Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Big Green Gathering 2007

Back from six days of festivity at the BGG, and there's just too much to say! I'll try to keep this relatively brief and limit myself to the music.

Wednesday: On my way from the camping field to the main site, I passed some celestial mandolin playing coming from behind a screen near an ambulance. I didn't feel quite ready to stop, so wandered on, but glancing back. Someone recognised me and came after me - it was Steve, who's played with Children of the Drone a few times (I've also jammed with him at a music camp on Dartmoor). I ended up going back to make some rather lovely music with him, Dave the luthier (playing mandolin) and others for a little while before Dave and his crew had to head off and play a gig (as the South Hams Boogie Band - don't be fooled by the innocuous name though, they're something quite extraordinary - a ten-piece hippy band fronted by a full-on ex-punk with near shamanic performance powers).

Wandering around the horsedrawn camp in the dark, I bumped into Rosie who I'd not seen for a while. She's starting to bring her music (harp, recorder, whistle, singing) out into the world, I was glad to hear, having become part of a folkie ensemble called "Riddler's Beard" with Nathan and Catrin. We ended up at the Rinky-Dink stage where a friendly little set from long-time Rinksters Cess and Ollie eventually gave way to an excellent bicycle-powered old school hiphop party. I spent most of it pedalling on the generator, in rhythm to the beats. The person pedalling on the seat in front of me turned out to be Nicky, the eco-rapper, who I first met at the A299 protest in Whitstable in '95. He handed me a copy of his new CD Boycott Mammon (recorded as "MetaMedicine"). Nicky's responsible for the fantastic artwork on the front page of the Children of the Drone website. A rowdy drum'n'bass set followed, so I drifted down to the "Magic Canyon", a geological fissure on the site which was fully of twinkly lights and a few people drifting through. A group of travellers stopped to listen to my saz playing, then remembered me from last year (in my role as Professor Raphael Appleblossom, the "freestyle walkabout performance mathematics lecturer), when they'd drunkenly but enthusiastically asked me a question about relativity theory. Eventually, one of them (Clare) was urged to play a borrowed pennywhistle, which she did, beautifully - we wove our way through a few reels I'd not heard before. It then transpired that she'd only been playing for a year, having sort of learned by osmosis from some amazing musicians she said she'd been living with up in County Leitrim. She and her friends also sang an old Robbie Burns song (with harmonies, all indecipherable dialect, can't remember the name) and the chilling "Green Grow the Rashes, O".

From there, I found my way over to a chai cafe called "Pachamama", a tipi on the edge of the tipi circle. This turned out to be the best place on the site for late night acoustic music. As soon as I stuck my head through the entrance, I was spotted by Mike Collard from Future Forests. There were three people playing a lovely mix of Breton, French, Scandinavian and other European folk tunes, reggaeish stuff, etc.. Most of the tunes were quite familiar, so I was able to jam along quite effectively. The mandolin player was called Russell, I think. Mike was playing a bit of wooden flute, generally enthusing and being very much in his element.

Thursday: It took a while to find a session that evening, but eventually I found myself in Pachamama again, accompanying various bits of singing and chanting. A woman called Harmony with a guitar and a lovely voice sang a string of her own songs (several ayahuasca-related) which I accompanied. She seemed to really like my saz playing and asked me to join her for a gig in the Triban tent the next day.

Sunset in the Earth Energies field
Sunset in the Earth Energies field - photo by London Permaculture

Friday: Harmony, a backing singer friend (who could do some really extraordinary, Moog-like things with his voice) and I played a set to a tiny audience that evening. One person who was listening intently came over to speak to me afterwards - this was Jaggi, a mandolin player who's half Balinese and half Himalayan. It turns out he knows Frazer from travels in India. He was very keen to meet "the other person" playing on Frazer's ...it's a string thing disc (this was Stevie P, of course, who I only saw briefly during the festival, didn't get to jam, but caught a bit of a Green Angels set). Jaggi introduced me to his friend Toby who's invented a remarkable percussion instrument called a "triangla" - a triangular wooden board with various cavities, membranes and snares, which, plugged into a Roland Micro-CUBE, he was able to make sound like a tabla. The three of us found a cosy little geodesic dome to jam in.

Listen Here

I mentioned reggae and Ireland in conversation, so Toby, who had lived in West Cork, asked if I knew Alan - it turns out he's the son of Alan's friend Rhino who I once spent a fascinating evening talking with at (another) Toby's house in Cork City.

Saturday: During the afternoon I managed to see most of Gadjo's set, most of Martha Tilston's (Matt Spacegoat on bass) and then the Mordekkers doing a full-on electric set followed by a Breton dance pipe-and-drum set. The latter was part of Jud's 40th birthday party at Triban (Tarantism and Dragonsfly had also played, but I needed to see Matt about my new book, so I had to miss them).

I played a bit in the canyon that evening, wandered around the site a lot looking for a session, periodically sticking my head into the Pachamama tipi. Eventually (after the adjacent "Love Dome" sound system had shut down), there was music happening there - and it was Andy Bard playing singing and playing mandolin (last seen/heard on Windmill Hill this summer solstice). I sneaked in behind him, tuned up my saz, and suddenly joined in to his surprise and delight. We did a whole string of his songs, including a beautiful new poignant one about our old friend Laura Sky and a rousing old Oxfordshire peasant direct action song called "Otmoor Forever". Suddenly he announced "I think I've got to sing this" and started the Spacegoats "Dragons". I'd not heard this for quite a while, don't think I've ever played it, but it was sufficiently familiar to join in. Then we noticed that one-time Spacegoat Stella was sitting just next to us! She didn't sing or play guitar that night, but we eventually go to have a good chat, generally catching up. She's been in the Brighton area, singing jazz standards for a while, then learning some operatic singing, and now (after a period of relative hermitage) back into the folkie thing, singing and writing songs again. She mentioned that she'd written her first song in years the week before. Among other things, I mentioned my recent nightingale story - she instantly picked up on the nightingale theme, really connected with the magic of that story.

Fraggle with Gadjo, elsewhere
Fraggle with Gadjo, elsewhere

Sunday: After finishing my Prof. Appleblossom shift, I was wandering back to my tent to eat. I stopped to listen to a trio of people playing some Cuban/Brazilian music. I couldn't resist, so I joined them, which they seemed to really appreciate. It was Julian from Columbia (guitar, voice), his friend Miranda (voice, melodica, percussion) plus Jorge (percussive flamenco box) who they'd only just met. Some of the people I'd just been explaining mathematical ideas to then stopped by, then Stephan from Gadjo... Suddenly there was a mass of Spanish-speaking people (of various nationalities) swapping flamenco techniques and talking about various parts of Granada, etc. while I continued explaining mathematical ideas to a couple of those present. We jammed a bit more before everyone dispersed, John and Matt from Leamington Spa leading me down to the "Last Chance Saloon" where their friend Dan was playing in a funky blues band. Dan's doing a PhD in fractal geometry and ergodic theory at Warwick with Mark Pollicott, who I have communicated with in the past about his reasearch (dynamical systems analogues of number theoretic structures). He stopped to chat about Julia set parameters, and we gradually discovered this connection. His band were called the Adam Phillips Trio - they were great - playing "Crossroads" and all the usual, but very far removed from the pub-blues stodge that's so common. Their blues had more of the 80's-90's Grateful Dead liquid sound percussive bounce thing going on. Having caught a bit of that, I went off to eat.

Heading back into the site, I stopped to chat to Dave (who I'd come up with from Canterbury) and, deep in conversation, I almost subliminally noticed that someone sitting in the doorway of her nearby tent was playing guitar and singing beautifully. Still talking to Dave, I found myself (almost involuntarily) getting my saz out, sitting down nearby and joining in. She seemed delighted with this, and we were getting really into it, when Hayerayah (who I'd jammed with a bit at Pachamma on the Thursday night) stopped to listen, carrying a percussive box under his blanket. He smiled in a resigned sort of way as if to say "I was really trying to get somewhere, but I can't not join in with this". So he joined in too. After a long version of one of her songs we introduced ourselves - this was Andrea Soler, recently over from Australia, rather blown away by the BGG, and happily spreading her "soulful acoustic folk". We did another of her songs, called "I'll Wait For You" which I discretely recorded. But, typically, the mic cable got somehow unplugged, so only the first two minutes got recorded. Still, a nice souvenir.

Listen Here

I then went and caught yet another storming Mordekkers gig, then on to Pachamama for a last night of musical magic. I was attempting to play along with the rather loud drum'n'bass beats from next door when Stella's old friend Johnny walked in with a guitar. Johnny doesn't play guitar as far as I know, so it seemed a bit suprising. But then Stella wandered in - it was her guitar, and she was prepared to play it! We had a wonderful few hours working our way through some of her favourites - songs by June Carter, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Donovan, Leonard Cohen, "Love Minus Zero", "Here Comes the Sun", "Black is the Colour", "Wild Mountain Thyme", "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?", "I Can See Clearly Now", old folk songs...it just kept going. Then she sang a most beautiful song with a soaring chorus, and some lyrics about a nightingale. This song, it seemed to me, must be from the same general canon of songs that Stella knows so many of, but who was it by? How had such a beautiful song passed me by? When it ended, I asked. "I wrote it this morning!" she replied, beaming. And it had been inspired by my nightingale story! I urged her to write it down or something so she didn't forget it, but she'd already phoned home to sing it onto her answerphone! We then did her other new song (written a week ago), a beautifully eerie waltz called "Feral Moon". And "Nightingale" again. Someone called Snowy was present recording all this with a little digital device, so bits of the session may make their way onto the blog in due course.

Stella had a break, and Harmony sang a few songs (none of which I'd yet heard). At one point she had the whole tipi singing "There is so much magnificence...in the ocean...waves are coming in, waves are coming in" to a gorgeous melody, for about 20 minutes (this turns out to be by Anubhava a.k.a. Peter Makena). A little crew of musicians playing South American stuff then turned up and I jammed with them for a bit before heading off to get a few hours of much-needed sleep.

Monday morning I got to connect with Pok (now living in Brighton) and Rosie again, before the drive home (which was greatly enhanced by a Horace Andy compilation).

* * *

A few random occurences: A blogger from Berkshire known as "M" who left a comment on this blog a few weeks ago came up and introduced himself while I was doing my Professor Appleblossom thing. I often wonder who listens to all my archival recordings, and here was such a person. He made some reference to something I've written about the importance of not recording some things, just letting them go as a gift to the Universe - he appreciated the sentiment, he said, but was equally enthusiastic about the fact that I do make the effort to record these spontaneous sessions and jams. Apparently he often falls asleep to this stuff...

Someone else who found me through the Dongas recording archive (her mother used to bring her to Dongas gatherings in Dorset and Devon when she was a child) was Saorsie, currently studying at St. Andrews University and getting into mandolin playing. She'd been in touch to say how much those childhood experiences had influened her, and similarly found me in Prof. Appleblossom mode, stopped by to say hello.

One morning I headed over to The Mordekkersmobile for tea and chat - Stef and Peni weren't up, but Henry was. We ended up having a really interesting discussion about the history of reggae (he's recently been reading the book Bass Culture, and playing both bass and drums with great proficiency, had some really interesting insights) and the way it's turned rather nasty on the whole (the last time he tried tuning into London pirate radio, he got some super-aggressive dancehall with the repeated lyric "Me chop ya arms off, me chop ya arms off"!). Someone camped nearby who overheard me mention my mathematical 'performance' to Henry came over with a simple question about calculating the area of some decking she wants to install in her garden. I ended up explaining the concept of "square feet" to her in terms of album covers, which worked quite well. Her boyfriend used to run a reggae sound system, and she (Amanda from Glastonbury) still has masses of tapes of classic dubplates and 80's London pirate radio recordings, is wondering what to do with them. She described what it was like being the only white woman with dreadlocks in Brixton back in the early 80's, then we got onto hiphop culture. She recommended the film Rize which sounds intriguing (documenting West Coast hiphop clowning culture).

As I was almost involuntarily being drawn towards some roots reggae coming from the Last Chance Saloon one afternoon, John Martineau (of Wooden Books and Pondlife) called over to me. He's just finished putting together his first dub album as "Tigga Sound System", now available for free download via the Pondlife site. His amazing collection of classic golden-age Jamaican dub was the soundtrack to the creation of my little reference book back in '99, so it's good to see that John's making his own music now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was an inspiration and a pleasure to talk to you again at the BGG. Something you said about the siting of Stonehenge made me think of a book by Julian Jaynes "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". Have you read it?

I found some things out about stonehenge I thought i'd share, but when I tried to find your email your exeter site was down, is that a permament thing? Replies to

tom [at] idiolect [dot] org [uk]


All the best

9:27 AM  
Blogger Vibration13 said...

Hi Matthew, thanks for posting up the jam we had, really enjoyed meeting you and great playing. Keep it up! And keep in touch!

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A friend of mine met you at BGG and mentioned you to me. I organise the science area at the Secret Garden Party and wondered what you were doing in the last weekend of July, 2008.

please contact me if you fancy coming along to give some free maths advice.

07817 015208

12:35 PM  

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