Monday, June 06, 2011

another Small World

It's an easy bikeride from Headcorn railway station to the Small World festival site. It was still light (just) and I was buzzing from the experience of the Arts Trail which had just finished. After an unproblematic entry (this festival has the least aggressive/alienating security setup of any I know), I orbited the site a couple of times looking for The Mordekkers in their new, blue converted horsebox (eventually having to revert to a phonecall to find it, though).

I got to spend some time with Stef and Penni, meet the new bass player Ben and generally settle in before their headline gig in the main Small World tent. As usual, they had the whole place packed out and dancing within ten minutes. Some great new material, and Ben's the perfect bass player for what they're doing (the first time he'd been to a festival like this, and he was clearly enjoying it immensely). The bagpipe-less sections had me thinking about James Brown's band — the supertight, choppy mandola style Stef has evolved for this band, sitting on top of the powerful rhythm section. They're continuing to bridge the rhythmic spaces between drum'n'bass/dubstep and traditional French/Breton dances like plins, gavottes, an dro's... and just getting better at what they do. Most of the dancing crowd probably had no idea what the origins of the music were, beyond the vague label "Celtic", but like James Brown's music, the Mordekkers' sort of locks on to your central nervous system, giving you no option but to get up and move to it.

It had been a long day. A long few days, in fact. I wasn't able to stay up all night as Stef does, keeping the music going til dawn. I was asleep fairly early. But then I got to enjoy the relatively tranquil early morning scene on Sunday.

Small World spring 2011 flyer

Sunday was largely spent sitting and chatting with Stef (one of the world's great conversationalists). In the afternoon I wandered around a bit, caught I Jah Mo, the reggae singer (who's ALWAYS at Small World, with a different band) playing in the Full Circle dome with an excellent bass player, plus drums, sax and backing vocals — a strong set, perhaps the best I've seen from him. Will Varley played in there a bit later, as entertaining between songs as he is compelling during them. I just read on his website that he's planning a tour, on foot, from London to Deal soon — what a great thing to do! Making up for the rather difficult time they had the day before in Canterbury, Cocos Lovers played a killer set, one of their best. The place was packed, I was glad to see. When they finished "Howling Wind" without the usual a cappella choral section (they've decided to drop that for tuning-related reasons), someone shouted out to request it! So they sang it, angelically, and in a happily bewildered sort of way, accompanied by a less-than-angelic audience rendition. It's heartening to see them getting the sort of growing, enthusiastic audiences that they are. Pog's "Our Love Is Not Like Roses" and cover of "Caleb Mayer" were both stunning.

Over at Triban, I saw Burning Glass play a set rather like the one in Canterbury the day before, just less audience participation (and attention, to be honest, everyone being spoiled by so much good music everywhere, and the fact there was a PA meaning you didn't have to be quiet and listen). After dark I was out playing with Stef and Penni (saz/mandola, pipes, drums) at various points around the site, and accompanying various singer/guitarists at the 'Tribal Voices' fire, listening to the various poets who gather to recite their works there.

Monday, after The Mordekkers took off back to Wales, I wandered around with my saz, ending up joining I Jah Mo's makeshift band (including Jeremy the dulcimer player I met there last year) on a tiny stage, playing sloppy but heartfelt reggae. Then accompanying a set of mostly medaevil French songs by Pok's girlfriend Aurelie (plagued by horrible tuning issues with my saz and her guitar, but she sang a lovely Josephine Foster song called "The Golden Window" which sort of made up for it). A couple of bits got recorded on my Zoom H2.

I found a group of percussionists and an acoustic guitarist sitting by one of the thoroughfares, playing some nice rhythms and modal sounds, so I joined them for a while. The guitarist turned out to be called "Sas" (it sounded like). I recorded that too. Around the corner I found a bunch of young musicians (guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet, etc.) huddled around the tiniest, sweetest pedal harmonium I've ever seen. They turned out to be members of Buffo's Wake, the Illbilly 8 and at least one other band. We played some klezmer-like stuff, a waltz or two, again quite sloppy, but fun, and worth a listen:

Listen Here

The members of Buffo's Wake were warming up for their set in the Full Circle, which I caught the first part of as evening drew in and I realised that it had start to rain. Not relishing the thought of having to put up a tent and then waking up in a wet one (I'd made a little nest under the Mordekkers' horsebox, which had driven away hours earlier), I abandoned my plan to cycle back to Canterbury the next day, and instead quickly packed and headed for the station.

One of the magical musical highlights of those few days occured earlier that day (I think it was). A bit weary, I had collapsed on a sofa inside an old khaki canvas tent where someone was selling tea and cake, with an old out-of-tune piano installed, which people would wander in and tinkle on for a while (earlier, I'd stuck my head in to find the omnipresent Ewan Bleach was playing "The Girl from Ipanema"). I was drifting in and out of sleep, enjoying watching the stream of colourful people passing the opening of the tent. At one point I woke up, and someone in an orange paisley-like coat was playing a a lovely bit of Erik Satie. After a few blissful moments, she got up, and I realised that it was Leonie from Rae. So we had a little chat (she was there playing with another band called Animal Folk).


Anonymous lawrence said...

Thanks for this - nice memories revived.

11:06 PM  

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