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Monday, 27 July 2015

Wickerman 2015 - Part One

Festivals by their nature are hit and miss with the entertainment provided.
Not because they are apt to look to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but simply because a crowd of thousands of people with different tastes can’t be kept happy all the time.
For every stage that is visited that provides the hit there will always be one that delivers a personal miss.
It’s expected, and it doesn't mean the miss isn't entertaining, but rather that it fails to be to the individuals liking.
It’s nothing more or less than that, and when you stumble across that act that doesn’t work for you then the search continues for something that does, and a well balanced festival will provide it.

This however wasn't my experience of Wickerman 2015 though.
Instead it was a whirlwind of quality that often left me reeling.
Acts after act defied the odds and resolutely failed to disappoint.
Musically I didn't experience a singular downside at all.
When asked to name a favourite moment I can’t.
It’s not possible.
Each time I thought I had witnessed the jewel in the performance crown another act would mirror the experience.
From Hector Bizerk to The Sonics the Scooter tent relentlessly hit the spot.
From Julian Cope to The Waterboys the main stage was firing on all cylinders.
If there was any criticism to be levelled at the organizers then it would be that I didn’t have time to check out the other tents and stages with the exception of a hit and run on the acoustic tent to catch Little Fire.

One thing that was highlighted by Esperanza, Halfrican and Hector Bizerk was that we are not short of home grown talent.
It would be entirely possible to have not just a stage, but a festival, dedicated to Scottish acts and it would be a shock and awe assault on those who claim that we fall short of delivering acts ready to take on the world

Garage rockers Halfrican – who were in the Scooter tent - on vinyl sound like a collaboration between The Ramones and Jesus and Mary Chain looking to deliver a grungy surf rock release, but live it’s cleaner, clearer, less lo-fi and more power pop in the delivery.
I'm not even sure what I prefer between the two.
The dirt, or the sheen?
Both are equally attractive propositions, but the latter was probably more suited to the festival environment where they had the opportunity to attract people in with a bit of aural honey rather than a more abrasive set that would have left some on the ropes wondering what had hit them.

Then there was Hector Bezerk who initially raised some concerns among the punk rock aficionados as they were seen to be an odd fit for the stage, but their set was probably the most punk rock of all as they pushed at the boundaries of hip hop.
The journey from frontman Louie when solo spitting out Glaswegian accented rhymes to the initial sound of Hector Bizerk to the current one is a fast paced delight.
Here is an act that are not only redefining hip hop, but are now at the point of their evolution that they would not appear out of place if they took to the pyramid stage at Glastonbury to fill a prime time spot.
What we are seeing is evolution in action speeded up.
As they expand ever further into dabbling in other genres they are laying down the foundations to be a very important band.
If there is one act that it would be said that you must catch now if you want to be ahead of the curve then this is that act.

Esperanza are in many ways the polar opposite to Hector Bizerk as they are not looking to reinvent the wheel.
Instead they are honing the ska sound to sharp perfection.
They are becoming the lean mean skanking machine that others aim for but often fall short of having the stamina to nail as soundly as they do.
The turn out in the tent was an unsigned bands dream come true and the capacity crowd were taken through their paces exhaustively.
Again there is no reason at all why the band is not gracing larger stages.
Even with a Commonwealth games appearance tucked under their collective belts there is far more on offer than that one hit and run moment into the wider publics consciousness.
If there was another wave of 2-tone/ska to rise then Esperanza would be on the crest of it.
Undoubtedly if anyone is looking for a band that can guarantee to get a festival crowd on their feet to dance then they needn’t look any further.
If they aren’t on the main stage in 2016 then someone will have dropped the ball.
I would have had them signing a contract when they were seconds off the stage and still on a high from the performance and well deserved reception.

Moving on from the Scottish acts it’s fair to say that others on the bill at Wickerman were out to ensure that they weren’t left in the shade.
I’ve been a long time admirer of TV Smith and consider him as an unsung hero.
That being the case I was looking forward to his set and again it was a sublime experience.
Passionately eloquent he is the punk rock Dylan.
Bob, not Thomas.
From the start of his set to the end he relentlessly powered through a solid half hour of his back catalogue and kept the older fans happy by giving some focus to The Adverts period with his acoustic renditions of the 1977 double header of Gary Gilmours Eyes and Bored Teenagers drawing attention to how flaccidly bland the mainstream music scene currently is.
It’s not that there’s a dearth of talent.
It’s that there’s a dearth of investment in it.
In an ideal world TV Smith would be the elder statesman of rock.
A man with a message that is relevant to us all, and the ability to put it across with no quarter given.
What’s not to like?

The Ramonas are becoming a Wickerman mainstay.
While the festival isn't known for gravitating towards promoting tribute bands they are the exception to the rule.
Maybe there’s a throwback to the days that Claire of AntiProduct played as The Ramonas was originally her baby.
Who knows, but with the timeless sound of onetwofrefo bursting out it’s a call to arms for some aging punks to recommit to the gabba-gabba-hey.
I would have been in my element, but Julian Cope was on the main stage and over previous years our stars have failed to align on the solstice and our paths had not crossed so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to get to grips with the shamanistic madness on offer
Okay, it’s true that there were more bemused looks on the faces of those facing the main stage than rapt adulation, but this was Julian Cope, a man whose dalliance with hallucinogenics is well recorded.
If you play knock knock on the door of perception it’s Julian that will answer and as I had no expectations other than his set was going to be an ‘experience’ there was no preconceived idea of what was required for it to tick all the boxes.
It turns out that all that is required to enjoy Saint Julian is an ability to let go.
Just to allow yourself to live in the moment and if you can do that then it all makes sense.
Maybe not in hindsight, but within the moment it all works.
Every quip, every random verbal segue, every song approached can scream on paper that it shouldn't work, but it does.
His whole appearance at Wickerman on the main stage begs the question of who thought this was a good idea, but thankfully someone did.
While some may thank the gods that there is only one Julian Cope there are those of us who are very pleased that there is actually one as who needs tow anyway?
Here we have a unique artist, one who is willing to explore the fringes and come back bearing gifts from lands were angels fear to tread.

Insanity never tasted so good. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The veteran curmudgeon guide to festivals.

(A light hearted consideration of what has went wrong)

1) Gazebo glampers aka Your land is our land.

Half an hour after putting the tent up
and this monstrosity appears.
That, the blue one, a small one, a gazebo out of sight and more
space sectioned off for three adults and two kids.
Begone roughing it.
The modern festival goer requires a home from home apparently.
Or a bigger home from home.
No longer will a single sleeping bag and tent suffice.
Downsizing and embracing minimalism has went out of fashion.
This is the era of land occupation.
Today Glastonbury, T in the Park, Wickerman and tomorrow we annex Poland.
Modern day festival goers are now the lord's and ladies of all they see as first arrivals stake a claim and section off space to meet their requirements using marquee sized dome tents with multiple compartments, a gazebo, another tent for storage, yet another one for the kids, a second gazebo, strategically placed windbreakers and enough crime scene tape to stretch to the moon and back.
Why take an inch when a mile is on offer is the motto.
The bare minimum for two adults and one child works out at about an acre per person.

It's rumoured that they found Lady Haversham in an unused wing of an abandoned cavernous tent at the Bestival site.
The poor woman hadn't been seen by anyone in two years and was surviving on dust motes.

With the tiny house movement gaining traction globally and a family of five imaginatively managing to live in a shoebox it seems it's left to festival attendees to buck the trend and supersize their accommodation as much as possible.
Gone are the days of one sleeping bag and a two man tent shared between six drunken students.
Unless you have a reading room, a conservatory and guest room in your tent then you aren't doing it right.

We (old folk) used to look at tents laid out in front of us as we crested the hill and considered that a thousand laid out before us would approximately mean three thousand people in the camp site.
Now it's the opposite with a thousand tents being occupied by a hundred.

All well and good as who doesn't like some room to swing their cat?
Unless of course you aren't arriving within the first hour and are left arguing over a postage stamp sized plot of land in the outskirts of shanty town.
Then it's pish.

2) Babyshambles

Kids at festivals enjoying new experiences with their parents are great.
Lord of the flies packs roaming around are not.
Tarquin is not being impish when he and Annabelle play steal the tent pegs.
Eight year old Lucinda wandering around the campsite looking for mummy at 3am is not cute.
A festival is not a Club 4-10 holiday and there is no prize for how many - no questions asked - single Wellington boots can be collected over the weekend.
A festival is not a giant al fresco crèche for parents who think it's character building to abandon their little darlings for twenty hours out of twenty four, and no the dance tent doesn't have a place to leave your pram you sad excuse for an adult.

3) You had to - sort of - be there.

Non festival attendees attending festivals.
Hundreds spent on tickets, hundreds spent on tents and camping equipment, thousands spent on booze, hundreds spent on food.
Festival entertainment participated in?

A weekend of sitting on a folding chair in a gazebo getting pissed and playing shit music at full volume while 'avin it large' is the goal and they've unlocked every master level at doing it.
If they leave the campsite they will lose all credibility with their mates.
Everything they need for a good time is right there.
A crate of Buckfast, the complete set of 'bonkers' downloaded onto the iPod, top quality speakers purchased in poundland and some Lambrini and glow sticks for the kids.
And if you are camped anywhere close enough to hear them then the drunken debate at 3am about how Clarkson leaving Top Gear is a sign of the decline of Western civilization will no doubt be enlightening.

They could get six months all inclusive in Greece for what they shell out for their non participation, but the Greeks have suffered enough so don't tell them.

4) Captive audience capitalism.

Once you enter a festival site the law of supply and demand is all that matters.
Those disposable ponchos at five for a quid you seen last week and didn't bother with will be a fiver for one at the hint of a single raindrop.
A bank of clouds on the horizon can start the prices rising.
A bacon roll can cost the same as a three course meal in a cafe.
You want a coffee?
You can't afford a coffee.
It's something to aspire to.
If one-upmanship is your thing then lounging around with a stall bought coffee will draw admiring glances from other festival punters.
Buy a Grande and they will think you are the headliner.
Grown men have been known to weep at the cost of a pint of Carlsberg.
The phrase 'crying into your beer' was coined at a festival.
You can buy a festival cash converter app for mobile phones now.
You type in what you want to buy, how much it normally costs and then choose the festival you are at and it will supply you with the approximate 500% mark up final figure.

Whoever thought of putting cash machines in festival arenas is a genius too.
It’s funny how they are usually sitting between the on-site bars and the token kiosks that the cashless on-site bars take.
That’s purely coincidental obviously.
And as the tokens are a quid each everything has to be rounded up doesn't it?
Bloody genius and I truly do wish I was on a cut of the profits.
Even though the system boils my blood.
The sign saying drink responsibly next to the other stating the tokens are non refundable is a bit of an oxymoron, but the latter is in a smaller font and most people fail to notice it.
Post festival the paper tokens are only usually good for one thing, and that's breaking the washing machine when you forget to take them out of the pocket of your muddied forty quid Tibetan lounge pants you bought and will never wear again.

5) It's all about the music maaaaaaan.

It's not.

If there are no jugglers, clowns, people dressed as penguins, theatre, art installations that boggle the mind, comedians, poets, dancers, cinema and eccentrics on and off stages and it's just music then it's a gig outside and not really a festival.
How to tell if you have been to a real festival is to ask yourself if you seen something, or experienced something, that you never even knew existed and it in some way enriched your life and if the answer is yes then you get the badge.
If all that happened was that you seen some bands then you aren't trying hard enough, or it's not a real festival.
A hundred bands over three days in a field is not a festival.
Stop fuckin' calling them that.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Last night the World/Inferno Friendship Society saved my live.

Have you ever had one of those days?
The sort that starts off with standing barefoot in cat puke and then rapidly goes downhill from that point onwards?
The sort where it feels like some immature malevolent god has decided that for their own perverse amusement they are going to use their omnipresent powers to ensure that everything that can go wrong will in fact go wrong?
Not just garden variety minor inconvenience wrong, but spectacular apocalyptic movie plot wrong?
One of those patience snapping and misanthropy inducing days that grinds you down so completely that by a certain point you feel physically and mentally beaten?

Well yesterday was my turn for that sort of day.

Quite literally it started off with cat puke between the toes and then there was a twelve hour shift that replicated a journey through the circles of Dantes hell.
All that was missing was a rectal probe from a pineapple.

By the time I was finished I was teetering on the edge of mentally and physically throwing the towel in.
I had reached the point of just wanting to curl up into a ball on the ground and remaining there until I'd turned to dust and the wind carried me away.

But instead I went out to see the World/Inferno Friendship Society and they saved my life.

Not literally.

There was no mouth to mouth or pads on my chest being applied with members of the band shouting 'its alive' as I twitched a finger in response to the surge of electricity that had jerked through me, but instead they figuratively saved it by offering some much needed respite from the daily grind.
A respite that allowed me to recalibrate and open myself up to accepting that the fight ain't over until some misogynist points out that a lady they consider to be outside social norms in the weight department is singing.

And for that I would have to extend my gratitude.

I am truly thankful as here they were residing in their own unique fantasy world inviting us in once again to partake in momentarily stepping away from one reality and giving us some time to frantically engage with one of their own making, and by doing so they provided the perfect antidote to fractious days and abrasive weeks.
Again mucho gracious.

For those who live in a town called ignorance let me enlighten you as to who they are, they are a travelling midsummer night's punk rock circus rolling into town that deal in sonic anarchy that's not for the faint of heart.
It's flamenco jams, off the cuff country and western meanderings, jazz, tribal beats and so much more filtered through a twisted take on cabaret and it all works.
It magnificently works.
It's a smorgasbord of aural madness that sweeps you away on the crest of its own wave.

So if that's your thing, and why wouldn't it be, or it even sounds slightly tempting then consider this as your invite for the next time they hit these shores.
You really don't want to miss them.

However to get the best from what they do those attending should take some advice.
Call it the World/Inferno Friendship Society 101 class.
Here's what the script is. 
You just need to let yourself go.
It won't hurt if you give yourself over to them.
Like the ol' time revivals it's easier to just allow the spirits to take over when they start.
Sing in tongues and dance, dance some more, and when you think your legs can't take any more then offer a prayer to St Vitus and keep dancing.
That's all you have to do.
The band will cover the rest.
And the will cover it in fine style.

If by the end of the show you aren't drenched in sweat, your heart isn't hammering fit to burst and your face isn't sore from smiling then obviously you haven't given yourself over to them and will not have received the full benefits of what they are offering.
That is your fault.
Live with it.
The band can't take any responsibility for your failure to get it.
They will have delivered on their side of the bargain.

Basically they don't want passivity from you.
They want to engage you in symbiotic madness.
To strip away the outer shell and pull a primal scream from you as they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
With these guys in your corner you can proudly proclaim fuck cardio step classes and fuck new age answers to the world's ills.
because here they are with the a fully positive distraction that will recharge your batteries and set you up for going out to fight the good fight.
And let's be brutally honest about this.
Who doesn't need that?

If they were offering this every day then I would be beating a path to their door.
Big pharma would see their profits freefall towards oblivion as people realized that to make the world a better place all they need is a daily dose of The World/Inferno Friendship Society live rather than mood altering chemicals that they have cornered the market on.*

Maybe we need to crowd source the cash to clone these beautiful fuckers so we can have them performing every single day in every single town and city.

Yeah, I've decided that the world I want to live in starts with a healthy injection of World/Inferno Friendship Society on a daily basis.
It's not obligatory that anyone else agrees, but I'm right and anyone who does disagree is wrong.

I'm sorry. You cant argue with facts.

In support were The Spencer's.
A band that sound as if they have been locked in a garage and whose only stimulation was a Kubrick directed Breaking Glass that was edited by Leigh Bowery played on a continual loop.
Not a bad thing in my book.
Equally worthy of checking out.

* Unless of course they are clinically required.
Don't stop meds without professional advice and replace them with TWIFS on my word. ;)

The World/Inferno Friendship Society.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Static Rock/Beltur/Magic Trik – HRC Glasgow – 08/07/15

Static Rock/Beltur/Magic Trik – HRC Glasgow – 08/07/15

With a  tour of some cities down south already arranged - and their debut single and video Straw Dog newly released - the very young Glaswegian band Magic Trik are undoubtedly looking to hit the ground running and shake things up a little.
Admirably avoiding skipping down the indie hipster route to success, and equally making it very clear that faux Scots accented folk meanderings are not their cup of tea, they are instead looking to go full tilt ahead and reintroduce rock and roll to the masses.
Taking the rock blues of the mighty Led Zeppelin as a starting point they've liberally sprinkled it with some glam fairy dust and concocted a heady brew that should get some blood rushing through the veins of those who so readily proclaim that rock is dead.
It’s overdue that we get another band that can walk the walk rather than taking the talk so it’s pleasantly exciting to see a band doing just that.

Give it a year and there’s a very good chance that they will be opening some quality shows for larger touring acts and giving the headliners something to worry about.

Beltur on the other hand are a few steps ahead of Magic Trik.

With an eye on writing and performing songs that would be comfortable residing in stadiums they have sown their wild oats musically and are now looking to settle down into delivering anthems.
Anthems such as the current single Breath, a song that has radio hit written all over it and has the potential to become an earworm given half a chance.
It’s not the only song with that potential that they have tucked away though.
One after another they work through a set of emotionally mature rockers that lightly touch on the post grunge era when the punk malcontents moved away from their love affair with riff heavy Sabbath homage’s and began to shade their output more carefully and subtly.
It’s easy to proclaim ‘what’s not to like’ when watching and listening to Beltur.

Static Rock have been paying their dues for a while now, and have quite probably played on every single stage in Glasgow with the exceptions of the SECC and Hydro.
As a result their material is well honed and solidly performed.
So now seems to be the perfect time for them to take things to the next level.
If they were to add some new songs to the set and followed them with a new release then it must surely be within their grasp to secure their position as one of the bands that will feature on all the ‘ones to watch’ lists. .
The guys must be able to smell it.
It’s that close.
Time for them to grab at it with both hands.