For editor Mary's coverage of SXSW 2013, go here.
For TGTF team coverage of Liverpool Sound City 2013, go here.
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Saturday at Standon Calling 2012, and a frozen smoothie gives potentially life-saving succour whilst ensconced in the Little Den, Standon’s kids’ area. A lie-in means baby massage and reggae nursery rhymes were missed; still, the tent is blessed with loads of playthings for little ones and is refuge from the midday rainshower that’s becoming a Standon tradition. But there’s plenty of toys for grown-ups too. Double Negative dark room have set up an example of the rare and elusive dark-tent, and are offering free portrait prints.
As one who has gone no further in analogue photography than home-developing the odd 35 mm film, the opportunity to see every step of the process that would eventually give rise to an A4-sized contact print is too good to pass up. The camera is as tall as a man, and exposes directly onto paper using powerful flash. That paper is developed, and the resulting negative is in turn exposed onto another piece of paper, giving rise to a positive image. One is allowed to agitate the developing trays oneself, and the image which emerges before one’s very eyes is quite magical – no two are the same, and mine came complete with wash marks and my own fingerprint on the border. Super.
Musically, the heart of the festival is the Folk Tent. Showcasing the finest in Anglian rockabilly, acoustic, and the occasional Anglophile American (yes, that’s you I’m talking about, Willy Mason), the vibe was eclectic yet accessible. Worth the entrance fee alone, this stage’s proximity to the pub, the fine lawn outside, and the swimming pool just around the corner meant it displayed the purest Standon vibe all weekend. Highlights include Delerium Tremens, Beans On Toast, Keltrix, Vardo and the Boss, and The Barker Band.
Better even than the music on offer, was the opportunity to chill out on a finely-cut lawn, fake statues scattered about, watching infants both young and old enjoy a couple of days of freedom from statute. Worth its weight in gold. Stealing Sheep, BigKids, King Charles and Field Music were all good value on the main stage, yet nothing could be more exciting than the almost half-hour effort of Mohamed Farah in winning the 10-kilometre run by the fabled country mile. To cries of “Go, Mo!”, and various choruses of “God Save the Queen” and “Rule, Britania”, the sweeping consciousness was one of the triumph of many years’ accumulation of aspiration, perspiration, and inspiration.
There was plenty of parallel perspiration at Revere’s performance at the Cow Shed stage. Singer Stephen Ellis is wrapped up warm in a tightly-buttoned black tunic, and virtually overheats as the set progresses, attacking his lyrics like they were mortal enemies; the string duo of cello and violin add a touch of glamour and depth to the epic tunes – and was that a Mumford up on stage just then? Ellis challenges the audience to respond, clambering onto the barrier and exhorting for all he is worth, and he is rewarded with rapture. The show ends with a note of genuine violence as Ellis smashes his guitar onto the pianist’s keyboard, which goes crashing to the ground – there’s a flash of enmity, then suddenly the stage is empty. If there were medals for intensity, Revere deserve to win gold.
Sunday dawned with the traditional downpour, yet it cleared bright just in time for Lips Choir. A west London group of singing women with no audition policy, this was the perfect Sabbath performance – as spiritual as any denominational service occurring simultaneously up and down the country, with the worship of pop music, rather than God, at its heart. Later there was a dog show, the second run of Standon’s own Olympics, and the highlight of my own weekend, and what put the whole event into perspective: an interview with Hon. Alexander Thomas Trenchard. Should any of our readers be unaware, Standon Calling is held within Standon Lordship, the family seat of 3rd Viscount Hugh Trenchard. Alex is his son and was jailed for 10 months on 3rd February 2011 for defrauding his employer, Tesco, out of £355,000. His parents repaid the money.
Alex expanded upon the story: the 2008 Standon Calling lost money, and he had no other way of paying the most pressing bill – that of security – than by using his company credit card. Several bills proceeded in the same manner, until a full 2 years and countless sleepless nights later, Tesco deigned to check their statements. This was the point Alex was asked to clear his desk, charged with fraud, and sentenced to 30 months at Her Majesty’s pleasure at Milton Keynes jail. After a brief and loving relationship with cellmate Paddy (it cumulated in a clinch summarised by Alex as “a combination of a Judo bout and a Scissor Sisters gig”), Standon Calling 2012 sees the return of the man who conceived the event as a barbeque for friends back in 2001, paying the ultimate price for his ambition. Your intrepid correspondent asked why it took Tesco 2 years to realise what was going on (“They trusted me, and I abused that trust”) – and whether the global grocer offered a plea-bargain event sponsorship deal so he could avoid jail (“I don’t think that would have worked”).
Such sentiment explains everything: the free use of the pool, the superb efforts of those in fancy dress, the willingness of so many to give so much of themselves just to prove that Standon is not simply the pipe dream of one privileged boy, that it can wash its face financially, and come back just as strongly after the ultimate setback. As Alex says, Standon has found its niche, and long may that niche prosper.
The Skints bring their UK street reggae along for a welcome chilled out mid-afternoon skank… Sunday night crescendos with the appearance of Fat Freddy’s Drop. The presence of musicians that have travelled from the opposite side of the globe is testament to the power of music to bring every disparate strand of society together – and the crowd make their appreciation heard.
FFD are essentially a funky vehicle for their brass trio to show off their chops, and that brass trio is essentially a vehicle for Hopepa the infamous bone man – the tracksuited, paunchy trombonist whose impossibly fluid frame skips across the stage, grinding and parping such that the cold reaches of the cosmos can feel his “rambunctious carry-on”. His is the culmination of a decade of hope, and when we pack up and head north in the cold reality of morning, Hopepa is the man who carries our dreams with him.
There is nothing like Standon Calling. It has its quirks, it has its foibles, it has a dedicated following of fans, and it has a deeply passionate team at its heart. I came for one headliner, but I will return in tribute to the place, the people, and the music. Standon on the shoulders of giants, indeed.
A 7-year quest to experience Fat Freddy’s Drop live for a second time is almost at an end. In just a few minutes, they will take the stage in the closing performance of an intriguing and enthralling Standon Calling 2012. Even though it was the New Zealand dubsters that had initially piqued my interest in making the 400-mile round trip to Standon, with the benefit of hindsight there is far more to this festival than the headline bands, strong though those may be.
In the preceding 3 days, I have shared the festival with Frankenstein’s monster, numerous wild animals, several air stewardesses (including one with a suspicious 5 o’clock shadow), and the old guy from Up. I have had a contact print family portrait made on a large-format camera, learned the finer points of craft brewing and autopsy (not at the same time, thankfully), shared in the jingoistic delight of watching the GB team win six Olympic gold medals in one glorious day, and delved into the intense backstory of a rehabilitated fraudster. Not to mention one or two memorable musical performances.
First impressions are mixed: the car park is a stubbly field of fibrous stalks which make a horrendous racket underneath the car (as does the eventual exit, the descent of which features a particularly acute angle; the exhaust pipe only just survived). One only wonders what the driver of the ground-hugging 1970s Porsche 911 Cabriolet parked a few cars away made of it all. It’s but a short trek to the entrance, the elevation of which gives pause to survey what’s laid before us.
Nestled into a natural sun-gathering bowl of sweeping farmland, which, if found in the Loire Valley, would be priceless vineyard real estate: the entire site can be seen from end-to-end, making it seem impossibly compact considering the promised delights. Once down in the bowl, there is a lot more space than met the eye just minutes before, and plenty of room in Quiet Camping – although the postage stamp-sized sign gives little confidence that it will be truly quiet. An incorrect assumption, as it turned out.
There’s no finer feeling than one’s first performance of a freshly-opened festival, and Mary Epworth is more than up to the task, her local brew of surprisingly-noisy-at-times folk-prog, combined with her striking looks (tall, flowing blonde locks, giant caftan, autoharp) are a potent combination in the breezy sunshine. A post-set wander confirms the site to be modestly-sized but packed with interest. In addition to the main stage, there’s the smaller Cow Shed stage (yes, in a cow shed), and a funky disco next to the pool, with cocktails and sausages (but not cocktail sausages) for sale.
Yes, there is a swimming pool here, because this is basically a Lord’s back garden that they’ve let the party animals of Hertfordshire loose in. There’s a beer tent dressed up as an old-school pub, adjacent to the little folk tent which will feature heavily over the weekend. The only misstep is the dance stage, which is slap bang in the middle of everything, rather than tucked away in its own space; whilst this does lend a focal point to after-hours activities, the deep bass and foundation-shaking beats have a tendency to overpower the smaller areas; the Folk Stage was particularly badly overrun by the sort of speed garage that was fashionable for 3 days in 1998.
Hours can pass in dream-like reverie simply observing: fake monks vie for dance floor space with beglittered bodies in swimming trunks; a man has combined a tricycle with a piano and pedals around the site playing honky-tonk for tips; people pile into hammocks strung between fake trees. When it’s time to return to reality, Casiokids are playing a party-electro set on the main stage. Coming across as the genuine bunch of geeks that they undoubtedly are (not a single one can dance convincingly), their tunes are just the thing to turn up the wick as twilight approaches. The standout track is ‘Olympiske leker’, a musical tribute to the Olympics, with all 26 events given their own little musical riff; the sports are announced in Norwegian, but enough words are recognisable (diskos, maraton) to make the whole thing jolly and relevant. [Download this song from this previous MP3 of the Day post. - Ed.]
Thence to Beardyman, the clean-shaven Londoner whose set is essentially a history of dance music as reproduced by one man’s voice and loads of computers. A deep vein of sardonicism runs through the performance; each song is dwelt on for the least time possible, various wry comments indicate that Mr. Beardy is only just on the right side of boredom, and there’s some downright rum moments such as the ‘Happy Birthday’ tune for one of his mates, and the subsequent invasion of the stage by a number of randoms in character suits, a la Flaming Lips. Good to see Muppet Beaker making an appearance, though. Eminently danceable and technically impressive though his set is, there’s always the suspicion that the performer is having the last laugh over the audience.
From there on in, things go the way of all good first nights at festivals: blurred and random. After studiously checking for consistency numerous samples of the excellent Meantime Brewery Pale Ale, your correspondent bumps into several members of the local band Maddox, hailing from the rock ‘n’ roll metropolis that is Stevenage. Set the task of staying up until Shy FX’s set commences at 2 AM, what better to do than debate the state of modern music, attempt to tell an original joke (failure), and perform some amateur mind-reading (success). By the time the D ‘n’ B started, the quality of banter was so high (in all senses of the word) that nobody was paying much attention. Cheers, lads.
Stay tuned for the second half of Martin’s review of Standon Calling 2012 appearing on TGTF tomorrow.
Is there one word that sums up the Internet? Freedom? Individuality? Sleaze? The true answer is Meme. The speed at which intellectual concepts, especially base ones, can conceive and proliferate within the internet’s hive mind is beyond anything ever seen in the history of mankind. A few hundred years ago, people died before their ideas were well-known, let alone became famous for having them in the first place. The meme is halfway around the world before basic fact has even got its boots on. In its true sense, a meme is a weightless concept, something which exists both in the mind of the observer, and in the unseen, microscopic logic circuits of the boundless technological brain which we have both built and moulded ourselves into its bland conceit.
A freshly-manufactured computer, just like a newborn baby, is a knowledge vacuum. Both contain practically infinite capacity for storage of new information; both have the means to absorb said information via a number of sensory addenda. Both have carers, whose prime motivation is to fill their charges with a steady flow of fresh stimulation. And both can and will react to this new information in subtle ways, unthought of, and often unwelcomed, by their creators.
Cosmo Jarvis is of an age which means he has matured in parallel with the Internet. He has been able to take for granted its capacity for instant receipt and dissemination of information. There is no thought in his mind which cannot be realised, recorded, and immediately distributed to the world using the wonders of cheaply-available technology. There are those, like this author, who are just that little bit old to be able to be motivated by the advantage of today’s instant movement of information. There are those, like Bill Bryson, who choose not to engage at all, supposing correctly that their talent lies in long-form prose and personal charm; more suited to being presented within the quiet dignity of a paper book or face-to-face than in fleeting pixels.
Given the opportunities afforded by the Internet, individuals can propagate themselves via their creative output, and their notoriety will spread, or not, depending on the relevance of their work, and how well it is promoted. In the online world, people themselves, or at least their online doppelganger, become memes – amongst myriad other Twitter and YouTube celebrities, Cosmo Jarvis is one such character. The difference is, rather than being known for propagating controversial, offensive, or simply vacuous pearls of “twit”ter, Jarvis has actually been uploading pretty decent audiovisual art. He’s been releasing YouTube shorts since his early teens, making the break into music with 2009’s sprawling double ‘Humasyouhitch/Sonofabitch’, and 2011’s ‘Is the World Strange or Am I Strange?’, which contained Jarvis’ high-water mark so far, the million hits-worthy video for ‘Gay Pirates’, an impressive single-take amateur production which acts out the song’s themes. Not everyone thought this a worthy song however, with NME perfunctorily dismissing the whole affair with a 1/10 review, leading to a brilliant online spat between creator and reviewer. 2012 sees the release of ‘Think Bigger’, a collection apparently designed to hang together better as a piece, taming the magpie tendencies of previous work; somehow I doubt NME will be listening to it.
First track and lead-off single ‘Love This’ (acoustic version here) is a bullish, one-sided conversation between a religious sceptic and his doubted God. Featuring a number of superb couplets detailing the logical fallacy of a controlling deity (“How come every man ain’t good? / If it happened overnight would you retire if you could?”). A decent piece of investigative philosophy with a downright catchy chorus, some nice strings, and a superbly humourous one-take video, with Jarvis cast as an arrogantly strutting Devil-child. This is a much more thoughtful debate on the religious question than the burgeoning militant anti-religious (particularly anti-Christian) fervour which currently infests large parts of social media.
‘Train Downtown’ is more complex and no less intriguing, with its talk of leaving a package on a train. What could the package be? Classified documents? A bomb? Elsewhere the lyrics dwell on the surveillance society, and the relationship between a working man and his family. Serious stuff. Musically, there’s a string section, and an electric guitar interlude worthy of the finest early-90s funk-metal shredders. Quite the standout track.
‘Tell Me Who to Be’ is a decent concept in a bland wrapper and a mis-step as the all-important third track on an album. Let’s pretend it isn’t there. As if to prove the inextricable link ‘twixt performer and technology, ‘Lacie’ is a beautiful love song… to his desktop hard disk. Possibly not the very first romantic ode to a piece of computer hardware, but surely one of the most well-expressed (“I burden you with dreams / I can’t hold ‘em all so you’re splitting at the seams”), and could almost be mistaken for a song about a human companion.
I used to love you CP/M
Screens were small and green back then
I spoke your language
Then I found another boss
Who looked like you, our paths did cross
Twixt friends of friends
But even still one heard of those
Whose brains could not decipher code
Instead they chose
And that was it, and there I stayed
Through thick and thin, multi-paned
Figure 1. A demonstration of the difficulty of artfully expressing technological sentiment
Elsewhere, the album touches on country-rock (a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’), suicide-tinged balladry (‘Hopeless Bay’), and upbeat optimism (‘Think Bigger’). What’s notable in this collection is that despite the range of themes and musical styles, there is a singular storytelling voice at its heart. Jarvis is a polymath, a talented musician with a parallel love for the moving image, especially if it has him in it. His prolific output inevitably leads some to concentrate on weaker material and dismiss him as a talentless chancer. But he is blessed with a fine ear for a catchy melody, intriguing lyrical content, and excellent musicianship.
Some of the greatest musicians of our time (Bob Dylan, Neil Young) are known for their prolific, variously-styled releases, not all of which are classics. Jarvis shares this attribute. He’s unlikely ever to be a darling of the media – he appears to eschew trends, and espouses an independent worldview largely incompatible with the cosy unwritten agreements between trendy bands and fawning media which all too often value presentation over musical substance. I imagine this suits Jarvis just fine; he has a burgeoning fanbase already, and as this release shows, his musical output is increasing in both quality and consistency, not to mention the imminent release of his oddly-plotted debut feature film The Naughty Room (trailer below). This particular meme has a lot further to run.
Cosmo Jarvis’ ‘Think Bigger’ album is available now from 25the Frame Productions.
Part 1 of Martin’s report from Deer Shed Festival 2012 is right this way.
After an extended bedtime story, only Villagers are left. The skies appropriately dark, Conor J O’Brien comes across as an indie Harry Potter, his young, slight frame variously bashing the bejeezus out of a parlour guitar and mourning into his microphone. There’s something distinctly eerie about the band – take the midnight-steam-train harmonies at the end of ‘Ship of Promises’: there’s nothing quite like its collective microtoned dissonance this side of a Steve Reich score; guitar strings are bent out of tune or played deliberately a semitone out, adding to the sense of unease. For a young man, O’Brien has plenty of deep concerns – there’s not much sense of sunlight here, with clanging drums and portentious lyrics – even with the occasional lighter musical moment, the sense of dread isn’t far away. Or maybe it’s the chilly night air making it all seem more dramatic than it actually is.
In any event, Villagers are the perfect warm-up act to one of the unsung highlights of the festival – a midnight showing of the seminal 1922 German vampire film Nosferatu, accompanied by live, improvised piano from virtuoso cinephile Darius Battiwalla. Groundbreaking in many ways, Nosferatu was almost lost to history when all prints were ordered to be destroyed for infringing the copyright of Dracula, upon which its story is based. Luckily, a handful of copies survived, saving the profoundly disturbing lead character (who remains genuinely frightening even in this desensitized era of plentiful gore) from an end more ignominious than that which finally befalls him in the film. The piano accompaniment rises and falls beautifully in tandem with the narrative of the film, Battiwalla note-perfect for almost two hours. A rare treat.
Despite the official theme of Monsters, Deer Shed’s actual theme, on Sunday at least, is ‘chilling out’. Rarely does a festival achieve such an atmosphere of relaxation, with seemingly every guest either lazing in a camping chair or sprawled on a rug under the non-stop sunshine. In tribute to the genius of the programmers, Sunday’s musical menu was perfectly judged for such an atmosphere. French obscuro-popsters We Were Evergreen tantalised with exotic accents and quirky tunes, and were thought by many to be a particular highlight.
Malcolm Middleton’s new act Human Don’t Be Angry was controversially ignored in favour of a spoken-word event – music journalist Dorian Lynskey and Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whalley discussing the history of protest music. Lynskey was here partly to promote his book on the subject, 33 Revolutions Per Minute – A History Of Protest Songs; nevertheless his analysis was the highlight of the discussion, which proceeded at a leisurely pace, possibly hindered somewhat by the warmth of the tent. The usual suspects of the Sex Pistols and Crass were brought up, David Cameron’s sincerity in claiming he likes The Smiths was called into question (the conclusion was: he probably said that because he actually does like them), and Boff Whalley described how the introduction of fame to a previously obscure band like Chumbawamba changes your career path so much that you end up assaulting the corpulent frame of the Deputy Prime Minister. It was all interesting stuff, and Lynskey clearly knows his subject, but the irony of such a polite conversation about what should be a shouty and emotive topic hung in the air like a swear word on prime-time television.
Leisureliness must have been in the air, because Cherry Ghost popped in a slow-burning set of hits accompanied by guitar and keyboards only. The full band wouldn’t have been appropriate given the horizontal nature of the crowd, but the full power of songs like ‘We Sleep on Stones’ and ‘Mathematics’ were a little lost. Still, a warm performance, and he does have loads of good tunes, so a fittingly chilled-out finale to the weekend.
All that said about the music, vast swathes of the punters couldn’t care less about the performances. For the kids, it was all about getting their picture taken with a man in a skeleton suit, making a cardboard guitar or a clay monster, learning to hula hoop, or simply playing inside a massive cardboard box. No mention here has been made of the numerous kid-friendly activities in the Deer Shed itself – the storytelling, the poetry, the spiders and snakes – because one can’t be two or three places at once. But suffice to say they happened, and from the reactions of the kids who saw them, they were brilliant.
Anything else of note? The food stalls were excellent – with two notable exemplars – the Lamb Bhuna of home-made curry purveyors Sizzle and Spice was, to my mind, the best I’d ever tasted, and the chef agrees, claiming it’s the best curry in the world right now. I’m not well-travelled enough on the subcontinent to be utterly certain of the veracity of that claim, but as someone who spent several years in Bradford, I can verify it’s right up there with the best of them. And Thomas the Bakers of Helmsley rocked up with their deliciously fresh fancy goods, with no festival-style price hikes, making the 60p they charge for a Yorkshire curd tart the bargain of the festival. It’s the little details that matter at Deer Shed – a secret insider informs me that mountains of metal roadways were hired before the festival began to ensure the heavy machinery required to install the tents didn’t mash up the then-boggy ground. But then they were removed so we could all relax on the grass – impressive stuff. And I am bound to say that all the stewards and volunteers were lovely, and the festival couldn’t happen without them. So give yourselves a big round of applause!
In these days of health and safety, and restrictive but genuine concerns about the safety of children when they’re out of sight, it can be very difficult to genuinely relax when the kids are let off the leash. Deer Shed is about as close as it gets to letting the kids run off with impunity, safe in the knowledge that they will return in one piece. There was the odd stressed parent as their charges had failed to return at the alloted time; I hope it’s fair to assume there was a tearful reunion not long after. In summary, Deer Shed comes heartily recommended for the whole family. Some festivals you need a holiday to recover from – Deer Shed is both holiday and festival wrapped up with a sunny smile. I will be back – with more people – next year.
If required to choose three bands to invite to the apocryphal desert island for a night’s entertainment, one would be hard pressed to come up with a bill more satisfying than Moody Gowns, Janice Graham Band and Dutch Uncles. It is with a heavy heart, then, that I report that that superb line-up is exactly what I missed on Friday night at this year’s Deer Shed festival. Due to a combination of not being able to cut work early, having to perform a new tent’s virgin erection, and putting a little one to sleep in the big outdoors for the first time, the fantasy triumvirate was heard somewhat faintly from distance, and then only with the wavering consent of a fickle breeze.
When the dewy arena was finally breached, Saint Etienne were halfway through their headline set. Sadly, what sounded like a 120dB piledriver interrupted several songs, clearly deafening Sarah Cracknell and dampening what should have been a pillowy ride of joyous gossamer pop. However, no sooner had the main stage shut for the night, then a motley crew of folky songsters took up residence at the back of the ale tent, and kept everyone dancing in a happy, beery fug for until the wee small hours. Local brewers Daleside had come up with a signature Deer Shed ale; a fine drop which by rights required several tastings to reveal its true complexity of flavour. Fuelled by this and several sets of quality Celtic-tinged folk, the tent was still buzzing as TGTF meandered tentwards way past bedtime.
A quick word about the camping areas: in comparison to more populous events, Deer Shed has more camping space than campers, meaning that pretty much everyone gets to rent their own decent plot of prime grassy real estate for the weekend. I saw no cramped camping, except for those groups who chose to pitch together of free will. There were just about enough portaloos, and they were kept clean all weekend; no into-the-pit-of-Hades bravery required. Most campers were respectful of the need for quiet in the family camping, except for one group of morons who insisted on playing terrible songs on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar in the early hours of Sunday morning. Note to them: we’re here to hear professional, world-class musicians. Nobody wants to hear your sad, honking version of ‘Sonnet’ at 1am, you antisocial pricks. Family camping is for families, which implies children and parents getting some much-needed sleep. Children without their parents, like yourselves, should pitch up in regular camping, where your behaviour might be slightly more tolerated. /rant.
Saturday morning dawned with blazing sunshine, the like of which hadn’t been seen all year, adding to the discernibly special atmosphere which would develop over the course of the weekend. Dominated by a vintage Ferris wheel, and looking even better in the sunshine as it had in the dusk the previous night, the arena is simply one large field with facilities dotted around the edge, and the eponymous deer shed up in one corner, behind the main stage. Such is the compact nature of the site, one is never more than 5 minutes’ walk away from any particular attraction, making long drags from one band to another a thing of the past. A stroke of scheduling genius means that as soon as a performance finishes on the main stage, another starts in the tent directly opposite, making for a pretty much continuous flow of music. Ace.
There was so much other stuff going on at Deer Shed, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a music festival: festival with music sounds more accurate. However, this is a music site, so the bands will be reviewed properly. Please note: the nature of attending a festival with kids means that their needs come first; sometimes one has to skip a much-anticipated performance if a little one needs to be fed, changed, or put to bed. If an act is missing from this review, assume that they were missed out of necessity rather than choice. That being said, there was so much on offer, one never felt short-changed. First up, Washington Irving wake everyone up with their Scottish guitar-folk – think bedmates of Admiral Fallow, or moments of Travis on a good day with flutes and big harmony moments. A mellow, widescreen set: the sound of setting sail from Tobermory under an autumn sunrise.
A quick, 1-minute nip to the In The Dock tent, and it’s Woodenbox. These guys boast a mini horn section, just the ticket to jazz up their funkily-loping, ska-jumping sound (the band themselves call it Mariachi-folk). Kicking off with the darkly immense, New Orleans-jazz-infused ‘Everyone Has Their Price’, the tent was bouncing, straight off the bat. Several pieces off their EP ‘The Vanishing Act’ later, it was clear just what a powerful act Woodenbox are. Just two performances in, and the ‘New Band Of The Festival’ award already has a strong nomination.
Via an (un)holy combination of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition and Mumford’s Ben Lovett’s Communion label, we have Treetop Flyers. Whilst they are perfectly fine entertainment in a laid-on-a-sunny-blanket-with-a-pint-of-cider way, one cannot help but think they’re simply a mashup Southern Gothic tribute band – there’s Crosby, Stills and Nash in plain earshot, and indeed plenty of Young in Reid Morrison’s voice. Utterly competent stuff, and possibly the next best thing to seeing Young in person. But when you’ve been exposed to the visceral, feedbacked intensity of a guitar-breaking performance by Young himself, utterly competent doesn’t quite cut it any more.
Laki Mera are in an entirely different league of originality – their sound is both electronic and organic, vintage synths vying with acoustic instruments and the silky tones of Laura Donnelly (pictured above and at top). Comparisons can be made (Massive Attack, Cocteau Twins, Bonobo); however the band have a sound entirely their own: each piece is crafted into a proper song, and it’s simply gorgeous to listen to. Donnelly herself is an excellent frontwoman, shaking her long hair with abandon, and emoting into the middle of next week. Chilled and powerful at the same time, Laki Mera are yet more evidence of the exciting music pouring out of Scotland at the moment.
Beth Jeans Houghton took the main stage attired in a natty purple leotard, tights fresh with mud from the previous day’s show, and proceeded to romp through most of this year’s ‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Noise’ released on Mute Records. Such singular material needs no introduction – indeed, no explanation is possible – suffice to say the performance was polished, if a little aloof. Perhaps familiarity has dulled Houghton’s enthusiasm for the songs, or the band are a little gigged-out, having been treading the boards for months on end now. It seems a reasonable guess that her character being as it is, BJH is far happier exploring new avenues and trying out novel material than playing the same set over and over. Such are the trials of pop stars.
Ah, Field Music. How on Earth such subtle, cerebral, detail-heavy, music can be delivered in such an exciting, danceable manner really is one of the small miracles of modern times. The band stick to the format of this spring’s ‘Plumb’ launch gigs, the opening movement of which introduces today’s set. A handful of favourites close it (‘Just Like Everyone Else’ is truly sublime live, a companion mood piece to The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). Sandwiched are a few favourites from albums gone by – ‘In Context’ jerks its way into the audience’s feet, the whole performance is warmly received, and judging by post-festival Facebook comments, Field Music deliver the set of the weekend. Weighing up the combination of perfect musicianship, strong, unique, material, and the Brewis brothers’ own easygoing manner, it’s difficult to disagree.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Martin’s experience at Deer Shed Festival, which will post tomorrow.
Editor’s note: All of TGTF’s coverage of London 2012 Olympics is available through this link.
Whilst meaning no disrespect to the other five Olympic singles, out of all the performers invited to contribute, Dizzee Rascal surely has the most genuine claim to personal connection with the Games, as he was brought up in Bow, just a javelin’s throw from where the Olympic village now stands in Stratford. This fact surely didn’t escape the attention of organisers when choosing Rascal to provide a song; his personal narrative neatly encapsulates both the rags-to-riches tale of this particular part of east London, whilst reinforcing the best that its varied cultural mix can produce. ‘Scream’, whilst not specifically written with this event in mind (YouTube shows the tune doing the festival rounds this time last year), carries some particularly apposite lyrical content, with its talk of “Worldwide athletic champion”, even though such sentiment is inspired more by the Rocky films than any explicit affinity with the Olympic movement.
After that the lyrics get a bit hazy – yes, I am a white boy from Yorkshire, not a hood from the East side, so I can’t decipher every word of the rapid flow. But if I’m not mistaken, in the latter half of the song there’s a decent bit of social critique of the culture of his roots, of both male violence and female promiscuity, providing a much-needed voice of common sense where politicians dare not to tread, either because they are afraid of being opportunistically accused of racism by their opposition, or because they misguidedly turn a blind eye to social ills in minority communities, mistaking genuine poor behaviour for the perceived norms of a poorly-understood breakaway culture. The song wraps up with an inspiring evocation to be the “future flame” – very Olympian.
Musically, the piece continues Dizzee’s talent for taking very basic ingredients (a sampled harp riff, a few familiar synth tones, the most basic white-noise snare), and making a decent song out of it. Whilst there isn’t a proper chorus, there’s a lovely female vocal refrain sung by Dirtee Stank signing Pepper to break up the rapping. In fact the song never truly climaxes, but for the TV soundtrack purposes to which it will no doubt be put, that’s probably no bad thing. Overall, this is a decent song, particularly the lyrical sentiment, which covers a lot of ground in its sub-three minutes. A decent shock of individual inspiration to counterpoint to the bland, suffocating authoritarianism of the political and commercial concerns that have so dominated the run-up to the Games themselves. And in that sense, Rascal displays all the qualities of a successful Olympian athlete. Let the Games begin!
Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Scream’ featuring Pepper will be released on Monday the 5th of August.