So I went back and this time with three other mad volunteers as I was accompanied by son Tom and two of his mates. Deal was you worked two eight hour shifts over four days, had free admission and they’d feed you and also provide hot drinks whenever required. Three and a half hour drive, intro talk, set up camp and straightway a long shift to help park the trickle of early entrants, traders, crew and artists. This turned out to be a really pleasant way to meet a lot of the guests and performers and I had a long chat with the coordinator/conductor of the Hebden Bridge Drum Machine, as arm bands were arranged for all twenty five percussionista.
And the weather was perfect. Hot sunshine and gentle breeze. After a quiet evening relaxing into festival mood we all arrived back in our various tents and crashed out in the early hours.
OK, well that couldn’t last and it didn’t. We woke to rain on Friday and it splattered on and off through the whole day but didn’t detract much or even create serious mud. Highlight was the Peatbog Faeries, not at all camp and very swirling as ever, full of the drive derived from tempestuous climates of the Orkney islands (or their pubs). A fine band and now streamlined, directed and full of Gaelic passion they gave vivid context to the festival’s setting of a green valley in Galloway and Dumfries.
Otherwise Ska Ya Man provided a tight and joyful bit of Jamaican style backbeat. You know “Specials meet Madness with a little bit of something else” type performance. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was the marginally bizarre aspect of the weekend. At times, it seemed difficult to find a tent where ska was not being played. Scottish ska, contemporary metropolitan London ska, north country ska, music college ska. But, hey, it’s fun to pogo and I’m sure it’s good for you.
Eden’s only little, with a couple of thousand punters, so there’s not many Big Headline artists but it packs a punch way above it’s weight with one big outdoor stage and maybe ten other, tented performance areas. Probably more. In one tiny enclave were gravelly voiced, black acoustic guitarist, trumpet and half a dozen audience. But he was great and atmosphere was superb.
I’m told The Other Tribe and Sicknote, either side of the Faeries, were good too but caught neither. I did catch a lot of great conversation and a fantastic cup of coffee religiously brewed by the proprietor in his own “Coffee ceremony”, using beans from a women’s cooperative in Peru he’d imported green and lovingly roasted to perfection in Scotland. He ground the beans for me and transferred the powder to a filter he’d just placed into one of a row of five glass funnels. He drew piping hot water into a metal vessel with a long and narrow pipe to pour through. Thus drop by drop my drink was extracted from the precious dust and all whilst engaging in deep, meaningful conversation on Fairest Trade. I resolved to return each day and sample all five varieties.
Sadly it was not to be because that night his stall was decimated by a severe deterioration in the weather. It bucketed down, his canvas gave way, the funnels were smashed, the stall ruined and he had to leave. I didn’t find out until I couldn’t find him that evening as I spent eight more hours parking cars in the pouring rain. This was not an easily won weekend!
When I got back to the arena, not only was The_Coffee_Man gone but mud had taken oven. Ha, but after WOMUD 2007 there is no possibility of such trivia bothering me. It did, however, render the mysterious, wondrous three tents approached along a narrow passageway a less attractive saunter:
Each tent used DJ sound systems, reflecting different genres – dance, psychedelic and vishnu – and was fitted out accordingly. The kids really loved this bit and the mud probably improved it, acting as an older adults moat! I got there just once and found there was also a wood burning stove powered sauna caravan which was verily most wonderful. I would have gone back….
Rabbie’s Tavern did Gaelic influenced, even daily ceilidh, music plus some R&B and, of course, Celtic Ska! Next to it was My Giddy Aunt, like a Womad tent but smaller. Kind of open plan and centre for some very tasteful tunesters. Also good and rather larger was the Furry Chillum Tent (Where do they get these names?!) home to a lot of Ska but, actually, lots more and much of it crisp and lively.
So La Morte Subite were excellent stompers and ended with a Hurdy Gurdy playing a Russian feel tune which inspired a fine dance demonstration by blurry punter, below:
Leader of the Drum Machine is a determined and committed soul and he led the side out into the rain on Friday. In the centre of the site they gathered and duly struck their beats. In seconds they attracted a crowd which grew and stayed for the half hour or so of the set. Well orchestrated, executed and performed with verve and a happy spark they came across as a collective inspired. Afterwards, I joined in the participatory workshop where we all soon packed a powerful punch.
I’ll write elsewhere of the John Muir Trust whose stall gave me two great conversations about trees, landscape and Saving The Planet and I met a lovely family of herbalists doing the first aid. No yoga but I did a workshop in Chinese Cranial Massage. Alone, I became teacher’s dummy to demonstrate on. This I enjoyed although I perhaps had less direct attention from her as she had to go supervise.
Part two found me a subject who timed her arrival well! I’m not new to this but have been out for a while and it allowed me to think again about the “cause and effect” nature of the process. To put yourself into your subject’s shoes and empathise on outcomes. To find flow and firmness without jarring and to feel tensions released and “earth” them.
I’m sure it could be exhausting as it’s also deeply personal and if it’s not then it has far less impact. Chill out those chakras and find your inner wholeness. Something like that, anyway!
So, on Sunday evening, I walked around. Totally scatty and practically skafree “Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5” were an octet with dry ice, silly costumes and great music, rocking the Furry Chillum. As the post performal dust settled, I drifted and found myself outside the Giddy Aunt. A single figure on stage and odd music emerging. I glanced at the programme board but, way off schedule, it was unclear who she might be. I read out two names but the guy next to me said “No, it is Katus. I think I’ll go away for an hour”.
“Wow, nasty” I thought, so resolved to watch and listen. Scat singing around playing a weird woodwind pipe with a bulbous swelling high on the neck, she sounded quite melodic and rather mysterious. Song over, she told of how the it was usually sung by a group of twenty or so Chinese vocalists – this was her interpretation.
Now she took up the guitar from her lap and picked staccato notes in harsh, strident manner and broke into a plaintive, contrasting song. Her voice was tense, the song caustic, the accompaniment ringing. The G string snapped. I realised that I was a good 10 percent of the audience. And she stayed so cool, removed the string, found a new one and went on to say this new guitar was the problem so she’d have to tune it down to a lower key.
Which she did. And, after nigh on ten minutes “pause”, then resumed the song where she’d left off. Except in a lower key and I have to say it was now far more melodious and quite a joy. She played on for a full set and, apart from some being a bit, can I say, “girly”, it was striking, original and very enjoyable.
For a few numbers on came a second guitarist/vocalist “Just returned from New Zealand” to great, harmonic effect. I thought “Gregson and Collister” but just for a reference point. After her beautiful, final solo effort “Just returned from New Zealand” came back on with a full band including Katus, Oriental fiddler, sax, melodion, drums and trumpet – this was a scratch ensemble but excellent fun and remarkably together. Altogether a really engaging finale to my festival experience.
And you know the next day was baking sunshine and I find I lied to Maybe Myrtle Turtle when I told them I’d seen their set. Maybe another time, lads. Anyway the sun dried the tents in no time and we paddled in Lake Windermere on the way home!