In one long weekend I got to see and hear three legend status heroes, one beloved troubadour and loadsa upcoming upstarts. There was beautiful, scenic countryside and an eventful, riverside walk into town. Scattered throughout the site were a host of interesting people, many on stalls with fascinating conversations built into them. There was spectacle in fire, theatre and construct and nourishment from all four quarters of the globe – with a Mocha coffee to die for. And there were people – a dozen or so in our party and, what?, 10000 others.
My, and was there rain and mud! Oh, yes, there most certainly was. It rained. Gallons of it. Tonnes of it. Gushing, running floods of it. I filled my kettle from the roof of my tent – it made wonderful coffee! But, happily, the camp held up – even the cheap, new Argos Gazebo was a Godsend to cluster under as the kettle boiled on the cooker on the sheltered trailer. This was the dynamics of survival.
As we’d arrived early on Thursday, we were set up in sunshine and had had the chance to settle in before the heavens opened the following morning. The layout was unchanged from the previous year, same stages, mostly the same vendors – “Hi Sam bubbles, hi Goan Fish Curries…” maybe a touch trimmed back – no visual screens beside the main stage being a sad loss. King Porter Stomp at Chi Wallahs were worthy first act I saw, storming away in glorious technicolor sound. The graceful, “bedouin style” tent was way overflowing, as it so often is, with happily bouncing punters, driven by powerful well tuned rhythms.
But, you know, lots available, full programme of events, plenty to look forward to. So mostly I chatted and relaxed after the long (four and a half hour), early (four am for five off) drive and hauling the full trailer – with assistants – twice down from car park to campsite and putting up several tents. Auspiciously we had excellent, interesting neighbours who also enjoyed chinwag.
Next morning the World had changed and DoS became the byword. As the torrents descended it became apparent that my intended, mildly dilettante approach of ambling stage to stage, sampling from all the music on offer, interspersing the odd comedian, film or literary persona would not, as it were, wash. Although, by Saturday, I’d acquired wellies to replace my sandals, walking anywhere was hard work. All routes rapidly decayed to thick, glutinous, actively sucking mud. Inclines were invitations to tumble – and folk were slip-sliding all over the place.
So I walked to Crickhowell to take back a box of glasses lent to me the previous day, when I’d bought fizz to celebrate my daughter’s gaining entry to her University course. Lovely walk, though muddy, as the sun had struggled out. Then the rain truly won and I stumbled through the cascade up into town. As I crossed the main high street an insane assassin revved his car at fullest acceleration and aimed directly at me. He shot through 50 metres and I barely escaped with my life.
Otherwise a sweet, friendly market town, enjoying the summer bonus of an extra 10000 customers just down the road for a few days. I took the glasses back to find someone had been knocked over on the zebra crossing a few months earlier!
Got back to slog through the mud to witness Stealing Sheep – harmonious female trio, lead vocalist drummer front stage, male support drummer rear stage. I just love bands with two drummers as they so often have a fuller sound and so ’twas with these. Enduring and deeply pleasant. Love the name too – there’s a story!
After archaeology chats – which could, and will fills reams, just not here – and hearing much entertaining ambient music from the various venues I got myself close up in front of the Dexys for a portion of, hmm, let’s say “gipsy thrash”. Light hearted, intense, pure, driven and just being a good time they are running on full, as’twere. Bruce’d understand.
Joe Driscoll and Sekou I’d caught at Womad, so already decided the cora links uneasily with New York rap. Hell, I’m immiscible with practically all rap, anyway, as it mostly seems aggressive, tone deaf polemic with little connection to music in any of its multitude forms. As all attendances involved pre-calculation of effort versus potential pleasure of the performance, this was a no thanks.
I saw the droll comedienne Holly Walsh undercover and then had a soggy stop at Mogwai on the main, stage (umbrella cover, if you bring it!) but missed many I’d wanted to catch and just snuggled into my warm and dry tent.
Saturday was again climatically challenged and the site remained a quagmire, but I had got two legends to catch so the day could not go wrong. And, how British, Linton Kwesi Johnson, legend number one, in the literature tent at 5 pm had the hottest, most brilliant sunshine outside so, look, I was sunburning as I listened to him speakin the Brixton riots.
The Cymdiethas yr Iath guy, the Welsh Language Society rep, in a nearby stall, had earlier been telling me of his growing unease at the dissolution of Welsh culture and the ongoing loss of the Welsh language, despite all the new legal structures and strictures to preserve it. He seemed deeply sad. Of twenty school friends at a Welsh medium school, he was the only one who still used the language. And he was early mid twenties.
This was in Linton’s poetry, too, all spoke in the Brixton patois evolved in that community, from its disparate, though primarily West Indian Black components. And it’s those non whites he first spoke for waybackthen, 1980 onward, as Thatcherist politics crushed out the “consensus-ism” which had masked innate racism, ever present in the seventies and clearly strong in the body of the police force. Stop search was the least of it as these led to all manner of physical abuse, disrespect and downright illegality. By the law enforcers.
The pain in his witnessing these injustices came over as strongly today as they must have felt to him as they occurred. Not least, he pointed out, because so much continues as ever, unabated, probably increasing once more. One dissenting heckler was roundly silenced by all present. And the audience was huge, way overflowing the already big auditorium. Encores of poems were later called for, to eat up the time given for questions and with his modest dignity he obliged although adding that “he thought that poetry was a medicine to take in small doses”. I think we all wanted an overdose – mind it would be wonderful to have a long chat with him, over a meal or something.
Dark, Dark, Dark, earlier, had been that and musically excellent. I don’t have the words or the memory to now describe their sound but, yes, excellent really carries it. Minneapolis origin so American and touring. Questing beasts, maybe, But, yeah, excellent. Catch them – my Suuns of this year ie favourite newee.
After tea, we ambled up and MISSED Brown Eyed Girl because of that sloth. Ten minutes into his set Van Morrison was in good voice. Two drummers and the rest – tight brass, clipping guitars, keyboard, fiddle – the band was great. But. It. Lacked. Lustre. Van the Man or vanman. Then, was it he sensed so much willing in the devoted crowd in front of him? Anyway, with audience involvement, singing, clapping, the whole band ignited and there followed a captivating run of numbers leading into and including the finale of G.L.O.R.I.A., give it to me one more time, “Gloria”. You know, he’s been singing that song for over fifty years? Legend number two, eh?!
I listened to and saw others on Saturday evening, and I’ve not mentioned “The Perch Creek Family Jug Band” straight out of Oz I really enjoyed earlier in the day in the walled and thoroughly muddied garden but, hey, you have to stop, eat and sleep sometimes. And it was not going to rain on Sunday.
Only it did. For a lot of the morning. Then abaited in time for Manakala. They hail from London, with a Zambian co-lead vocalist but seem to rejoice in Soweto, the music of South Africa and other good dance tunes. I’m sure I can guarantee that no feet stood still for the entire time of their exuberant performance in the beloved Chi Wallah tent. In fact, my toes are still twiddling now, three days later. I just love this band – I hope they can come to my festival when I arrange it next summer.
However, they are not yet of legend status. In the far out, Far Out tent was staged an act of potential either to attain such or to be removed from the annals of popular culture forever. “Roadrunner” Jonathan Richman was a post punk punk, attaining notoriety for nihilist rendition of short bursts of sound in tuneful but staccato fashion, culminating quickly in aforementioned chart topping, much hummed record.
I caught the last half hour and got up to the front of the jolly crowd to view Jonathan singing his heart out, strumming an acoustic guitar, accompanied by his Sancho Panza on a rustic (rusty?) drum kit and sounding fantastic. Yeah, he teased the audience, no, he didn’t play that tune but just provided buoyant, ebullient and evocative melodies to sprinkle over the memories of a fulsome weekend. Surely he achieved legend status. I think so, anyway.
Feist, on the main Mountain stage was/were splendid. Of the most northerly part of America when she talked, she hit those spots. “How Canadian!” I cried when she drolly said to the people watching “I want you to count up to seven. You can count, can’t you?” The woman in front of us turned round with a broad grin on her face, “What do you mean?” but I didn’t need to explain. Actually, I assume it derives from living in close proximity to the USA. Like Canadians don’t even lock their front doors whilst their neighbours do and have banks of weaponry to back up the locks.
Musically strong, “Mid-Atlantic” rock with drive and, I’m sure, two drummers (!) and a bloody good voice I could draw no quick comparator. She uses her voice as a tonal instrument as well as to deliver words in the more conventional, rock vocalist manner. Feisty? Yes, I think so. Feisty and determined.
An old traditional game has been rediscovered and formed the core of a set of activities over the weekend. Called Gwyddbwyll or Woodsense and found at http://www.woodsense.net/ I got to play it, an endearing boardgame, with king, nights, attacking opponents and woodlands for safety. After three victories and no losses I felt confident I’d win the tournament but, sadly, had to withdraw from the next round to attend to a vehicle stuck in mud. And then to watch a fantastic display of walk in puppetry which was visually unmissable.
As always, the educational, discursive side of festival was strong. Their “Einstein’s Garden” area had a host of thoughtful scientific loci. Prime thought thread was energy and its provision, from peddling bikes to electrify lighting rigs or recharge phones – I pedalled a full hour for my top-up- to a range of renewables, like wind or bacterial, and even mention of nuclear. You may convince me yet, Sam!
The festival went on and on into the night but for me the end was the ritual burning of the towering Green Man and accompaniment of fireworks. Bonfire was splendid and the fireworks elegant and artistic. And quiet so leaving an awesome tranquility.
So, OK, it took a day to get off site and, OK, we nearly lost half our kit as the plague of festival locusts hit the campsite to clear up all the debris (Despite it being neatly bagged up and neatly placed ready for carriage to the car. And the bin-bagged rubbish sitting neatly piled up some 5 metres away.) and OK we got soaked, soaked and then soaked again but was it worth it? A resounding “Yes”.