Green Man festival 2019

Over the last few years the Latitude and End of the Road festivals have become firm fixtures in the summer for me and my friend Jon – and assorted family members and friends. Essential moments in the year. But in recent years there has been another festival whose line up we have looked at admiringly when it is announced – Green Man. Located in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, it has a reputation not only for booking an array of excellent bands, but for the beauty of its setting and the relaxed vibe. If we were to go to a third festival, we often said, it would have to be Green Man.

So, after years of hesitation, we took the plunge and headed west down the M4 to South Wales. Jon’s son Louis and his girlfriend Gabrielle came with us. Being west Londoners, the journey was pretty straightforward – it takes ten minutes to get on the motorway. And in Wales, when we headed north into the mountains towards Crickhowell, the nearest town to the festival, the scenery was stunning. The views over the valleys from the hilltop moorlands were especially breathtaking.

Green Man puts more of a show on Thursday evening than Latitude or EOTR. And it opens its gates on Monday for those hardy people who fancy a full week of camping. The site is alongside the River Usk, and there are plenty of outdoor pursuits for those so inclined. Jon and I took a walk along the Usk on the Saturday morning in the sunshine and it was really very beautiful. I mentioned sunshine there. After our rather damp experience in Edinburgh last week, we were eyeing the weather forecast nervously. Friday was looking bad. And so it proved. The rain fell for most of the day, until about 9 o’clock. A large bank of mist sat on top of the Black Mountains and there was very little wind to move it. It felt like we were in the cloud as the rain swept down, at varying intensity throughout the day. The music kept us going, but it was an endurance test at times. And it meant that attendances were rather skewed: artists low on the card on the second venue, the tented Far Out Stage, were probably rather surprised at the size of their audience, while those on the main, Mountain Stage looked out on a bedraggled throng filling only about half the arena. It was such a relief when, halfway through Stealing Sheep’s performance at the Walled Garden, the clouds thinned and the rain ceased. The mood lifted for the rest of the evening. And the rest of the weekend was rather nice, save for a couple of showers on Sunday morning before festivities began. Writing now, the Friday weather just seems like a bad dream, outweighed by the great music from start to finish.

Misty Mountain Hop!

There are four main music stages at Green Man: the Mountain Stage which is the main one and has a beautiful backdrop of the Black Mountains. Second is the tented Far Out Stage. Then comes the Walled Garden, which is walled and is probably a garden the rest of the year; and finally the Rising Stage, which is tucked away in the trees, and by a small lake, not far from the Mountain Stage. It’s a lovely setting, but it’s hard to get a decent view unless you are in the dip near the front; and the sound seemed a bit under-powered all weekend. So, in the end I didn’t go there quite as much as planned.

Thursday 15 August

The best band I saw this evening was the first, audiobooks. I knew nothing about the band, except for the one track I’d heard on Green Man’s excellent Spotify playlist, “Gothenburg”.  Audiobooks are an unlikely looking pairing: a young singer, Evangeline Ling, and an older man, David Wrench, on keyboards who resembled the 70s guitarist Johnny Winters. They made an interesting combination, with David banging out some angular beats and rhythms – some in the Kraftwerk style, others fit for the dancefloor – while Evangeline declaimed in short, sharp bursts. All rather intriguing.

We stayed for a couple more acts in the Far Out tent: Bodega (whom we saw at Latitude in 2018 and enjoyed) and These New Puritans, whose heyday was about ten years ago. Both were heavy on beats and a bit lacking in variation. Later I enjoyed watched Pictish Trail in the Walled Garden. Led by Johnny Lynch, a resident of the Isle of Eigg in Scotland, they are apparently regulars at Green Man. They played a likeable mix of folk and pop with a touch of dance and some big guitars in what Johnny jokingly described as his Embrace songs.

A gentle introduction to the ways of Green Man.

Friday 16 August 

The music began just after midday with Jerry, the winners of the Green Man Rising competition for new bands, the finals of which take place at the Lexington in London before a host of record company A&R people. Whether they are the best people to decide, I’m sceptical, as there tends to be a bit of a herd instinct. So, indie with jerky beats and shouty vocals are quite in at the moment, it seems. Duds, Squid, Working Men’s Club – all good – fit that bill, and the influence of the Gang of Four looms large. Jerry were very much in that vein. They were good, though, and I hope they do well.

Over then to the Rising Stage for Canadian folkies Mama’s Broke. Two women, playing guitar, violin and banjo in a traditional style. From what I could hear, they were rather good. But the sound system didn’t carry the full impact. I’d like to see them in a pub or similar venue where the depth of their songs could come across much more effectively. From there it was to the Walled Garden for Penelope Isles. I didn’t know the band’s music although I remembered their name from a previous festival. I really liked it – one of the discoveries of the festival for me. Initially their songs were Americana-style, but as the show progressed they became a dreamier pop; and then by the end the guitars had really kicked in and we had crescendos that reminded us of the War on Drugs and even Mogwai. The Beths from New Zealand were next, on the Far Out Stage. The tent was packed because of the rain – I doubt the Beths are well-known enough to manage that otherwise. They play breezy punk-pop – as I watched, I thought Alvvays meets the Ramones. Which is not a bad combination.

Penelope Isles in the Walled Garden

The Beths in the Far Out tent

There was no escape now from the rain out at the Mountain Stage, for three unmissable acts. First was Julia Jacklin, whose album “Crushing” is one of my favourites of the year. It’s an album of subdued beauty, reflecting a stage in Julia’s life when she had broken up with her long term boyfriend. There’s a theme about her body and how she’s reclaiming it that runs through a lot of the songs, including the album and set opener, “Body”. It’s a powerful song, but a slow burner, and didn’t exactly get the crowd going in the rain. There were more upbeat moments (musically if not lyrically) like “Pool Party”, “Red Light” and “Pressure to Party”; but for me the highlight was three wonderful songs in the middle of the set: the aching blues of “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, the anguish of “Turn Me Down” and the heartfelt paean to family, “Don’t Let the Kids Win”. Wonderful and moving. Tears in the rain.

I popped over next to catch a bit of Molly Payton at the Rising Stage. Electric guitar and a strident voice: I was reminded a little of Julienne Baker in recent times and Patti Smith from further back. I’ll be interested to hear her recorded work. Then it was back to the Mountain Stage for Whitney. What a joyful, uplifting sound they make! A beacon of brightness in the rainy gloom. They played a fair bit of new material from the forthcoming album, and it sounded good. Continuing in that crisp, melodic vein which reminds me of early Van Morrison. Julian Erlich was his usual ebullient self, centre stage on the drums, singing in his effortless falsetto. And, third last song, the Whitney anthem, “No Woman”. Everyone singing along in the rain. One of the festival highlights.

A big one for Jon, Louis and Gab next: Fat White Family. I still don’t really warm to their recorded music, which I find a bit self-indulgent and tuneless. But live they are a phenomenon. The rain kept singer Lias Saoudi from crowd-surfing quite as much as he did at End of the Road last year – and he kept his clothes on! But the beats were as strident as ever, the guitars twanged and the sax screeched and the crowd responded accordingly. My companions declared it the highlight of the festival, and many would agree. Suitably exhilarated we wandered over to the Walled Garden, where Stealing Sheep were part way into their set. We got there in time for the bouncy “Jokin’ Me” which I rather like. Most of the set was in similar vein – more dancey than I expected. There was an enthusiastic crowd, which became even happier when the rain stopped! In future years, we’ll be asking where were you when the rain stopped at Green Man? Tapping a toe to Stealing Sheep…

Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family

The Walled Garden was where I stayed for the rest of the evening. Next on was Bill Ryder-Jones, once of Liverpool band The Coral. I like what I’ve heard of his 2018 album “Yawn” but have never properly explored his music. On this showing I must. I loved this performance: that combination of Mersey-tinged melodies and the mellifluous and soaring guitars, where Bill is accompanied by his modest lead guitarist “Liam”, who crouches in the corner, letting his guitar do the talking. Bill does plenty of talking anyway, with a spiky Scouse humour. A bit of a revelation for me, this one.  Ex-Re, the new vehicle for Daughter’s singer and guitarist Elena Tonra, finished off proceedings. I love the song “Crushing”, which has a rumble and power that is reminiscent of PJ Harvey. She played that early on, after a couple of solo efforts, with gentle backing from the drummer.  After that, the music was atmospheric if a little indistinguishable. Elena, despite being the star, stuck resolutely to one side, determined not to dominate proceedings. I assumed she was just trying to avoid too much limelight, after the success (and no doubt pressure) of Daughter. But “Ex-Re” is another big break-up album, which may help to explain the ambiguity. A luminous moon peeped through the remaining clouds as she sang – the perfect accompaniment. Light emerging through the dark.

Bill Ryder Jones

Elena Tonra, Ex:Re

Saturday 17 August

A lovely and rain-free day. I’m not naturally an early riser, but the combination of the heat inside the tent when the sun shines, the increasing noise and the desire to avoid the queue for a shower meant I was up by 7.30 every day. Jon and I decided to make the most of the weather and the beauty of the surrounding countryside by going for a walk along the River Usk, in the direction of Crickhowell. An unusual and enjoyable experience at a music festival. All of our festivals  are in lovely settings, but I think Green Man has to take first prize, with the looming Black Mountains in the background. There are a few photos at the end of the blog.

Inevitably, with the weather so nice, the first two bands we saw were in the Far Out tent! Modern Nature is an offshoot of a band called Ultimate Painting, whom Jon was very keen on. The vehicle of Jack Cooper, the band’s music has a subdued darkness which erupts into forceful beats and guitar outbursts from time to time. There’s some eerie sax too, and I was reminded of Joy Division, Low and even early Roxy Music. Think of the amazing “Ladytron” as an example of the latter. The discovery of the festival for me.  They were followed by the intriguing Jockstrap. Terrible name – unless it is meant to be. And I think it probably is. I’d heard a couple of the band’s songs, which were the ones with a bit of a 60s film music and samba feel. Live there were all sorts of things going on, led by singer and violinist Georgia Ellery and keyboard player Taylor Skye. Bright leisure wear was the order of the day, with Georgia wearing one of Barcelona’s lurid orange tracksuit tops when she came on. This was dots and loops music – essentially electronic, though you never knew what was going to pop up next. There were flutes, cowbells, violins, jumpy guitars. Georgia’s vocals were a series of intermittent squeaks and shrieks. The band struck me as accomplished musicians having a bit of fun; and on reading about them I see that they went to Guildhall School of Music. I’ll be interested to hear an album’s worth of their music – a 10cc or Stereolab for our times, perhaps.

Modern Nature

Jockstrap

Georgia Ellery of Jockstrap

Stella Donnelly is an artist I’ve wanted to see for a while. An Aussie singer-songwriter, pals with Julia Jacklin, with a sound that reminded me more of, say, Snail Mail or Soccer Mommy than Julia. There’s a lo-fi brightness to it, complemented by her breezy vocals. She’s known too for her biting lyrics and humour with which she introduces her songs. All of that was present in her show on the Mountain Stage. She really engaged the audience and had a few things to say about society and the state of the world. Her flagship song is “Boys will be Boys”, which is about a sexual assault that a friend of hers experienced. She made a point, too, of dedicating the song to the many “gentle men” she knew. Pop music tends to oversimplify matters by its very nature; Stella Donnelly manages to balance things while remaining catchy.

There’s a bit of a jazz revival going on at the moment – not that jazz ever goes away, but the media see a new movement. It’s one that combines some relentless beats and rampant sax breaks. Green Man had three of the bands getting the most publicity: Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming and Ezra Collective.  Sons of Kemet were on the Mountain Stage after Stella Donnelly. I only caught about twenty minutes of their set while I had something to eat, but I was really impressed by the way their sound – the rhythms and the hammering sax of Shabaka Hutchings, who also plays in The Comet is Coming – filled the arena and got a lot of people dancing. After that I went over for Tiny Ruins at the Walled Garden. They are a New Zealand modern folk band. I’ve liked their music since I first saw them at End of the Road last year. Their latest album “Olympic Girls” has an understated beauty. Understated is a good word to describe Tiny Ruins and it didn’t quite work for me this time. There was an alternative at the Far Out tent, which I’d planned to see some of anyway: A Certain Ratio.  A post-punk band from the 80s who had a strong element of funk in their sound. And they still do. There was something very impressive about their show, and it was the funk. An 80s indie jagged kind of funk. And it still sounded good. It included a cover of the Talking Heads’ “House in Motion” which was a highlight.

Hollie Fulbrook (L) and Cass Basil (R) of Tiny Ruins

A Certain Ratio

Back to the Mountain Stage after that, for one of my anticipated highlights of the weekend, the wonderful Big Thief. Singer Adrienne Lenker decided to don an orange/pink wig and a moustache for reasons she no doubt could explain. The wig came off during a huge guitar thrash on a new song about half way through the set. The moustache was painted on, so it stayed. They played a set that mixed some of their great songs like “Masterpiece”, “Paul”, “Shark Smile” and “Mythological Beauty”; a few off this year’s album “UFOF”, including the popular “Cattails” and a lovely “Orange”, which is Adrienne solo; and some new ones which I presume will be on the second album of 2019 which comes out in October. A great show, which demonstrated how they blend folk, Americana, some burst of wild guitar and touch of Radiohead to such great effect. One of the best bands around and well-received by the crowd.

Next on the Mountain Stage were Stereolab. I used to like their mix of electronics, Latin beats and French crooning – courtesy of singer Laetitia Sadier – in the 1990s. “Dots and Loops” (1997) was my favourite album and “Brakhage” my favourite song, so I was delighted they started with that. They played it faster than the recorded version, and that was a theme of their performance: faster and rockier. It worked well as darkness fell. A captivating show.

The choice of headliner to watch was Four Tet on the Mountain Stage or Car Seat Headrest on the Far Out stage. I had to choose Car Seat Headrest. The others chose Four Tet! (Jon did come to a bit of CSH in fairness). Will Toledo’s band are so good live: great indie slacker tunes, lacerating guitars and some of the best choruses around. As I’m writing I’m thinking this may have been the best show I’ve yet seen; but then again the first time, at Manchester Gorilla in 2017 was a revelation and the Roundhouse in 2018 was an absolute triumph. End of the Road in 2017 was awesome too. And the song that draws all of these experiences together is the mighty “Drunk Driver/ Killer Whale”. A total anthem, the best singalong I know. And it was the centrepiece tonight, followed by the almost-as-good “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”. I just love both of those songs and sang along with everyone else. My most exhilarating moment of the weekend.

But it wasn’t the end, because The Comet is Coming were on for a late night slot, just as they were at Latitude on the Sunday. I didn’t stay for the whole hour this time, as it started at 12.30 and I needed to pace myself just a bit, but I had to see the first half to experience their extraordinary performance of “Summon the Fire” again. What an incredible slug of music, with the saxophone of Shabaka Hutchings a wonder to behold. It was followed by a composition with a reggae dub bassline that gave it a real groove. After that I called it a day, but what an end to an amazing day!

Sunday 18 August

It’s always nice to start Sunday with a bit of chill-out music. Pianist James Heather seemed to fit the bill, judging by the lovely tune on the Green Man Spotify playlist, “Last Minute Change of Heart”. The blurb likened him to Nils Frahm, amongst others, which seemed a good recommendation. It was relaxing 45 minutes, as James created his mellow soundscapes. He had just the single Yamaha keyboard, with which he created layers of sound, but no Nils Frahm pyrotechnics. He introduced his songs with a modesty and wonder at having made it to the Far Out Stage, having attended Green Man as a fan for many years. A pleasant start to the day.

We went over to the Rising Stage for a bit of noise after that, with Wych Elm, a young band from Bristol. They weren’t as loud as one might have expected, given the Rising Stage acoustics, but I liked their energy and sound, which was reminiscent at times of Nirvana, though there were hints of My Blood Valentine too. I’d like to see them in a venue like the Lexington in London, where I think they could make a real impression. Next on the agenda was Yak, back at the Far Out Stage, but on the way I stopped to listen to Foxwarren on the Mountain Stage for a while. They hail from Manitoba in Canada, and play melodious Americana. They didn’t have a lot of stage presence – on that big stage, anyway – but I think they’d be good to listen to at home. Yak gave me another dose of noise, which was in relatively short supply over the weekend (partly through choice – I skipped Pigs x 7 for Julia Jacklin). Main man Oliver Burslem played some dynamic guitar and the bassist laid down an insistent beat. Nothing out of this world, but they have a good live sound with a punk spirit.

Wych Elm

Yak

Then came what proved to be my favourite show of the weekend: Aldous Harding on the Mountain Stage. Late afternoon, in front of a big crowd, with the sun shining. Quite a contrast to the last time I saw her, at Manchester Gorilla in 2017, where the crowd watched in rapt silence as Aldous spun her weird and subtle spells. Her new album “Designer” is one of the best of the year – not quite as odd as its predecessor “Party”, but still richly eccentric amid the beauty of the melodies. So how would she gain the attention of the festival crowd? In her perverse way, by starting with two solo acoustic pieces from “Party”. But a strange thing happened: people listened. And as the show progressed the crowd was the quietest I’ve seen at this sort of event. There are usually loads of people talking, laughing, doing everything but listen to the music. But Aldous Harding captivated the audience. It might partly have been the strange expressions she treated us to on the screens, as she sat in her chair for the most part, closely surrounded by her band. Or it might just have been the beguiling music and her arresting voice, which moves from high-pitched warble to sultry torch singing in an instant. The songs were mostly off the new album, and highlights for me were “Designer”, “The Barrel” and “Zoo Eyes” – Why, what am I doing in Dubai? And I got one of my favourite songs off “Party” near the end: “Blend”, in which she’s in Thailand rather than Dubai! The quality of the music was astonishing too – Steely Dan class.

Of course she finished the set not with something familiar like “Fixture Picture” (my favourite song on “Designer”) or “Living the Classics”, but a new one. But that’s Aldous Harding for you: predictably unpredictable. And totally engrossing. I think a lot of people in the crowd shared my feelings.

Things were really on a roll now. I went up to the Far Out tent to see a bit of Ezra Collective. The third of that jazz triumvirate. The one I knew least. But how good were they? Amazing. They had those big beats, but extra variety, with some great interplay between sax and trumpet. They ran the gamut of jazzy funk and dance sounds. It took me back to the 90s and the Acid Jazz/Rebirth of Cool era. I absolutely loved it, but was faced with a dilemma: do I stay till the end or get back to the Mountain Stage for the start of Sharon van Etten? I plumped for Sharon, as she is one of my favourites, but I will have to see Ezra Collective again. Sharon played a similar set to the one I’d seen her perform at the Roundhouse back in March – a little shorter given the time limit, but based on the new, rockier album “Remind Me Tomorrow”. It’s a great album, and very powerful live. There were a few old favourites too, like “Tarifa”, “Serpents” and, of course, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”. New songs like “Comeback Kid” and “Seventeen” stand tall with those. Two of my favourites were slower moments: the closing song, “Stay” which is beautifully plaintive; and an emotional “I Told You Everything” which she dedicated to her partner back in the US, looking after her young child. Her voice trembled as she talked about that. Music and touring is her living and her choice; but it doesn’t stop the heartache of being away from your loved ones for weeks, months at a time. A moving moment in an uplifting show.

Ezra Collective

Sharon van Etten

So, the battle of the headliners again: Father John Misty on the Mountain Stage or Idles in the Far Out tent? Well, it had to be Idles, such was the anticipation. Jon and I got there quite early, to make sure we got a half-decent view. Louis and Gab caught a bit of Father John Misty first. And there was a buzz already – every sound check received a big cheer. The band came on to a rapturous reception, like it was some sort of homecoming. And thus began an hour and a quarter of relentless riffing, chanting, crowd surfing, flashing lights and sermonising from singer Joe Talbot. A sensory overload. I recognised two songs: “Mother” and “Danny Nedelko”, which I like. The rest was a blur of thunderous noise and pounding beats. The crowd seemed to know all the words – Idles have become heroes. But it was a bit too much for me (I have seen them three times before, by the way, so I knew what I was in for). I was determined to stick it out, out of solidarity more than anything, but it was a bit of an endurance test. It was one of those am I getting too old for this? moments. They are mercifully rare, but Idles tested my limits. I’m not dissing them – they are at their peak and create an excitement which was probably unmatched anywhere else during the festival. But I think they need to be a bit careful about self-indulgence – both the endless crowd-surfing, during which not much else happens, and Joe’s proselytising. Louis may well disagree!

And that was it – not quite. In the grounds outside the Far Out tent there stood the Green Man – a rather spooky-looking oversized scarecrow. It was time to burn it to the ground. Thousands of people assembled for the annual ritual. It was like some kind of pagan festival – it is probably derived from one. The flames shot up and the Green Man crumbled, leaving only its skeleton. And then the fireworks began. A spectacular show. We all love a bonfire and a fireworks display don’t we?

The Green Man, Thursday night

The Green Man, Sunday night

There was just one last thing to do after that: sample a bit of the Deptford Northern Soul Club, which was on until three in the morning in the Walled Garden. I got myself a glass of wine – I was lagered out, and it had run out anyway – and headed down to the venue. There were a good few hundred people there. And what a lot of fun it was: loads of those not-so-obscure Northern Soul classics, interspersed with a few Motown favourites. Impossible not to move your feet to that lot! I washed the brutish Idles from my soul and danced. Well, you know, shook a leg while watching other people get down until it started to rain at about 1.30. That was my excuse to get back to the tent, with a 6am wake-up call in prospect. The end, but what a good end!

Green Man was the business.

Views from around the site

 The Green Man site is in the River Usk valley, surrounded by the Black Mountains. It’s a spectacular scene and gives the festival some of its special quality. Here are a few of the shots I took. They were mostly with the iPhone and hastily snapped, but hopefully give you an idea of what a lovely place it is.

The next few are on Thursday before proceedings began.

Next three are around the Rising stage. A lovely space, though not ideal for the music when a lot of people turned up. Last shot was when Molly Payton was playing in the rain.

A few from our walk along the river.

Beers in the rain!

 

 

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Edinburgh Festival 2019

Indecision

I’m just back from a few days at the Edinburgh festival. What an amazing event it is – a huge and diverse celebration of the arts. In the five days I was there I could only scratch the surface of what was on offer; but as ever it was funny, inspiring, moving, thought-provoking – and occasionally excruciating. We picked a few of our shows in advance from the mind-bogglingly large Fringe events programme, but just as much we relied on spur-of-the-moment decisions, aided by the excellent Fringe app and the multitude of flyers being handed out in the street and in the bars by enthusiastic young folk and, quite often, by the artists themselves.

We were four this year: my wife, Kath, and friends Jon and Maggie. We stayed in a flat in Rose Street, which runs parallel to Princes Street and must have a pub every 20-30 metres. And some good ones too. If you are heading up to Edinburgh and enjoy trying a few craft beers, then I would recommend Fierce Beers, which is on the western end of Rose Street, not far from Charlotte Street. Excellent IPAs and a nice, relaxed vibe in the place.

As ever, we saw more comedy than anything else, but it was a good year for music too. Kath and I also enjoyed a trip to the City Art Centre, near Waverley Station, which always has interesting exhibitions with a Scottish theme. I’ll describe some of the shows I enjoyed most in the review below.

Comedy

First mention has to go to Luke Rollason who we saw in two shows this year, after enjoying his bizarre David Attenborough tribute “Planet Earth III” last year. Luke’s genre is described in the blurb as “clowning”. There is certainly plenty of that, but there is some method in the madness. Last year’s show had an environmental theme; this year in “Infinite Content” I guess it was about the impact of the internet and social media. Sort of. What it is really is an absurd hour where anything might happen, with the only consistent feature being Luke’s hilarious facial expressions. He is one of those comics who has the ability to make you laugh simply by walking onto the stage and staring. He must have been inspired by Mr Bean as a kid, but his own performance is more anarchic. The appeal is a bit hard to put into words, but it’s just so daft you have to laugh. His second show was “Privates: A Sperm Odyssey” with Christian Brighty and Tom Curzon, both of whom played supporting roles in “Infinite Content.” The title is self-explanatory. If “Infinite Content” was daft, “Privates” was just bonkers – pure slapstick of the drunken student kind. A bit odd watching it at five in the afternoon. I preferred “Infinite Content”, but if you enjoy audience participation, then “Privates” could be the one for you. And should I ever meet anyone called Darnell, I may not be able to stop myself giggling!

Kath and I really enjoyed Irish comedian Joanne McNally last year so we went along again this time. The gags were different, but the themes were the same: women, men, men and women. She was as brutally funny as before, and while men probably come out of it worst, women, including herself, don’t come far behind. She’s another comedian who can incite a laugh with a simple look – and a bit of fear as well! Jon and Maggie enjoyed it as much as we did.

A feature of the Fringe is free shows, where you pay what you want as you leave. Some of the artists who don’t charge much for tickets also have a bucket for additional contributions. One of the shows I most enjoyed was a free show by Alex Farrow called “Philosophy A-Level”. Alex was a philosophy teacher until recently and combined reflections on teaching the subject to sixth formers in an East London school with observations on life in general. A strong theme was how there is rarely one answer to anything; nor is it right to be exclusive about “high” and popular culture, philosophy generally being bracketed with the “high”. These are themes dear to my own heart, so naturally I liked it! He had a quiz where members of the audience had to guess whether various statements were the work of Friedrich Nietzsche or the lyrics of Kelly Ann Clarkson. It wasn’t that obvious. I really liked Alex’s humour and found his tales of school life engaging and thought-provoking. The venue was full, so word must be getting around.

At the other end of the comedy scale was Ed Byrne. A long time since he handed out his own flyers, I’m sure. He was playing the main theatre in the Assembly Rooms on George Street. His show was fast-paced and very funny. Reflections, mostly, on family life and all its tribulations and absurdities. It was one of those shows where the comedian piles up more and more daft reflections on ordinary life until you crack at some tiny thing and cry with laughter. Ed Byrne did that for me on Friday night. A great show.

Last year Ahir Shah was playing an un-ticketed show, and the queues were very long, so we didn’t get to see him. This year you could book and he played to a packed venue at Monkey Barrel. We’d seen him at the Soho Theatre in October 2018 and I was very impressed. He combines biting reflections on society today – and the attitudes he faces as a British Asian – with some powerful stories about his family and his own personal struggles. It’s funny and passionate and certainly makes you angry about the way the Home Office treats people. The show at the Soho theatre focused on the life of his grandmother, who was deported from Britain when he was five years old. This time there were more personal reflections and stories about his relationship with his father. There are a lot of laughs – he was good on being mistaken for Mexican when he spent some time there – but a lot of darkness too. It’s an intense hour and a moving one. More than comedy.

We saw a couple of shows which combined music with comedy – in rather different ways. Arthur Smith’s “Syd” was a warm and funny tribute to his late father, who fought and was captured at the battle of El Alamein and spent two and a half years as a prisoner of war, which included periods of near starvation in Italy and working in mines in Poland before he ended up serving the officers from his own side in Colditz. After the war he spent time in Yugoslavia before was demobbed. He became a policeman, based in Kennington, for much of the rest of his life. He wrote a journal of his experiences, which formed the basis of the show. It was interspersed with music and song, performed mostly by Kirsty Newton, who also played a few characters as Arthur wove the tales of his father’s and his own life. Arthur sang too – not brilliantly, but touchingly, especially on “Waterloo Sunset” and a few other tunes from that era.

We saw the other music/comedy show by chance, after a rather disappointing Oxford Revue stand up show at the Liquid Rooms (tucked away down an alley off Victoria Street). Sheltering from Sunday’s incessant rain, we were intrigued by a flyer advertising “Jollyboat: Bards Against Humanity”. Jollyboat are a duo – brothers Ed and Tommy Croft – who have been playing the Fringe for ten years and have a bit of a following. “Bards” was a Best-of, which I guess was a good place for us to start. They have another show called “Pun Loving Criminals”.  They were very entertaining: a whole load of amusing songs about contemporary subjects, including Dungeons and Dragons, Game of Thrones, computer keyboards (a love song) and God (or was it Jesus – the memory is already fading…). They came on with a song about pirates which rolled together about twenty pop tunes from across the eras. They have a real sense of fun, and it transmits to the crowd. Well worth the visit – it will put you in a bright mood.

Other honourable mentions on the comedy front: Eshaan Akbar’s “Infidel-ity” gave a sharp-witted account of life as a British Muslim; Erich McElroy’s “Radical Centre” wasn’t as political as I expected, but was an affectionate discourse on British ways from an American who has lived in the UK for 19 years and still likes it (!);  Rachel Creeger in “Hinayni!” described her life as an Orthodox Jewish woman from Essex and now north London who doesn’t quite fit the stereotype; the Leeds Tealights, a university troupe, had some very amusing (and silly) sketches in their revue “It’s Not That Serious”; and the Impromptu Shakespeare collective had the formula of the Bard down to a tee as they mangled the themes of tyranny, twins and autumn, with a bit of Alexa and Siri thrown in.

One last point about the comedy. In all the shows we saw the lack of comment about Brexit (and Trump) was very noticeable. I know some comedians were tackling them -I’d like to have seen Fern Brady for example, but she was sold out – but it felt as if people are moving on. Brexit and our current government are beyond parody. And maybe we are all just accepting the inevitable and preparing in our minds for the worst.  But then they’ve won, haven’t they?

Music

I saw three performances during our stay, two as part of the Fringe and one in the series of “Summer Sessions” in Princes Gardens, underneath the castle – a spectacular setting. I’ll start with the Fringe.

One of the highlights of five days was seeing Camille O’Sullivan perform the songs of Nick Cave at the Pleasance Courtyard.  I’m not that familiar with Nick Cave’s music – not sure why really; some things just pass you by. But I knew we’d be getting some dark ballads and a few rock-outs too. And so we did! Sung with an intense passion by Camille – she really was quite extraordinary. She came on looking every inch the Goth, with her black cape and jacket and the mass of black hair. The snakeskin boots provided a contrast. They, and the cape and jacket came off pretty quickly – after a few songs she was doing a few Irish dance steps in her bare feet. The ballads were captivating, and the rockers – “Jubilee Street” (I think) and “Stagger Lee” to the fore – were visceral, as the guitar raged and Camille howled. If Nick Cave is this good (and yes, I know he is said to be amazing live), then I think I’d better try to see him! A tremendous, affecting performance.

Both Jon and I had been keen to see Camille O’Sullivan. The next show was much more his idea: “My Leonard Cohen”, featuring Australian singer and pianist Stewart d’Arrietta. I’m not much of a Leonard Cohen fan to be honest. In my twenties, when I was going back and catching up with the greats from the sixties and early seventies that hadn’t been on my teenage radar I took a lazy option and dismissed Leonard Cohen as too depressing. Most of what I did hear occasionally didn’t dispel the notion. So I never listened to him much and he didn’t get a mention in my book about music, “I Was There – a Musical Journey”. When he died, a couple of friends who’d read the book said, where’s Leonard Cohen? Sorry, I said, it’s only about people I like. Nonetheless, Jon was keen, so I went along. I expected it would be tasteful and classy and that would be enough. And it was, and I did recognise quite a few of the songs: “Suzanne”, “First We Take Manhattan” and of course “Hallelujah”. It was an entertaining show and well-appreciated by the audience. If anything, I’d say that quite a few of the songs were maybe a bit too dramatic, bombastic even. I’d imagine Leonard Cohen to be rather more mellow. Then again, these were Stewart’s personal interpretations, in just the same way as Camille brought her own perspective to Nick Cave’s songs. Both artists are way more than just copyists. I’m glad I went anyway, and I may even try to listen to some Leonard Cohen on Spotify. As long as it’s not too depressing…

On Sunday evening Jon and I went along to Princes Gardens to see Chvrches. We both really like the band and have done so ever since we first saw them in their early days at Latitude festival in 2013. It was only three weeks ago that we last saw them, again at Latitude, second on the bill on the main stage on the Sunday. There they played an hour of their most upbeat tunes, mainly from the most recent album, “Love is Dead”. They had more time in Edinburgh, as the headliners for that Summer Sessions session. Yes, Summer Sessions. That would involve sunshine, wouldn’t it? As opposed to rain the whole evening after rain the whole day? Well, we got unlucky. During our stay there were a couple of rather nice days. We were basking in the sun in George Square Gardens on the Friday afternoon. But not Sunday!

So there we all were, in Princes Gardens, in our rain jackets of variable effectiveness, the castle looming above in the mist, as Chvrches bounced onto the stage at 9pm. And they were great! Lauren Mayberry was as resplendent as ever and the beats pounded through the drizzly air (at least we were spared a deluge). They played much of the set from Latitude plus a few more, including, to my delight, “Tether” from the first album. Along with “Lies”, also from that album, “Tether” remains my favourite Chvrches song, with its wistful start, building up to that 80s disco crescendo. It may have rained all night, but Chvrches brought a bit of sunshine to our lives.

Waiting in the rain

Poetry 

We couldn’t resist going to see Carol Ann Duffy, accompanied by the musician John Sampson again, after their wonderful show last year. Carol has done her time as Poet Laureate – she has passed the baton to Simon Armitage. She read some new poems and plenty from her illustrious past. As ever, they were a mixture of nostalgia, love, clever plays on old myths, biting satire, humour and a witty feminist perspective. John entertained us from time to time with his array of wind instruments, many of which date back to the 16th century.  It’s an hour of pure joy, witnessing two artists at the top of their game.

Art

Kath and I took some time out on Friday afternoon to visit the City Art Centre. There was a major exhibition of the artist Victoria Crowe, described as one of the UK’s most renowned artists. That exposes my still superficial knowledge of art, as I hadn’t come across her work before. While she was born in Kingston, Surrey and studied at art schools in Kingston and London, she is regarded as a Scottish artist, having moved to Scotland in 1968 to teach at Edinburgh College of Art at the age of 23 and settling in a village called Kitleyknowe, south of Edinburgh. The exhibition covers all of her career and is a delight. I particularly liked her wintry landscapes, the trees stark against the white background. Early on she painted a series which featured her neighbour, a shepherd called Jenny Armstrong. There is a real dignity and warmth to the portraits and interiors, while the bleakness of her work on a winter’s day is captured beautifully. In her mid-period Victoria spent time in Italy amongst other places, and her work is strongly influenced by that experience. A lot of her paintings from this time capture four or five images in the same work. I preferred the simplicity and focus of her earlier work, and her more recent efforts, which return to the earlier emphasis on landscapes. There are some truly lovely portrayals of early evening, as the light fades and the branches of the trees are tinged with red, or are already silhouettes.

I don’t think Victoria Crowe is trying to convey any big messages or change the direction of art: she just captures the beauty of life as it is around us. I was very taken; should you find yourself in Edinburgh I really would recommend a visit to the City Art Centre to see “Victoria Crowe: 50 years of Painting.”  And her website has an excellent selection of her works over the years too.

 Favourite places for a beer (and a snack)

Fierce Beers – Rose Street. Mentioned earlier – top quality craft beers.

The outdoor bars around Bristo Square and Teviot Row House, where Underbelly and the Gilded Balloon are based. Edinburgh University territory. Especially good when the sun is shining!

The Pleasance Courtyard, which is just up the hill from the junction of Pleasance and Cowgate. A nice atmosphere there.

Cabaret Voltaire on Blair Street (between Royal Mile and Cowgate). Laid back vibe.

 My top five shows

Luke Rollaston – Infinite Content

Joanne McNally – The Prosecco Express

Alex Farrow – Philosophy A-Level 

Ahir Shah – Dots

Camille O’Sullivan – Sings Cave

A few Edinburgh shots to finish with…

Castle Street

Sunset from Bank Street

Rose Street – stayed through the blue door, first floor

Taking advantage of the sunshine in George Square Gardens

Posted in Art, books, theatre, cinema, Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sportsthoughts (165) – Premier League predictions 2019-20

So it’s time for another round of Premier League predictions. The season kicks off this Friday, with Liverpool v newly-promoted Norwich. On Saturday West Ham have the dubious pleasure of hosting the champions Man City. Well, at least we’ll get that one over and done with! I will miss the game as I shall be at Edinburgh festival. My pal, Jon G, a City fan, will be there too; but I don’t think we’ll be trying to find a TV showing the game. Unless, of course, the weather is really terrible…

Last season

I never got around to assessing my predictions for last season when it ended.  I didn’t do too badly. I had City and Liverpool 1st and 2nd. Not exactly brilliant punditry, but you never know at the beginning of the season. As we know, City and Liverpool were way better than anyone else, and Liverpool were very unlucky to come second with a points tally of 97 (25 better than 3rd-placed Chelsea). But City didn’t crack and got 98. Both sides played superb football, though quite different in style: while Liverpool might batter you into submission, City would just cut you to pieces.

Liverpool, of course, had the last laugh, winning the Champions League final against Tottenham. (A truly terrible game, so unlike what we were used to from those two teams). I suspect Pep Guardiola would have happily traded the Premier for the Champions League. And the FA Cup and League Cup too.

I placed Tottenham correctly in 4th. But my punt on Arsenal coming 3rd was not to be. They had their chances though. But for a truly shocking run of form against teams they should have been thrashing towards the end, 3rd would have been easily within their grasp. Below City and Liverpool, no team stood out. Chelsea almost got 3rd by default – and thanks to moments of brilliance from Eden Hazard. They didn’t really have a great season; though, fair play to them, they also won the Europa League, 4-1 against Arsenal (continuing their feeble end to the season). Chelsea’s season will be remembered for the troubles of their Italian manager, Maurizio Sarri, who never really looked the part, and didn’t establish a rapport with the fans. His nadir was when his keeper, Kepa, refused to come off during the League Cup final, when instructed. Sarri received no support from his players. That told you everything. Still, he’s at Juventus now, his reputation in Italy intact.

My other punt was on West Ham – of course! They did well in the end, after a very poor start, losing four on the trot. They finished 10th rather than my predicted 6th. The highlight of the season was the form of 20 year old Declan Rice in defensive midfield, alongside Mark Noble. So good that he is now a fixture for England. I feared that one of the Manchester clubs might have bought him by now. We’re clinging on until the close of that window! Other successes were Diop and Balbuena in the centre of defence, Fabianski in goal and, most of the time, Felipe Anderson on the wing. So manager Pellegrini’s first purchases worked well, on the whole. A mention too for Robert Snodgrass, who put a good shift in all over the midfield and has a very good left foot. One disappointment was Jack Wilshere’s lack of fitness; with luck we’ll see the best of him in the coming season. If we do, then Mark Noble may not play as much. What a servant to the club though! For much of last season he was superb, bringing Rice along and generally setting an example. He’s lost a bit of pace, and may be best as a sub this season; but I expect he’ll end up having twenty-odd starts and never letting anyone down. The biggest disappointments were the entire set of forwards. Andriy Yarmolenko started well before he got injured and didn’t play again (bad luck rather than flop). Arnautovic sulked after he couldn’t go to China; Andy Carroll was usually injured and just not suited to West Ham’s game now; Hernandez scored one or two, but contributed nothing else; and Perez, from Arsenal, was completely out of his depth. Antonio worked hard when he got a chance; he needs to work on his accuracy though.

I identified Wolves as a team to watch, and they exceeded expectations, coming 7th.  I didn’t call the resurgence of Leicester, which I suspect will continue under Brendan Rodgers this season. I picked two of the relegated sides: Cardiff and Huddersfield. Huddersfield were the weakest team to play in the Premier League for some time. The lack of strike power was inevitably the main problem. Still, their fans had fun for two seasons and good luck to them in the Championship (I doubt they’ll be promoted though). I thought Brighton would go down, but they held on thanks to decent home form and a disciplined defence. Desperately boring to watch though; and manager Chris Houghton has now departed. Fulham spent a lot of money, but the team didn’t gel and they went straight down. A lot of people think they may now bounce straight back up, under Scott Parker. An admirable midfielder – gritty and skilful; can he bring that combination to Fulham as a manager?

I haven’t mentioned Man Utd yet. Tee, hee! I thought I was harsh putting them 5th; they came 6th. They had that bounce when Solksjaer took over from Mourinho, but as soon as the club made his appointment permanent the bubble burst. They were all over the place. Plenty of talent, but just not working well as a team. Opinion is divided on Paul Pogba. His stats were quite good, as my son Kieran keeps reminding me; but I rarely saw him assert himself in a game, as he obviously can – see the World Cup final! Something’s not right in the mentality. United were really poor against West Ham at the London Stadium. They gave up the midfield to Rice and Noble early on and we won 3-1. Pogba had a shocker. One of the good days!

Predictions

Might as well get it out of the way: can’t see past Man City for the title again. They’ve bought a new defensive midfielder, Rodri, from Spain, who is supposed to be very good. That deals with the Fernandinho problem, as he ages and gets injured more. You do wonder how long Aguero will keep banging them in, but there are no real signs of decline, and Gabriel Jesus is an established Brazilian international striker. And Raheem Sterling is now a proper goalscorer. David Silva may play less, but they’ve got Bernado Silva (one of last season’s stars), de Bruyne and Mahrez, so they might just be OK. And the thing about City is that, with seemingly limitless funds, if the team develops a weakness they just go out and buy a good replacement. The interesting thing is that no-one has really started to resent City yet. Even my Man Utd-supporting friends seem rather passive about the matter.  That’s down to the style and dignity with which they approach all aspects of the game, the impressiveness of Pep Guardiola and the sheer quality of their football. And maybe because the club knows what it is like to be in the doldrums. But sooner or later you wonder whether more questions will be asked about the funding and the Emirates’ human rights record.

Can we look past Liverpool for second place? I started by thinking they might have peaked last season. I think that might still be the case, and that they might suffer a bit early on from the very recent finish of the African Cup of Nations.  Mane, for example, played in the final. And their midfield still lacks real creativity of the City kind. But they do have a very strong defence, and Alexander-Arnold can only get better. And they have Salah. Given that all the other Big Six teams, with the possible exception of Spurs, are in a state of flux, it’s hard to see a serious challenge to Liverpool.

Unless, unless… Arsenal fulfil that potential. They have boosted their attacking riches with the purchase of Nicolas Pepe from Lille. They have some exciting youngsters, not least Joe Willock and Reece Nelson, who both looked excellent in the friendly against Lyon last week. But the defence is still not good enough. Put it this way, the only Arsenal defender I’d like to have at West Ham is Bellerin, when he is fit. And Monreal maybe. But none of the centre backs thank you. Likewise, give me Declan Rice over Xhaka any day. So Arsenal still have that soft centre. They’ve had it for years; and until they solve the problem they are not going to win the Premier League. But maybe third is within their grasp this year. Hold tight Gooners, it may happen!

Tottenham I have doubts about. They’ve done superbly well over the past couple of seasons. They bought midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon this summer, but otherwise they seem to have weakened the team by selling Tripper and (soon?) Rose. Kane is fit, which should mean plenty of goals; but they are not really building on their success. They have a nice new stadium, but could they slip a little this season? The biggest risk for them is the scenario that Jon G is keen on (as a City fan). It all goes horribly wrong at Man Utd and Pochettino is installed at Old Trafford before Christmas. If I were a Spurs fan, I’d be worried.

Chelsea are interesting. They may even become more likeable this season, under Frank Lampard. Frank is respected across football (except perhaps by resentful West Ham fans, not including me). He has limited managerial experience, but huge credibility from his playing days. Because of the transfer ban on Chelsea he will probably rely more on young English players – though we shouldn’t exaggerate this potential as Chelsea have a huge squad, and have recalled a lot of loanees. So, there is the prospect of an exciting young side, which is capable of anything. They will miss Hazard hugely – who wouldn’t? –  but they still have a lot of quality. The biggest weakness is upfront, unless  Michy Batshuayi comes good, or Tammy Abraham gets his chance and takes it. I think they’ll be top four.

Man Utd could be anything. Solksjaer has been talking a lot of sense, plans to blood more youngsters and has also made some big purchases in defence. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka are both good players, but Utd have paid exorbitant amounts for them. I mean, £80m for Harry Maguire? I’ve been saying to Kieran for years that Arsenal need someone like him; but £80m? We’ll see. At the time of writing Pogba hasn’t left for Real Madrid, but what will be his frame of mind? If he stays, I suspect Man Utd will once again depend on which Paul Pogba he wants to be. Overall, I think the quality in the Man Utd side will keep them in the top six and if any team is going to spring a surprise and come second, it could yet be them.

Which brings me on to West Ham. How happy will the Hammers be this season? Well, right now I am pretty excited – but we haven’t lost 4-0 to Man City at home on Saturday yet! What if we surprise everyone and win….????  Champions League here we come! Back on earth, I’m pleased with the two buys over the summer: Spanish midfielder Pablo Fornals from Villareal and French striker Sebastian Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt. The owners have given Pellegrini the money to develop the team. Haller’s arrival, for £45m, a club record, has offset the departures of Arnautovic, Perez and Carroll. Fornals has added even more attacking brio to a midfield which could be one of the best. Lanzini and Wilshere both look fresh and fit, which means our six in front of the defence could be: Wilshere, Rice – Anderson, Fornals, Lanzini – Haller. It certainly looks exciting going forward, though Rice may have quite a lot of mopping up to do. It’s the Pellegrini way: attack is the best form of defence. So I’m daring to dream (again) knowing that a few injuries to injury-prone players could leave us with a similar team to last year, and probably a similar placing. But I’ll go for seventh in these optimistic times.

I’m well aware, though, that there are plenty of other pretty strong teams in a similar space to West Ham, with similar aspirations: seventh, with a hope of top six if one of the usual suspects falters (most people would say Arsenal are the most likely). Leicester, Wolves and Everton are all good sides who have strengthened their ranks. I think Leicester are the real danger. They are strong in defence, with two excellent full backs, Chilwell and Pereira. They will cope with the loss of Maguire – Lewis Dunk is expected to arrive from Brighton. They have bought Ayoze Perez from Newcastle to take the pressure off Vardy and have made the transfer of Youri Tielemans, the Belgian playmaker, permanent. They have exciting young English talents like Maddison and Barnes. And Brendan Rogers is a good manager, who got unfair stick at the end at Liverpool, having come really close to winning the title with them.  Naturally, all arrogant English people write off all his success at Celtic; but it is not to be sniffed at. Yes, Leicester are probably the team that are most likely to break into the top six; and after all they did win the bloody thing a couple of seasons ago! I’m going to put them eighth, below West Ham, but I must admit that feels too low.

Surprise successes this season? I’m going to go for Aston Villa, back in the Premier League where they belong, via the playoffs. They have been buying a lot of players. Will they gel? Will Jack Grealish fulfil his potential and play himself into the England team? Well, they have a good manager in Dean Smith, who was a success at Brentford, and is a life-long Villa fan. Not that the latter makes much difference, except for an affinity with the fans – useful for when things go a bit wrong. I think they are top ten material.

That leaves us with relegation. Sheffield United surely, and I hope so. They will get an interesting reception at the London stadium, as the club that took West Ham to court and nearly bankrupted them over the Tevez affair. I think and hope that Norwich, who came up as champions, will survive, as a decent footballing side. They will have some hairy moments though. I’m going to plump for Brighton for the third season running, although their new manager, Graham Potter, has a good reputation from Ostersund in Sweden then Swansea last season. Nothing against Brighton by the way – I love the place; it’s just that I feel that they have been living on borrowed time. And to join them I suspect, Crystal Palace. They’ve had a disruptive summer, selling Wan-Bissaka and fighting off Arsenal’s interest in Zaha. If he is forced to stay, will he sulk? He is Palace’s best player by some way. In the same way as Man Utd’s season could be defined by the mood of Pogba, Palace’s fortunes could depend on the mindset of Zaha.  And if he goes before the window closes, most likely to Everton now, they are in big trouble.

I guess Burnley are at risk too, but they seem to grind out the necessary results. Southampton, I think, will get better under manager Hasenhuttl, and Watford seem to come up with the goods, though I can never really figure out why. Newcastle are an interesting one. Madness to let Benitez go. Even madder to bring in Steve Bruce – or is it? He’s probably occupying the managerial seat while Mike Ashley continues to try to find a buyer for the club – all Geordies will be keen to see the back of him. Bruce is a Geordie himself, and has a pretty solid managerial record. Old school by reputation, but is that just a lazy assumption on all our parts? I think Newcastle probably have enough quality to survive; and Brazilian striker Joelinton is an interesting prospect. Joe Linton – sounds like a traditional Toon big No 9! The next hero? Good luck to them – Newcastle deserves a decent team.

So in summary, my scores on the doors for 2019-20:

1st – Man City

2nd – Liverpool

3rd – Arsenal (subject to inevitable defensive collapses)

4th – Chelsea

5th – Man Utd (with potential for 2nd)

6th – Tottenham

7th – West Ham (subject to entire first choice midfield except Rice being out injured by October)

8th – Leicester (with potential for 4th)

9th – Everton

10th – Aston Villa

11th – Wolves

12th – Bournemouth

13th – Southampton

14th – Newcastle

15th – Watford

16th – Burnley

17th – Norwich

18th – Crystal Palace

19th – Brighton

20th – Sheffield Utd

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“Blinded by the Light” – the film

“Blinded by the Light” is a film about a British Asian teenager growing up in the 1980s in Luton who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. It transforms his life. The film comes out on 9 August here in the UK, and 16 August in the USA. I saw the film last Thursday in a preview hosted by the Picturehouse cinema, near Piccadilly Circus in London.

The film is based on a memoir written by the journalist Sarfraz Mansoor called “Greetings from Bury Park” which was published in 2007. Bury Park is where Sarfraz lived in Luton; Bruce fans will appreciate the album association in the title. The director is Gurinder Chadha, who also directed another popular rites-of-passage film called “Bend it like Beckham”, which was about a young Asian woman fighting against cultural norms in order to play football. “Blinded by the Light” treads similar ground in that respect; it is also similar in that it is a real feelgood movie, where there are setbacks, moments of despair, clashes with family, but ultimately a happy ending where everyone comes together. And you want them to!

What made “Blinded by the Light” so special for me was, of course, the music. The music of Bruce Springsteen. The film provides real insight into the lives of Muslim families in Luton, a town of 200,000 people about 35 miles from London, in the 1980s. A major employer, Vauxhall motors, reduces its workforce in the midst of a deep recession, and the father of main character Javed loses his job – and his self-esteem with it. There are extremist thugs on the streets, spitting in faces, spraying racist graffiti on walls, doorways. Javed goes to a sixth form college, inspired by a love for writing, including poetry. There are all sorts of barriers to his aspirations, not least at home, but an English teacher recognises his talent and helps him persist. I’ll say no more than that to avoid spoilers. But the biggest change in Javed’s life is when a fellow student introduces him to Bruce Springsteen’s music. The passion, the rage, the hope and defiance in the songs speak to him immediately. The lyrics seem to describe his own life, his dilemmas, frustrations and desires. Bruce may be singing about the lives and struggles of people in New Jersey and New York, but the feelings expressed are universal. They can mean just as much to a young lad from Luton.

It was this universality of Bruce’s music which hooked me in my teenage years in just the same way as it did Javed in the film, and Sarfraz Mansoor in real life. The album that changed everything for me was “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in 1978; for Javed/Sarfraz it would seem to have been “Born in the USA” and “Darkness”, in 1987. I didn’t face the struggles of a young Muslim trying to make his way in a world of prejudice, but I had enough of my own issues that the music of Bruce Springsteen addressed like no other. His songs became a soundtrack to my life, as I have described over two chapters in my own book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey”*. From what I know of Sarfraz’s passion for Springsteen over the years, I’m in League One compared to his Premier League; but I completely understand where he is coming from.

The film has been fully supported by Bruce Springsteen and his people, and Bruce has even written a new song for the soundtrack – don’t leave until the credits are over!

So, if you want to see a film that is at once an acute piece of social observation, an uplifting tale of how the good in people can prevail over obstruction and prejudice, and a moving and joyous celebration of the music of Bruce Springsteen, put “Blinded by the Light” on your list. You will come out feeling better about the world – and even if you aren’t a fan of Bruce’s music you might just find yourself wanting to punch the air to “Born to Run”!

*PS. My book I Was There – A Musical Journey, published in 2016, is available on Amazon and Kindle. I also wrote a book of poems called Growin’ Up – Snapshots/Fragments which includes a poem called, simply, “Bruce”. My version of Sarfraz Mansoor’s tale. Growin’ Up – note Bruce song reference! – was published in 2017 and is also on Amazon and Kindle.

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Latitude 2019

Latitude No 8 for me; No 9 for my friend Jon G. We were a smaller group this year, but Jon’s daughter and son, Connie and Louis were with us, along with another friend of mine, Shane, and Jon’s friends Rick and Adrienne. We set off quite early and were pitching tents by 3.30. But not in the same place as the last few years – a huge area normally used by ordinary campers (ie, the ones only paying £200 for a ticket) was fenced off for the use of camper vans and caravans and families. Festival Republic have obviously decided that they can make more money from these groups, so to hell with the rest of us! We were able to secure a reasonable spot, but it got very cramped as everyone poured in. I suspect this will be the dominant theme in the customer surveys this year, and hopefully the organisers will have a re-think. Never a good idea to take your core customers for granted.

But the music – the reason we were there – was as good as ever, if not better. It seemed more varied than ever. There was plenty for the pop fans and youngsters – George Ezra, Loyle Carner and Sigrid, to name three – but so, so much more. Some old favourites, some new favourites and some great stuff that was unknown to me before Latitude. Which is exactly how you want it.

So, is what happened at my Latitude. Which, as I’ve said before, is different to others’ Latitude. And my Latitude didn’t include George Ezra, so sorry if you are a big fan of his, as many people are. Not my bag. We’ll take it day by day as usual. Not much to say about Thursday, so let’s go straight to Friday.

Friday 19 July

The first band I saw today was The Teskey Brothers. They were on the Sunrise Arena, and played to a pretty big crowd. They are an Aussie band – the first of many – and play good old-fashioned 60s soul and blues. They do it very well; the singer (one of the two brothers) has a great soulful voice, in the Otis Redding/ Sam Cooke mould, and some of the guitar had a real BB King feel to it. All good! From there it was over to the re-named BBC Sounds tent for Kero Kero Bonito, a young band from London, who played bouncy pop-rock. I then went solo for my one excursion this year to the Speakeasy to see the poet Luke Wright, a Latitude perennial. Fresh from touring with Dr John Cooper-Clarke, a kindred spirit, he was his usual mixture of trenchant social observation, sharp humour and dramatic delivery. His poem where the only vowel allowed was “u” was amazing – really clever and crudely funny. It’s fair to say that “u” may be the most guttural of the vowels! There was some sentimentality too, about his son, now eight, whom he doesn’t see enough of, post-divorce and being on the road a lot. He wears the hurt on his sleeve, and in his writing. He ended on his brilliant defence of prententiousness, “ Embrace the Wank”. His delivery on that one is extraordinary. I recommend seeing Luke perform if he is ever in your vicinity. You don’t have to be a poetry geek to enjoy it. It is the performance that brings the words alive.

Teskey Brothers

Next up was Anna Calvi, on the Obelisk, the main stage. For some reason I’ve never really heard her music. But I was hugely impressed, especially by her guitar sound, very raw. The songs live, were visceral, and the bass lines pounded. It was a tour de force, and I will definitely be giving her back catalogue a proper listen. After that it was back to the BBC Sounds tent for Jenny Lewis. She’s an American singer, much admired in the music press. She sang with a band called Rilo Kiley for a while. They made some great music. West Coast rock, but with some astute lyrics. They made three or four songs which have pride of place on my Car Songs playlist, along with one of Jenny’s solo pieces, “Just One of the Guys”, which I love. I’m less enamoured with her new music, which I think dominated the show. It was good but not great, and I moved on before the end, to catch something completely different…

Anna Calvi

Bloody hell, Crows! Sunrise Arena. What an utterly awesome noise they made, and what a show too. Singer, James Cox, spent half his time in the audience. Pile-driving riffs and ear-splitting distortion. All played with a smile, too. Not sure I’ll spend too much time listening to the records, but live, I will definitely want to see them again. One of their last songs was “Chain of Being”, which Louis ranks as one of the songs of 2019. I can see why. One of the most exhilarating performances of this Latitude.  And if that wasn’t enough, next up was The Murder Capital, who had been so impressive at Citadel last weekend. The smaller Sunrise stage, cramped their movements a little, but they still had that aura about them. This lot really mean business. I prefer the faster, punky songs – there was one rather tedious dirge midway through the set – but the show as a whole was once again very powerful. And if I want to, I can see them again at Green Man and End of the Road. I expect I will.

Crows

The Murder Capital

The variety of Latitude then came to the fore, as the next thing on the agenda was Freya Ridings. I know it came out in 2018, but “Lost Without You” is one of my favourite songs of 2019. It’s so beautiful – a tried and tested theme, but sung so movingly. Because of that song, which was a big hit last year (unbeknown to me) the BBC Sounds tent was packed to the rafters. She was overwhelmed by that, quite emotional. The whole set was immaculate. “Castles” and “You Mean the World to Me” were other standouts, but of course “Lost Without You” was the one.  I had a tear in my eye as Freya began, though the mood was soon punctured by a group of young lads who moved in front of us, talked and jousted, took a video and then buggered off! Thanks lads. Festival life – you deal with it.

It was early evening and getting a bit chilly, so I went back to get my jeans on, and a fleece. I got back to the Obelisk to catch the last few songs of Loyle Carner. As I arrived he started up “Loose Ends”, a recent single which I really like. Jon and I saw him in the afternoon at Field Day a few years ago, and it was a bit repetitive. He’s much slicker now, and really had the big crowd on his side. The youth were out in force for him, including the young kids, many of whom bounced up and down on parents’ shoulders. Made getting a decent photo impossible, but it was a lovely atmosphere, even in the rain which had crept in. Like Stormzy at Glastonbury, he declared it the greatest moment of his life. He finished with one of his first ever songs, “No CDs”, harking back to the days when it was a struggle to get anyone to listen. A touching moment in a triumphant performance.

And then, to finish the evening off, another remarkable performance. Primal Scream in the BBC Sounds tent. This was an hour of pure joy – a greatest hits show by a band that was pioneering in the 1990s and also really knows the meaning of rock’n’roll. They kicked off with “Moving on Up” and followed that with “Jailbird”, and you just knew this was going to be special. The band were tight, and Billy Gillespie looked cool in pink suit and shirt. The performance of “Loaded” midway through the set was epic, and gave me a shivers-down-the-spine moment. The great songs just kept coming: “Higher than the Sun”, “Swastika Eyes”, “Country Girl”, “Rocks Off” and an imperious “Come Together”. Just magnificent: best show of a terrific first day; one of the best Latitude shows ever.

Oh, and Connie said George Ezra was fantastic!

Saturday 20 July

What a day! And it started with the band that I love more than any other these days: Honeyblood. Stina and Co were playing the Obelisk at 12.15. I bored my gang into submission and they all came along. I did wonder how many people would turn up, and I so wanted them to be a success. No worries – there was a decent crowd and they responded enthusiastically to a set which gave the first album, “Honeyblood” a good airing, as well as putting the emphasis on the rock’n’roll. Stina and the band looked great and played with real confidence. “The Third Degree” got a positive reaction from my lot, and the consensus was that the whole show was pretty good. “Sea Hearts” got things off to a rousing start. Early songs “Biro” and “Anywhere but Here” were nice additions to the set they played at Citadel. New songs “Glimmer” and “She’s a Nightmare” showed their live worth; first album classics “Super Rat” and “Killer Bangs” went down really well and there was the storming finish you always want to see: “Babes Never Die” and “Ready for the Magic”. A perfect start to the day. And there was a bonus round the corner…

We stayed on at the Obelisk to catch the stars of Sunderland, The Futureheads. I’ve always quite liked their jerky indie beats. “Decent Days and Nights” was a good song, and their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” was a quirky delight. They started the show in good form; but after three songs the music stopped. An electrical storm was approaching and there was a power down. I used the opportunity to wander down to The Alcove, with the intention of seeing a jazz-funky duo called Project Karnak. I’d heard a really good track called “Temple” on Latitude’s Spotify playlist. On the way down there was something close to a hailstorm. In the Alcove I hung around for about half an hour before a band called Heron Dance came on. They were good, but not Project Karnak! I never did see them.

The Danish Quarter, or Danish bar as we call it, arrived a couple of years ago when Carlsberg took over from Tuborg as monopoly supplier of lager to Latitude. It’s all there is, so you drink it. The bar itself is a good meeting point and there’s a great atmosphere in there at times, especially late at night, when people get dancing. Luke Wright had earlier had a dig it it as a tipping point in the commercialisation of Latitude, for it ousted the Poetry tent, which was merged with the Literary tent and re-named the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy is excellent, but the number of poets getting a chance to perform at Latitude has dropped dramatically. That is a real shame. But the Danish bar delivered a real treat for me today, as Stina from Honeyblood played a solo set at 4.30!  I’d seen her do this before, at Leith Theatre in Edinburgh last year, at the Hidden Doors festival. Her songs work well in the context. As Stina put it, the angry songs – and there are plenty of those – become sad songs. The set overlapped with the earlier full band show, but we had a couple of different ones from the first album: “Bud” and “Fall Forever”. That first album obviously means a lot to her; and its rawness and simplicity is ideal for live performance. It was an intimate set, especially once the security guard had relented and let us move close up – at Stina’s request. The place was full and she received a great reception. She looked delighted to be doing it, which was good to see. And she is talking about taking the Lonerblood show on the road. Hope it makes it to London.

I then dashed over to Solas, in the woods opposite In the Woods, and by the lakeside where the pink sheep graze. It’s a chillout area with a small stage, which puts on up-and-coming and a few left-field acts. Shane, Jon and I saw one of those late on Friday night, which was an absolute shocker – the Intergalactic Republic of Kongo.  Avoid at all costs, unless you like being abused for not dancing by a man with a Messiah complex! I’ll say no more. But I was at Solas on Saturday afternoon for Maisie Peters. I was rather hoping the power down earlier might have delayed her show a little, so I could see all of it, but I don’t think it had been, and I caught half of it. I’ve been listening to her songs a lot recently, having been put on to her by Line of Best Fit magazine earlier this year. They are simple love songs mostly, lost or found. Maisie herself describes them as emo girl pop. They aren’t exactly written for people like me, but she has a beautiful voice and they are lovely tunes. She’s getting pretty popular and sold out the Scala recently. I had a ticket for that, but didn’t go in the end, which I rather regret now. Anyway, she was just singing her most recent single “Favourite Ex” when I got there, and I did hear my favourite song “Feels Like This”, which is up there with Freya’s “Lost Without You” for me. The sound was a bit thin and I felt her vocals weren’t mixed up enough; but it was good to see how she performs live. A bit to develop, but she has the advantage of some very good songs that speak to her generation.

 

On the way to the Sunrise for a couple of shows, I stopped off at the Lake stage, to catch a bit of Hull punk band Life. They were lively, and Nadine Shah, who had been on in the BBC Sounds tent earlier, guested on the last song. Seemed like an unlikely combination, but she was having a lot of fun. I wished I hadn’t dawdled around Solas for a bit after Maisie Peters as I think I might have enjoyed seeing a bit more of Life.  Over to the Sunrise, first up was Ider, who are fronted by two music graduates, Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, from Falmouth University, which I have an interest in as one of my daughters is going there in September.  I’d not heard of them before, but really liked their sound. It’s essentially modern dance-pop, enhanced by some pounding basslines and some rousing choruses where the excellent harmonies of the two really come to the fore. My predictions of who is going to be big are rarely right, but I see a successful future for Ider. Hope it’s not the kiss of death! One of the discoveries of this Latitude.

Life ft Nadine Shah!

Ider

And then it was more noise. A very big noise, generated by the awesome Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, or Pigs x 7 as they are commonly known. They make songs – songs? – that resemble the architecture of their native Newcastle: dark and foreboding and with a certain magnificence. A big blast of raw power, with singer Matt Baty howling over the riffs. God knows what he is singing. They come from the school of Black Sabbath, bulked up for the modern age. As much punk as metal, but a brutal combination of both. Like Crows, but even heavier! And so it proved live. It was a phenomenon. At times it feels like the chords are being wrenched out, like having a tooth extracted with no anaesthetic! At first I thought it was a bit ponderous (like Sabbath can be) but by the end I was won over. They finished with “A66”, which I know and rather like. It’s about a road up north. Any more than that I can’t tell you. It was pretty wild. An experience I may repeat at Green Man and End of the Road – if I can take it.

Reeling from Pigs x 7, we staggered back to the Danish bar for a drink, then went up to the Obelisk, to see the first of the two headliners, Stereophonics. They stepped in to replace Snow patrol, two of whose members have neck injuries. I’d not seen Stereophonics before, so was quite looking forward to it. They’ve got a fair number of songs I like, without my ever having been a big fan. And they put on a good, slick show. An hour and 40 minutes tested my patience a little, but I enjoyed the acoustic interlude, which included an excellent “Handbags and Gladrags” (which I remember principally as a Rod Stewart song, though his was a cover version too). And all the hits were there: my favourites being “Have a Nice Day” and “Just Looking”. Jon got his favourite, “Dakota” right at the end.

For us, Stereophonics were just the warm up though: because now it was time for Underworld. One of the great electronic groups of the 90s and 2000s. Core members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith. I particularly loved their 90s albums, “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” (great title), “Second Toughest in the Infants” and “Beaucoup Fish”. And of course they are responsible for the great British anthem “Born Slippy” with its infamous cry of lager, lager, lager! I’d not seen them live before, but was expecting great things. And I was not disappointed – it was truly amazing. An extraordinary confluence of massive beats and dazzling lights, washes of synth and huge drops. The place, under the night sky, was ablaze. The crowd, silhouetted against the lights, arms aloft. Karl Hyde pranced around, submerged in dry ice, his vocals as disembodied as ever. “King of Snake” was a highlight, but the moment of moments was at the last, of course. As soon as the opening motif of “Born Slippy” echoed from the speakers, the place went ape. And lager, lager, lager truly was a spiritual experience! More shivers down the spine throughout. At the end we were all exhilarated, on a high. This was as good as the live concert experience can get, the moment when the Obelisk, which is often so annoying – with all the picnickers, people talking, showing off, paying scant attention to the music – came into its own. A large scale arena for a large scale phenomenon. There was only one thing to do at the end: go back to the Danish bar, drink some lager and talk about it!

Sunday 21 July

No chillout at the Sunrise to start of the musical day this year, so we went along to see Let’s Eat Grandma in the BBC Sounds tent. They’ve changed a lot over the last year or so. The new album is a lot more mainstream dance-pop than the first, though it retains some quirks. And when they came on stage they actually spoke! Which they continued to do throughout the set. That first album and the tracks that got us all interested, like “Deep Six Textbook”, “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” and “Rapunzel” have all been axed, but there were some interesting moments; and the tribute to their friend Billy Clayton, who died quite recently, was touching. They played along to a track of him singing. I enjoyed the show, mainly because it was interesting to see a young band developing musically. But I missed the earlier originality.

Someone forgot to take off the Slaves backdrop!

After that we wandered up to watch a band called Palace on the Obelisk. It was a lovely sunny day, after the mixed weather of Saturday, and the music of Palace chimed with the mood. Jaunty indie-pop, with chiming guitars and some nice solos. I heard elements of Two Door Cinema Club and Vampire Weekend in the sound, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another band to explore further.  They were followed by a real discovery on the Lake stage. Both Louis and I were enthusing about a song called “Bad Blood” by Working Men’s Club. I’d heard it a few times on 6 Music. The Fall clearly an influence, but guitar motifs which were more out of the Only Ones’ or Strokes’ songbook. Live, the look and intonation of the singer Sydney Minskey-Sargeant was definitely Mark.E.Smith, but the music was extremely varied, some of it heavily electronic, some guitar thrash and one that had strong undertones of Joy Division. We were all pretty excited about this band. Looking forward to hearing more from them.

Working Men’s Club

Back to the Obelisk next for Pale Waves, one of Connie’s favourites. They are a Manchester band, with an interesting look. Singer/guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran both favour Goth, while the bassist and guitarist are classic indie boys. The music, with its big choruses, reminded me of a lot of 80s stuff – Cyndi Lauper sprang to mind for some reason – and Heather’s voice had a warble which was similar to the sadly departed Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The songs were classic teenage angst and in my notes I wrote Goth pop. It got a great reaction from the crowd – this is clearly a band going places.

Afterwards, in the BBC Sounds tent, I watched a little of Sons of Kemet, one of the high tempo jazz bands that are a bit of a trend at the moment. Sons of Kemet featured the obligatory wild saxophonist and a tuba player who was in effect playing the bass lines. Louis was enthusiastic about them. I was so-so, but another of the ilk was to come later. Read on. I got myself some food and sat on the grass/dust by the Lake Stage to eat it. At this point a soul singer called Celeste came on. She sounded good. After I’d eaten, I ventured forward and caught her show properly. She and her band were excellent. She had a great voice and the band played a cool accompaniment. It reminded me a lot of the music I used to love in the 80s and the 90s – the likes of Anita Baker, Erykah Badu and, yes, Sade. Two songs near the end stood out for me: “Love is Back”, which had a great sax solo, and a lovely balled called “Strange”, with just Celeste and the pianist. There was a lovely, simple lyric which I noted down: Isn’t it strange, how people change, from strangers to friends, from friends to lovers, and to strangers again. Check out Celeste – she has soul.

Sons of Kemet

Celeste

And that brings me to one of the shows I was really looking forward to. Julia Jacklin in the BBC Sounds tent. I love her new album “Crushed”, as I did her first “Don’t Let the Kids Win”. I was so looking forward to her playing “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, my favourite track of the year so far. And she did, five songs in, just after Louis had left! But Rick was there. I loved it – such a beautiful, moving song, and two wonderful guitar solos, which I just wish were longer. Then it could be a real Neil Young-style epic! Julia likes to start her shows with something downbeat. Not sure why. So it had to be “Body” from the new album. I was OK with it – it’s a great song. I wonder about the uninitiated. The set was a nice mix of old and new, with plenty of her higher tempo songs like “Pool Party” and the new track “Pressure to Party” which is about feeling obliged to have fun after you’ve just split up and would rather wallow in your misery. A classic Julia Jacklin theme, which also features in the song that followed “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, “Turn Me Down”. It’s a song of two parts, and in the second there is a real cry of anguish. It takes a lot of singing I should think, and is really affecting. Those two were one of the highlights of my Latitude, for sure. Another of the top songs from the new album, “Head Alone”, had the added interest of a guest vocal from fellow Aussie Stella Donnelly. And the two of them reappeared during the next show at the same venue, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.  I like their music on record; a rumbling Americana, which has some resemblance to The War on Drugs. Live, I found it lieable, but a bit samey. So halfway through I went off to get myself some more food, before another of the shows which I was most looking forward to.

Julia and Stella with the Rolling Blackouts

Yes, it was time for the very wonderful Chvrches. They were on the Obelisk, second on the bill, just like in 2016 when they played one of the greatest shows I have seen at Latitude. Since then we have had a new album in 2018, “Love is Dead”, and a lot of the songs came from that. I’d put it third amongst their three albums – it’s a very accomplished electro-pop piece, but with less of the edge and variety of the first two, particularly the debut “The Bones of What You Believe”. My two favourite songs, “Lies” and “Tether”, have long been ousted from the set, though “Sink”, “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” survive – the latter always one of the closers. The show was a dazzling display, with Lauren Mayberry wearing a translucent dress that almost looked like a wedding outfit. You wouldn’t wear the black platform boots down the aisle though. Unless you were a Goth, I suppose. “Get Out”, from the new album, was a great opener, and set the tone for most of the set. They had obviously thought about the audience and said, we’ll play all our dance tunes. And it worked a treat – but left me wanting a bit more light and shade. I loved “Clearest Blue”, and “The Mother we Share” is always an uplifting moment. And I won’t quibble – you have to play for the moment. So, a triumph; but I’m looking forward to seeing them in Princes Gardens in Edinburgh on 11 August. Back in Scotland – will they go back to their roots a bit more? I hope so.

We skipped Lana del Rey on the Obelisk and Slaves in the BBC Sounds tent (seen them twice now, which is enough) and headed down to the Sunrise Arena for the headliners there, The Japanese House. (Except there was a late night show too…read on). Connie went off to the Lavish Lounge, also in the Woods, to see a not-so-secret show by Pale Waves, given that Heather had announced it at the Obelisk earlier! Japanese House are Amber Bain and band. She played in the BBC 6 Music tent in 2017 and I enjoyed that. Back home I downloaded all her EPs. They were mostly mellow songs with electronic beats and twin-tracked vocals. So I expected more of the same in the darkness of the Sunrise. In fact it was more guitar-based and Amber Bain, who is the Japanese House really, shared the vocals with her keyboard player to give the echoey effect. The show had a nice vibe. Amber was very grateful that we were there rather than at Lana del Rey and at one point played a little tribute to “Video Games”, which segued into “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. Unless it was actually her own song “I saw You in a Dream”, I’m now saying to myself. Well, whatever, it was good! As was the whole show, which had a dreamy quality despite the prevalence of guitars. A chance to chill before what was coming next…

The Comet is Coming! My God, they were amazing! We all knew “Summon the Fire” from radio plays, but live, what a performance! I was amazed there were only three in the band. Keyboard player Dan Leavers, drummer Max Hallett and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. They make such a big noise. Over the hour I don’t think there were more than three or four pieces, but what is not in doubt that “Summon the Fire” was early on and was incredible. The beats pumped out by Dan were awesome and Shabaka’s sax was just a force of nature. Coltrane squared! The whole performance was an intense experience: the flashing lights, the hardcore techno beats and the rampant sax. It was the jazz Underworld! How Shabaka kept going, given the breath you have to put into the sax, I don’t know. Dan went crazy on his keyboards, and Max had his mega drum solo near the end. An hour was enough, especially so late on, but wow! It was brilliant, and summed up the wonder of Latitude. The press write about the Obelisk headliners, but meanwhile this stuff is going on. All those comments about genteel middle class Waitrose shoppers are so much bullshit if you acknowledge the whole experience. Mine is focused on music. Others go for the spoken word, film, comedy, cabaret, whatever. It isn’t just about George Ezra, Stereophonics and Lana del Rey, though there is nothing wrong with them. They are crucial, and give us all the space to enjoy what we like.

As we did every night, we went back to our tents via the Co-op, with its disco music blaring – I’d love to see this happening in the South Ealing store! –  and bought provisions, usually including some South African white wine.  Then we sat around chatting about our days until it got cold and we felt tired. It was a lovely end to each day, and something we will always remember.

Was the music of Latitude 2019 the best ever? It feels like it right now, but you need time to reflect and place it in the canon. But for sure Underworld, Primal Scream, Honeyblood (x2), The Comet is Coming, Julia Jacklin, Chvrches, Ider, Maisie Peters, Freya Ridings, Celeste, Working Men’s Club, Pigs x 7, Crows and The Murder Capital will be making the case, along with all the others I’ve enjoyed this year.

We’ll be back in 2020!

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Citadel Festival, Gunnersbury Park, 14 July 2019

This weekend, Gunnersbury Park, a large park close to the A4 and the North Circular as they meet at Chiswick roundabout in West London, played host to the Lovebox and Citadel festivals. Put simply, Lovebox is rap, soul and dance, while Citadel caters largely for indie tastes, including the mild-mannered millennial sounds. There’s a bit of dance thrown in via the DJ sets, but Lovebox is the one if that’s your main interest. Both shows have mostly taken place in North and East London, but they made their way to Gunnersbury last year, and returned this weekend. It’s all down to local authority attitudes and finances. Anyway the new location suited me just fine, as I could walk to the site in 15-20 minutes. Citadel was my selection, as you could predict if you follow this blog. I couldn’t go last year, as the festival coincided with Latitude; but Latitude is next week, so a line up that included Honeyblood, Fontaines DC, Murder Capital, Dream Wife, Squid and Tiniwaren seemed too good to resist.  Headliners on the main stage were Catfish and the Bottlemen and Bastille. Both highly popular bands, who attracted large crowds and ecstatic support. But neither are really my thing, so don’t read on if that is what you are hoping to read about. There’s nothing more about them! Oh, OK, here’s a photo of the Catfish and the Bottlemen show, from a distance. I stayed for three songs, before I decided to go home to catch the highlights of the World Cup cricket and the Wimbledon men’s tennis final. Both amazing events.

So let’s now go back to the beginning. I’m just writing about the bands I watched all or a decent chunk of. I caught bits and pieces of others, but nothing to spend time writing about here. And there’s one band I can’t feature, because of a really annoying clash. Honeyblood and Fontaines DC were on at the same time. They were the two bands I most wanted to see. I’ve never seen Fontaines DC, but love their debut album “Dogrel”. Definitely a contender for my 2019 top ten. But I couldn’t bring myself to miss Honeyblood, even though I’ll be seeing them again at Latitude in a few days time. My favourite band, simple as that. I’ll catch Fontaines DC at End of the Road later this summer.

At the start I was there with Jon G, his daughter Connie and son Louis, and Louis’ friend Gabrielle. We got there early, to catch Inhaler on the Main Stage at 12.30. One of three Dublin bands to feature – the others being Fontaines DC and Murder Capital. Inhaler are a young band, playing lively rock which reminded me a little of early U2. And the singer resembled the young Bono too, as I remarked to Louis. I sent a photo to a few friends on WhatsApp, and DC replied that Bono’s son was in the band, and was in fact the singer. So, there you go – I had no idea! Anyway, they were pretty good, and have a promising future, as long as they don’t fall foul of the anti-U2 brigade in the media. Being in the pro-U2 brigade, I wish them luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up for me was Banfi, in one of the two tented stages, the Communion stage. I think all the bands on the stage may have been part of the same music label, or promotional organisation. I didn’t know anything about the band, but the blurb on the Citadel talked about off-kilter indie, which sounded interesting. I enjoyed their sound – a melodic indie, with bursts of guitar, which sounded very much as if they might be from the Liverpool area. A little post-event research tells me that the singer guitarist is Joe Banfi and he is from Chester. So, another correct hunch! I’ll definitely give their recorded music a listen.

Then it was over to the DIY tent (aka the Big Top) for Squid. They have been creating a bit of a stir on 6 Music recently. The music is pretty bonkers – a mixture of riffing, noodly bits and a fair bit of screaming. Their song “Houseplants” is, in a bizarre way, really catchy. And the show confirmed all of these elements. The drummer, Ollie Judge, is also the main singer, though a couple of others do some semi-spoken bits. I guess if you wanted to categorise the sound, it’s an updated 80s post-punk. The spirit of the Fall and the Gang of Four is in there, but maybe Talking Heads too, especially lyrically. And they are there in with Pom Poko in spirit, amongst up-and-coming bands. I have to say the performance made me smile a lot, too. It combines the daft and the brilliant. What is really going on there, I don’t really know. But it is a hoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed in the DIY tent for the next act, the Murder Capital. Another Dublin “punk” band, but not really punk. There’s rather more to them. Their debut album is out soon, and, to be honest, I’d heard more about their reputation than their music. But I was impressed, as soon as they appeared on stage. They were dressed as if they could be in Reservoir Dogs, and had a real stage presence. The music had a real power. Think of Shame, to take a recent band, and add a bit more melody and a bit more threat. I didn’t stay for the whole show, as I needed to catch Dream Wife; but I shall certainly be back to see them again at some of the other music festivals I’m going to over the summer.

Dream Wife were on the Main Stage. That meant their effect was diluted a bit – the perennial problem of playing in the sunshine in mid-afternoon – but they did a good job of engaging the crowd and getting people to sing along to the choruses of songs like “Somebody”: I am not my body, I am somebody!  Singer Rakel Mjoll was her usual ebullient self, and the riffs were sparky. I’d have preferred to see them in one of the tents, but, in fairness, they got to engage with a lot more people being on the Main Stage, and the reaction was enthusiastic. Good for future sales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for the one I cared about most. Honeyblood in the Communion tent. I got there with about 15 minutes to go, with the sound checks still going on. There weren’t many people around at that point, and I just hoped that plenty would turn up. They did – the place was pretty full as the show got going. It was only half an hour, and Stina obviously decided to go for broke and play the rock’n’roll. Makes sense, and it went down really well. What was good to see was a lot of young people down the front dancing and singing the words. Like they do for all popular bands; but this was one of those occasions where I really wanted the band to do well, and not be relying on plaudits from oldies like me. It’s an issue for any indie band that draws its inspiration from the music of many decades – you might end up with an audience a fair bit older than you are. I always wonder how that feels.  Grateful for the money and the support, I’m sure, but wondering what happened to your own generation.  Anyway, it was the perfect short set: the singles from the new album “In Plain Sight” and the no-nonsense classics from the first two albums. Real high energy, and Stina and her band looking like they were enjoying themselves. For anyone who loves Honeyblood, this was the setlist as I recall it: The Third Degree – Super Rat – Glimmer – Killer Bangs – Sea Hearts – Babes Never Die – She’s a Nightmare – Ready for the Magic. You can’t get much better than that!

I milled around a bit after Honeyblood. Bought myself a bratwurst and another tinny lager and basked in the sun, listening to the techno sounds belting out from the Blu Stage for a bit. Watched a little bit of Jade Bird then wandered back to the DIY tent to catch the Korean indie band Hyukoh. The blurb claimed they were the hottest band in Asia right now – in the indie world, I assume, given that there are K-Pop bands selling out Wembley Stadium. There was a decent crowd, and a very enthusiastic core of fans upfront, shrieking with glee at the start of every song. The music was pretty good – jagged riffs and guitar workouts combined with some incongruous melodies that came from a more traditional pop base. The band were deliberately low profile with no histrionics. A deliberate indie insouciance. Interesting.

I’d had a fair bit of ear-bashing by this point, so thought I’d try out something a bit more mellow, in what had been the Sunday Papers Live tent, featuring comedy in an enclave in between the main stage and DIY tent. It was a Sofar Sounds production, featuring a band called Montrell. Sofar Sounds put on informal gigs around London in all sorts of different spaces. You can sign up to their mailing list and get wind of what is going on. I’ve not been to one yet, but friends who have been have loved them. The nature of the shows is that they are acoustic or electric with the sound kept at a subtle level. A bit like those guest appearances they have at the BBC base camp during Glastonbury. Montrell were just right for the vibe. Tuneful, a little bit jazzy, gently rolling beats. Perfect for chilling out. Interrupted at first by the excitement across the way in a bar with a TV showing the cricket, but it was a lovely way to wind down a little.

I stayed longer than planned at Montrell, so I missed the first half of Tiniwaren, headlining the DIY stage. But the second half: wow! I know the band, have listened to a bit of their music, but had never seen them live. They were extraordinary. They look extraordinary, for a start. Dressed for the Sahara – they are Tuaregs from Northern Mali. But the thing that really hooked me was the sound of the guitars. There’s a kind of drone in the background, and the guitars – there are a few – jangle and soar over that. Sometimes with a heavy distortion that Jimmy Page would have been happy to emulate. The desert blues. Some years ago, I really liked the music of Ali Farka Toure, also from Mali. Tiniwaren are following in his footsteps, but with a bit more of a rock feel. I felt a shiver down the spine at one point listening to those guitars and the insistent chants that accompanied them. It was the revelation of the festival for me.

And that was it. I watched a couple of Catfish songs, marvelling at their popularity, and how everyone seemed to know the words. I briefly halted on the way out to watch a DJ set putting dance beats over pop classics in the Sweet Spot tent, with loads of people dancing – refugees from the indie guitar on the main stage, I guess. Everything else was finished. And I got home in time to watch England winning the cricket World Cup against New Zealand in the most bizarre way, and Roger Federer losing the men’s tennis final to Novak Djokovic in an epic five set struggle.

Quite a day. Latitude next!

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Kylie at Hampton Court Palace, 21 June 2019

KYLIE! Our favourite Aussie pop star is back in Europe for a tour, which recently took in the Legends slot at Glastonbury, as British and Irish readers may have seen on the BBC. I still haven’t watched that show on the iPlayer, but I did see her back in June, when she played a couple of nights at Hampton Court Palace. It’s a lovely place for a concert, surrounded by the historic buildings and grounds. The place seems to glow as the sun goes down if the weather is kind, as it was when we went to see Kylie. We had the added benefit of drinks and dinner as part of a hospitality package, courtesy of my good friend Dave. All in the beautiful grounds, with the sun shining, and then the tapestry-walled halls that date back to the time of King Henry VIII. Not my normal preparation for a concert, which is usually a couple of pints in a nearby pub – except of course when we go to the Roundhouse, when a visit to the magnificent Sushi Salsa by Camden Lock is obligatory! We like a bit of luxury in our old age!

Kylie burst onto the pop scene – having starred in Aussie soap “Neighbours” –  with the Madonna-lite single “I Should Be So Lucky” in 1988. She was in the vanguard of the Stock-Aitken and Waterman takeover of the pop charts, with shiny, tinny, bouncy dance tunes. At the time they seemed like the evil empire to me; but you couldn’t really dislike Kylie. She was just so nice.

Two things really increased my appreciation of what she was doing. First she upped the tempo, introduced some harder rhythms and made some of her best songs, like “What Do I Have To Do?” and “Shocked”. The NME, with only a hint of irony, dubbed this her Sexkylie era – mainly because of the accompanying videos. Second, my wife Kath and I saw her in Paris in 1990, in a smallish venue in Montmartre, either La Cigalle or the Elysee Montmartre. She’d initially been scheduled for a much bigger venue, but obviously hadn’t sold enough tickets for that. I can imagine some artists either cancelling or sulking through the show. Not Kylie! She put on the full show, really gave it her all. It was brilliant. I always respected her for that.

She then went a bit indie, and inevitably her sales dropped. You grow up, want to be taken more seriously, and your audience doesn’t all move with you. A familiar tale. There was a revival in 2000, when Kylie sang at the Sydney Olympics and released “Spinning Around”. That was followed in 2001 by maybe her greatest song, a genuine dancefloor classic, “I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. Still love that tune.

Since then I’d struggle to name a song I really liked, but I haven’t listened to that much. She had a well-documented battle with breast cancer, in which her dignity and determination was an inspiration to many. And now she tours from time to time, makes well-reviewed records, and is just a bit of an icon.

Which brings us to the show at Hampton Court. The weather was fine, but we were in the covered area, just in case. It’s slightly further back than I’ve been for previous concerts, so the photos are taken from a longer distance.  But what a great show it was! All the hits, a total celebration. Everyone stood up from the first moment, and stayed up for the whole show. Much swaying, tapping of feet, nodding of heads, clapping, singing along. Not too extravagant – the average age was middling! But a total joy.

It was the early hits that received the greatest acclaim. “I Should be So Lucky”, early on, was a bit of an anthem, as was the once-excruciating duet with Jason Donovan, “Especially For You”. “Do The Locomotion” near the end was another.  My favourites were a bit underplayed, especially “What Do I Have To Do?”. Not that it mattered very much; it was all just a lot of fun. The sets were elaborate, there were loads of dancers, and Kylie went through a fair number of costume changes. All very elegant. All part of the mature artist, still drawing on her past, still exuding the energy and sheer enjoyment of those great pop songs, but adapting it to the present. A masterful transition.

“Spinning Around” ended the show. A fitting finale. A song you just have to love. And an artist you just have to love too, as her reception at Glastonbury showed. Joyous pop – you always need a bit of that.

A few more photos.

Kylie enters!

 

K-Y-L-I-E!!!

 

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