Sunday, August 07, 2011

Buddhafield Festival

Buddhafield Festival, near Taunton, July 13—17, 2011

This has festival has a lot going for it in terms of the lack of litter and drunken idiocy (it's very nearly drug-and-alcohol-free). But a bit lacking in terms of what I was looking for musically. Still, I was camped with Stella and friends for a few days, surrounded by peaceful people largely having a great time (and to a lesser extent propagating Buddhist teaching)...

Wednesday evening, wandering around I found myself in the particularly beautiful craft area and ran into Cerys, the Welsh pixie seamstress who used to share a house with Sam and Serena Roney-Dougal (the esteemed parapsychologist) on Windmill Hill above Glastonbury town. She was selling beautiful handmade clothes, doing sewing workshops, etc., and alerted me to the fact that Sam and Stevie's band Green Angels were to be starting shortly on the Small World stage.

Their set was a great way to arrive, musically. Very cool, if a bit sloppy. Dominic (more of a bagpiper than a bass player) brought the prog with his self-built double-necked bass, Stevie embroidered everything with exploratory electric guitar and bouzouki runs, Sam casually swapping between pipes and clarinet, playing some wonderfully free stuff, with Gem holding it all together on the drums. There were the usual crowd of French-and-Breton-folkdance enthusiasts doing their hanter dros and bourees and Circassian Circles, etc., but the Angels stretch and warp the tunes out to the extent that you can just lie back and get into what's going on musically (as a non-folkdance type, a lot of people playing the same tunes lose my interest pretty quickly).

I then wandered around the site with my saz trying to find the spontaneous acoustic jams which I was certain must be happening somewhere. I did a lot of this wandering during the festival and never quite found what I was looking for.

Thursday I found Stevie sitting behind Elfn, another groovy little hand-made clothing stall which he was running with his girlfriend Sophie. After tea and catching-up conversation, Gem appeared. We were just about to get out instruments and have a session when the sound system kicked in across the way at the Dance Tent. An "ecstatic dance workshop" had just begun, so were subjected to a couple of hours of mostly cheesy house music, at a volume which surprised me for a "treading lightly" kind of event like this. Lots of whooping and other such ecstatic utterances were heard amongst the cheese, so the workshop seemed to be working, but there was no point in us trying to play where we were, and Stevie was tied to that spot, so we didn't bother. I wandered on after a while and found Pok, extremely cheerful, helping to mind his girlfriend Aurelie's stall (more clothes, I'm afraid). She turned up and they were rehearsing together, him reciting from his epic Pook of Pok and she playing the harp — quite nice. He's also got a banjo (although I've heard since that it was stolen at another festival), and was playing that and singing, bizarrely...

Did you ever see a woman
Coming out of New York City
With a frog in her hand

Did you ever see a woman
Coming out of New York City
With a frog in her hand

I did don't you know
I did don't you know
I did don't you know
And don't it show

"Where'd you get that?" I asked, fairly sure he'd never write something with so few lyrics. I was surprised to learn that this was a Marc Bolan song, in fact a single released by T-Rex in 1975.


The Green Angels were playing their second of two gigs that evening, at a venue which also dispensed pancakes. Waiting for them to soundcheck, I decided to walk up to the ridge to watch the moon rise. This led to a chain of distractions and ended up with me in the Pachamama chai tipi accompanying a couple with a set of their songs and mantras, which they seemed to appreciate. They were called Huey and Sophie and operate under the name Mantrasphere. There was some talk of me joining them for a gig the next day, but that never came together. That tipi turned out to be the only place to jam, really, and despite being run by lovely people, having a central fireplace and free chai for musicians, it was far from ideal (tending to get crowded with people who are talking more than listening).

Huey and Sophie left and I was joined by another Sophie (Stevie P's girlfriend, plays violin) and Jez (who played tabla with Inge and I spontaneously during a little set at the Big Green Gathering in about 1995, and who knows a lot of the same people as I in Ireland) with a mandolin. We played a load of the simpler, more famiiar Irish, Breton and French tunes, accompanied by an Israeli rainbow-head percussionist called Itai, affiliated with a band called The Turbans (who were playing an interesting mix of stuff during numerous gigs around the site) playing nontraditional djembe rhythms. That was a nice session, if a bit physically squashed in and sonically murky. That was the first time I've had a chance to play music with Sophie who I'm only just getting to know now.

Stella had been attempting to secure a few gigs to promote her new album, but had perhaps left it a bit late (and isn't even slightly pushy), so she only managed to find one there. This was on the Triban stage. Again, a bit too close to a sound system, so it wasn't ideal, but we had fun, and the small audience (which was considerably less small when she'd finished, passers by dropping in to hear who was singing so beautifully, and staying) clearly loved it. I played on "Nightingale", "Still" [listen here], "In My Mothers Garden" and the final song, "Rainbow Skies", joined by Pok in purple robe playing mystifyingly free banjo. Stella's got such a talent for drawing everyone in, making everyone feel welcome and included. She's got a new website too, looking good...

I caught some of a set by the Undercover Hippy and his band. They appear to be playing exactly the same set as last summer, but with fiddler Leo replacing keyboard player Dre, which introduced a slight change to the overall sound — still very tight, uplifting, danceable reggaeishness. Standing near the entrance of the crowded marquee, I was spotted by Andrew, who travelled down to Saint Chartier with Pok and I in Stu's van back in about 2003(?), and got drawn in to some deep philosophical conversation. After that I wandered around looking for something musical to get involved with — something that wasn't just someone seeking to entertain me. No luck. I'd been getting progressively troubled by the amount of (relatively) loud sound systems on the site, having bought a ticket to the festival expecting to get some peace and (relative) quiet for a few days. But hearing some deep house beats from a distance I decided to embrace them. This led me to the Dance Tent, and up close I must admit it sounded fabulous — deep, soulful, jazzy, yet sufficiently minimal/abstract house music free of cheesy vocals, ticking all of my house music boxes. About fifteen seconds after I'd taken off excess warm clothing and joined the dancing, the DJ ended his set, and everyone applauded. That was it...

I spent part of Saturday sitting in the Pachamama tipi playing solo saz. I thought that if no one else was getting any acoustic jams together, perhaps I could start one. But no one with an instrument came in during that time, so I just noodled away, quite contentedly, and got enough encouraging feedback to feel I was adding something to the space. Later that evening I ran into Nathan and Harmony sitting in the lovely little circular Healing Garden, so we decided to reconvene at Pachamama with instruments and play some tunes. Again, a bit squashed and noisy, but we made some pleasing music. Cliff Stapleton's "Dream Waltz" worked particularly well, as well as a vaguely Eastern European tune which Sophie had played the day before, turned out to be one Curly Lisa wrote years ago, called "New Bag". I asked her about this a couple of weeks later when I was down in Cornwall, and she's forgotten all the tunes she's written (some real classics), no recordings or anything, and she can't even remember all the names — but fortunately some of them have gone into circulation and are now unlikely to ever get truly "lost".

Feeling quite a bit happier after that, I floated around site taking in bits of everything: a song by The Turbans (wild klezmer, led by their virtuoso violinist), another Undercover Hippy song ("It's a long way down from the top to the bottom...", the one where he cleverly "divides and conquers" the audience with an extended bit of call-and-response ridiculousness ), one song by Avalon Roots...this crew have been around for a while, a kind of Avalonian hippy reggae band, but I've always missed their festival sets. Susie Ro (who used to sing as part of a beautiful duet with Ayla — whatever became of Ayla?) is now singing with them and the song I heard (the end of their set) was quite a revelation. Singing about the Goddess of Creation and sacred landscapes makes more sense to me than a British reggae band singing about Hailie Sellasie, the Lion of Judah, Jah (who's basically a variant of the wrathful Jehovah). And they do it very well. I was surprised how much I liked their energy (relative to what I'd semiconsciously expected them to be like).

I'd noted that Pete Isaac from Portsmouth's Jelly Jazz ("the funkiest club south of the North Pole") was to be DJing in the Dance Tent that evening, and had been hyping him up to everyone I met. In the end, his set was a bit of a disappointment to me, but clearly not to the packed marquee of happy people he had dancing by the end. He's obviously learned how to read the demographics and other subtle cues from an audience to know what it'll take to get them dancing — in this case it involved rather a lot of cheesy/populist late 80's, early 90's stuff (even some "hip house", remember that?) along with bits of funk, soul, jazz and other unexpected stuff. I was hoping for something quite a bit more "deep", but this wasn't about what I wanted. Stella, Louise, Colin, Johnny, Gav and Sanjeev from our little encampment all happened to show up by the end of the set, so we ended up dancing in a little cluster, having a great time. He ended with "Groove Is In the Heart", which I never really liked, and still don't care much for, but everyone was into it. The overall musical atmosphere made me go back and dig this out (which he didn't play, but would have fit perfectly). Over at Small World, The Turbans were playing a late-night, largely improv oud/santoor/percussion set to a rapt audience, but I was a bit too tired to take it in by that point and went to crash out.

Before leaving on Sunday I got to play a bit of solo saz in Pachamama again, and in the Healing Garden. Some very positive responses from people who happened to overhear, but no one around to join in. It was all a bit like this for me. Somehow, despite being camped together, Stella and I did no playing other than that little gig. No actual jamming with anyone, just a couple of tune sessions and accompanying songs. I did run into Jaggi, and Indian mandolin player who lives in South Wales and who I met and jammed with at the last Big Green Gathering, but that was towards the end of the festival, and we didn't get a chance to connect after that.

Oh well...


Anonymous ltj said...

enjoying the concept that the key signifier of an authentic pok song is the number of words. quite keen to hear some 'mystifyingly free banjo' too...

10:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home