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Standon Calling 2012 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Friday, 17th August 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

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.

 

Standon Calling 2012 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 16th August 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

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.

 

(Standon Calling 2012 flavoured!) Interview: Tony Chang of Fat Freddy’s Drop

 
By on Wednesday, 11th July 2012 at 11:00 am
 

In the days of that internet they have now, international boundaries are irrelevant; pan-continental collaborations can happen online at the click of a mouse; genres meet, merge and split at a speed never before seen. However, the vibe and visceral power of a live show is impossible to replicate online. With live performance arguably the most important promotional tool in a band’s arsenal, there’s no alternative: flights must be taken, the miles have to pass under the tour bus wheels, to bring a live show to the audience. Which is all well and good for UK bands – even the continent is no more than a few hours’ drive away. But when Fat Freddy’s Drop decide to do a few European dates of a summer, it’s a somewhat more daunting eleven thousand miles betwixt home town and audience. No wonder such performances are prized indeed.

Having said that, 2012 sees a handful of European dates for the FFD Wellington dub machine, with Standon Calling their only UK festival date. In preparation for such a rare occurrence, TGTF sent a few questions all the way to New Zealand. Trumpeter and founding member Tony Chang (aka Toby Laing) sent us his upside-down pearls of funky wisdom.

For our readers who haven’t heard you before, give us a description of your sound, your band, your vibe.
Pacific soul with vocals from the inimitable Joe Dukie. Beats from DJ Fitchie – drawing upon the many flavors of the Fat Freddy Sound System – everything from “road house techno-blues” to “Country Bashment”. The band also includes the stomping rhythm section of Dobie Blaze and Jetlag Johnson as well as the Fat Freddy’s three-piece community orchestra horn section.

You’ve been going for 14 years now. Your geographic base and the band’s organic history paints you as a band of nomadic, fluid outsiders. With increasing recognition, do you aspire to become part of the musical firmament, or are you still keen to remain a respectful distance from outside influences?
The short answer to that question is yes. We like to perform. We like audiences. We like performing to audiences. We just do what we do and we are always happy when what we are doing works out okay! We are genuine outsiders, it’s not a conscious decision. As genuine outsiders we would love for our music to be heard everywhere – inside and out… We like playing outside at festivals and inside at clubs and theaters. If you are able to get us into the musical firmament please do!

Following on from that question, you are clearly fiercely independent as a band, having allegedly described the possibility of being signed to a major label as “evil”, and are still independently distributed after two successful albums. Has such a stance held back sales and been a logistic distraction from making music? If so, is that a price worth paying for principle?
I’m not sure about ‘evil’. Whichever of us said that – and it might have been me – was probably just exaggerating for extra effect. To be honest, we don’t know any other way and I’m not sure if it’s been a good business decision or not. Being independent suits us and suits the way we make music. We have received a lot of support from our international audience over the years – lots of people have taken it upon themselves to grow the awareness of the group by turning their friends onto it. Perhaps if we were with a major label, with the same marketing and media presence this support would never have materialized in the same way.

There seems to be a lot of cross-pollination between New Zealand bands (yourselves, The Black Seeds, TrinityRoots); does this explain the distinctively funky Kiwi sound that the bands share? Why do you think the sound has developed in such a way? What influences have led to its development?
There is a large and ever growing community of collaborating musicians all around NZ. We meet up at the summer festivals or get together to make up songs at random studio sessions. I wish I knew all the amazing collaborations that are certainly happening right now in Wellington alone. Wait a minute – that sounds like any music scene around the world. I guess NZ is just like any music scene around the world, except that due to the small distances and population, it seems to be a bit easier to get together than it is in some mega-tropolis.

Your most recent album, Dr. Boondigga, touched on a more dance-oriented sound, rather than the slow-burning dub songwriting of the debut ‘Based on a True Story’. How is your contemporary songwriting developing in style?
The albums are like a snapshot of what we’re doing at that particular time. Fat Freddy’s Drop is formed from a lot of different influences and we follow different sounds at different times. Maybe as we’ve got to play bigger shows the tunes have got a bit faster.

What can the lucky people with tickets to Standon Calling expect from your show?

We are really looking forward to it. Heard lots of good things about Standon Calling. We’ll be dropping our new songs and relishing the chance to mash them and wreck them beyond all recognition. The studio can be a bit dry – the festival stage should be quite the opposite.

My wife thinks the jelly-legged trombonist with the pork pie hat she saw playing with you guys at the Big Chill in 2005 one of the most inspiring musicians she’s watched. Could you pass on the message? Will he be there again at Standon?
Hopepa: the infamous bone man will certainly be there. All that stuff about mashing and wrecking, I was thinking specifically of his rambunctious carry-on.

Fat Freddy’s Drop headline this year’s Standon Calling on Sunday 5th August, and may even drop a new album later this year – keep an eye on www.fatfreddysdrop.com for breaking news.

 
 
 

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