Yes, the British Summer is here and so it’s time for a bunch of outdoor music and nonsense, Thee Monkey’s Claw puts on an insufficient amount of suncream, packs a few cans of lager and heads to the Lunar festival…
Lunar is a small festival in the glorious countryside just south of the M42. The nearby village of Tanworth In Arden (no festival traffic please) is so impossibly perfectly picturesque it’s a surprise the BBC haven’t yet shot a heartwarming sunday afternoon drama there. Maybe they have, I wouldn’t know. It’s also the home of wet 70’s troubadour and perennial student signifier of emotional depth Nick Drake who looks down upon us from a variety of portraits about the site. These twin facts in mind, it should come as little surprise the whole thing has the comfortable air of a gently psychedelic village fete. A helter skelter towers over the centre of the main field, looking down upon a rough built crow statue to be burnt on the last night. There’s no cake competition though, more’s the pity. I’m not knocking this, it’s altogether lovely enough to crack a smile on even this grumpy cynic’s countenance and the blazing sunshine isn’t hurting either. There is, inevitably, a fairly terrible band on as we enter early Friday afternoon. I could tell you who but in a spirit of fairness I’ll say we chose to check out the various foodstalls and find the bar then wind our way up to the top of the field where familiar festival sight The Bimble Inn was set up. There’s more beer. Some foolishness.
When next I pass by the stage The Allah La’s are on it. A disappointing band I feel, on paper they’re probably very much the same thing as The Wave Pictures. Only I like The Wave Pictures. In that way of things not quite to your taste being worse than things completely outside it – this annoys me. It’s a difficult trick working classic rock moves into your own new thing or investing some kind of vital spark. They don’t pull it off and I don’t really hang about for them to convince me either. If you were the people who invented them classic moves then it’s another dripping bag of severed heads though. Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin are the first act to receive my full attention, slightly nervous that I’ll be swallowed up by the prog dragons. I shouldn’t have worried, their performance is more curated conservatoire than 70’s psych prog horror freak out. Simonetti offers a few little introductions between pieces but no real insights, and they show clips from the films behind them. I’m usually all in favour of this sort of thing – instrumental bands are often not all that interesting to look at and Goblin are firmly in this camp but it strikes me the whole point of them touring now is that the music they made for movies was so strong that it has taken on a life of its own far beyond that, so to show clips from the films seems a slightly backwards step, as if they don’t quite trust in the power of the music alone. The band is fiercely tight, ‘Suspiria’ is an obvious but still glorious highlight and I am not swallowed by prog beasts because some of the keyboard lines are a still step too far for me.
Don’t worry now boys and girls, the crazy man with the scary films has gone, come on back down the front now and listen to uncle Mark. It’s been over 10 yrs since I last saw The Fall, a shocking oversight on my part and a period that has seen a firmly embedded line up and series of records of varying levels of greatness. Worries that they would be somehow faded or diminished are put aside almost immediately they hit the stage. The band are making a fine old racket, Smith pacing about hunched in his jacket, the eternal malcontent. They are The Fall, they are in cracking form, and what else there is to tell you about it I’m not sure. Unless he’s hiding somewhere they seem to have dropped the second drummer/percussionist they’ve had lately, which is a shame I guess. They open with ‘My Door Is Never’ and as usual play a set of stuff from the recent albums, mostly the new one. New album centrepiece ‘Auto Chip 2014-16’ is also the highlight of the set, which is as it should be. It’s a wonderful thing. Always different, always the same indeed.
Jane Weaver is a recent discovery for me, last year’s splendid ‘Silver Globe’ being the first I ever heard of her, turns out she’s more than 10 years into her solo career already. Wearing a fairly big silver top/dress that is doing it’s best to give off the vibe ‘cape’ without actually having to be one she brings a kind of elegant space-rock with her. Her sweet clear vocals floating over a motorik backing make Stereolab the obvious reference point but the similarities are mostly superficial. Liz Fraser and Kate Bush occasionally poke through in her vocals and it’s not all motorik space rock, ‘Don’t Take My Soul’ is wonky pop and there’s definitley a few strands of folk in there too. Song rather than groove based it’s a deceptively light concoction, the sense of her descending from space with this odd new kraut-pop only broken by her lancs accent between songs. Splendid
Never being particularly a big fan of The Incredible String Band it’s in a spirit of curiosity I go take a look at Mike Heron & Trembling Bells up in the Bimble Inn. Well, a listen more than a look to be honest the place is rammed, mostly with bearded gents even older than me but I can see a little and hear well enough from the door. I’m gradually more impressed with it the longer I stay, until I can see the appeal of it. I just don’t want to listen to it anymore. This courtesy is not one I’m prepared to extend to new combo Syd Arthur who take their name from Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddartha and in a neat play on words also make it a tribute to their heroes Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, if that alone is not enough to make you want to jump the stage and punch them each in the face I’m near certain their music would push you to it. They’re probably over excited to be on before The Pretty Things who made some pretty great sounding records about 50 odd years ago bless ’em and a psychedelic concept album SF Sorrow held in high regard in mojo type circles. Some of them are still doing it. I find it hard to summon enthusiasm, Isn’t it time for more beer. yes. Delicious beer. Clearly not going to see Wilko Johnson when it’s a miracle he’s still with us would not be on. He looks and plays like nothing changed, scuttling back and forth across stage. It’s pub rock R&B, what else d’you expect? It’s a joy to hear him play the guitar but his voice has only ever been adequate. Still, he plays ‘She Does It Right’ and it’s wonderful but then he blows it with a rambling, bass and drum solo-ing Johnny B. Goode encore. I had intended to avoid the full horror of witnessing Public Service Broadcasting but I end up in the pizza tent from which safely removed vantage point I can report there’s more than two of them on stage, a lot of film clips and as best I can tell not quite all the songs are like something Fatboy Slim rejected 15 odd years ago for being too cheap and lazy – just most of them. Helpfully the guy making the pizza turns up his own music and drowns them out but not before I discover they also use a weird recorded voice thing to address the audience in the manner of their records, the bow-tie sporting twats.
Whispering Nights or possibly Midnight Bonfires are on. Not sure which, the guy has a good voice, I’m not paying a lot of attention. I was quite looking forward Zun Zun Egui as they come recommended and seem to be the sort of thing to work well in a sunny afternoon slot but they’ve had to cancel and are replaced by South American psych rock team Föllakzoid. I’m happy to see them too, even if their droning minimal psych is less suited to the sunshine. In terms of the current wave of psych/kraut/space rock revival Follakzoid are on the opposite end of the spectrum to Jane Weaver – long, largely instrumental songs stretching out into head nodding introspection, the recent album squeezes in four but in truth they flow into each other and it may as well be one. Live the subtleties and refinements of the album are somewhat sacrificed for a rawer, rockier sound. This is clearly one of those bands that wet their pants when Loop reformed but it’s hardly a problem as they’ve headed much further upriver and staked out their own patch to reflect on the universe. They’re great today in a field but louder, in a club, under the oilwheel – I bet they’re incredible.
lastly for me then, Julian Cope is in solo acoustic troubadour mode but still dressed a crazy rock stormtrooper. It’s a confusing performance. If you’ve read his increbible memoirs Head On and Repossessed you’ll know he has a tale or two to tell and a way about doing it (if you haven’t – do it they’re brilliant, illuminating and hilarious books) and we get one between each song until he finds himself rapidly chopping down his set list. He plays lovely versions of ‘Sunspots’ and ‘The Greatness and Perfection’ and points out to someone yelling requests that not everything works so well in this set up. The songs from Jehovahkill and Peggy Suicide that do are not among my favourites on those records but at least the stories are funny. He relates how he has written a song cycle about his return to drinking after 21 years sober (including one for Pete Wylie called ‘Liver as big as Hartlepool’) and asks us to sing along with funeral lament ‘As The Beer Flows Over Me’- “I’ll be lying there with this hat and my old mic stand and the turtle shell over my legs. . . I’m not a gimmick artist”. I enjoyed it, others were less impressed expecting a full band and so on but this is where he is these days and it’s entertaining enough. Last time I saw him play a festival around here he came on wearing a mouse head and played a 10 min krautrock drone before stripping down to his pants and running about the stage like a loon, and as much as I understand why he can’t be bothered doing all that these days, I do miss it a little bit.
(for a number of reasons both logistical and aesthetic there is no reason to hang about for the Bootleg Beatles…)