18 August 2009

Cropredy Capers 2009

27 Sravana - Year 1931

It can't be the 18th of August already?? What have I been doing? Well, last weekend, Pixie and I were at the Cropredy Festival. Since we missed it last year, we thought we'd amble on down there (plus, Green Man seemed too expensive and too far of a drive - it's boasting an incredible line-up, though). Here's my breakdown, day by day:

Thursday, 13th August - We decided to leave extra early this year, as Fairport had asked festival-goers to travel via the M40, instead of driving through the village, to ease congestion. We were also hoping to be placed in a field closer to the stage. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. to find that all the fields were filled, except for the ones we've usually camped in. WTF??! It took about an hour and a half to set up the tent and move our gear from the car to inside the tent. After that, we had a quick stroll around the village. I found a bloke selling vinyl near the SPAR shop, so I had a quick look-see. Talking Elephant Records had their usual stall set up as well, though it was much smaller this year. The wristband marquee had virtually no queue (one of the advantages of arriving so early), so we exchanged our tickets for 'bands and entered the stage area. Starting off the afternoon was Harlequinn, a local girl-band - a proper one though, not a Girls Aloud/Sugababes clone. They were O.K., a bit emo for my liking. They played well and did a decent cover of Michael Jackson's Beat It (minus the Eddie Van Halen pyrotechnic git-tar solo). We missed some of 4Square's set - I thought they were alright as well...good players, but sorta kinda 'heard-it-before'. Still, they were reprazentin' da folk yoof. Ken Nicol (of Steeleye Span--no relation to Fairport's Simon Nicol) and Phil Cool (old comedian-type bloke) were up after and while Nicol is a good guitarist, his songs seemed kinda average to me. Cool does a decent job mimicking Rolf Harris, Paul McCartney and a few others - but to me, their set was the low point of the day. Buzzcocks stormed on-stage with Pete Shelley shouting "Let's get some punk rock in this fuckin' place!" and they tore through their set, no pauses, no banter, no nothin'. Shelley and Steve Diggle had more energy than Pixie and I did. Pretty good for a couple of grizzled 50-something punk-rockers. I suppose it helps having a younger rhythm section to keep them on pace. They played nearly all the "hits" (What Do I Get?, Orgasm Addict, Ever Fallen In Love..., etc.) and a few of off their newest record. Steve Winwood headlined and while it was good to see a legend still treading the boards...the pacing of his set could've used a little oomph. Winwood opened with a decent I'm A Man, but then it went sorta languid and mellow. He and the band ran through a few off of the Nine Lives album and a slowed-down Can't Find My Way Home (the Blind Faith 'hit'). Carefully avoiding his 1980s chart-fodder albums, ol' Stevie cranked out Traffic classics like Pearly Queen and Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys. The inevitable closers Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin' had the crowd going, but I was slightly disappointed by his set overall. Back to the tent and a night of rough sleep, only to find we had been invaded by these aphid-looking brown insects. Spent about a half-hour clearing out as many as possible.

Friday, 14th August - We decided to head into the village after breakfast, for a bit of shopping and supply-gathering (bug spray, etc.). I bought a couple of LPs off of the bloke by the SPAR shop (Gordon Giltrap's Visionary and Neil's Heavy Concept Album (a.k.a. Nigel Planer - who played hippie Neil on The Young Ones)). A shower was in order after clearing the tent of insects (again!) - this year, we had a shower block in the field where we pitched, which was very convenient. By the time we reached the stage area, ColvinQuarmby had finished, so I can't give you a review of their set. I did hear a couple of songs by Megan & Joe Henwood. Megan has a nice voice, but the songs I heard were just alright - maybe I wasn't listening close enough (I was wending my way through the crowd to get to the T-shirt tent). They did have an all-star backing band, though, including Barriemore Barlow (from the classic 70s line-up of Jethro Tull). 'New folkie-songwriter sensation' Scott Matthews followed. I dunno, maybe his slot wasn't the best for his sound, but I didn't really get into his tunes. Too melancholy for the afternoon in an outdoor setting, or summat. I mostly tried to doze during his set. Adrian Edmondson (speaking of "Young Ones" alumni) took the stage with his Bad Shepherds band-mates (including another old Tull-ster, Maartin Allcock). They play trad/Celtic folk versions of 70s punk & post-punk tunes. It sounds kinda naff on paper, but live it sounds pretty good. We were treated to covers of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, I Fought The Law, Kraftwerk's The Model and The Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime. They also sang an acapella cover of the English folk tune, famously recorded by Steeleye Span, All Around My Hat. They added a 'punk rock' change in the lyrics. You can see it here. I really enjoyed their set. Up next was The Dodge Brothers, featuring an American guy who looks a bit like Hunter S. Thompson and the quiffed doofus from the Culture Show, Mark Kermode. They play skiffle and sorta jump blues-y stuff. I have to hand it to Kermode--he's actually a decent upright bass-player and he's not too shabby on harmonica, either. The band are O.K., but there's only so much skiffle I can dig before it all starts sounding alike. We headed back to the tent for more lager and our camping chairs and by the time we returned, the John Jorgensen Band were into their set. Jorgensen's a flash guitarist from the ol' skool, so there was plenty of high-speed soloing (including the obligatory finger-tapping). He's a technically gifted player and he wrangled some interesting sounds out of his axe--but again, I couldn't help thinking that I'd heard it all before. His tunes seemed run-of-the-mill blooz-rockers to me and the instrumentals weren't really enough to keep my attention focused. Richard Thompson bounded out on-stage after Jorgensen..and really, what can I say. The man was up to his usual excellence. The surprises in the set were a nice Genesis Hall, which RT dedicated to Sandy Denny. He also played The Sun Never Shines On The Poor, from the Hokey Pokey album. The closers were, of course, Wall Of Death and A Heart Needs A Home, sung with female accompaniment. I didn't catch the singer's name, though - but most of the time - they'll make me miss Linda Thompson's vocals. Back to the tent again...but less insects to shoo away this time.

Saturday, 15th August - We both slept a bit better than the previous night, though the sky looked fairly ominous, with dark clouds approaching fast, when we woke up. Pixie suggested we pack up early, as she wanted to get home that night, which meant missing out on Fairport's set. I wasn't that bothered, having seen them a few other times at Cropredy. The only highlight this year was that Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) would be joining them on-stage for a mini-set...and RT would probably join up for a few tunes as well. We're cat-sitting for a co-worker this week and it would've been too hectic to get home Sunday morning, un-pack everything and tidy up the house for our guest. We ate, then got everything together fairly quickly. There was a car boot sale at the Cropredy F.C. ground and I was hoping to score some good (and hopefully cheap-ish) LPs. I wasn't disappointed (only by the lack of cash to buy more..heh heh). I found a couple of Steve Miller LPs for a couple of pounds each. Another table had some excellent stuff, though a bit pricey (between £7 and £10 per record) - I ended up buying Quintessence's first album, In Blissful Company, Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting and the Philips issue of Van Der Graaf Generator's H To He, Who Am The Only One. Nice! I also found a beat-up copy of the Hair original stage show LP, ELP's Tarkus and a near-mint copy of Tangerine Dream's Force Majeure--plus, an original In Search Of The Lost Chord by The Moody Blues. A very good haul, I'd say. Back at the stage field, Richard Digance was on--luckily, he was nearly done with his set. He seems a bit too trad and jokey-but-not-funny, to me. The Churchfitters were on after and while they were lively, the stock Irish rhythms they played got same-y toward the end of their appearance. Pixie wanted to watch Feast Of Fiddles and I quite like them myself. I was wandering around the field, looking for a T-shirt stall--where I spotted a groovy 'Green Man' tie-dye, so I wasn't paying rapt attention--but I do remember them playing a fine Battle Of The Somme. Always good to see Fairport veteran Dave Mattacks on the drum stool, too. Dreadzone were up next. I had only vaguely heard of them and had never seen them live. To me, they played one of the better sets of the entire festival. Their mixture of sampling, dub, techno & reggae got the crowd moving, even in the intense heat. The folk purists probably turned their noses up, but I really enjoyed it. I'm thinking on buying a few of their albums. We had to leave just then, but we did stay for a tiny bit of Nik Kershaw's set. Yep, the 80s-popster played a half-acoustic/half-electric show. Chris Leslie of Fairport has confessed to being a fan of Kershaw's. The stuff we heard was just O.K., but then I was never really into his music. I give him credit for showing up and not being overly embarrassed by his back catalogue. We made our way to the car, stowed our camping chairs and the rest of the things we had with us and made our way home.

Afterward: By all accounts, Fairport played a blinder and the mini-set featuring Yusuf was excellent. D'oh. Ah well, what can you do? There were reports of trouble in Fields 1 and 2 over the weekend...mostly groups of drunken teenagers. We didn't see any of that and all was relatively quiet in our field. All in all, another enjoyable Cropredy. If we don't end up trying our hands at Green Man next year, I'm sure we'll be back there.

07 August 2009

The 'Stroboscope Gets A Shout-Out!

Prickle-Prickle, Confusion 73, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3175

A few weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to Stuart Maconie, presenter of quite possibly the best show on radio (at the very least on the BBC) at the moment, the Freak Zone. For the uninitiated, 'The Zone' is a 2-1/2 hour broadcast featuring psychedelic rock, prog-rock and other left-field sounds. There's usually an interview section somewhere in the middle of the show, past luminaries have included Irmin Schmidt of Can and Peter Hammill (Van der Graaf Generator and solo). There's also a cat called Professor Justin Spear, who brings in crazy obscure stuff...Italian sound-track LPs from the 60s, Polish jazz, etc. Toward the end of each programme, there'll be a "live freaks" bit - which could be a past BBC session, or a couple of tracks from a live record.

I was listening to last Sunday's show (2nd August), after Pixie and I had returned from camping. Suddenly, Stuart starting reading some of the e-mail I had sent. He mentioned the bit where I complimented him for being brave enough to play prog-rock on a major radio show. He responded with "That's us...utterly courageous" He read my moniker out and then mentioned the 'Stroboscope! I had sent him the link to it and asked him if he would check it out sometime. So, a big cheers to Mr. Maconie for the plug!

If you want to listen to the latest "Freak Zone" show, check it out here. I'm working on a new 'Stroboscope episode and I hope to finish it in the next few days.

04 August 2009

Out In The Country, Living In A Tent

4 Hestia - Year 88 p.s.U.

Pixie and I spent last weekend camping in Dorset. Pixie had booked a pitch at a site that her parents recommended, called Wareham Forest Tourist Park. The facilities are quite nice there and the pitches allow for plenty of space. We set up the tent, packed our supplies inside and then headed off to Studland Beach. Pixie's parents joined us, as they had driven their camper-van to the Park.

By the time we were back at the site, the sky had clouded over. We stopped over in Wareham, met up with Pixie's brother, his wife and the neices and bought some food. A plan was made to meet at the camper-van for dinner. Dinner was relaxing, but cut short by the inevitable rain.

Saturday was mostly rainy, which made a lot of outdoor activity choices tough. We decided on Monkey World, a primate sanctuary near Wareham. Luckily, most of the rain had stopped, as the sanctuary is mainly outside. There are footpaths that take you around the various enclosures and you are allowed to take photos of the critters. My favourite ones were the Capuchins and the Chimpanzees. There are quite a few Capuchins at the sanctuary, in three different enclosures. They're quite lively and some of them definitely enjoy having an audience. Some were rescued from a lab in South America. The Chimps were fascinating as well. Some must have been at Monkey World for quite a while, as they didn't seem fazed by the groups of humans peering into their indoor homes.

We also saw a few Orang-utans and Gorillas. The Squirrel Monkeys may have been in hiding, because we didn't spot any as we walked by their enclosure. We did get to see a baby Yellow-Cheeked Gibbon. I think the one shown in the photo at left is of the baby we saw. I'm guessing she's slightly older now. She swung around on one of the bars for a bit before cuddling again with her mother.

The Lemurs are kept in their own gated-in area. It seemed as if the weather had got to them as well, because we only saw a couple of pairs, huddled together on a tree branch and on the roof of their shelter.

Pixie had a text message from her brother. They had gone to Chesil Beach and wanted to know if we would like to meet up in Weymouth. We arrived before they did, so we grabbed some lunch from a stand on the seaside promenade. While waiting some more, we walked around the high street. I found a charity shop, but unfortunately, no vinyl goodies to be had. Lots of easy listening LPs and what seemed to be a complete Cleo Laine catalogue (O.K., I'm exaggerating...). We finally met up with the others and strolled around the promenade. Then it was time to go to the arcade for some lightweight gambling and after, the girls went on a few of the rides. We left Weymouth and travelled to the Black Dog pub, about 10 minutes away from the town centre. The food was decent and a pint of Foster's tasted nice after all the walking. The sun finally appeared on the drive back to the campsite and Saturday night was dry--much to our relief.

We decided to head back home on Sunday, instead of staying 'till Monday, which was the original plan. The tent was packed up fairly quickly, in just under an hour (not bad for our first time using the tent 'in the field'). Pixie suggested we drive through the New Forest on our way back and I agreed, as it's a lovely route. We stopped off in Burley, a little village where Pixie and I honeymooned nearly five years ago. Lunch was at The Old Farmhouse restaurant, then Pixie bought some cider from the local wine shop. I bought a Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon mug at a shop called Face The Music and a purple velvet bag for my Celtic Tarot cards, which didn't have a proper storage container. Pixie bought a funny witch sign for her work desk and a witch mug, from the same shop I bought the tarot cards bag.

We left Burley and made the journey home. After unpacking the gear and leftover food, we settled in to a good night's sleep. Roll on, Cropredy!