It’s been a while since I blogged… But I’m back! Still keeping up the whole ‘music every week’ thing, but slacking a bit on the blogging part of the deal, but I’m sat at my computer with a glass of Pinot Grigio, some salt and black pepper crisps and a pot of houmous. 6 Music is playing live sets from Glastonbury. Lets see how far I get before I fall asleep!
Right. So the last blog was about the beer festival at the Hawkley Inn. What have I been up to since? Well, a fair bit… A birthday party and a Shantyhead gig, and I’ve got another of those tomorrow.
The birthday party. No… my live music for this week wasn’t the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ whilst watching someone spit all over a cake whilst trying to blow candles out. This wasn’t really a birthday party. It was a mini festival… (As an aside, I advocate watching which side of the birthday cake is closest to the candle-blower and eating from that side. Less fallout.) It was the birthday of Nick, guitarist from Vicar’s Crackpipe who I saw earlier in the year. We’ve become friends since the gig and I received an invite to his 40th. Now, this became interesting when the venue was announced. Some woodland in a top secret location in Devon. OK. Nick lives not far from me in deepest darkest Hampshire. The party was in Devon. I was intrigued.
In the weeks following my invite, the Bookface event page for the party became more intriguing. It had a name. Arborescence, There was a stage and an acoustic area. There was a programme of acts. I really didn’t know what to expect, but as each post on the event page was made, the excitement was quietly building. The location was duly programmed into Google Maps, the phone inserted in its cradle and the Range Rover surged off in a westward direction.
On reaching the rough location of the entrance, I happened upon a farm gate with a blue plastic bag hanging from the post. This was in the instructions. It was a bit mysterious, but Nick didn’t want any uninvited guests. I turned onto the farm track, jacked the suspension up on the Rangey and carried on to where the sketch map I had been supplied with said there was parking. With fields to my left and woodland to my right, a gentleman with formidable sideburns suddenly appeared, and on assessing my eligibility to be where I was, told me where to park. I was sleeping in the Range Rover so was sent to the campervan area. Yes, this was a birthday party, and it had a car park and a campervan area. Nice. I pulled in front of a VW camper and got out to assess the surroundings. The lady from the VW was at the van giving her dog some food. She was heading back to the party area and offered to show me round. Walking along the track in the dappled sunlight, we passed the car park and portaloos and the tented camping area. Walking down a tree and flag lined avenue, we branched off the track past a small fire that some young boys were diligently tending with long sticks, and happened upon a clearing. Long tables were set up beneath a canopy of tarpaulins, with two barbecues producing mountains of hot food. We passed through to another tarpaulin-sheltered area, where six sofas encircled a large fire pit.
Nick was apparently at the stage, setting up some kit. I was directed towards a pathway through the woodland, dense tall trees either side. I wandered for a minute or so, then another clearing became apparent. Wandering on, another tarpaulin shelter became visible. Beneath, a stage was set up, with a rather impressive PA setup. I thought to myself ‘this is going to be a good night’. Nick was duly found, greetings made, and I was introduced to some of his friends that were setting up various sound and light equipment. One such gentleman, I mentioned in my initial blog entry regarding Vicar’s Crackpipe. Ganja Murray. He exists! And a very nice guy and pretty damn good musician he is too!
I disappeared back to the truck to get it into sleeping mode and grab a beer. I then headed back to the arena to see what was going on. Amplified music was the order of the evening, ending at midnight. Apparently in previous years, the police had arrived at 2am, responding to calls concerning noise. That’s when the acoustic session would begin.
First on the stage was a bit of electronica. A guy with a synth playing psychedelic-piano-dub type stuff. I’m not sure of his name. It was really well put together, with synth melodies melting seamlessly into well-chosen samples. A really chilled way to start the evening. Then some folk. A lady on fiddle, a chap on guitar (Sean, formerly of Feckless, possibly) and Nick on mandolin. The folk standard, Raggle Taggle Gypsies, was belted out with much vigour, followed up with a song with a great lyric, ‘Ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free’.
A cover of Weller’s ‘Wild Wood’, played in an actual wild wood, was a real masterpiece, fusing smooth vocals with skillfully played fiddle and tremolo mandolin went down tremendously well, with kids dancing on the two-tier stage. This was followed up with a similarly well played and well received ‘Copperhead Road’ and a slightly folked up version of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. The set finished with ‘Port of Amsterdam’.
Next was DJ:W, playing ’90s trance. I am a bit of a sucker for a bit of trance. Some damn good tunes. However, I was somewhat hungry and headed to the barbie to cook and eat some meat-based product. And back to the truck to stock up on beer. I caught the end of DJ:W’s set, which was as good as the start. Then it was time for DJ Aircon. A dealer in drum’n’bass. Like the previous guy, a master at his craft. There were some fire-spinners working their craft in the foreground, with backing from Aircon, which made for a dramatic end to the amplified part of the evening. Aircon’s set is available to stream here.
I ended up over by the sofa-fringed fire again, chatting to Bernard and Catherine from Vicar’s Crackpipe. I was persuaded to fetch the bouzouki from the truck to join in the session that was already in full swing. At one point, there was me on bouzouki, Bernard on melodeon, two fiddles, two guitars and a bodhran, played by the percussionist from the Finchdean gig, who no longer had to improvise his percussion instruments with whatever came to hand. Accompanied by two fiddles and a guitar, I hammered my way through Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ and The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law’, which despite the alcohol consumption, seemed to be well received.
A different set of vocals joined the soundscape. It was getting light and the birds were clearing their collected throats for the dawn chorus. It was 4am and time for bed. I staggered back from the fire and laid my head down for a very sound sleep. I rose at midday and wandered back to the fire. Instruments were strewn around the sofas and, chatting to another reveller, it appears that the session was still in full swing at 9am.
One band was missing from last night’s lineup. A three-piece reggae / ska outfit called Datura. (Looking at their Bookface page, they have a fourth member, but he wasn’t there.) They couldn’t make it in time to play last night, but turned up anyway to ply their musical wares to the survivors on Sunday morning. All dressed impeccably in matching yellow outfits, one guy on guitar, sampler and vocals, a lady on bass and a chap on drums, they played a ceaseless set of covers and their own material for at least two hours non-stop. I had time to listen to some tunes, take some photos, eat some breakfast, pack the truck into driving mode and come back to listen to more and take more photos. The set finished with, for the second time in a fortnight, Dawn Penn’s ‘You Don’t Love Me (No No No)’. I left the woods with a spring in my step and a very chilled out mindset. Thanks, Nick, for an amazing weekend. Can I come back next year, please?
The next week saw a return trip to the Mid Hants Railway where Shantyhead were invited to play the loco department’s annual summer party. Widge from the band also works on the railway – the link that got us the gig. We were set up in the picnic area at Ropley station, part way along the heritage railway more commonly known as ‘The Watercress Line’. We played two sets, with entertainment in the interval from Thermic Syphons, a covers band formed from other railway staff. Railway people like their beer and there was a large amount on offer from Triple FFF Brewery. I was drinking my favourite of theirs, ‘Stairway’, formerly ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – a 4.6% fruity pale ale, which accompanied the balmy summer’s evening perfectly.
We played our usual mix of sea shanties, folk songs and threw in a couple of dubious rock / punk covers, which was greatly received. It was the premier for a song I suggested – ‘Paddy on the Railway’ and a song loosely based on the classic ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ rewritten about the staff of the railway. I am quietly chuffed that my performance of the modern shanty ‘Rollin’ Down The River’ was the best I’ve ever performed it.
Thermic Syphons’ set was a powerful mix of punky rocky Green Day infused covers, with epic drum solos. Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ and Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ were lapped up by the small yet appreciative crowd. For a bunch of mates who work on a heritage railway, their sound is very tight and incredibly well put together. I hope they are gigging elsewhere as I’d really like to see them again.
Epic blog over. I’ll be putting photos in and adding links soon, but time has got the better of me. Shantyhead are playing a birthday party at a pub this evening, so I ought to get some kip…
Until next time, keep rockin’!