Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Am a Shooting Star: a Spaced Out Sci Fi Party

Ever since the Green Man Festival 2007 I've been trying to track down a song called 'I am an Astronaut', played in the dance tent there by Pete Fowler of Monsterism fame as the final track of his stormingly groovy DJ set (to which I can be seen dancing here).

All I could ever find, though, was a downbeat version by Snow Patrol which you'd never want to play at a party (unless you wanted people to leave). I managed to determine that the original was by Ricki Wilde (younger brother of Kim) and was originally recorded in the 70s - but never actually found anywhere to download or buy it.

When we decided to throw a space themed party for my birthday this year, I knew I had to include the song in my DJ set, and renewed my quest in earnest. With a little more online know-how and some purposeful determination, I eventually found it.

The 'Spaced Out' theme inspired some of the best costume efforts I've ever seen amongst my friends, and with the addition of a robot dancing competition, a superb Clangers cake (made by my talented sister), a screening of the legendary Turkish Star Wars and some out of this world live music from St Anthony's Fire, it truly was a night to remember.

Finally spinning the tune I've been dreaming about for the last two years, I watched affectionately from behind the decks as my drunken amigos stumbled around in a cloud of glitter, hugging each other in that end of the night "you're brilliant, no you're brilliant" way. I like birthdays.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Spangly, Sparkly Place: The End of the Road Festival 2009

It's not often you leave a music festival feeling perkier than when you arrive, but that's exactly what happened to me at the End of the Road festival last weekend. Unfortunately, this wasn't anything to do with the reviving qualities of the festival, but more due to the fact that I'd only had three hours sleep the night before it started. I'd had a brilliant evening on Thursday at Brightwest II, playing 'Murder She Twote', chatting to the assembled Twitterati and knocking back a pint or five of ale at the Black Lion. How on earth we went from this relatively civilised gathering to a seedy all-nighter in the Bulldog (I know!) is anyone's guess . It must have seemed like a good idea at the time; not so much when the alarm went off at 7am the next morning.

"How much muesli does one man need?"
Steve, upon arriving at the End of the Road Festival armed with a mountain of cereal

But the End of the Road was calling (in so many ways) and I had other people relying on me to get them there too. I'd planned on having a disco nap when we arrived in Dorset, but as it turned out, it was all far too exciting. Set in the picturesque Larmer Tree Gardens, the End of the Road Festival is now in its fourth year, and fast gaining a reputation as the serious music lover's festival. Some would call the line-up alternative, I'd say fundamental. Much to my own personal delight, End of the Road is largely a festival for chin-stroking, album-buying, real ale-drinking DINKYS and empty nesters, with only the occasional obligatory festy crusty and over-excited tween.

"Do you consider yourself worthy of a poetic license?"
Paul, to me, sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning.

There were so many highlights during the weekend that it would be hard to boil them down into a single readable blog post, but a few bands stood out in terms of atmosphere and sheer accomplishment. The one I'd been most excited about was the Low Anthem, who I'd discovered back in May at the Great Escape Festival and have been raving about to anyone who'll listen ever since. I was extra thrilled when it turned out they were playing not one but two sets during the weekend.

"Unless it's cake, it can f**k off"
Matty, on my aversion to brandy other than in pudding

The first Low Anthem gig was in the smallest venue - the Tipi tent - which looked cute from the outside, but turned out to be a terrible space for live music. Despite persistent sound problems and noise pollution from the neighbouring tent, Low Anthem appeared composed as they delivered an intimate set, mostly of their more obscure material. But it wasn't until their second gig on Saturday that the band really shone, bringing a packed out audience at the Garden Stage to its metaphorical knees. I've never heard a quieter field of festival goers as in between songs during the Low Anthem's End of the Road performance. Rapturous applause gave way to mesmerised silence after each song as we all eagerly awaited the next. So many other bands get by on catchy tunes and adequate musicianship, that it's impossible not to be affected by the sheer arresting intensity of the Low Anthem's immense talent and potent delivery.

"In the light, I can tell when people's eyes are glazing over"
Nick, on our general inability as a group to pay attention

Efterklang came in a close second as most enjoyable set of the weekend with their uplifting New Wave tinged Post Rock. Not many of the bands I went to see were particularly danceable, though I did have a silly strut about to Herman Dune and hurt my neck moshing to The Heavy. With a choice of four different stages, plus the odd spontaneous gig in the woods, it was sometimes difficult to choose where to park yourself. I tended to wander round until something caught my ear and then stick with it. Out of all the festival's venues, The Local (curated by esteemed promoter Howard Monk) yielded the most exciting new discoveries, including my final band of the weekend, Quack Quack, who succeeded in fulfilling my (quite vocal) craving for a prog fix.

"Behave, or you'll get turned into sausages"
Linda, getting all teacherly on us

I was also really taken with Wildbirds & Peacedrums, who can only be described as 'Drum n Blues' - the set up being a female bluesy singer accompanied only by drums and various percussion noises. Her powerfully husky voice was enough to carry the lack of any other instrumentation, and I have not seen such fervent drumming since the Muppets. A namecheck must also go to Faceometer and his friend the Dapper Swindler, whose unofficial woodland jamming kept us all enthralled, and distracted me from the disappointment of being told not to climb trees by security. To be fair to security, they were pretty laid back in their fun-spoiling, even in the face of my loud protestation: "I climb trees all the time when you're not here. There's no law against climbing trees." All power to Nick for beautifully diffusing the situation, and winning a bet at the same time, when he offered the guy in question £50 to dance the Can-Can for him.

"You're my best sparkly forest band I've ever seen"
Michael, to Faceometer and the Dapper Swindler

It was exactly this kind of jovial, conspiratorial atmosphere that kept everyone smiling at the End of the Road and made it so easy to make new friends along the way. The lack of Hippy Shit and abundance of excellent food and ale also helped a lot. I sincerely hope the organisers are never tempted to increase the capacity, because it felt nicely intimate at the 5,000 mark. I came away feeling as though I'd shared a special moment with a chosen few, and I like that feeling very much. More of the same next year, please.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Happily Hysterical: Steph & Russ Tie the Knot

When two people you love profess their love for one another to the world, it is a deeply moving thing. This is my way of saying that I always cry at weddings. When you get to my age, summers are peppered with weddings and, increasingly, christenings (or naming ceremonies), and it gets harder to find something glamorous to wear that won’t have been seen at a previous event. It also seems to get harder to hold back the emotions that accompany such ceremonious happenings.

The latest do at which I found myself touching up smudged mascara and lending concealer to a complete stranger in the ladies’ loo was the marriage celebrations of my good friends Steph and Russ, who finally tied the knot last Friday after eleven years of courtship.

I wasn’t present for the actual ceremony, but was waiting outside Brighton Town Hall to greet the newlyweds, along with a full Samba band, who serenaded them through the streets of Brighton and onto the party buses which took us to the reception venue in Shoreham. I am not a great lover of Samba myself, but on this occasion it was a touchingly fitting tribute to the pair, who are well known for their love of hip-swinging tunes and for being committed purveyors of the carnival spirit.

But the thing that really lodged a lump in my throat was the groom’s refreshingly sincere speech later that day. In contrast to the best man’s traditionally humorous and anecdotal address, Russell’s speech was a gushing (but in no way sickly) appreciation of his new wife. The icing on the cake was their immaculately rehearsed spontaneous first dance, about as far from the improvised epic Bollywood spree Ant and I spontaneously chose for our wedding, but equally appropriate to the couple in question.

The entire day was bursting with joy, and as the above video testifies, even the most cynical souls were touched by the romance of it all. After throwing themselves into the festivities, the happy couple eventually departed to their swanky Kemp Town hotel, while their guests kept on celebrating - some into the next day I am told.

Personally I was happy to collapse into bed and steal myself for another misty-eyed ritual in the shape of my youngest nephew’s first birthday party the following afternoon. Tomorrow the older one starts school and I know I will howl when I see a picture of him in uniform. Thank goodness I have a festival lined up this weekend to recover from all this emotion - though I am certain something will make me cry during the proceedings. It doesn’t take much these days.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Going La La at Shambala

Usually when I go to festivals, it's all about the music – discovering new bands, hero-worshipping favourite ones and generally jumping up and down in a field (or tent) for three or four days. Of course many of the more interesting festies these days also have other stuff on offer – theatre, comedy, cabaret, craft activities and more - but to me the music is always at the heart of the festival experience. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to go to Shambala, where the music turned out to be more of an afterthought. Unless you are big into smugadelic funk and uber-jolly world music, you would probably feel the same.

Apart from the odd burst of more moody and interesting bands - Kid iD, My Panda Shall Fly, The Legend of the 7 Black Tentacles - variations on a funky theme was pretty much the order of the day. I can handle this kind of music in small doses, maybe even enjoy it for a night, but four days solid is a bit much. Luckily there were plenty of other diversions on offer, not least the hoardes of like-minded, friendly people. After music, people-watching and photography are two of my favourite pursuits, and there was plenty of opportunity for both at Shambala. Once I'd got over the lack of musical inspiration, I threw myself into the spirit of the occasion wholeheartedly, working the colourful fields and woods of Kelmarsh estate with camera in hand and mind firmly open.

The things I remember most from the weekend were the random encounters and conversations, though I am sure there are plenty of those I have also forgotten. As is so often the way, the best party action was all going down in the tiniest tent in the far corner of a field, where those who dared to venture found kindred spirits and music to lift the soul. Saturday's fancy dress parade provided a feast for the eyes, with highlights including the complete cast of Sesame Street, a Tetris troop and a pack of Crayola crayons. I'm sad to say that my own costume efforts were rather more understated, but thankfully more than made up for by my illustrious friends' various ensembles – which you can see in glorious technicolour above.

After dancing and ranting the night away on Friday and Saturday, Sunday brought more sedate activities in the form of a chin theatre, an animatronic horse display and some excellent cabaret, including a pole-tango-acrobatics routine (it has to be seen to be believed) that rounded off my weekend beautifully in a flourish of theatrical splendour. And in the absence of interesting music, theatrical splendour is the next best thing.