Wednesday, September 03, 2008

out on Dartmoor

A few days at the end of summer - a low-key music camp that happens a couple of times each year at an undisclosed location on Dartmoor.

Thursday. Arrived with Pok in the afternoon. Sitting in an old Spacegoats friend called Maggie's tent talking to Pok and Jon E. Aris – Pok singing some of his more recent bardic stuff; "My Elusive Muse" stood out.

We (among others) were summoned to play music for the camp kids' limbo dancing competition. This ended up as a high-spirited three-chord amalgam of "La Bamba", "Three Little Birds" and "Stir it Up". Musical chairs was next, someone suggested James' "Sit Down" - so we played that for ten minutes or so on loop.

After dinner, a drum kit was assembled for "A Bun Dance" – Gem from Green Angels drumming, Nick from Kangaroo Moon playing upright bass, Stevie P, Nathan, me and a few others played a cheerful tune written by a Totnes-based flute player called Robin. A daft composite dance (elements of everything) was taught, then attempted with muddled minor success. Some small wholemeal buns baked earlier in the day were involved, although I couldn't quite see how, it being dark and things having got pretty weird by this point. All very amusing. Folk tunes of various traditions were then jammed. Then some 50's Rock 'n' Roll, including a wicked version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll". A few couples were jiving and jitterbugging on a lamplit "dancefloor" (an arbitrary bit of field). A reggae jam led by Chris from the South Hams Boogie Band (a fabulous entity indeed - don't be fooled by the name), Conrad and affiliate Dave (mandolin), et al. I went off to get something, came back and Stevie was in full flight on a bouzouki tune. I was pleasantly amazed to find Shane, the unlikely (but superb) frontman of the Boogie Band reciting the last chunk of Young MC's "I Got Know-How" (the 1989 'hip house' classic) before grooving back off into the darkness.

Stevie and Tina sang songs (their own, and some shared Heathens All songs), a beautiful peaceful musical whirlpool going on by lamplight under an ash tree – lovely fluid bass playing, everyone listening, beautiful vocal harmonies emerging from the darkness. At one point, I wandered off for something, heard someone start singing "Lean on Me" – this could be quite cheesy, but a spontaneous, organic choir welled up - they could have been singing anything - it was just beautiful, moving...

Friday. Pok (who'd been noticeably absent the evening before) sang songs 'round the fire while kettles were boiled and toast made – Hunter/Garcia's "Deal", the trad. American "Big Railroad Blues", "My Elusive Muse" and some of his Tara songs). I went and got my saz, came back and played a bit with Dave Aitkins (luthier and mandolin player) – a Corsican waltz I learned off Stef in Cornwall in the late 90's (but remembered it as being Swedish (he's got a Corsican father and a Swedish mother)), some American old-time, then a couple of Welsh songs with Nathan (who I'd just discovered speaks fluent Welsh), some bluesy stuff...

Back up to the top of the field I found Dixie (an old head from Birmingham) and Graham playing guitar/hammered dulcimer duets. I joined them for Dylan's "Queen Jane Approximately", a couple of Little Feat songs, "St. James Infirmary", and an excellent song Dixie wrote called "Patterns".

After dinner, Pok got a "campfire prog" vibe going – some Hawkwind, the Incredible String Band's "Three is a Green Crown", his own "Finale (When We Were Young)"... I suggested the Spacegoats' sing-a-long "Coming At You Now", which he sang (that went down very well). A bit later he played another request of mine – "Hold the Candle Near" (the last track on his An End to War, the first electric Spacegoats album which I recently re-discovered). Later, as the evening session built up, we got Pok singing his cropcircle song "Corn Keys", reciting a chunk from his epic poem "The Pook of Pok" and – at Invisible Jim's request – the thoroughly ridiculous "Castrol GTX-a-go-go". Nathan sang the ISB's "My Cousin Catterpillar", which inspired Pok to respond with another Mike Heron favourite, "The Greatest Friend" (I particularly enjoyed playing along with that), plus bits of the ISB's "Douglas Traherne Harding" and "A Very Cellular Song".

We then got all sorts of stuff – a woman with a bluesy voice launched into "Hit the Road Jack" which then organically morphed into Michelle Shocked's "Fog Town". The one and only Jon E. Aris got everyone going with two of his finest – "Do You Know the Way to Go Now?" and "Live Life". Then some wonderful ridiculouslness from the bulk of the Boogie Band – a hilarious self-referential geopolitical fantasy song about the band on a diplomatic mission to confront the US President, almost cinematic in its delivery – "37,000 Feet (Mr. President)" really stood out. Shane was grooving 'round the fire, pulling his freaky moves (bits of Jim Morrison and Nik Turner, but he's his own thing altogether). Conrad, the band's young guitarist sang a mighty "St. James Infirmary" that evening, and in response to calls for more some time later, settled on "Whisky in the Jar". What a star! He did a long version, more verses than I'd ever heard, but the whole pace and delivery of it was totally brilliant (including getting stuck on one verse while the assembled listeners suggested possible rhymes for " brother in the Army" (it was " Cork or in Killarney"). He's got virtuosic guitar skills a fabulous voice and a joyful open sort of presence. He also sang "Wild Mountain Thyme", inspired by hearing Tina sing it the night before. Earlier that evening Dave, Conrad and some Totnes friends played some Eastern-sounding tunes, etc., which me+saz got really into.

Just about to go to bed, someone (I didn't catch the name) started singing the Beatles' "Across the Universe", so I had to stick around and sing along with everyone else.

Nathan and Emma then reappeared around the fire and sang (beautifully, of course) an old spiritual. Then we got some more gospelly stuff – "Wade in the Water", etc. I drifted away in the midst of a Cat Stevens/Simon and Garfunkel singalong. Probably about 3a.m. by then.

Saturday. Collectively fasting for Tibetan solidarity, snoozing and exploring the area a bit (I played saz up in a hilltop stone circle not far away). The fireside session took a while to get going. Highlights I remember: Nathan and Emma singing "All Around My Hat" (then apologising for it – yes, the Steeleye Span version everyone knows is a bit cheesy, but I still love it...), Dixie getting out "The Diggers' Song" (with full harmonies spontaneously arising – everyone loves that one), a woman whose name I never caught singing Johnny Cash's "The L&M Don't Stop Here Anymore". I was happily lost in saz counterpoint world at this point. Pok tried "Three is a Green Crown" again, after briefing everyone first and even attempting to teach us the "chorus" (if you can call it that). Before he started, an older member of the congregation spoke up "Now this is a proper hippy song – none of that wishy-washy stuff...". It worked surprisingly well, although I've no idea what it would have sounded like to those unfamiliar with the original. He followed that with Syd Barrett's "Flaming" and "Astronomy Domine" – he was losing the collective attention at this point, but recaptured it with a rousing sing-a-long version of "Bike".

I wandered up to the Welcome Tent, where a much tinier, more intimate session was going on – Stevie and Tina singing Heathens songs, and their own, accompanied by Ian from the East Pole Orchestra (and me). We also got Stevie singing some eclectic covers ("Caterpillar Girl" by The Cure, "Dolphins" by Fred Neil (via Tim Buckley) and "Lady, Dear Lady" by Daevid Allen (I'd forgotten that the Heathens used to cover that one)).

Back down at the fire, Jim was singing CSNY ("Teach Your Children Well", "Marrakesh Express"), Laura some Joni Mitchell. I couldn’t keep my eyelids open, so I drifted to bed.

Sunday. Jamming outside the Welcome Tent as people packed up and drifted off.
Laura stopping to sing "King Willy" with saz accompaniment, followed by "Lovely Joan", "Cruel Sister" (all the verses! wow!) and "Scarborough Fayre". Shane played me a recording of the Boogie Band's recent recording of "37,000 Feet" With Jim on keboards. I got a lift to Exeter with Emma and Nathan, having discussed the possibility of Orbis Tertius? playing a brief slot at the Gadjo gig they'd arranged at the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms the next week.

There's a very understandable "no recording 'round the fire" rule, so I didn't – I could perhaps have arranged some daytime sessions and recorded them, but it just didn't feel appropriate, so I left with all my minidiscs blank (but not minding at all).


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