Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Annual Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail (aka Ro’s gloriously self indulgent prog fest)

My love for prog rock and psychedelic folk is not something that often gets indulged outside of private spaces like home, headphones, or car. I do appreciate that prog especially is not to everyone’s taste; some of my friends even go so far as to express an active loathing for the genre, and so unless I’m in musically-likeminded company I don’t tend to subject others to this particular section of my record collection. In the past I've gotten away with sticking the odd proggy track into the midst of a more crowd-pleasing DJ set or party playlist (Hocus Pocus by Focus is a staple), and I do recall one Green Man festival when I danced the night away to some extremely esoteric tunes spun by Freakier Zone’s Professor Justin Spear, but it’s a rare thing to be able to jump up and down to this type of music in a public place and to be among people who enjoy it as much as I do. Last night I felt like a very lucky girl when I was allowed, nay encouraged, to play a whole evening’s worth of folky-proggy goodness at the Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail.


For those that don’t know, a Wassail is a pagan festival where mulled cider is drunk and apple trees are blessed in the hopes of a good crop from the next harvest. Although an ancient ritual, this particular event - held at Stone Cross Nurseries - is still in its infancy, having started up only last year. The first Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail in 2013 was a magical night, made extra sparkly by the timely snowfall that turned the torch lit procession to the newly planted orchard into a scene from Game of Thrones (minus the raping and pillaging). This year the weather conditions were entirely less frozen, but equally extreme. “Bring your wellies”, we were told.

As the punters started arriving in the early evening, I eased them in with some gentle (some might say accessible) folk, including First Aid Kit, Imagined Village and Iron & Wine. The mellowing effects of these soothing tunes were then spectacularly undone by the invigorating opening performance from the Pentacles, whose primal pagan drumming is about as far from the sunny Samba scene as you can imagine. They were followed by belly dancers Tribal Unity and the fabulously attired Steampunk Morris, until it was time for the procession.


Sadly there was no bonfire this year, but given that the field was one big puddle due to the relentless rainfall these past few weeks, this may well have been problematic anyway. Nonetheless, the excitable atmosphere swelled as we tramped like Vikings through a bog, fiery torches in hand. A little girl in front of me squeaked “I love all this muddy stuff” as she skipped through the mire, and I had to agree that it did lend a certain dramatic something to the occasion, albeit more Waterworld than Narnia.

At the orchard we sang songs, heard prayers to gods ancient and new, had a little dance in the mud, and shared apple cake and cider from last year’s harvest (although not from these saplings, which are too young to bear fruit). As the crowd began to disperse, I dashed on ahead to line up some rousing music to welcome them back inside, choosing Led Zeppelin’s 'Immigrant Song', followed by some Yes and Yellow Moon Band. People (including, but not only, me) were up and dancing. Noone was shouting ‘get this nonsense off'. I was relieved.


Next was the raffle – all for a good cause and with some fun prizes (Linda and I were disappointed not to win the Witch Weekend in Glastonbury; maybe we'll go anyway) – but a little bit of a mood-killer, just when we were getting into the swing. But Greg’s witty raffle repartee kept us merry, and then it was time for more drumming and dancing, but not before I’d snuck in a couple of tracks, including Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’, to which the drummers rather brilliantly started tapping along.

This may have been around the time when I drank the 8% farmhouse cider that ruined me, since the rest of the night is something of a happy hazy blur. I do distinctly recall grinning like a loon at a seven or eight year old girl with rainbow face paint, who was moshing around with us to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Hoedown’, and thinking what great musical taste she had for such a young thing. The headline act of the evening was a very entertaining goth-rock band from Totnes called ROxIRcle, who enabled my frenzied flailing (one could hardly call it dancing) to continue.


I knew I wanted the night to end with Focus (as every good night should, but rarely does), and I managed to sneak in playing ‘Syliva’ to the departing hordes before packing up my things and calling a cab for me and my cohorts. I cannot tell you what a joyful experience all of this was for me. I may never get to have such a wonderfully self-indulgent night of DJ-ing ever again, but I will always have the memory of this Wassail. Even the monster hangover was worth it.

If you've been reading this thinking "that selection of music sounds like my worst nightmare", you probably won't want to listen to this Spotify playlist I made of my DJ set. But otherwise, knock yourself out. And don't forget the cider.
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