Monday, July 04, 2005

weekend festivities

A couple of small festivals this past weekend...

On Saturday there was a friendly little event in a field near Coleford. This has been put on annually by a local guitarist and all-round-good-bloke called John Richards. Children of the Drone have played at the last three, which just keep getting better.

The quality of music was generally excellent - folkie stuff, a lively cover band (with John R. guesting on guitar), singer-songwriters, French bagpipe-based dance music, a raucous country/blues band, etc.

The musical highlights for me were (1) local guitar hero Dave Wood's set (in which he played some Renbourn-style crystalline folkiness and then succeeded in turning The Monkees "I'm a Believer" into high art and getting everyone present to sing along with no encouragement whatsoever) and (2) a bunch of relatively young raggle-taggle folkie types with muddy boots, two fiddles, a tea chest bass and a punkrock attitude! They were called "Stack McGraw" or "Stack McDuff" or something (they didn't seem entirely sure themselves when I asked). A proper festival band. Their set included some familiar klezmer tunes and Jolie Holland's "Old Fashioned Morphine" - a wonderful, albeit rather dark, song which I've been listening to a lot lately.

Stack McSomething play on the back of a flatbed truck

"Sister don't get worried, sister don't get worried, sister don't get worried, 'cos this world is almost done..."

Pulse played two sets, intended as dance music. This time it was Richard, Henry, Keith, Mark, Rupert and me. Unfortunately the first set was a bit too early on, and people were quite happily spread out on blankets - greatly enjoyable, though. By the time we'd got on to do the second set, most people had gone, or had converged on the bonfire to keep warm (a chilly July evening, typical English weather).

When I got home, I watched parts of the Live 8 concert from Hyde Park, including the reunited (and frankly magnificent) Pink Floyd. I've never been that interested in their post '73 output, having perhaps been a bit of an obscurist Floyd snob, content to listen to hissy bootleg tapes of Syd Barrett-era outtakes. It's only relatively recently that I've come to admit that Dark Side of the Moon is actually a rather impressive piece of work! But I was curious to see what it would be like for the post-Barrett line-up to be on stage together again, so I plugged my headphones into the TV, turned the volume right up, sat back...and was thoroughly blown away. I never expected them to play "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" or "Vegetable Man". That would have been entirely inappropriate in the circumstances. But even though they played songs which never meant a huge amount to me, there was something really moving about it.

The Floyd somehow embody a certain aspect of the collective western post-1965 psyche, having gone through the phases of naive psychedelic whimsy ("See Emily Play"), deep psychedelic exploration (Ummagumma), Syd's psychosis, profound cynicism (Wish You Were Here), nihilism (The Wall) and a gradual transmutation into a corporate machine (the post-Waters era). The anger and bitterness which led to Roger Waters' departure therefore carried more weight that just a feud between a couple of individuals - the fracture went deeper than that, had wider resonances in the psyches of that huge constituency to whom the band meant so much. So to see Waters and Gilmour on stage together twenty-four years later, playing magnificent, powerful music, and even half-embracing at the end, felt like some kind of collective healing emanating out into the world. Something broken had been made whole again, and it had happened because a cause bigger than any individual (the pursuit of justice in the West's dealings with Africa) had allowed these people to temporarily transcend their individual egos and do the right thing.

image from

There was a huge sense of elation being felt around the planet, as the result of four blokes getting on a stage and playing four songs. This may seem slightly absurd, but one only has to compare the 'cult' of Pink Floyd (or The Beatles or U2) to, say, the cults associated with medaevil saints to start to get the picture. The global Pink Floyd 'cult' is enormous, and even if it would be rather difficult to say what it was 'about', this is not really the point. What were the cults of St. Bartholomew or St. Anne 'about'? They carried a certain 'vibe' which is as inaccessible to most of us today as Pink Floyd would be to your average medaevil Christian. This to me seemed to be the power of the whole Live8 event. These 'big name bands' have, for better or worse, become projection screens for the religious instincts of a large sector of the secular western populus. Hence, by bringing them all together, creating a sense of quasi-religious awe in a huge audience, carefully interspersed messages about the global political system, economics, trade, etc. are able to penetrate deeper into the minds of the apolitical fans than would ever be possible through conventional means of spreading messages. It's the same strategy used by corporations who pay vast sums for advertising during major sporting events (which also generate quasi-religious feelings within their audiences), but being employed by people with somewhat nobler motives!

There was something quite thrilling about watching The Who making a huge, visceral electric noise, with Daltrey howling "We Won't Get Fooled Again" while sinister grainy images of the world's suppposed 'leaders' were flashed on the gargantuan screen behind them, and knowing that hundreds of millions of eyes were locked into the event. "This has never happened before," I kept reminding myself. Even when he was singing "Who are you-oo, you-oo" (a bit of a daft song, really), there was a sense that he was addressing these 'leaders' on 'our' behalf: "Who are you? What do you represent? Who do you work for? Who the hell do you think you are?".

It occured to me (and no doubt quite a few other people) that the name "G8" is extremely appropriate, given the increasingly familiar use of "G" as an abbreviation for "gangster" (due to the globalisation of Afro-American slang and hip-hop culture). Also, given the tendency for MC's and hiphop crews to adopt names like "D12", "J5", "KRS-1", etc., "G8" sounds like the name of an 8-man crew of 'gangsta' rappers. The funny thing is, a lot of these crooks and war criminals (Bush, Blair, Berlusconi and Putin come to mind immediately) could more accurately be describe as 'gangsters' than any of the members of 50 Cent's 'G-Unit' crew.

[added later] In the interests of balance, here are a couple of somewhat more skeptical/cynical views on the MPH campaign and Live8 events:

J. Pilger, "From Iraq to the G8"
Adbusters open letter to Bob Geldof

* * *

The next day, Keith, Henry and I played a brief set for the Respect Festival at the Phoenix to a somewhat smaller audience than that to which the Floyd had played the previous evening!

We were playing in a marquee set up outside, and this was probably the first gig we've done at the Phoenix where we weren't competing sonically with a banging techno sound system or a bar full of noisy people. Typically, though, most people had drifted away after Seize the Day finished and before we started, but we had a small but enthusiastic audience, even some dancing.

This was originally going to be a 'Pulse' session, but as Richard couldn't make it, we sort of compromised and turned into a sort of uncharacteristically upbeat, danceable Drone session.

Dronings are usually entirely unpremeditated, but due to these unusual circumstances we bent the rules, and so the third piece was a jam built around a bassline inspired by the incomparable Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin's classic "Surfin'"

photo by Jane Jarvis of

Listen Here

Another highlight of the weekend was discovering that Children of the Drone have received their first proper review, and an extremely encouraging one at that!


Blogger Tom Kerswill said...

Ah, sorry I missed that. I was at Respect the day before, and saw some really great music, but couldn't make it up on the Sunday.

Looking forward to next year's already!

4:24 PM  

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