Sunday, May 25, 2014

Smugglers Pop Up Festival 2014

Sunday 4th May 2014
Little Mongeham, near Deal, Kent

Will Greenham has been talking for a while about doing two Smugglers Festivals a year (one at the beginning of summer, one at the end, rather like Small World). Moving in that direction, this was a one-day event, on the usual festival site, similarly set up, just reduced in scale. Somewhere in between Smugglers Festival and a really good party where there's camping so you don't have to worry about getting home. Just one amplified stage plus an acoustic stage in the hawthorn wood, a few talks and workshops in the other (Sondryfolk) wood, a bar, a children's area and a couple of food stalls. Ideal.

I had a particularly good bike ride out there and back from Canterbury, getting mildly lost in both directions and discovering an ancient trackway, a public bridal path leading to a very welcome footbridge over the A256, and an possibly 1500-year-old yew tree in Tilmanstone churchyard. I'd not really had a chance to celebrate Beltane with all of the various cultural activity going on during the week, so this was the obvious Beltane celebration.

Arriving and looking for somewhere to put my tent I immediately got involved in socialising with Adam of Lapis, Kim, Leida, et al., so I unfortunately missed Jodie Goffe playing on the acoustic stage. But from then on it was just one amazing performance after another:

  • Hellfire Orchestra (main stage, with a couple of excellent newish songs thrown in, "Year of the Tiger" and one whose title I forget — no sign of Jamie's songwriting inspiration drying up)
  • Jouis (main stage, sounding better and better all the time, and looking forward to coming up to the woods for an acoustic set in July)
  • Arlet (acoustic stage, the standard five-piece — they played Eno's "Big Ship" again, always a thrill)
  • Cocos Lovers (main stage, a triumphant set for their most devoted followers, with the whole of Arlet joining for the second encore, "Song for Jack")
  • Electric Jalaba (the immensely talented Barnaby Keene and brothers backing up a Gnawa gimbri player with subtle electronics and some of the most tranced out rhythms known on Planet Earth...Will confronted a couple of young gatecrashers who looked like they'd be more at home at a "messy" dubstep party, but they were (encouragingly) down by sub-bass speakers looking completely blown away, and may never be the same again!)
  • Famous James and the Monsters (acoustic stage, the new lineup with a new drummer and violinist Jake alongside Ashley and Tom... I was starting to get quite dozy sitting up at the back at this point, and the party people were up and dancing, blocking any view, so this is all a bit blurry in my mind, but it's great to hear Ash is still singing those songs.)

I got my free ticket in exchange for giving a little talk, as requested by Will. As I'd planned to give one on Robert Wyatt for the Sounds New festival opening event (at their request) a couple of days earlier, I decided to go with that. It was a bit of a strange setting, and a bit of an odd topic, for a random selection of festivalgoers who happened to be huddled around the big fire for warmth, only a handful in attendance having come for the talk. Most people didn't even know who Wyatt was (I did a quick survey), so I didn't think they'd be particularly interested to hear me talking about his problematic association with Canterbury and it's supposed "scene" of the late 60s and early 70s. I didn't really want to do it, but a few people egged me on, and then someone drunkenly announced me, and so I did my best to adapt the talk to the situation. I think people found it at least as interesting as the babbl of late-night drunken banter you'd otherwise have had in a situation like that, and it led into a bit of a discussion about people's need to put labels on things and categorise things, so neither a great success nor a disaster.

Hanging around the next day (a Bank Holiday Monday) it was hard to leave. So many kind, friendly, interesting people to talk with. Will and the Smugglers crew are doing a fine job of bringing people together (the music is the vehicle, and what a lineup (!) but ultimately it's the togetherness that everyone is seeking, I'm quite sure).


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