Music and Landscape – a concert and album by Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett; a book by Richard King

Music has always been connected to its environment, and to the landscape – or the seascape, the cityscape. Environment can shape the nature of music – is it to be played outdoors or in a cathedral, in a club or a car, or through headphones? But music can also evoke the sense of being in a particular setting, and reflect our feelings about those settings. Two things – a concert and a book – have reminded me of that just recently. The concert was by Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett, violinist and pianist respectively. It was in the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank. The book is “The Lark Ascending” by Richard King, a renowned music writer.

I’ll start with the concert, which took place on Friday 27 September.

I’d never come across Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett before. My friend Shane suggested we go along, with a couple more of his friends, Steve and Andy. Caoimhin O Raghallaigh is in an Irish band called the Gloaming, who Shane told me are very popular in their home country. Much as I love Irish music and that sound I’ve called celtic soul, the Gloaming had, until now, passed me by. Thomas Bartlett is a pianist from New York, who is also in the Gloaming, and has played with all sorts of people, including Yoko Ono, the National and St Vincent. Together they have recently released an album called “Zona Rosa” and this is what featured tonight.

“Zona Rosa” sounds like a good title for the concert too. It was one of those performances that took you into the zone: of contemplation, imagination, the landscape. I found myself moving between admiration for the musicianship and thinking about all sorts of other things. Some were music-related, like how their music evoked the same sense of place as the great Icelandic band Sigur Ros, although in a less dramatic way. But I also found myself thinking a lot about the book I’m writing, the follow up to “The Decision”. Working title “Hope Rising”. I’d spent a few hours on it that day and my imagination was still buzzing. The music complemented those thoughts. It conjured up a picture of the Irish landscape, but at the same time gave me space to think about other things. I think others in audience might have found it an opportunity just to shut their eyes and relax after a hard day at work.

Since the concert, I’ve been listening to that album “Zona Rosa” a lot, on Spotify. It is a beautiful, serene piece of work. Never extravagant, but always evocative of that Irish landscape, be it the cliffs and the sea rushing in, or the green hills and meadows. It seems to me that the violin represents movement – the blowing of the breeze, the soaring flight of the seagull (or indeed the kestrel, title of one of the pieces), the furtive movement of a small animal, people dancing. Meanwhile the piano provides the foundation: the cliffs, the rocks the plants, the rivers and bubbling streams.  Together they form an entrancing whole.

The depiction of a bird in flight through music, surveying the landscape below, is an opening theme of Richard King’s book, “The Lark Ascending.” I came across Richard, talking about his book, at the End of the Road festival this year. Each morning they have a number of talks in the Literature tent, hidden away in the woods. They are reliably fascinating. I listened to nine of the talks this year. Richard King’s was one of three that, in different ways looked at the relationship between man and nature. The others were Luke Turner, talking about his memoir “Out of the Woods” and Max Porter, describing his second novel “Lanny”. One of the things that all three authors had in common was a view that that relationship is necessarily always evolving. People are part of nature, an integral part. We shape our environment and the environment responds – and shapes us. Right now most of us are concerned that man has abused that relationship over the last century, and especially the last few decades, and that we are now beginning to pay the price. But the theme of the three authors was not directly concerned with those dangers. It was more about how the interaction can never be static. Luke talked about how the practice of “pollarding” (cutting back) trees in Epping Forest helped their healthy growth – a bit like pruning in our gardens, I guess. That has apparently been stopped now – when pollarded the trees can look quite ugly. But they are no longer growing in the same vigorous way. Richard and others talked about the strand of “eco-fascism” which harks back to a purer, halcyon age, which probably never existed. This was strong in the first decades of the twentieth century, and perhaps not surprisingly, some of its adherents also dallied with actual fascism. In “The Lark Ascending” he writes about how these back-to-the-country movements were also attracted to English folk music. And of course factions developed: again the purists versus the evolvers. Factionalism is clearly part of the human tradition.

I found “The Lark Ascending” a fascinating read, both in terms of how people’s interaction with the British landscape has evolved over the past century (partly through government interventions which either increased or prevented access) and how the author weaves music into this narrative. The musical choices on one level are pretty random and may just be some of the music he happens to like. But the choices also make sense: they illustrate his themes very effectively – and they introduced me to some music that I’d never listened to before. That included Stan Tracey’s jazz rendition of Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” and the book’s opening suite: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Rising”, a quintessential piece of English “classical” music, which I’d never knowingly listened to before. And yes, the opening violins conjure up that sense of flight, of swooping and gliding, in a similar way to Caoimhin O Raghallaigh in “Zona Rosa”. A little more mellifluous perhaps, possibly reflecting the gentler nature of the English countryside that Vaughan Williams had in mind.

For me, the most interesting parts of the book were the later chapters, which trace the development of free festivals and later on outdoor raves. Both were ultimately curtailed by the forces of law and order, often brutally. They were backed up by draconian legislation. You can blame this all on the conservative forces in society; but there is also an unfortunate logic to the growth of both festivals and raves, whereby they begin quite small and idealistic, become more popular, attract less savoury participants (and criminals), upset the local communities, clash with the police, get stopped. But what has then emerged are more commercial, better organised and safer festivals. The type of events all sorts of people go to – myself included! At End of the Road, the authors always appear at the Rough Trade tent at 12.30 to sign copies of their books. I bought “The Lark Ascending” and asked Richard how he viewed festivals like End of the Road and their interaction with the countryside they occupy. “They charge us a lot for it,” was all he said. I was disappointed with that response and didn’t pursue the conversation any further. I guess Richard is a believer in a more natural, organic relationship between music and the landscape which finds its expression in “alternative” cultures; but as he notes in other contexts, that relationship inevitably changes over time.

The last musical references in the book are to the Scottish electronic band, Boards of Canada. I enjoyed being reminded of their music, which has a pastoral, ambient feel to it, perhaps reflecting the location of their studio in the Pentland Hills, south of Edinburgh. I have a few of their albums from the late 90s and early 2000s. My favourite is “The Campfire Headphase”. The title says it all really. There’s an EP, too, called “In a Beautiful Place out in the Country”. Worth a listen if you haven’t come across them before.

Music and Landscape, I called this piece. Both evolving, both evoking feelings of awe which are sometimes hard to put adequately into words – though plenty of us try!  And where words might not always be up to the task in portraying the wonders of nature, of the landscape, music can capture an essence, an undefinable feel. In their different ways, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and Richard King have done exactly that.

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Barrie Masters of Eddie and the Hot Rods – a tribute

We got the news today that Barrie Masters, the lead singer with Eddie and the Hot Rods, had died suddenly. He was 63. The Rods were still performing until recently, although he was the only remaining member of the original band. 

You may never have heard of Eddie and the Hot Rods. Their moment of chart fame was short-lived. But for a generation of mid 70s teenagers who would soon discover punk, they were important. They, along with Dr Feelgood, got us loving two, three minute rock’n’roll songs again, as I explain in the extract below from my music book “I Was There – A Musical Journey”. In my case there is no doubt that they paved the way for punk, and that paved the way for so much more. 

And Barrie was a wild ball of energy on stage, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ve seen a few since, and still do today; but Barrie and the Rods were the first in my world.

This is what I wrote. It was mixed up with Dr Feelgood.

They called it pub rock. It changed everything.

Suddenly all those extended solos, those high pitched harmonies, those stories of demons and wizards seemed a bit… turgid.

We didn’t ditch metal overnight, and some, like Flob, never lost the faith in Sabbath and Heep. Good on him. A loyal man, knew what he liked and stuck to it. But the Feelgoods took me on a ride that ended, as for many others, with punk. The music was familiar enough – not hugely different to Quo really; in the same mould as The Faces as they bashed out “Pool Hall Richard”. As we moved into ‘76, Eddie and the Hot Rods emerged and took us even closer to what would become punk. They were like the Feelgoods, from the same South Essex area, but younger and even faster. They put out a four track EP, “Live at the Marquee” featuring Bob Seger’s “Get out of Denver” which became the soundtrack to my school life. I played that tune every morning before I did my “A” levels in 1977. It was just so upbeat, so defiant – with that song firing me up I could achieve anything. The rest of the EP was a rumbustious delight too: Q and the Mysterions’ “96 Tears” and a rowdy medley of Them’s “Gloria” and the Stones’ “Satisfaction”.

We went to see Eddie and the Hot Rods at Leicester Poly in 1976. It was the sweatiest, raunchiest gig I’d ever experienced. The Rods’ album “Teenage Depression”, was just out of this world – razor sharp rock’n’roll, with, for a 17 year old, lyrics that were just perfect for sticking two fingers up to the world. It included a great live version of The Who’s “The Kids are Alright”, though the one I loved most was “All I Need is Money”. Hundred miles an hour riffing, laddish lyrics blurted out at the same speed. Comic book macho. But so upbeat – to this day it makes me smile whenever I hear it, either out loud, or just in my head…

… The Rods went a bit rock after “Teenage Depression”, but in doing so made the one single which they will always remembered for: “Do Anything You Wanna Do”. It reached No 9 in August 1977. It was a real rallying cry, with a riff lifted from something by the Who – probably the “Kids are Alright”, which they’d covered on “Teenage Depression”, as a live take. I loved the single at the time, with its simplistic themes about doing your own thing and fighting the system, but it wasn’t the same Rods who’d paved the way, like the Feelgoods, for the punks. It was a pop song, their one big shot. It didn’t lead to a pop breakthrough, and the punks coming through stole their rock’n’roll thunder. They went on for a while like the Feelgoods, but they’d had their moment. A moment to be proud of though: a seminal, catalytic moment.

Rest in peace Barrie, and thank you for your inspiration.

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“The Beatles: Hornsey Road” by Mark Lewisohn, Bristol Redgrave Theatre 23 September 2019

I went down to Bristol yesterday to see the author Mark Lewisohn’s presentation about the making of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and their final days at the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton. I’d read about it in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago and the London shows had sold out. So I looked at what was still available, and it came down to a choice between Bristol and Maidenhead. Sorry Maidenhead, no contest!

The show is called “The Beatles: Hornsey Road”. This is because there was an EMI studio in Hornsey Road in North London which at one point was mooted for the recording of what became “Abbey Road”. The title of the album came quite late in the proceedings, apparently.

The format was essentially a presentation – very slick and with lots of musical interludes as well as insights into the lives of all four Beatles, based on Mark’s meticulous research. He has written extensively about the Beatles and is working on a comprehensive trilogy which he intends to be the definitive work on the band. The first, “All These Years: Volume One: Tune in” (catchy title) takes us all the way up to 1962! I must say I’m tempted to buy it, but Volume Two will really get us into the Beatles’ glittering years. One thing the show did last night was to remind us about the phenomenal output and revolutionary music that the Beatles put out in only six years of the 60s. And none of them were out of their twenties when the band split. Incredible – there has never been anything like it.

Yesterday’s show was a lovely combination of nostalgia and discovery. Each track on the album was analysed, both in terms of the inspiration behind it and the constituent parts of the music. Some of the backing tracks – often taken from a Beatles-endorsed music game –  were very revealing. The individual vocals, the harmonies, the beats, the solos. A band at work, committed to their music, even as things fell apart legally and financially. It was inspiring, and the first thing I did when I got back to my hotel room was to play “Abbey Road” on Spotify!

I won’t go into detail as there may be readers who have booked to see the show, perhaps in London. But I will share just one example of the research that Mark does. He was able to tell us that “Mean Mr Mustard”, part of that wonderful suite of short songs which is the highlight of “Abbey Road”, is based on a real person who was called Mr Mustard. (Maybe others know this, but I didn’t). He was a civil servant, originally from Scotland, whose divorce made the Daily Mirror and other papers, including a Spanish one, on account of his alleged meanness. Lewisohn had obtained a copy of his will which maybe contradicted that notion of meanness – he’d left all his money to the ex-wife.

What was so good about the show, ultimately, is that it was a celebration of what we must surely acknowledge as the greatest band of all time and a reminder of how restless and ahead of the game they always were. And the number of songs they recorded every year of those six years was amazing. “Abbey Road” was state-of-the-art stuff, amid the occasional silliness – step forward “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Octopus’s Garden” – and who knows what they would have achieved if they’d stayed together. Apart, they produced some great music, but nothing like they had done as the Beatles – they were the classic example of synergy. Better together.

And while there was certainly plenty for the Beatles nerd (which I’m not, really) what shone through most of all was Mark’s love for what he was doing. That was infectious and often rather moving, particularly as the story neared its end – and “The End”. Good luck to him in completing his three volumes of Beatles history – it is clearly a monumental task!

Mark had access to a tape of a meeting at which the Beatles, with John Lennon to the fore, were discussing a possible new album to follow “Abbey Road” (and, I assume, what became “Let it Be”, which was recorded before “Abbey Road” but released afterwards). John was insisting that the Lennon-McCartney accreditation should end – the two of them and George Harrison should each have four songs, with Ringo getting two if he wanted them. Paul was confessing that he didn’t think much of George’s songs, casting doubt on the equal allocation. They were also discussing a 1969 Christmas single. Lewisohn wasn’t able to play much of the recording for legal reasons, which is a shame. It suggests that there is still more to come out about the end of the Beatles, if everyone involved agrees with it. Perhaps they never will, but it may still come out one day. Someone will spill the beans.

Does it matter whether we know or not? Perhaps not – maybe we should just enjoy the extraordinary music between 1963 and 1969 that the Beatles gave us. But what might have been…

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The rule of law strikes back!

When I first saw the news today about the Supreme Court’s judgement on the prorogation of Parliament I experienced an unfamiliar emotion when in comes to anything related to politics: happiness. As I went onto Twitter and read more – yes, from all the people I agree with – I felt a tear in my eye. Something great had happened that not so long ago no-one could have expected: the rule of law had prevailed over the executive dictatorship that Boris Johnson and his supporters had tried to impose on our politics, our country. The last three years have been so grim politically that my expectations had become very low. In recent times, almost on a daily basis, some aspect of our traditional way of doing things had been brushed aside, traduced, in the name of achieving Brexit, “do or die.” The Supreme Court judgement shows that there is some life in our way of doing things after all.

Our way of doing things. Our unwritten constitution. A constitution that is a jumble of convention, laws and precedents. A constitution that can be added to, re-worked, quietly modified and even ignored. But one that has, over the centuries, worked pretty well, and allowed the three branches of the constitution – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – to adapt to changing times. It is deeply flawed in some areas, not least the electoral system, which was suited for a two party, capital v labour era, but which has proved wholly unsuited to reflecting popular opinion in these more complex, variegated times. Parties have achieved large majorities with way less than 50% of the vote and then gone on to change Prime Ministers through internal elections involving memberships with tiny numbers of the electorate. In the modern era, when the role of Prime Minister has taken on a presidential hue, this is absurd and dangerous, as we have seen recently. But flawed though it is, the unwritten constitution has had an ability to correct the worst anomalies, through an acceptance by the majority of those concerned that there are some fundamentals which cannot be ignored.

The most fundamental of these tenets are parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law.

The sovereignty of parliament is lent to it by the monarch, who then, at least publicly, stays out of things. We vote for our MPs, and for better or worse they form a government, which puts laws to Parliament and runs things day-to-day. Few of us will agree with everything that a particular party sets out as its policy, but we accept that we vote for the MP closest to our own values and beliefs and they take it from there. None of us can have everything we want, so in effect we optimise. Our electoral system can exaggerate swings in public mood, but when we don’t get what we want, we grumble a bit and wait for the next election. Referendums cut right across the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, as a vote on a single subject is put directly to the voters. I used to think this was important for major constitutional matters, but Brexit has shown how dysfunctional referendums can be. There is no denying that a majority of those voting chose to leave. There is also no denying that Parliament itself passed the laws allowing the referendum and the question that went with it. But the referendum indicated nothing about how we should leave, what consequences we were prepared to accept, and so on. It allowed a small majority of those who voted to mandate a change with massive consequences for the whole population. It was the tyranny of the majority in action. And then when Parliament resumed the leading role assigned to it by the unwritten constitution, and failed to agree on what sort of Brexit should happen, there were cries of it ignoring the will of the people. Cries encouraged by an irresponsible government that was desperate to get its deal through. Never mind the fact that the will of the people is something that all the most heinous dictators through history have laid claim to.

And that brings us to the rule of law. This is so fundamental to everything that makes the UK to this day a civilised country in which people of very different backgrounds and beliefs can live alongside each other, in the knowledge that, for the most part, disputes can be resolved, crimes will be punished and politicians cannot act as if they are above the law. If they do it will catch up with them. And this was the thing that I found most disturbing about Brexit and the effect it has had on our politics. Citing the will of the people, the government, especially since Boris Johnson took control ( in that election by a tiny minority of the people) showed a flagrant disregard for not only parliamentary sovereignty, but the rule of law. It said it would disregard the act of Parliament – the law – requiring a delay to Brexit if a deal couldn’t be agreed with the EU by 19 October; it said that it might just prorogue Parliament again if the Supreme Court found against the first prorogation. Ignore the Supreme Court! Its authority is in the name. But the government still said it might ignore it. So it would disregard the orders of both the fundamental institutions of our unwritten constitution because Brexit – whatever it is, which no-one knows even now – must happen by 31 October.

Well, now we will see. The Supreme Court has thrown down the gauntlet, in a unanimous judgement, that the government has acted unlawfully. Parliament will be back tomorrow. Are Boris Johnson and his gang really willing to override Parliament and the Supreme Court, on the basis of the will of the people? A concept alien to our parliamentary democracy, but very familiar to the countries of Europe and elsewhere that suffered so horribly during the 20th century? Really? And does Johnson even have the power to do this? Will the civil service be willing to take orders from a government that has been deemed to be acting unlawfully by the Supreme Court? Will a police van turn up at 10 Downing Street to arrest the Prime Minister for being in contempt of court? We are truly in unchartered territory.

So, can there be anything like a happy ending to this Shakespearean combination of farce, horror and tragedy? Well, I’d happily see Article 50 revoked, but that is highly unlikely. I’m in two minds about another referendum, simply because of the deleterious effects the first one had, both on our unwritten constitution and the political discourse. It could be justified on the basis that the first was an in-principle vote and a second would be taking place now that we know a lot more about the likely consequences – if there is a deal agreed by Parliament on the ballot paper. It would be completing unfinished business. But I’d accept a parliamentary vote on a deal too, on the basis that that would be most in tune with our way of doing things. The way that works. It will be worse than staying in the EU, but we just have to accept that we had a referendum and the vote was to leave, under the rules of the game ( a requirement of super majority of two-thirds would have been better for such a momentous decision). I wouldn’t be that surprised if there was a deal, with a Northern Ireland-only backstop, although it would be called something else. After all the DUP don’t hold the balance of power any more in Parliament. The irony is that that was the EU offered the British government in the first place. What a shambles!

Still, we are where we are. The fun and games aren’t over yet, I’m sure. But at least today the Supreme Court gave us hope that our unwritten constitution, rickety though it is, is alive and putting up a fight. The rule of law has struck back; now over to Parliament.

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My Top 50 Albums 2000-18

The Guardian recently published a list of the Top 100 albums of the 21st century. It was pretty good, but nothing like what my list would be. So I thought I’d do my own 50. I must stress that this isn’t what I think the most important or popular 50 albums are. It’s just the ones I’ve loved. And there were so many candidates that if I did the same thing next week it could be quite different. The other thing that comes from just selecting albums is that a lot of the dance/rap/soul that I’ve liked doesn’t make it, as that tends to be single tracks rather than whole albums. Cue another list some time?

The Guardian list seemed wary of recent albums. My tendency was the other way, so I tried to remember what moved me back in in the early years of this century. There’s probably still a bit of bias towards recent albums. I’ve cut it off at 2018, as trying to place this year’s great albums in context is premature. There’ll be a top ten for 2019 of course.

So here’s my top fifty, today!

1 – Babes Never Die by Honeyblood

2 – In Rainbows by Radiohead

3 – The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches

4 – Honeyblood by Honeyblood

5 – Cigarettes and Truckstops by Lindi Ortega

6 – Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

7 – A Dream Outside by Gengahr

8 – Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs

9 – The Rising by Bruce Springsteen

10 – Is This It? by The Strokes

11 – My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice

12 – Kid A by Radiohead

13 – Fading Lines by Amber Arcades

14 – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea by PJ Harvey

15 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2

16 – Don’t Let the Kids Win by Julia Jacklin

17 – Light on Our Limbs by Daisy Vaughan

18 – Talk of This Town by Catherine McGrath

19 – Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

20 – Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts

21 – Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

22 – Dear River by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

23 – Dead & Born & Grown by The Staves

24 – The King of Limbs by Radiohead

25 – Room on Fire by The Strokes

26 – Adore Life by Savages

27 – Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

28 – Little Red Boots by Lindi Ortega

29 – Tramp by Sharon van Etten

30 – Party by Aldous Harding

31 – Where Wildness Grows by Gengahr

32 – Masterpiece by Big Thief

33 – Waiting for the World to Turn by Palace Winter

34 – Fixed Ideals by Muncie Girls

35 – James Blake by James Blake

36 – Faye Webster by Faye Webster

37 – Writing of Blues and Yellows by Billie Marten

38 – Bashed Out by This Is The Kit

39 – Alvvays by Alvvays

40 – Blonde by Frank Ocean

41 – See the Morning In by Grand Drive

42 – Trouble Will Find Me by The National

43 – Royal Blood by Royal Blood

44 – Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

45 – If You Wait by London Grammar

46 – Glasvegas by Glasvegas

46 – Soul Journey by Gillian Welch

48 – Antidotes by Foals

49 – Silver Dollar Moment by The Orielles

50 – Goat Girl by Goat Girl

I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of the albums in the fifty. I’ve disciplined myself and allowed only two songs from each album. Nerdy point: for some reason Spotify has started adding “Kids” to the title of Honeyblood’s “Cruel”.

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lovelondonscenes 163 – Another Hammersmith sunset

Yesterday I had a couple of beers with my friend Jon E at the Rutland Arms, on the river by Hammersmith Bridge. The sun was beginning to set as we arrived at 6.30 and had slipped behind the trees by the time we moved on. I’ve photographed this scene many times, but I did love the change in colours last night over quite a short space of time. It had been a sunny and windless day and there was a bit of haze. Aka smog, but we won’t worry about that just now.

The photos are in sequence, though it looks like the second should be the first. That’s just a trick of the camera as I zoomed closer to the sun on the second, and it seemed to rise and get smaller!

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End of the Road 2019

A week and a half after the Green Man festival, Jon and I were back on the road, heading for Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset, for the End of the Road festival. The third leg of our musical festivities this summer and our fourth EOTR. Jon’s son Louis and his friend Tom came with us, as they did last year.

I hadn’t done any prep beforehand, so there were even more bands than usual that I’d never heard of. The great thing is that you know you are going to see some bands in that unknown category who will become firm favourites. As soon as you get the programme and start reading the blurbs about the artists you are thinking, I really want to see Nerija, but what about Sweaty Palms, or Molly Sarle? (I chose Nerija, by the way.)

The morning talks in the Literature tent have become a fixture for Jon and me, and over the three days we listened to some fascinating conversations. So good that I am going to cover them in a separate blog!

So, to the music. There are four principal music venues at EOTR: the main, Woods Stage, the Big Top, the lovely Garden Stage, and the Tipi Tent, with its Hessian matting. What was the Comedy tent, now the Talking Heads Stage, also had a bit of music this year, but after four years I still haven’t gone down there! There’s a little Piano Stage too, where artists come and talk and play a few acoustic tunes. It seems to operate on word of mouth though, so most of that passes me by. That just left me with 95 shows to choose from, plus the seven surprise shows late in the Tipi and a few DJ sets.  Here’s what I saw…

Thursday 29 August

The Woods Stage and the Tipi were open for business in the evening. We started with Peach Pyramid in the Tipi, one of three bands who came through the Play End of the Road submission process. They are Canadian, led by singer and guitarist Jen Severtson. They had a jangly indie sound which reminded me of Amber Arcades and Soccer Mommy. Which means I liked it! Even better was the next band, Pottery – also from Canada. I was really impressed by them. I liked the guitar sound, which was a kind of Parquet Courts meets Television at first, but then became quite choppy and funky in a Talking Heads way. Over that the band had a good rant. Highly recommended.

Jen of Peach Pyramid

Pottery

We then went over to the Woods Stage for Spiritualized, best known for their 90s psychedelia, notably the album “Ladies and Gentlemen we Are Floating in Space”. The band is the vehicle for Jason Pierce, who sat at a keyboard for most of the evening while singing. No exchanges with the crowd. They started with their best known song “Come Together”. Not to be confused with the Primal Scream classic (or indeed the Beatles song) but in a similar epic vein. It set the tone for the evening, which was essentially a trip back to the late sixties – Pink Floyd and especially “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. A lot of gospel sounds as songs built up. There were one or two guitar splurges, but less than I’d expected. It was all very slick and the lighting was suitably psychedelic, but it didn’t really move me. And they ended with “When Jesus Walked”, which they performed beautifully; but really…

Friday 30 August

First thing we saw in full was Stella Donnelly on the Garden Stage. Her combination of breezy tunes, biting lyrics and engaging between-song banter went down well on a sunny afternoon. Essentially the same set (and banter) as at Green Man, minus her flagship tune “Boys Will be Boys”. I particularly liked the third of her solo songs at the start of the show, “Beware of the Dogs”. And I was amused to discover that her disco song where she does a little dance routine, much to the delight of the crowd, is called “Die”.

Steve Gunn, down at the Wood Stage, was a new name to me. The blurb praised his guitar sound, which it said could vary between dissonant noise and drone through to folk. That sounded good to me. He’s a New Yorker and his music reminded me of Jeff Buckley and Ryley Walker, even a little of Jimi Hendrix. Tom thought War on Drugs.  Definitely one I’ll explore on record. A contrast next, with Scottish singer Kathryn Joseph in the Tipi Tent. She sang songs of love, lust and heartbreak over insistent electric piano motifs.  A rather beautiful melancholy with a traditional folk feel.

Steve Gunn

Kathryn Joseph

I caught a bit of New Zealanders The Beths on the Woods Stage. They reminded me even more of Alvvays as their pop-punk sound drifted out over the campsites nearby. That’s how I’d first heard Alvaays two years ago – lying in my tent with a sore back! I don’t think The Beths aren’t quite as good, though I do like the punchy tunes like “Happy Unhappy” and “Future Me Hates Me”. I stayed for about half the show before heading back to The Tipi for Girl in Red, described in the blurb as Marie Ulven from Norway, singing songs about her trials and tribulations with mental health and sexuality. Just the thing for a sunny afternoon! Anyway, Girl in Red turned out to be a five piece band and they all wore black! Marie sang and played guitar and wore the only non-black item – baggy blue jeans. The lyrical content may have been about those trials and tribulations – there was a song called “Summer Depression” – but the tunes were energetic pop-punk and Marie really threw herself about. It was great high energy rock’n’roll. Put a spring in my step and everyone else’s, judging by the crowd reaction, especially when she came down for a mosh during the last song. I came out feeling energised – best thing so far, I thought.

Marie Ullven of Girl in Red

I then went over to the Big Top for Wand, an American band that Louis said were like Radiohead. That was enough for me. Trouble was, in the darkness of the Big Top, they felt rather gloomy and dull, after the high of Girl in Red. And not much like Radiohead. So I gave up on them after three songs.  I went for a beer instead before Mary Lattimore at the Tipi. She’s an American harpist and has played with all sorts of artists, including Jarvis Cocker and Sharon van Etten. I was expecting something a bit like Joanna Newsome, I suppose. It wasn’t quite. The piece I stayed for was instrumental, with use of some electronic loops. New Age music. She had the best introduction to a song all weekend though: this is a song about a dead whale. Alright!

Arty punk legends Wire were next, in the Big Top. Their first album, “Pink Flag” remains one of my all-time favourites, and I’d never seen them live before. I have to admit they were disappointing. Not because there was only one song from “Pink Flag” as far as I could tell (“Three Girl Rhumba” for any Wire fan) but because it was all rather dull and dirge-like. New stuff presumably, but I rather lost interest, although I stayed for the whole show – in the hope we might get “12XU” or “Strange” or “I am the Fly”. We didn’t. No matter, because the next show was fantastic: Parquet Courts headlining the Garden Stage. I first enthused about them in 2014, when I heard their album “Light Up Gold”. At the time I just couldn’t stop playing the double opener, “Master of my Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Both infectious rock’n’roll songs, with a great segue from one to the other. And they started with those two tonight! The scene was set for an hour and a quarter of the best New York punk and much, much more. Their newer material has branched out into funk (with obligatory cowbells) and it makes you want to move! An uplifting show, enhanced by the multi-coloured lighting with the shadows of the band projected onto the backdrop. Parquet Courts have come a long way.

Wire

Parquet Courts

It was 11 o’clock, but there was still a long way to go! First, Jon and I went over to the Tipi tent again, to catch the last of the bands curated by BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction. It was a Turkish band called Derya Yildirim & Grup Simsek. The songs had lovely melodies, beautifully sung by Derya, who also played a kind of mandolin. They were backed up by some very danceable beats, which reminded me of some almost jazzy traditional Greek music which I heard many years ago on a trip to Northern Greece. After they had finished I went to the Tipi tent to see what remained of Kelly Lee Owen’s show. And wow, what a show! It was just her, two keyboards and some stunning graphics. She laid down some amazing electronic beats and sang intermittently, silhouetted for the most part against the ever changing backdrop.  There was something very intense and engaging about it. She was very emotional about her reception at the end. I wished I’d seen it from the start.

Derya Yildirim

Kelly Lee Owens

I caught a little bit of The Beths again, at the first of the Tipi surprise shows, but I was keen to take in some of Joy Orbison’s DJ set back at the Big Top. There are a couple of his tracks I really liked from 2009: “Hyph Mngo” and especially “Wet Look”, with its swishing synths over a rattling dubstep beat. Whether he played any of his own music during this set I don’t know, but the music and the lights were both captivating – a perfect follow up to Kelly Lee Owens. I stayed for about 45 minutes and then thought it might be a good idea to go to bed: there were two more days to go!

Joy Orbison DJ set

Saturday 31 August

After the Literature talks had finished I managed to catch about half of the set by Nejira at the Garden Stage. They are another of the youthful jazz bands who are making waves at the moment. Nejira are a collective fronted by four women – playing saxes, trumpet and trombone. They had a mellow groove which was perfect for the time of day. Some great soloing too – there were some very talented musicians out there, including Nubya Garcia, who had her own show later.

Afterwards I watched a little of Martha, a punk band from the North East, but more Green Day than Sex Pistols. They were lively and engaging, but not that different to so many others. So I thought I’d try TVAM in the Big Top. I liked them a lot. The guitars were shoegaze initially, but during the set I was getting My Bloody Valentine, Wooden Schjips, even Hawkwind. A spacey drone, and all with added electronica and something of an 80s feel to the singing – Visage’s “Fade to Grey” came to mind. They also had a video backdrop which included all the song titles. Gold star for that! I wish more bands did it – or even just told us the names of the songs. Some of the lyrics were displayed too. They were all a bit disconnected, but that went with the 80s pose.

TVAM

After that, it was back to the mellow jazz vibes on the Woods Stage:  Nubya Garcia and band. Nubya is mainly a tenor sax player; she was in Nejira earlier. I think the double bassist may have been too. Great music – shades of Miles Davis and John Coltrane; particularly that late 60s sound, which veered into jazz funk and rock. An excellent pianist too, called Sandra.  After Nubya had finished I wandered up to the Garden Stage and caught most of Tyler Childer’s set. This was Nashville country and bluegrass music at its authentic best. Tyler is a new star who is winning awards, and I can see why. If you like this kind of music you would have loved this. I do and did! Really engaging, and had the crowd dancing in the sunshine. One of the delights of the weekend.

Nubya Garcia

Tyler Childers

I tried a little of hard rockers Bilge Pump next – yes, that was their name! – but they didn’t do it for me, so I went back to the Woods Stage to see Kokoko, from Congo. They’ve been at all my festivals this summer, but this was the first time I could get to see them. They bang out some infectious beats and created a bit of a dance party. There was another band who did the same, but even better, on Sunday…

Kokoko

I stayed at the Woods Stage for one of my favourite bands at the moment, Goat Girl. I love their debut album “Goat Girl”, with all its twangs and quirks and riffs and sleaze. Loads of short songs – a “Pink Flag” for its time. I’ve been following them since I first saw them supporting Fat White Family offshoot Moonlandingz at the Village Underground in Shoreditch, and it was great to see them on the main stage playing with such accomplishment. The crowd were loving it too. There was just one problem: their show overlapped with the enigmatic Black Midi who were on at the Garden Stage. I hated doing it, but I left Goat Girl early to make sure I could get into the garden for Black Midi. What to say about this band? They rock, they noodle, the main singer, who looks like a young Tory (I’m sure he’s not) sings in a rather silly voice, and their drummer is truly astonishing. He is at once complex and the solid foundation of what feels like a load of improvised workouts. They are avant-garde jazz, prog rock, and sometimes punk. It’s an amazing mix live, and there was a lot of moshing up front. I’d love to know what music inspired them – maybe it was Captain Beefheart. One of the highlights of the weekend for sure.

Goat Girl

Black Midi

I have a lot of respect for what Kate Tempest does and I was curious to see how performing her spoken word explorations on the Woods Stage would work. It was getting dark and was quite chilly too. She had a musician accompanying her, playing various dance beats as Kate told her poetic tales. It kind of worked, but it felt a bit repetitive and I found it quite difficult to follow the words. She finished with half an hour to spare, which was odd. That did allow me to go up to the Garden Stage to catch a bit of the Japanese psychedelic rockers Kikagaku Moyo.  They were rather good – a kind of jazz rock, I thought. A heavier version of what Santana were doing in the early 70s, in albums like “Caravanserai”. There were plenty of time changes, noodling and out-and-out riffing. I started to think, this is the Japanese Black Midi! I’d have liked to see all of their set, but Moses Boyd Exodus in the Big Top looked too good to miss. The third of the new jazz bands at EOTR this year. Trumpet, trombone, keyboards, guitar and a very slick drummer, whose face was obscured by a large cymbal from where I was standing. I assumed that Moses Boyd was the trumpeter, who was excellent, as was the trombonist. In fact, it was the drummer, which may explain why he got to play so many solos! The band were seriously good, playing a sophisticated, sometimes funky jazz, that was both cool and atmospheric. All of them were virtuoso performers. If you like jazz try to catch these guys live; I’ll certainly be looking out for dates in London.

Kate Tempest

Kikagaku Moyo

Moses Boyd Exodus

The headliners on the Garden Stage were Low, whose album “Double Negative” was highly acclaimed last year. That album is a real mood piece: slow, minimalist, dark, with deliberate hisses and crackles, like an old vinyl record. The live show was similar: songs built gradually, sometimes erupting into white noise, before subsiding. The band members were at times barely visible from near the back of the Garden; at other times they were silhouetted against the striking backdrop, which complemented the music very well. Minimalist lines of black and white, interspersed with bursts of bright colour, or the close up of a guitar, a building, a face. There was something very grand and dramatic about it all. You didn’t really need to know the songs – they just enveloped you. I did like “Always Trying to Work it Out” which has a stately melancholy to it. An intriguing, hymnal performance.

In complete contrast to Low, I tried a bit of Sleaford Mods, who were playing a late show at the Big Top. They’re a funny band: Andrew Fearn presses a key on the laptop and off goes the beat. He then stands there with a bottle of beer in his hand while Jason Williamson rants and raves about the state of Britain and does odd little dances. What makes them intriguing on record (sometimes) are the words, but I couldn’t really hear them. The place was heaving and I couldn’t see a lot either! I stayed for seven of their ditties (including the amusing “Kebab Spider” with its refrain, oh no they let the experts in) before deciding I ought to get to bed by 12.30, having been rather late the night before. On the way back to the campsite though, I was tempted to look into the Tipi Tent. The first surprise show was about to begin – and it was Goat Girl! How could I resist? They played a set of entirely new songs. They were good – mostly quite similar to their earlier songs, but with a hint of a dance beat here and there. I heard some grumbling behind me at the lack of familiar tunes – what happened to Cracker Drool? – but it’s Goat Girl: you don’t expect them to do the obvious. And it’s not a bad place to try out some new tunes live, see how they work. I enjoyed it, and it compensated for missing part of their earlier show on the Woods Stage. I wouldn’t have minded “Country Sleaze” and “The Man” though…

Sleaford Mods

Goat Girl (again)

Sunday 1 September

The weather treated us kindly all weekend, with a few showers on Saturday afternoon the only rain; but Sunday was a belter. Lovely sunshine most of the day. Put you in the mood for the Woods or Garden Stage, where you could bask in the sun – or even dance…

We started with the Norwegian prog-punks – lots of riffs and lots of time changes! – Pom Poko on the Woods Stage.  Jon and I saw them in April this year at the Lexington and loved them. We’re seeing them again at the Scala in October. And they were quite brilliant at EOTR. So much energy, dynamism and pure joy. Singer Ragnhild is a phenomenon: as she leaps around the stage a big smile is never far from her face. I wondered beforehand how their sound would fare in the big open space of the main stage. The answer is that it rocked, and the crowd rocked with it. There was a great atmosphere. Pom Poko’s music is just so much fun! If you don’t know them try “Crazy Energy Nights” – an amazing song.

We then headed over to the Garden Stage for Israel Nash. Feel-good Americana, the blurb said. Perfect for a late summer’s day. And it was exactly that. Lots of expressions of peace and love, breezy melodies, a bit of southern boogie and classic steel guitar solos. The band are from Texas, but the feel was West Coast via Nashville. Enjoyable, but half way through I began to feel the pull of something a bit harder: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs in the Big Top. I saw them at Latitude, where they were ear-splittingly awesome, and missed them at Green Man. So I thought they were worth a second viewing. Jon agreed, so off we went, leaving the sunny chimes of Israel Nash behind. The Big Top was dark and heaving – and so was the music. Pigs x 7 are like Black Sabbath speeded up, with more shouting. But the openers are pretty dirge-like, and quickly I began to question whether this was what I wanted to be doing on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when there was the promise of some South African dance beats down at the Woods Stage. Jon said he’d been thinking exactly the same, so we beat a retreat from the murk of the Big Top and headed out into the sun.

Israel Nash

It was one of our best decisions of the weekend, because BCUC were simply amazing. They made Kokoko seem a little subdued! I have never seen so many people at a festival dancing. Not just tapping a toe, but properly moving. It was just so infectious. The band are South Africans, and they play a variety of drums, backed only by a bass. But how they play them! And at what speed. Incredible. Their main singer was a force of nature – I think he may have studied the moves and the sermonising of James Brown. He was accompanied by a woman who mostly sang backing vocals, but let rip a few times. She got soul! This was an hour of pure exhilaration. Some politics too – BCUC clearly have something to say. And with music this good you listen.

We dawdled around for a bit after BCUC, got something to eat, caught a little bit of Cate le Bon on the Woods Stage, but were focusing on getting to the Big Top early to ensure our places for one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend: Dublin punks Fontaines DC. They are more than punk, but they know the meaning of rock’n’roll. And they know how to write a good song with interesting lyrics. Their debut album “Dogrel” is one of the best of the year. It was the first time I’d been able to see them and they were terrific. The sounded was a little messy, but they rocked. Grian Chatten prowled around the stage like there was something really agitating him. They seem to have written three or four total anthems already. Songs like “Big”, “Too Real”, “Sha Sha Sha”, “Boys in the Better Land” were greeted as old favourites. My favourite is “Liberty Belle”, which has a great riff and is the Pogues meets Stiff Little Fingers. Interestingly, the only song they didn’t play was the slow one, “Dublin City Sky” which is pure Shane MacGowan. A triumph, and I can’t wait to see them again in February next year at Brixton Academy.

There was just one thing hovering over the Fontaines show: could we get over to the Tipi in time to get in for The Murder Capital? The other great new Dublin band. Jon made sure by leaving Fontaines early. I stayed on as it was my first time and I’ve seen Murder Capital twice already this summer. But Fontaines only played for about 45 minutes of their hour, so I made my way hastily to the Tipi, and got in quite easily. I’m so glad I did, because The Murder Capital were unbelievably good. They, especially singer James McGovern, have a great, menacing presence. They had structured their set with real confidence, eschewing the hard rocking songs at the beginning, instead starting slow and brooding and building up the tension until they exploded over the last few songs. I’m just getting to know the debut album “When I Have Fears”. It is a dark album, built around the death of a close friend. They are often described as punk and are bracketed with Fontaines DC, but a better comparison would be with the sound of Joy Division, The Cult and even early U2. There is something, for example, about “On Twisted Ground” (which was the second song in the set) which evokes the atmosphere of “4th of July” or “Bad” from “The Unforgettable Fire”. But never mind the comparisons, The Murder Capital are an extraordinary band, and this was an extraordinary, compelling and exhilarating performance. The best of the festival.  Even more extraordinary, we had consensus amongst the four of us on that!

We were all buzzing after The Murder Capital, and it took us a while to come down. We bought a beer and just talked about the show and the band. Eventually I tried a bit of Metronomy on the Woods Stage, with Louis and Tom. They are a good pop band, but I just found their music a bit lacking in substance after The Murder Capital. So I went off to the Garden Stage and tried a bit of Jarv Is, the latest vehicle for the ex-Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker. I enjoyed the show. There were no Pulp songs – at least none of note – and as much banter from Jarvis as music. But there was something rather warm and enjoyable about it all – a nice come down from the Murder Capital, in my favourite venue. It felt like a good end to the festival. Just as when a band plays their best song last and then comes back for an encore and plays something slow that hardly anyone knows. It helps you take stock of all that went before, eases you out of the experience. Not sure that’s how Jarvis would wish to be perceived, but it’s his fault for not playing “Common People”!

Jarvis Cocker

And that was it, musically. BEAK> were playing a late show in the Big Top, but I didn’t have the energy to stand in a packed tent watching them. Likewise, on the way back to the tent, I could have gone to see Squid. But really, The Murder Capital were just so good, that I didn’t need to see anything else. And we were getting up at six to pack up and make our way back to London. So I did the sensible thing and went to bed. The song in my head as I wandered back strangely wasn’t by The Murder Capital, but by Fontaines DC…

You’re always talking ‘bout the boys in the better land!

Just outside the Tipi tent after Murder Capital

Garden stage in the Sunday sunshine. Israel Nash playing.

Garden again. Respect to the man in the Mogwai T-shirt!

7 o’clock Monday morning

Modelling the latest Rough Trade tote bag!

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