Greenman Festival 2016

[Listening soundtrack:  Blink of a Nihlist – BC Camplight]

Day 1 – Thursday

It’s been two years since I last went to a festival which involved camping , and this was my first visit to Greenman, a festival with a tendency to get a bit sploshy. So with a mixture of excitement and trepidation we set off on the long drive to the Black Mountains, laden down with clothing to suit every possible weather condition, including snow. At least we didn’t have the bother of erecting a tent having taken the Tangerine Fields option… Yeah I know it’s a sign of middle class sloth, but worth it not to have all that extra gear to drag around.

Arriving around teatime on Thursday and gear safely stowed in our tent, we set about orienting ourselves. As festival sites go Greenman really is a bit special, with its main stage nestled in a natural hollow and set against a spectacular mountain backdrop. It’s a compact site, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, so we spent an hour or so poking about the various stages and stalls before making our way up the the Far Out big top to see what was happening, basking in the late evening sunshine.

With just one stage running for the first night, the Far Out was understandably rammed. We arrived to catch the end of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s set making a big racket to an appreciative crowd. There seems to be an almost endless stream of Aussi psyche bands of whom King Gizzard seem to be the latest flavour of the month. I mean it’s fine and I guess if we had been down the front it would have been quite fun, but from the back it all sounded a bit Deep Purple meets Jethro Tull to my ears.

As King Gizzard came to and end the big top quickly cleared allowing us to bag a space at the front for Thursday headliners Wild Beasts, who are neither wild nor beastly. My feelings towards Wild Beasts are a bit odd, when I hear them on the radio I’m not entirely sure whether I like them or not. However I have seen them live a few times and always find them entertaining and enjoyable company; it must be my affection for Kendal mint cake. They are on good form as always and seem to have brought their fan club with them judging by the crowd of people near me singing along to every single word. Their current slinky electronic sound doesn’t translate as well to the festival environment as some of their older material, so closer of All The Kings Men turns into a mass bouncy singalong. All in all it felt like a nice gentle start to the festival weekend, and we returned to our tent excited about what the next day had to offer..

Day 2 – Friday

Friday arrives with a wet splodge. After a night of heavy rain we awake bleary and a little bit damp. I am immediately dispatched to procure cups of tea from the Community cafe, and have a crafty Welsh cake before embarking on the muddy trek back to the tent. We eventually sort ourselves out and headoff to the main festival site for brekkers before plotting our days entertainment.

First act of the day for me is Stephen J Adams on the tiny Walled Garden stage. The Broken Family Band were one of my favorite bands of the noughties; sharp, witty, often dark and cynical lyrics allied to great tunes, lent a slight Country tinge courtesy of Adams voice. He was in fine form today, despite the drizzly weather, backed up by a second guitarist, his set a mixture of songs old and new, plus a couple of obscure covers. Tears of Happiness, a song about Satanism and kind of an answer song to the old BFB track, Living in Sin was a real highlight, and I found myself singing along wildly. As ever his black sense of humor was to the fore in his between song banter; proclaiming, before the song Togetherness, that at least we now know who all the racists are… And where they live. He seemed to be really enjoying himself, and I saw him wandering round the site with partner and child several times over the weekend so clearly was making a weekend of it.

Next we head over to the main stage for Meilyr Jones, and as if on cue the clouds part and the sunshine floods down upon the Mountain Stage. Tall, thin, shoeless, dressed like he’d forgotten to take off his school uniform, and very Welsh, Meilyr was about to win the day at Greenman. Kicking off with the upbeat Dexys-like burst of How to Recognize a Work of Art, the addition of a trumpet player to the live line up makes all the difference. Great tunes allied to a hugely likeable stage presence makes for the perfect Friday afternoons entertainment. Angular like Jarvis, but without the sleeze, he was a non-stop ball of energy; his foray into the audience seeming perfectly reasonable rather than an annoying affectation. After an ebullient Featured Artist Set closer he hung around the the front of the stage, selling CDs and t-shirts, signing autographs and chatting to everyone. And as he went, the sunshine went with him.

In the olden days, when I was a youth, I had a cassette of songs taped off the radio. Yes that’s right kids, taped, no  YouTube, no Spotify, no iTunes in the olden days. I played it all the time until it eventually broke…I was heartbroken. On the cassette there was a song called The Backyard by Miracle Legion. I knew little about the band but loved that song, it’s lyrics fondly remembering a simpler, more innocent time. In later years, when flicking through record shops I always looked out for them but there just didn’t seem to be any material available to buy. A brief Google search suggested that singer Mark Mulcahy had a life, both personal and professional, filled with tragedy. So my expectations of ever seeing them live were pretty slim.

Always suspicious of reunions I was not filled with confidence as they stumbled on stage; a post arrest Radovan Karadzic, Casey Jones, a fat Dennis Quaid and a Vegas card sharp. However, I could not have been more wrong. Mark Mulcahy demonstrated more life, soul, passion and fire in the belly than I could have hoped for. He danced and jiggled around the stage, his voice strong and rich, sounding like a man half his age. When they played The Backyard, well there were tears in my eyes.

We next wandered up to the Far Out to see Kamasi Washington. I have been enjoying his triple album, The Epic, this summer, so was particularly  looking forward to seeing him live. However I have a complicated relationship with jazz, and unfortunately watching Kamasi confirmed all of my worst fears about live jazz.  Firstly I struggle with instrumental music live, I need the central focus provided by a singer; but I guess that’s my problem, not theirs. Secondly they do the Jazz thing. You know, when one player takes a solo and everybody else stands back and looks on admiringly. Frankly they all seem to be having a far better time than the audience. So sadly, I never made it to the end of the set and bailed early to search of food.

After a sit down in the chilled out Babbling a Tongues field and some sustenance we had to make a decision on which headliner to see. Neither James Blake nor Lush were really floating our boat, so we opted for Kiran Leonard in the walled garden. It’s frightening that someone so young can be so musically gifted. After a couple of false starts Kiran and band launched into a wild and woolly version of Pink Fruit, the standout track from his last album. I am not entirely sure how he does it, I have never seen fingers move like that on a fretboard. Performance-wise, it is clear he is still a young man who has to learn how to really engage with an audience, but given time he has the talent to do something truly great..

 

Day 3 – Saturday

As I poke my head out of the tent door (do tents have doors?  Just openings really.) , I felt a bit like Noah after the first day of the flood. It was time for a rethink on the day’s schedule. What we really need are some indoorsy things. So what better way to start the day than Pete Paphides & Bob Stanley’s fiendishly tricky pop quiz in the Babbling Tongues tent. This has multiple advantages as it provides a pleasant spot to sit down, on proper chairs, enjoying cups of tea and bacon sandwiches as well as being a right laugh. While not being in the prizes we achieve a respectable mid forties score and avoid the worst of the morning’s downpour.

As the rain abates slightly to a drizzle we decide to put up our hoods and venture outside. First up is BC Camplight in the walled garden. Philadelphia raised, Manchester based singer songwriter BC Camplight plays piano led pop in the classic tradition of Harry Nilsson, Elton John and Ben Folds. This is a surprise from a former musical compadre of War on Drugs and Kurt Vile. I can’t believe he has only just come to my attention because he is utterly brilliant and delivers a real shot in the arm to a damp Saturday. Looking like the lost Blues Brother and fuelled by Jack Daniels he is a real force of nature and every song sounds like your new favorite. Finishing on a wild cover of Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire he puts a massive smile our rain soaked faces. However, I do worry about how long he can keep up this pace, given the bottle of Jack he manages to put away in a sixty minute set.

Next I head up to the Far Out to catch Cavern of Anti-Matter, former Stereolab man Tim Gane’s Neu-esque outfit. Motorik drumming, weird bleepy electronica and psyched out guitar licks are just the ticket. I close my eyes and am immediately transported to mid-70s Dusseldorf, which considering I am in a field in Wales is some achievement.  It’s  odd juxtapositions that make festivals fun, so going directly from a set of driving Krautrock noodling to see Sheffield’s finest son John Shuttleworth is about as big a leap as it is possible to make. JS is hilarious as always but leaves us with an ear-worm that we are still struggling to shift a week later, ‘…I can’t go back to savory now, that shepherds pie was stunning, but I’m half way through me pudding…’.

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Next we venture out into the pouring rain to watch The Magnetic North in the Walled Garden. A super-group of sorts comprising Carnival leader Erland Cooper, Gorrilaz/Verve axe slinger Simon Tong and folktronica goddess and all round genius Hannah Peel. This was on our must see list come rain or shine. Prospect of Skelmersdale,  inspired by Simon Tong’s experience of growing up in a New Town and its later integration with the TM community has been playing in our house all summer. Live they are even better than we could have imagined, playing a mix of songs from the Skelmersdale album and the earlier Orkney record. Erland and Hannah in particular, have incredible stage presence. It has to be said, they have a sexual chemistry of the ‘get a room’ variety, but do sing the sweetest harmonies. Accompanied by a string section, songs build to epic crescendos, soaring into the sky and taking us with them. A cover of George Harrison’s Run of the Mill almost moves me to tears. The rain poured down but oddly it just added to the atmosphere of what was probably my favorite performance of the weekend.

 

Damp and emotional we decide to that ourselves to a couple of rather excellent Bloody Marys and a sit down under the trees….maybe it was my mood, but I swear it was the best Bloody Mary I have ever tasted. In a choice of headliners, I forego Laura Marling’s folk stylings to see Battles in the Far Out. I arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot near the front and, sensibly, deploy my ear plugs. The on-stage set up seems more frantic than usual; it later transpires they have driven overnight from Poland and only arrived forty five minutes before they were due to start. Understandably there is a slight delay to proceedings, but it allowed me some time to observe the world’s most laid back security team chatting and taking selfies with the crowd.

Built around the thunderous tub thumping of former Helmet drummer John Stanier, Battles are a ferocious live band. Drum kit front and centre, with a crash cymbal seemingly eight foot in the air, they make a wonderful racket. An underlying dense wall of odd noises and keyboard stabs, unearthly guitar effects allied to driving rhythms that seem to twist in all directions yet remain centred around a relentless driving beat, they sound like the best party on some far off alien planet. When they play Atlas, the ‘hit’, the crowd lifts off with them, bouncing along like demented fools. It was a brilliant performance and so very different to anything else I saw over the weekend, leaving me buzzing and elated.

Day 4 – Sunday

Don’t hold your breath, but I think it has stopped raining. Usually by the last day of a festival weekend I am on my last legs, running on fumes. Surprisingly we are all feeling in pretty high spirits this Sunday. We start the day with kedgeree and breakfast stew in the Babbling Tongues tent and watch the Mojo interview with Belle and Sebastian. Despite best efforts of the interviewer to bugger it up they make for an interesting interview while we make our plans for the final day.

We catch Genghar on the Mountain Stage; they don’t exactly set my world on fire but are entertaining enough. We decide to check out The Moonlandings next at the Far Out, but get distracted by something far more interesting. While passing the Round the Twist bar we noticed a small queue of people and decide to investigate. On hearing the unmistakable sound of Ezra Furman sound checking inside we immediately join the queue and are lucky enough to witness a small intimate secret gig. On a tiny stage, just Ezra and his guitar, in front of a small crowd, he delivers a short set of songs touching on his, sexuality, gender and self esteem issues. It sounds like a downer, but it really wasn’t, rather it was genuinely moving. A surprising cover of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman gives some idea where his head is at right now. At the end of the set @realearthmother managed to grab the set list, narrowly beating a too slow hipster to the punch. Amateur. Ezra kindly autographs it afterwards and chats away for a while with J & P, which I am sure pressed all of the wrong social anxiety buttons for him. It was yet another highlight of a wonderful weekend of music.

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To close out our festival weekend it is a triple whammy in the Far Out; Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Ezra Furman & the Boyfriends and Grandaddy. 

First up is UMO a band we have seen several times before and it has to be said tonight did not show them at their best. The first time I saw them they had a lightness of touch  which  seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. Firstly they appear to have an new drummer in tow, who while perfectly adequate lacks the swing and feel of Riley Geare. I am not sure whether this is a permanent personnel change or an enforced one, but if anyone knows the story I’d be happy to hear it. One of the highlights of previous performances was Riley’s wild drum solo section; they try the same trick tonight but it just feels leaden. One of the biggest issues I have is that their live set seems to have degenerated into schtick; the drum solo bit, the keyboard solo bit, the bit where Ruban sits cross-legged on the stage, the bit where Ruban climbs up the scaffolding. It is a real shame as Multi Love was one of my favourite albums of last year. Nonetheless the crown seem to love it and I guess they were okay, its just that I have seen them when they were so much better.

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Next up is Ezra Furman & the Boyfriend’s full band set and the difference between this and the earlier intimate solo set could not be more marked. I am pretty sure Ezra doesn’t want the ‘voice of a generation’ tag, but if he continues to deliver exhilarating performances like this it’s going to stick. It’s been two weeks now, so forgive me if I’m hazy on details, but in my mind he started off with a blistering Tell ’em All to Go to a Hell (set-list FM begs to differ). Anyway it felt like a statement of intent and the rest of the set followed in a similar vein. All the frailties of earlier seemed to float away, replaced by a confident forthright young man with things to say; Body Was Made dedicated to all the queers. The Boyfriends have become a lean, tight unit, honed to perfection by a relentless few years on the road. They sound like a cross between the E Street Band and The Attractions at their feral 70s best. A shout out to all the folks who supported them over the years in sweaty dives up and down the country reminded me of the first time we saw him in the damp and dingy York Duchess. Ending on a celebratory and chaotic cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher made this feel like a real headliners set. Maybe next year.

After all of the euphoria of Ezra’s set, it felt like a tough act to follow, and if it had been another high octane band it could have fallen on it’s face. So how do you follow something like that; simple, it’s dumb, it’s Grandaddy. This is a band I had pretty much given up on ever getting to see live, having been on hiatus for so long  but a sighting of Jason Lytle playing Hewlett’s Daughter alongside Giant Sand at Stewart Lee’s ATP gave me some hope.

They were really the perfect way to end this festival for me. Their sleepy eyed Texan wooziness and lullabies for the soul bring us gently back to earth,  enveloping us in a warm comforting hug. They played all of the hits too, AM180 and Summer Here Kids being standout tracks for me. Ending on the long, weird and impossible He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’ s the Pilot was a bold move but fitted the mood perfectly, Jason Lytle’s heartbreaking lilt creating that special piece of magic that is required to end a festival.

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Happy and elated we gathered to watch the ceremonial burning of the Greenman and fireworks display. I couldn’t help but reflect  on what an incredible weekend of music it had been. I hadn’t seen everything I would have liked to (missed Malcolm Middleton, missed Whitney, missed Ryley Walker, missed Belle & Sebastian, missed Tindersticks) but hey if you tried to watch everything it would become a trial rather than a pleasure. And festivals are one of life’s real pleasures; you turn off the outside world for three or four days and enter a fantasy place, where your only concerns are what to watch and what to eat. More of that please.

 

EOTR 2014 ~ Day2: King of the Road

End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset [Writing Soundtrack: Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends ~ Day of the Dog] Saturday arrives slowly. Very slowly. After a long and exhausting Friday the lure of an airbed, sleeping bags … Continue reading

Gentleman, scholar, acrobat?

Afghan Whigs – Manchester Cathedral, 17th July 2014

Flashback: The 1990s. American rock music is dominated by Nirvana, and all those who followed in their wake. Angst ridden skinny white boys, wailing against the injustice of it all…much like Harry Enfield’s Kevin the teenager. Amongst all of this Afghan Whigs stood out as being something a bit different. The band that purportedly met in jail, these were no fey and fragile indie boys making a racket. No, they looked like the kind of guys you’d want to be in a different postcode to should a bar fight break out.

Greg Dulli’s bruised alpha make charisma on songs about blame & denial, love & heartbreak, lust & longing and…well, sex, put them in a different category to the grungy zeitgeist of the time. The Afghan Whigs always had impeccable taste when it came to cover versions too. B sides where frequently littered with original interpretations of soul classics; Band of Gold, Come See About Me, True Love Travels on a a Gravel Road. Grinding Sabbath riffing accompanied by a love of vintage soul and funk, giving them a unique, timeless sound, and in Greg Dulli they had one of the great rock voices of the 90s.

I saw them three or four times back in the day, and as a live band they were always entertaining, if a bit volatile. I remember a particularly joyous gig at Manchester University when Dulli, clearly indulging in the local medication at the height of the Ecstasy boom, was at his most charming and engaging. The show started with one of the roadies, wearing a silver lamé shirt singing Ziggy Stardust, accompanied by the band. Much banter with the crowd ensued throughout the evening, at one point even inviting the locals up on stage to dance. The encores commenced with a loved up Greg returning in the silver shirt, cigarette in hand, to deliver a totally committed rendition of When Doves Cry. This contrasted with a gig at the Boardwalk a year or so later which was quite the opposite. Playing a room too small for their egos and filled with the wrong kind of drugs, the atmosphere was vile; Dulli at one point inviting most of the audience outside for a fight. Like I say, volatile but always engaging, always entertaining.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached this reunion. Going to see the Pixies last year, who I equally adored at the time, was fun but strangely left me cold. It felt like a band trading on past glories, not helped by their aloof, disengaged stage presence. I concluded that maybe I had changed more than they had. I just hoped this would be a more rewarding experience.

It was my first time seeing a gig at the Cathedral…I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of a church, in the ultimate act of forgiveness, inviting a true sinner to play within it’s hallowed walls. Lovely building it is too….although trying to find a vantage point between the pillars could be a challenge. Support tonight was from Mark Lanegan collaborator, Duke Garwood. An interesting character on stage, half Lanegan, half Nick Cave, he played a set of dusty desert blues while complaining it was “hot as balls” up there. On the whole I enjoyed it, and it felt like a good appetiser before the main event.

As the band strode on stage, Dulli screaming the troops to order as they launched into the opening sonic volley, it was clear we had nothing to worry about. Looking lean and mean and still full of rock star swagger, Dulli opened with two tracks from the new album, Parked Outside and Matamoros. The set was a mixture of tracks from the new album alongside songs from Gentlemen, Black Love and 1965. It was a mark of the quality of the newer less familiar tracks that they blended perfectly with the older stuff. As is always the case with these kind of gigs, it was the older songs which drew the greater reception. What Jail is Like, Gentlemen, Something Hot were all delivered, dripping with hardcore funk sleaze and with as much energy and commitment as they ever did in their heyday.

The humour of old was still present in Dulli’s between song patter…”great room right? (Cue cheering and applause)… First time y’all have been in here right?” Then there were the inevitable covers, and if I’m being honest it took a visit to Setlist FM to work out what the hell they were. Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, and perhaps in tribute to the venue, Heaven in their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar. Actually having just watched the video for the Lloyd Webber song…. It’s funk riffing isn’t a million miles away from the Afghan Whigs trademark sound. With three guitars, violin and keyboards, the sound was dense and complex, so much light and shade, not just a barrage of hardcore riffing. The main set ending with Vaudeville vamping of Lost in the Woods from Do the Beast, strangely segueing into Everything is Getting Better by a The Beatles. It really shouldn’t work but somehow it did.

Encoring with the sleazy come on of John the Baptist, Dulli the seducer, chilled wine and Marvin Gaye, before ending on Faded from Black Love. In a touching Bobby Womack tribute, the lyrics from Across 110th St blended perfectly with Dulli’s plea for redemption. It was here that a touch of the barroom brawler of old made it’s presence felt. Seeing an altercation breaking out near the front, Dulli stopped mid song to point the finger of doom at the guilty party, threatening that if he started something he would come down there and finish it himself. You can take the boy out of Cincinnati….

Stepping out into the warm summers evening, I was buzzing like it was 20 years ago. Reunions can be a tricky business; so often an exercise in retreading the old hits and coining the cash. But from what I saw tonight, the Afghan Whigs are back, still full of piss and vinegar and as vital as ever. Still debonair, still full of soul, and still my favourite out and out rock band of the 90s.

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Neutralised

Neutral Milk Hotel, Albert Hall, Manchester, May 17th & 18th

Like many people I came to Neutral Milk Hotel late; way after they had ceased to be a going concern. I think I picked In The Aeroplane Over the Sea up in Fopp because I liked the sleeve. It was a few weeks later when I got round to listening to it in the car. That CD remained in my car on repeat for the next three months, working it’s magic on me. I fell hard.

It can be a tough listen for the uninitiated, but once it finds it’s way into the ancient primeval part of your brain it’s difficult to shift. It’s dense poetic lyrics, part adolescent sexual fantasy, part twisted body horror, all watched over by the ghost of Anne Frank and sang with a voice teetering on the edge of complete abandon. Set against a musical background almost steampunk in it’s oddness; fuzzy acoustic guitars, singing saws, esoteric brass and even bagpipes, all meshing together to form something strange and beautiful. It’s difficult to put a finger on it, but I react to this album the same way I react to a Rothko painting; a pure unfiltered emotional response. It’s sad and melancholic, sometimes almost revelling in it’s own sense of disconnectedness…. But then we all feel like that sometimes, don’t we?

After a bit of online research I came to realise that NMH were a long defunct outfit, and their singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum was rumoured to be a reclusive almost hobo-like character, homeless and sleeping on people’s floors. It seemed unlikely I would ever get to see him in the flesh. So when I saw he was curating ATP in 2012, it was a done deal, I had to be there. I have to say it is my favourite festival experience, the Elephant 6 crowd were all warm and enthusiastic and made it a completely welcoming experience.

There was however one thing which irked me. Jeff played two sets that weekend. The first, on the Friday, was wonderful, haunting, emotional and euphoric. It left me feeling like I’d been through intensive psycho-therapy… A bit bruised but ultimately happier. There was however huge anticipation about the Sunday evening; a full band revival surely? Sadly that wasn’t to be, it was Jeff again, solo. Amazing once again, but I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated. Would I ever get to see Neutral Milk Hotel the band?

On hearing that Neutral Milk Hotel had announced some US dates, and would be playing some of the big European festivals, I was understandably itching for news of further dates. When the word came out that they would be playing a limited number of UK appearances, well the anticipation was desperate. We were worrying for days prior to the tickets going on sale that we wouldn’t get any. Because in the minds of the faithful they are bigger than Springsteen, rather than a tiny little cult band. So after all the waiting, for two nights in Manchester, I finally get to see the band I had been desperate to see for so long.

First a word about the venue, Albert Hall, Manchester. A Wesleyan chapel, abandoned for many years, hidden away upstairs above what was once Brannigans nightclub. Beautiful tall stained glass windows along each side and across its vaulted ceiling, a broad sweeping balcony and high stage in the shadow of an amazing pipe organ, I could not have picked a more appropriate venue.

Being typically English, I tend not to show great excitement at things, preferring restraint to obvious ebullience. But I confess waiting for the band to come on stage, my heart was beating faster. At the appointed time Jeff Mangum stumbled onto the stage; long beard, peaked cap and army surplus coat, he bore a closer resemblance to an Ozarks meth runner than a rock star. He didn’t say much, just began to strum this first simple chords of The King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1, and as his voice stretched out into the darkness for the first time I knew this would be everything I had hoped it would be.

Out of the wings the rest of the band crept onto the stage, picking up archaic instruments and allowing the cacophony to build as they kicked into Pt 2. Hearing a crowd of 2000 people singing ‘I Love you Jesus Christ!’ can be an odd experience for an atheist like myself, but by this time I was already locked into Jeff’s fantastical world. The band are the essence of anti-rock star, anti-image, looking like they had strayed in from a homeless shelter or another dimension. The bear-like Scott Spillaine with his Father Christmas beard, blasting beautiful haunting sounds for an array of ancient brass instruments. The man-child Julian Koster bouncing around in his bibbity bobbity hat, wrenching thunderous noises from his bass, and his singing saws all terrifying and sad. Behind the drums Jeremy Barnes, extravagant of moustache, stroking the drums, sometimes with the sensitivity of a jazz drummer, and sometimes like Thor in a bad mood.

No new material, but they do work their way through a mix of songs from On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, filling them with fresh cacophonous fizzy energy. Holland 1945 is raucous and acoustically punky, Gardenhead is weird and arty, Two-headed Boy breaks my heart in a million pieces. The rest of the band leave the stage as Jeff strums the sad chords of Oh Comely. It’s dense impenetrable lyrics, full of foetuses and sugary sweet machines. It’s the poetry, the sheer joy in the sound of words that gets me as I close my eyes and submit to the emotion of it.

The main set finishes with Snow Song Pt 1, all drones and noise, interspersed with flashes of melody and crazy jazzbo drumming from Jeremy. Then quietly they troop back to the wings as we whoop and cheer, and try to catch our collective breath. After a short break they return for the final few songs; a carnivalesque Ghost and a Two Headed Boy Pt 2. Finishing with the beautiful nursery rhyme that is Engine they quietly leave the stage to return to whatever strange planet it is they come to leaving a Manchester crowd euphoric and emotionally drained.

So that was it. After all this time, two night of the band I had waited so long to see. Did it live up to expectations? More than I can adequately describe. ATP at Minehead was incredible, but this was something else entirely. It was everything I could have imagined, a wild steampunk cacophony filled with brutal, terrifying beauty. Those songs continued to reverberate around my brain for days afterwards. I shall be seeing them again in August at Jabberwocky; I’m sure it will be great, but whether it can live up to this is another story. All we need now is for Jeff to bury a few demons and start writing again.

Oh and by the way, that CD is back on my car stereo… I think it will be there for a while.

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Learning how to die…..

I should point out before I start that there is no humour in this post; no laughs, no irony. It’s remarkably low on fun stuff, so it would probably be best if you turn back now. I’m not normally given to over-personal blog posts, but this past few months have been a tough time for people I care about. Not sure why I feel the need to record this, but I find it strangely comforting to do so; that will have to be reason enough.

I have slipped away upstairs for a little while to start writing this. My mum is downstairs at the bedside of her husband (my stepfather?… Not sure if that is the right term to honest as we never really had a parental relationship). Anyway, he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus 8 months ago. He’s over 80 but underwent & survived very long and complicated surgery to try and remove it and give him some quality of life. He has never really recovered from the surgery as he should have done, and as is so often the case this vile cancer has taken hold elsewhere.

It’s been a long hard eight months and it looks like we are reaching the final hours. The house is full of his family, which I am sure must be some comfort although he is pretty much unconscious most of the time. The automated syringe driver ensuring a constant stream of pain killers & anti-anxiety drugs are flooding his system. I barely know anybody here, but am here for my mother’s sake, so I have slipped away and am sat at the top of the stairs, quietly tapping away into my iPad.

So where to start? My relationship with J has had it’s ups and downs over the years I suppose. I think we eventually settled on mutual tolerance. Actually that’s probably being a little unfair; I think he basically likes me, just just finds me a bit odd. I have tried to tolerate his views but found some of of them too difficult to bear. Consequently I have stayed away more than I should have over the years. Sadly my pig-headedness has led to a fairly strained family relationship at times. Not something I’m particularly proud of but you can’t change the past, only the future. Anyway in thirty years he never raised his voice to my mother and has loved her to the end. I guess in the sometimes complicated machinations of family life that’s as much as you can hope for. I only mention this for the purposes of full disclosure… Families are complicated beasts, nobody’s circumstances will be the same as yours.

We have tried to help and support as much as we can over this period, but ultimately the weight of responsibility and 24/7 care has fallen to my mum. It is only reflecting now that I realise how much this has taken out of her. I’ve seen friends go through this with their parents too and Its never easy. So god (or deity of your choice) forbid you should find yourself in a similar situation, either as a victim or primary care giver, these are my meagre unqualified and unsubstantiated observations…..

1. Cancer is a vile, relentless disease. It shows no pity and rains nothing but misery, pain and heartache on everybody who comes into contact with it. Not only does it drain the life of the victim, it chips away at the spirit of those closest to them as well. It’s a glib and obvious thing to say but nonetheless true. I guess it’s always good to know your enemy from the start and be prepared for every eventuality, good or bad.

2. Whatever help is offered, take it. Don’t be proud. It’s a hard road and impossible to negotiate without help. I wish I had done more to help. Still not sure what, but it nags at me that there is something I didn’t do. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. People generally want to feel useful, want to feel they are doing something to help. So just ask, don’t be stoic.

3. Think long and hard about how you want to spend your final weeks. Electing to die at home may seem like a good idea; a safe comfortable environment. However, you need to be aware of the pressure that puts on your primary care giver. You will be reliant on a thinly stretched district nurse service for support, and most of the heavy lifting, literally, will fall to whoever is with you. This puts an additional physical strain on the carer, which makes the psychological and emotional burden even harder to bear. If the opportunity to take advantage of a local hospice is there, then take it. Pain will be better managed, and the carer will be better looked after. I may be wrong, but I’m sure that if a hospice had been involved these past few days would have been pain free and considerably more dignified than they have been. But as I say, that’s just a personal opinion.

4. My final point is perhaps a little more general, hopeful even. The image which sticks in my mind most vividly these past few days is that of my mother holding J’s hand, not prepared to leave his side for one second. I’m not generally gushy or over-sentimental, but every time I see that I catch the back of my throat. It’s a powerful thing, it kind of stops you in your tracks. I just hope, and god forbid this is never the case, but if I were in a similar position and could show an ounce of the commitment, fortitude and sheer force of will that my mum has demonstrated over the last eight months, then I would at least be able to look myself in the eye and feel I was a decent human being. At the end of the day I don’t think we can ask for much more than that.

ATP Curated by Deerhunter: Day 3 ~ No sleep ’til Brooklyn

[Writing soundtrack: The Black Lips]

The final day of the ATP adventure  arrived with the sound of mutant gulls and retching hipsters. If you can imagine Neil Young’s Arc played on a kazoo; well that. Two nights of Pontins luxury accommodation, and the body really wasn’t holding up. Rising from my bed to meet the new day like an arthritic sloth it was time to make plans for the day. Day 3 was looking like a bit of a cracker (why is that always the way festival schedulers). With Steve Reich, Pere Ubu, Robin Hitchcock and Deerhunter on the agenda there was only one thing which was going to get me back on an even keel: copious amounts of tea and a fry up. A quick Google search located the Rye Bay cafe where the traditional full English was scoffed with abandon. Followed by a bracing stroll on the Sands, where paddling hipsters and locals eyed each other warily, we were finally set for the day.

Camber Sands

Camber Sands

[I should point out at this juncture that it is now almost a week since ATP; drink has since been partaken and my memory is not that great at the best of times. So if I should digress at some point about being kidnapped by pirates or some such, I have probably just drifted off into a revery or started confusing my real life with films again. Apologies in advance.]

Before partaking of further musical indulgence there was the tricky matter of Lord Sinclair’s Rock n Roll quiz to be negotiated. In a holiday camp full of music nerds this was a concern. We really didn’t stand a chance. A Twitter plea for reinforcements was made ,and thanks to @DrElfy and @Sipperana for stepping up to the plate, so we weren’t sat there like Billy no mates. In a packed Queen Vic the quiz commenced with the declaration from the quiz master that we needed to get this thing wrapped up so we could get off to watch Steve Reich at 3pm. It was never going to happen really. Now I have no idea who Lord Sinclair is, or what he does when he isn’t being Lord Sinclair, but boy can the feller talk. Dapperly dressed and permanently pissed, he kicked off the quiz in a shambolic fashion which was maintained throughout. Amusing anecdotes ran headlong into questions, making it difficult to tell if he was asking questions or just rambling on like Rowley Birkin. He was usually very, very drunk and completely hilarious.

As the minutes ticked away it was becoming blatantly clear that the chances of making the start of the first act were slim to none. A long interlude when two teams went into a ‘draw off’ to design the sleeve to the Fuck Buttons new album, ate into the time and produced amusingly literal results.

Quiz shenanigans

Quiz shenanigans

It was turning into the War & Peace of pop quizzes. However as answers to various rounds were read out it became clear that we were doing okay, and it at least wasn’t going to be a total humiliation. The raging green gilled hangovers of our fellow quizzers was working to our advantage, as various teams, and I’m quoting, ‘fucked off’. In for a penny, we decided to stick it out to the bitter end, and as the results were read out were surprised to find our names not mentioned. By some incredible twist of fate, which I can only put down to @johnfidler retching up the Marvelettes from the dark recesses of his memory, we’d only come bloody second. Well technically we were third as there was a tie break between two other teams for first place, but runners up was a good result, given the company. We didn’t win the chalet for the final ATP, but  it’s still a result I want carving on my tombstone.

Quiz booty

Quiz booty

Following this unexpected result we raced up stairs to catch the rest of the Steve Reich. I can’t say I have ever listened to any of his work, but was aware of his reputation as one of America’s great composers and pioneer of musical minimalism. We got there about half way through to see a man playing the clarinet. That doesn’t really do justice to the sweet sounds he was making, soft melodies to rid you of even the most stubborn hangover. It was billed as the London Sinfonietta, and was expecting something orchestral for some reason, so was quite surprised as musicians stepped up to play guitars while Mr Reich himself sat down at the piano. If anyone knows the name of the piece they played next I would appreciate it if you could let me know, as its gentle, jazzy repetitive groove had me hypnotised. Just lovely. As he stepped forward to join his musicians to take a final bow, ATP roared it’s appreciation for giving us something genuinely different amongst the noise and thunder of the festival.

To celebrate our quiz victory (yes by this point it had become a bloody victory) we decided to forgo the Gallic delights of Laetitia Sadier, and go down the road to the very dodgy looking boozer for a pint of real beer and some pie & mash from the stall next door (jellied eels optional). Sadly the pie & mash stall was closed (what were they thinking?) so we headed into the pub. If you remember the scene in American Werewolf where they go into the Slaughtered Lamb, that’s kind of in the ballpark of how it felt walking in to this austere and imposing establishment. To be fair it was fine, they were quite friendly and even had a room set aside for ATP staff, so they were pretty much down with events next door.

Heading back to the Pontins remand centre for ageing anarchists, we fortified ourselves with  cheese and wine before heading off to watch Micael Hurley. The scheduling of this ATP was beginning to make more sense; sometimes on a Sunday afternoon all you really want to hear is an old man singing sweet country blues about cups of tea and the workings of his digestive system.  I saw him wandering around the car park afterwards and rushed over to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his set. He just looked a bit baffled to be honest. Bless.

Michael Hurley

Michael Hurley

Next up was Pere Ubu. We arrived as they were sound checking; this then turned into the gig itself as they decided to just get on with it whether anybody wanted to listen or not. David Thomas, seated and reading his lyrics from a lectern throughout was on good form. Professionally grumpy, and funny and charming with it. They rattled through a set largely drawn from their latest Lady from Shanghai album with some oldies mixed in. Sadly no Non-alignment pact, but they did do a rip roaring Modern Dance. With songs decicated to the ladies in the house and weird anecdotes about trying to write a song for Kylie, it was all good fun. [At this point I think the Pirates came for me. They stole all of my 2ps and made me walk the plank, never to play the Coronation St slot machine ever again. Surrounded by plastic sharks and Chinese replica Cartman’s I declared myself their Emperor and went onto conquer the world armed only with a stick of rock. True story.]

David Thomas ~ Pere Ubu

David Thomas ~ Pere Ubu

Having escaped pirate enslavement, and following the ritual booze refill at the chalet, we made our way up to see Robyn Hictchcock. The crowd was a little sparse sadly, the younger element having been lured away by the sweaty racket going off downstairs (Dan Deacon I think),  but it did at least mean we could locate ourselves in a good position near the front. The thing I admire most about Robyn Hitchcock is that he decided to wear a black and white polka dot shirt some time in the mid 80s and thought ‘well I don’t really see any point in exploring the delights of other materials’ and has stuck with it ever since.

Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock

I first saw Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians at Glastonbury in 1986….he appeared to be wearing the exact same shirt today. I really should ask what detergent he uses. It was good to see him performing with a full band this time, including former Young Fresh Fellow & REM sideman Scott McCaughy. On chatty form, he was witty and surreal throughout, belting out a set of lovely pop-psycedelia, including a cracking version of Kingdom of Love. Bidding us farewell Robyn admonished us to look after our teeth, and never to brush anyone else’s  teeth without their permission. As I’m sure Alan Partidge would say, classic Hitchcock!

Feeling weary now, final day festival fatigue starting to take hold, so we headed back for a restorative chocolate Hob Nob and polished off the last of the wine, and prayed I’d get my 4th wind. To be fair I cannot commend highly enough the reviving powers of a good bottle of shiraz. I suspect my liver may beg to differ.

We made our way back to the main stage and joined the throng waiting for Deerhunter’s final set of the weekend, a performance of Halcyon Digest. This album was my first exposure to Deerhunter, and it’s weirdly melodic pop charm had worked it’s spell on me, so this was the one I had been looking forward to all weekend. The band took the stage to rapturous applause and proceeded to play a stunning set; Revival, Memory Boy, Desire Lines…all sung along to with gusto. A touching reminiscence from Bradford about the late Jay Reatard was followed by a thunderous Coronado, accompanied by Verity Susan on sax, and ending with a stunning He Would have laughed.

Returning to the stage for the encore in a dress, Bradford spent a good twenty minutes thanking EVERYONE individually, as anticipation rose for the final songs of the evening. It was a triple bill from the new album, Dream Captain, Back to the Middle and finally a mental extended version of Monomania with every amp turned up to eleven.  Perfect.

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Bradford in a lovely dress

Bradford in a lovely dress

Tired but happy we decided against indulging further in final day insanity and decided to give Black Dice a miss (where they any good?). Conscious of the early start and long drive northwards in the morning I decided to crash…so tired I knew I would be asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. The gang of stoners in the chalet over the way had other ideas however and decided to sit outside my window until SIX FUCKING AM talking bollocks and being utterly annoying. With typical English reserve, instead of asking them to remove themselves from the property to continue the party elsewhere, I lay awake swearing quietly and plotting strange murder scenarios involving Komodo dragons and their genitals. It was at this point I had an epiphany: I really am a miserable sod.

[Blog ends]