Monday, July 13, 2009

LOTF 2009

Lounge on the Farm Festival, Merton Farm, Canterbury, 10-12 July 2009

I'd bought two day tickets for the Friday quite a while ago, mainly due to the inclusion of Gong in the lineup. I was hoping to lure Sven over from Belgium for this, but in the end he couldn't make it and Jim (from Red Dog Green Dog), a fellow Gong-head, came over from Brighton to make good use of the extra ticket.

After an enjoyable bikeride to the farm and having negotiated the usual scene involving fences, portakabins, generators, fluorescent waistcoats and wristbands, we were enjoying a mellow sunny afternoon of music.

We caught the last song in Up C Down C's set, as well as all of Sávlön's (rather similar) - both doing interesting things with rock instrumentation, and choosing to deliver vocals in a grindcore kind of way. I'm not quite sure what was going on with the tennis-themed fancy dress that the two guitarists had adopted - some kind of in-joke, I think.

After a bit of wandering around and taking it all in, we decided to head back up to the Furthur field - almost a festival within a festival, and certainly where the bulk of the interesting music is heard. Just getting up into the field, we met a supersmiley Jon Woode handing out flyers for one of his festival appearances. "Syd [Arthur] are just playing now", he enthused. And they were. A most excellent surprise - they were scheduled to play on the Saturday night, so I'd accepted that I would have to miss their set. But there was something going on involving BBC SouthEast TV, who, in collaboration with LOTF, were promoting the festival and running a series of short pieces about the history of the Canterbury Sound. Syd Arthur were being featured as an example of a current, young Canterbury prog band. I'd seen some of the TV clips online (rather embarrassing, although the interview with Daevid Allen was amusing) and there was a TV crew present, but the band just seemed to be enjoying playing a spontaneous set to a cluster of their loyal following.

Syd Arthur on the Furthur stage the next night
Syd Arthur on the Furthur stage the next night

We caught the end of something, and then, suddenly, they launched into a jaw-dropping version of the Soft Machine's "Facelift". For this they were joined by a trumpet player and a young keyboardist. Joel, their bass player, had mentioned to me earlier in the year that they were thinking about working out an arrangement of this piece, but I somehow wrote that off as wishful thinking - Syd Arthur were certainly a competent band, but playing "Facelift"? Well, they proved themselves entirely worthy on that afternoon. Any scepticism I've previously expressed about them being described as "true heirs to the Canterbury sound" (or whatever) went straight out the window. Hugh Hopper (RIP) would have been smiling down on the Furthur Stage. It was a beautiful 20 minutes - I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. The horn lines were handled masterfully by Raven on processed violin, and the mid-section jam they made entirely their own...I could hear elements of dub, Afrobeat, and, with the muted/processed trumpet, a lot of Bitches Brew influence, an album the Softs were clearly very familiar with at the time they wrote and recorded Third. They followed this with a couple of beautiful instrumental jams - a few minutes of dawdling occured between each piece, something to do with the timing of the TV broadcast. We then got a lively, joyous "Planet of Love", marred somewhat by an incongruous incursion of TV camera equipment and presenters more-or-less barging into the front of the audience (as if it were all about them). Slightly weird, the whole media thing, but with any luck, it will help Syd Arthur along in getting the recognition they deserve.

Later that afternoon, I got to chat to guitarist/singer Liam briefly - it turns out that the trumpet player was from The Quartet (as I suspected - Duncan McKay, I think his name is) and the keyboardist was Joel and Liam's little brother Callum. The latter turns out to have his own band, Boot Lagoon (who we missed earlier that day). It also transpired that another brother MacGill (Josh) is the drummer in Canterbury abstract funk merchants Zoo For You. I asked if Hugh Hoppper had had a chance to see Syd Arthur live - apparently not, but he was aware them, and his brother Brian (another Wilde Flower and Soft Machine affiliate) was backstage, possibly something to do with the BBC coverage.

If it hadn't been for the magnificent Gong set later that night, seeing Syd Arthur play "Facelift" would have certainly been the highlight of the event. But it still stands as one of the most inspiring musical occurences I have yet to witness. And in such a beautiful setting - the Furthur stage is a wonderous creation, supplemented by a straw bale sound-desk kiosk, The Mole Hole Cafe ("In the Garden of England..."?) - a sort of turf-roofed, cob/straw-bale construction - and a load of fruit trees. This served as the absolutely perfect setting for Gong to come and work their peculiar magick. I couldn't imagine a more perfect setting - and I'm sure Daevid, Gilli, Hillage, et al. were most pleased by what they saw on their arrival.

The main events of the evening began with Hillage playing a set of his old stuff (rather than the System 7 techno-influenced stuff he got into in the 90's), stuff from Fish Rising, "Hurdy-Gurdy Man", The Beatles' "It's All Too Much". His band consisted of his long-time partner Miquette Giraudy (part of the mid-70's Gong family) on keyboards, and the current drummer and bass player from Gong. The lightshow was pretty spectacular, but the sunset off to the audience's was even better! He seemed to be thorougly enjoying himself, completely lost in the music. I've always been a bit ambivalent about Hillage's solo work - it can be a bit indulgent...but this was perfect for the setting and occasion, and SH was fully in his element, pouring forth what is basically devotional music (devoted to sound itself?). Another seeming sonic devotee, a greying woman who I'd guess would have been in her youthful prime around the same time Hillage was at his creative peak, was dancing beside me, completely ecstatic and at one with the music - rather beautiful to see.

sunset during Hillage's set
Canterbury Sunset during Hillage's set

There was a DJ set between Hillage's set and Gong's, so Jim, Tim and I scooted off to the Folk Tent to catch most of Cocos Lovers' set. They were having an awful time with their monitors, feedback very nearly ruining "Moonlit Sky" and generally plaguing the sound. But they were playing to a hugely supportive crowd (there was even a bit of incongruous crowd surfing going on!) and there was laughter and smiling from the stage throughout, despite the difficulties. They ended with "Old Henry the Oak" - Will lifting up his and Natasha's little son Henry to huge applause (apparently Henry was going to beatbox, but the relevant mic was switched off). Henry's little sister Emily ended up on Will's shoulders, looking out over the bouncing crowd with a look of complete wonderment. Lovely.

We got back to Furthur, in time for the Gong set. At first, the band seemed to just be the Hillage band with the addition of Theo Travis on sax and flute. They were playing something I didn't recognise. Where's Daevid? Where's Gilli? I was a bit confused. Halfway into the song, Mr. Allen appeared, in purple velvet pyramidal hat, to huge applause. (I think Gilli had been there all along, but she's tiny). He expressed his enthusiasm for playing in Canterbury, dedicated the entire set to Hugh Hopper, and then the band launched into the most perfect tribute to the deceased bass-hero, a hyper-energised "You Can't Kill Me" (from Camembert Electrique). The rest of the set, apart from a couple of insubstantial (but perfectly acceptable) pieces from the forthcoming new album involved swathes of the Radio Gnome Trilogy, plus a few other bits of Cambembert, all played with an incredible level of energy and enthusiasm. Radio Gnome was broadcasting loud and clear that night! Beautiful visuals - projections based on the classic Gong album art and imagery, mingled with fractals, sacred geometries, etc., and synched masterfully with the song selection and performance.

The Furthur stage
The Furthur stage

Everyone, but most notably Hillage, was clearly enjoying themselves. He and Miquette (who did a brilliant job of doing what Tim Blake once did) were beaming at each other, clearly a lot of love there between them. And the music seemed to be pouring forth love over the audience. "Good magic", as Jim later described it. "Master Builder", "Isle of Everywhere", etc. were just wonderful. Everything had a jammed-out feel to it. Despite the band being ultra-tight and sounding extremely well rehearsed, there was no sense that we were just hearing the same set they've been playing throughout this tour - rather that we were lucky enough to be present at a unique outpouring of Gong music. I found myself sort of "falling into" the music in a way which could have been rather alarming in another setting, but I felt like I was in an incredibly safe space (and not just in a Euclidean/Cartesian sense!). Sacred music in a sacred space, albeit in an appropriately silly/secular context. It was a LONG set - possibly 2.5 hours? - but never once dragged. And DA and GS are 71 and 76, respectively! It ended with the "You are I and I am you" mantra, and then, after much howling from the cosmically charged audience, the band came back and played "Tropical Fish", jammed into "Selene".

There was one incongruous moment involving Daevid ranting about Rupert Murdoch and bankers hanging from lampposts - there's still quite a bit of righteous anger in him about what capitalism has done to his beloved Mother Gaia - I recently saw a short film of a performance piece he did called Conscience Strike, which involved him spraying "You wiped out my love you fat fucking capitalist pigs." on a wall, before smashing a selection of teapots (along with TV's computers, etc.). The rant acted as a lead-in to one of the new songs, called "Wacky Baccy Banker", old school punk rock energy, which actually sounded great. But, as Jim pointed out on the way home, such remarks from Daevid Allen are a lot 'spikier' and harder to take than from someone like, say, Joe Strummer.

This was easily one of the best gigs I've ever attended. Jim, Tim and I were all beaming at each other as people drifted away, overwhelmed by the sonic ritual that had just occurred. Jim and I had what he described as a "mild Albert Hoffman moment", getting on out bicycles and rolling out of the festival site and down dark country lanes, with "I Never Glid Before" running through my head...

How lucky we were. Thank you Daevid, Gilli, Steve, Miquette, everyone else in the Gong entourage. And thank you Liam, Joel and the rest of the Furthur crew for creating the space for this to happen in.


Post a Comment

<< Home