Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bayou Seco + Secret Garden Party

Friday 22nd to Sunday 25th July, 2010

Flemish friend Erik and I headed down to Deal on the Thursday afternoon — he was on his way back to Gent via Dover, and I was going to get a lift up to the Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire the next day in the Cocos Lovers van. As a result, we got to check out a gig at the Astor Theatre (the old Victorian theatre in Deal which Cocos have played a major role in re-establishing).

Support was from the local Allen Family Band, consisting of an American father and four of his East Kent-raised offspring. They played a mix of country-bluegrass-old time Americana (Johnny Cash, Carter Family, Doc Watson, "Freight Train", etc. and an unexpected Bright Eyes song). Very murky sound, unfortunately, but good energy.

Bayou Seco
Bayou Seco

The place had filled up with a very talkative audience by the time the main act, Bayou Seco, played. People sitting around tables chatting never seems to lead to an attentive audience, and with the rather difficult sonic environment, the whole experience became rather frustrating. Bayou Seco are Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie, a lovely old couple from the American Southwest who play forgotten Arizona cowboy tunes, two-steps, waltzes, zydeco, cajun, tunes from Haiti and Trinidad, switching between fiddles, accordions and guitars (Ken's also a luthier). They've discovered that it's a lot easier to tour over here than in their home state of New Mexico (where they sometimes have to drive for two days to a gig). The audience were clearly enjoying the music, but yet again failed to be quiet and listen. Jeanie had to repeatedly ask for people to keep the noise levels down, so the evening was very disappointing in that respect, but musically a lot of fun.

* * *

The next day I was on my way up to the SGP in the big red Cocos-mobile. I spent a lot of the weekend with the Mordekkers in the performers' campsite who were dealing with something very heavy that happened on the Friday night...I won't go into that here. I'm writing this more than two months later, and the overall experience of the festival wasn't good (too many people, too loud, too much pointless hedonism — felt like a party at the end of the world), so I'll just list what I rememember of the musical highlights (other than Cocos, who I saw three times, and Syd Arthur, who I saw twice — both consistently excellent):
  • The Undercover Hippy — I saw him and his band a couple of times. An incredibly charismatic performer and gifted freestyle vocalist (he asks the audience for three or four words at random, then strings together a witty song including them all). I even got caught up in one of those split-the-audience-down-the-middle-and-make-them-compete scenarios (one half singing "it's a long way down from the top to the bottom" and the other, in response, "it's a long way up from the bottom to the top" over an infectious reggae groove). People got really into this, as if we were truly opposed to the arbitrary group of people across from us (the joke being that we were actually agreeing with each other). And he does excellent renditions of Max Romeo/Lee Perry's "Iron Shirt" and Toots' "54-46 Was My Number".

  • Rodney P and Skitz — still repping the UK hiphop scene, this time to a large crowd in the Chai Wallah tent. I'd last seen them down The Cavern in Exeter, eight or nine years ago. Skitz on the decks, Rodney P on the mic dropping abbreviated versions of his best known pieces and introducing various guests (including a beatboxer called Bass6 and various MCs whose names I missed)

  • Kassai Massai — an African guitar band, not sure which country they're from but they were reminiscent of the Zimbabwean bands of the late 80's who I love so much. Joyful sounds that had me dancing.

  • 52 Commercial Road — skull-crushing post-rock/shoegaze, as seen at Small World Festival earlier this year.

  • Horace Andy and the Dub Asanti band — On the main stage, Sista Bassy D holding it down superbly on the bass, Horace ambling about the stage singing all his best stuff ("Skylarking", "Zion Gate", "Money Money") in that beautiful voice of his, repeatedly giving thanks to all the "conscious people" in the audience (not a lot of them in evidence from where I was, wading through litter and nitrous-oxide capsules). Those tracks he did with Massive Attack featured, of course, and some of the old classics got an interesting drum'n'bass reworking, although not to the extent that they lost their essential rootsiness.

  • Chukin' — reggae/ska/dub from Brighton, another band I'd seen at Small World in May. They'd been busy that weekend and were all a bit tired. Singer Duncan Disorderly kept checking the texts on his mobile phone in midset which was a bit off-putting, but they still made a great sound.

  • Mercury Rev — They were the headliners on the main stage on the last night. I'd been into their first couple of albums (stuff like "Very Sleepy Rivers") after hearing them on John Peel in '88 or '89 and seeing them at the '89 Reading Festival (only their third or fourth gig, it turns out!). Over the years, I'd completely lost touch, occasionally seeing the name mentioned in a context which made me suspect they'd lost whatever it was that I liked, compromised and gained some success. So I wandered over in the middle of their set not expecting much. But I was completely overwhelmed by what I wandered into. They were playing "Holes" (I've since worked out), a HUGE Cardiacs-like sound, beautiful visuals on the screen behind them...I was instantly spellbound, felt like I'd just wandered into one of the defining moments in the history of popular music. I just stood their as they played their way through "Tides of the Moon", "The Funny Bird" (dedicated to Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, RIP), a cover of "Solsbury Hill", a reworking of "Once in a Lifetime" and some extraordinary instrumental spacerock-like jamming. Singer Jonathon Donahue's stadium-rock posturing was disorienting — was this meant to be ironic, post-ironic, post-post-ironic? Or is he just like that? Grasshopper was wearing one of those furry jaguar hats (with the ears) and seriously getting into his guitar playing.


    I've since downloaded some more recent live sets and couldn't quite get back into the headspace I was when standing in front of them (although I did find a very touching, sincere cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" which makes me think of Galaxie 500 — did they ever cover it?). Just one of those moments...


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