and was pleased to see that they'd graduated to the main stage this year - where their infectious exuberance was given more room to breathe. We bundled right up to the front to get the full force of the Misty's experience, and so that I could take some snaps on my newly purchased Nikon D40x (geek alert!).



Misty's Big Adventure

A crazy mix of jazz, pop, klezmer and general madness, Misty's are perhaps the closest thing we have to the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band on the contemporary scene. With amusingly acerbic lyrics and freak-out catchy choruses, complete with trippy stage dancing from the Blue-Meany-esque mascot Erotic Volvo, they were the perfect Sunday afternoon reviver, and a welcome antidote to many of the more downbeat folksters. Not that there's anything wrong with downbeat folksters, as The Yellow Moon Band proved with their softly meandering prog-outs. Man of the moment Malcolm Middleton provided the soundtrack to Ant's afternoon nap on the hillside, while I happily people-watched and snapped away with my new toy, soaking up the mellow atmosphere and laughing at kids rolling down the hill and giving each other presents of mud-cakes.



Excellent people-watching

The indisputable, and unexpected, highlight of my festival was delivered by My Brightest Diamond, whose lead singer Shara Worden oozes the kind of effortless rock 'n roll sex appeal that most artists can only dream about. Her arrestingly eerie rendition of Edith Piaf's Hymne L'Amour sent shivers down the collective spine of the audience, and left me visibly breathless and incapable of meaningful speech for a good while afterwards. Defying comparison, MBD mix elements of opera, cabaret and rock to astounding effect. Currently on tour in Europe (for dates/venues see: http://www.mybrightestdiamond.com/) - I strongly urge you to go and see them for yourself – you won't be disappointed!



The strikingly sexy and talented Shara Worden

After such an exhilarating performance, I was in need of something a little less intense, and John Renbourn provided the ideal tonic for my (pleasantly) battered senses. The jovial old-timer was on form as he captivated a packed-out tent of appreciative fans, young and old, with some classic old-school folk. Up at the Green Man Café (a paved area with a bar, reminiscent of Edinburgh Festival's Pleasance Courtyard), Canadian songstress Jill Barber coaxed the crowd up with friendly banter, to appreciate her pleasant Martha-Wainwright-ish ballads. The one act I had been dying to see, Devendra Banhart, turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax in the wake of my earlier musical epiphany. Certainly he has charisma, and plenty of rock 'n roll attitude, not to mention an impressively luxuriant mane, but I found much of the material he chose to perform with his band rather bland in comparison with the more acoustic folky stuff I've grown to love. Thankfully, what he lacked in musical impressiveness, he more than made up for in photogenicality (is that even a real word?) and I snapped some of my best shots of the festival during his set – which was also our last gig before driving home, shattered but replete. It had been a memorable weekend of musical discovery and sensory stimulation – great food, genial company, stunning scenery and an outstandingly mellow vibe (not a sniff of aggro, or a police officer to be seen, all weekend), all went a long way to ensuring that Green Man is a cut above the average festival, and I sincerely hope it stays that way for many years to come.



The Green Man: Devendra Banhart

LINKS
The Green Man Festival
Green Man - a Flickr photoset




My Brightest Diamond at Green Man - video on YouTube

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Burgers & Barbituates

If Elvis and I had ever had the opportunity to meet, I would have been a small, bald toddler (I didn't grow hair until much later) and he a fat, drug-addled middle-aged man. We wouldn't have had much to say to each other. But today, on the 30th anniversary of his death, I feel inspired to pay tribute to The King in my own small way. To me, the music of Elvis evokes memories of dancing with my dad at family parties - these were rare moments of intimacy between us, which I treasure deeply. It's been a while since I've seen him up the dancefloor (my dad, not Elvis), but I'm sure he still has some rock 'n roll left in his soul, even though he's now in his 70s. I've never learned to jive myself, though that is something I plan to rectify since getting into the whole rockabilly scene at nights like Toot Sweet at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club and Born Bad down in Brighton - where I find myself totally in awe, and consequently unusually self-conscious about my own free-form dance moves.

Today the radio has been awash with Elvis - bringing back happy memories for me, though not so popular with my boss (sorry Mel), who finds him 'repulsive' - a sentiment also shared by my own better half.
But whichever camp you fall into, there is no question that he is still very much alive in spirit, and apparently growing in popularity with a new generation of fans (thanks to BBC Breakfast for that gem). Personally, I find the idea that he died fat and undignified, and yet remains such a revered icon, strangely comforting... Burgers and barbituates all round, then?

Photograph: Elvis the Girl at Vavavavoom's Tiki night, Komedia, Brighton
(c) Jaded Lady - www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Thoughts Like Bubbles

You know those days when you just wake up feeling down for no apparent reason - at odds with the world, out of sync, anxious - and yet you don't really know why? I had one of those mornings on Saturday - perhaps the subconscious effect of a bad dream, or buried tensions from the week bubbling up through the release of the weekend. Whatever the reason, I was off-kilter. Often it can take the littlest thing to dislodge a disquieted mood – an unexpected phone call from a friend, a smile from a stranger – but there are times when I have to consciously steer myself out of it. One way I do this is to latch onto those little moments going on around me, borrowing from other people's joy to feed my own. So, as I was sat waiting my turn in Barber Blacksheep on Saturday, feeling a rising tide of unexplained melancholy washing over me, I decided to distract myself by making a list of things around me that raised a smile... A grinning dad with a newborn in a sling; reading the superman comic strip on the pants of the skinny gay hairdresser in front of me (and wondering if Superman wears gay hairdresser pants); Someone quite clearly thrilled with their new haircut and proudly prinking in the mirror before paying; a glamorous old lady on the street with a flamboyant scarf and huge retro shades... These little observations, combined with the vanity boost of my own well-needed shearing, started to put me back on track, and in turn led me to accept a last-minute party invitation on a whim, when I had intended to stay home and wallow. I was glad I did. Just as a black mood can descend without warning, so a spontaneous adventure brings unexpected mirth. Piling into the back of Nikki's car, with some of my favourite people also in tow, I began to shed the earlier gloominess and let the spirit of summer fun take over. Trying not to think about the bit where I'd have to sleep on the floor with a bunch of strangers later in the night (not something I really do these days), I embraced the opportunity that mingling with strangers can afford – the chance to reinvent oneself, with the conspiratorial collaboration of one's own 'gang' - and to observe, influence and record the interactions and dynamics of an unfamiliar social circle. Interactive People-Watching! Continuing in the observational bent, I also felt compelled to complement the usual photographic evidence with some written notes of the night's proceedings, the highlights of which I shall share here – make of them what you will...

Heard & Spoken


“You can tell you lot are from Brighton, you look...alternative.”


“You can't get a haircut like that in Maidstone...”


“There were 19 badgers trying to eat my map of Surrey”


“The Amish beard is dead to me now”

"Are you married? Because you make a great cup of tea."

“What happens to those lost thoughts that evade one mid-sentence to float away and burst like bubbles? Do they sit in a corner, depressed because no one is using them, or do they just disappear forever?”

“The word 'jaded' sounds far more beautiful than the thing it describes"

“I tell you what is the great anomaly – the duck-billed platypus”

Mis-heard, Mis-spoken

“Drugs are SO Tacky”

“I was reberellious once”


“There's a cruel space between the walls”

“The friendly gay with a guinea pig”