Wednesday 15 August 2007

Tapestry Goes West - Margam Country Park, Wales 11th August 2007

Yesterday, we frolicked under a benign sun that warmed us with gentle afternoon rays (after the rain had briefly tried it on, whistling in a fine mizzle into our cheery faces for a few minutes). Today we roll up at Tapestry Goes West under a feisty fireball that attempts to frazzle all pasty Celtic skins in the area. Lucky I have a face-shading peak to my Robin Hood hat.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: first business of the day involves a jousting display by medievalists The Knights of Arkley. They are accompanied in ramshackle style by the Tokyo Dragons who crank out any old rubbish with a vaguely discernible tune. Really, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a comedy ‘black knight’ being humiliated in battle to the strains of the ‘Grange Hill’ theme as played by a scraggy bunch of rawk hoodlums. Yes, it’s fab. And quite thrilling when the horses thunder past a bit too close to the security, er, rope that ‘protects’ the audience from their flailing hooves.

Post-joust, it’s time for a spot of mead at the Crimson Moon. Mmm, I’m savouring the honeyed alcoholic goodness, when lawks! Pete Molinari materialises on Stage 2. I’m mightily pleased by this, as I thought I’d missed him on Stage 1 yesterday (dodgy line-up listing again). The thing that always crops up in Pete Molinari discussions is his voice, which is fair enough because Pete Molinari’s voice is a thing of amazement; keening and perfect, sending weird sensations down your spine as it twines itself around songs strummed out on acoustic guitar. These are songs that place Molinari at some mid-point between Chatham and Greenwich Village; blues-lorn country-folk songs that seem to mention whippoorwills and being lonesome quite often. It’s all very relaxing, Pete perched on a chair, looking like he’s stepped out of a Bob Dylan record sleeve circa 1966, dressed in brown corduroy beat-gear, chatting with the audience and gliding through a short set with that lullaby-eerie voice. A contented mead haze settles as we get a final heart-break-sweet cover of ‘So Lonesome I Could Cry’.

Breaking from my reverie, I decide it’s time to investigate Stage 1. There’s a handy slope that looks down on Stage 1, where everyone is sprawled out in the sunshine whilst below us The Redlands Palomino Company do competent, but uninspiring lady-sung country rock. It all gets too much for me (er, the sun does) and I have to go and hide in the shade until Instant Flight come on to do organ-driven power-psych. The singer is looking the part in stripy trousers and a top-hat. Apparently, Instant Flight double as Arthur Brown’s backing band, ah! that explains a lot. We get mod-ish Carnaby Street pop, psych-pomp splendour, bluesy harmonica squawlings, cool, circling psychedelia, a great ‘Incense and Peppermints’ style groove and at one point it all goes a bit Procol Harum. I feel like I’ve time-travelled into one of those old film clips of a ‘60s freak festival. Only, thank the Lord, there are no naked dancing hippies here, just Rob ex-14 Iced Bear lying on the grass and Michael Circulus wearing a big hat.
Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: Michael Circulus blends in with the crowd, despite the fact he’s wearing a big hat and his usual middle-ages filtered through 1972 garb. This is the only place such anonymity is likely to happen to Michael.

I wander back to Stage 2 just in time to see The Cherry Bombers playing ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, its snotty punk blast is a refreshing sorbet before we are plunged into Wolf People’s world of flute-adelic prog mightiness. They play blues rock with puffy ‘70s flute embellishments and added flights of fancy – ace! There are beards and hair and ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ stylings, but I’m disappointed that the band are just some blokes, not really Wolf People as such, not even a bit lupine or mystical. They say "the next song is a rock opera, but it only lasts three minutes." Swizz! Progged-up, we wander over to see Diagonal who are wearing tight trousers and necklaces and again with the hair and the beards. They’re having a right good noodle, courtesy of a groovy-lookin’ geezer in a hat, worrying a Korg keyboard and ERK! a man in a head-band playing a saxophone. Can someone hurry up and invent punk now please?

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: On the hillside, a moody gang of stags gathers, horns akimbo, gazing haughtily down at proceedings before deciding to high-tail it away from such nonsense.

The Lea Shores have some sound probs, but when they finally kick-in with a rain of swooping axe licks they are the perfect accompaniment to the light show being provided by the steel-works in the distance – tongues of flame shooting up into the twilit sky. The Lea Shores create a maelstrom of early evening swirliness that’s kind of The Cure go shoe-gazing, like single ‘Guillotine’ with its drifty daydream Ride-isms (including Ride-style iffy lyrics: "She’ll cut you down like a guillotine"). As the night-time smell of damp grass creeps into our nostrils, The Lea Shores hit the moment brilliantly, but it’s now time to cross the site to seek out Circulus on Stage 2.

Circulus and Tapestry were made for each other and an eager crowd has gathered to acknowledge this fact, keen to frolic in a medieval frenzy. What’s more Tapestry Lord and leader Barry can be seen onstage, clutching a guitar, clad in a fetching pea-green hooded cape. Much as we adore Circulus, though, we ‘re a tad disappointed to find we’re not getting a ‘greatest hits’ set of full-on loopy lutey loveliness this evening. Instead, Circulus have brought along Alison O’Donnell, one-time member of Mellow Candle. Yes, THE Mellow Candle of legendary ‘70s folky album ‘Swaddling Songs’ fame. I’m enough of a folk nerd to be quite excited by the sight of this elegantly grey-haired lady taking over the stage alongside current collaborator Isabel Ní Chuireáin, but as they calmly unfurl their ethereal music (partly with a few Circulus types, partly alone), the crowd starts getting itchy for a spot of hey-nonnying. It’s great that Circulus are trying to do something a bit special here, and there is a magical mist to proceedings, but the best bit is when we get a few stripped down Circulus faves. There’s no Lo Polidoro supplying sky-diving vocals tonight and no Moogy mooching, although thankfully, there is some mighty crumhorn action. Such is the strength of everyone’s pent-up need for a hoe-down that there’s a giant explosion of energy when the band issues forth with acoustic renderings of ‘Cuckoo’, ‘Miri It Is’ and prog-med anthem ‘Power To The Pixies’. It feels like we’re caught in a village fayre gone dangerously wrong, which is really the best place to be caught.

By this point, night is drawing in and it’s as good a time as any for another trip to the mead tent. This time I try a Strawberry Wine, mainly for the My Bloody Valentine-ness of it. It’s a whirligig trip into a dreamy world of strawberry-filled wonderment. Yum.

Now, I find that wherever you happen to be, there always comes a point in proceedings when raucous foreign garage rock is called for. As the moon and intoxicant levels rise, That point has very much arrived. I savour the strawberry wine’s syrupy-goodness, and ponder the spectacle that is Los Chicos; a demented, thrashing, Spanish garage band who are doing their best to demolish the stage in the name of dirty old fun. With a long-suffering look, the soundman patiently holds up a precariously rocking speaker as vast swathes of the audience mingle on stage with the caterwauling band. Best of all, a random man dressed in a be-feathered bird costume flaps around gaudily, before launching himself in a flurry from the stage. It’s a heart-warming sight indeed.

As a finale we don’t get Cathedral bells in our ears, but the funk-thrash-prog-rave-metal-disco construction that is Chrome Hoof. The earth, or at least this particular patch of it, tips alarmingly and shucks us all into another dimension for the duration of the Hoof’s appearance. They are terrifying and vitalising at once, the band clad in their knights of glam chain mail, flanked by two deeply disturbing dancers who remind me of the Blue Meanies from ‘Yellow Submarine’, only more vicious. Traumatised by the sound of everything we hold dear being torn into bloody shreds then rebuilt as an almighty monster of doom, we make twitching, palsied attempts to keep a grip on the demonic time signatures being thrust in our faces. A glowing-eyed, horned ram-devil looms onto the stage and the crowd cranes forward, appalled and delighted as Chrome Hoof slay the beast before solemnly chomping into its blood-spurting heart. The music churns on, gut-wrenchingly, thrillingly. By the end I’m raving in a dense mass of contorted, grinning faces, amongst them a cackling Will Who-Used-To-Be-In-Spacemen-3.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: The whole festival has gone scarily feral, choosing to re-enact scenes from ‘The Wicker Man’ by unquestioningly following the Hoof up a hill to gaze at the ram-headed effigy being set alight and devoured by leaping flames. Seriously, the whole crowd are under the Hoof’s spell, and as I dance a crazed jig arm in arm with a complete stranger, I imagine this motley gathering of monks and wenches, archers and serfs being lead deep into the black Welsh night, never to be seen again. Lost in the festival that ended all festivals.

(photos by Bob Underexposed)

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Tapestry Goes West - Margam Country Park, Wales 10th August 2007

"We took a fabulous detour from the world we knew / Not to soon / Across a wire to a golden afternoon / Cathedral bells were sounding in our ears that day / It was like the middle-ages never went away…Who needs perspective when you’re in a Tapestry?" (The Relationships -‘Mediaeval Day’)

Tapestry Goes West - it's the festival that’s not like other festivals. Let us investigate the ways in which Tapestry is different...

Having been dropped by the side of a road in the middle of Wales by the Swansea-Brigend bus we march a mile to the entrance of the "1000 acres of glorious parklands" that is Margam Country Park. Here we discover a charming, hand-painted sign pointing us to Tapestry Goes West – a mile back in the direction we’ve just walked from. Clasping sword and shield, we trundle back along the roadside. Eventually, we arrive at a back entrance to the park, where a friendly man gives us wrist-bands and offers us bin-bags for rubbish.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: There’s no queue, no brain-dead security bossing everyone around, no confiscating of food/drink/vital medicines. There’s no corporate sponsorship or other such distracting bollocks. It’s laid-back and friendly and there’s oodles of space with grassy pastures (cows hang out near Stage 2, not caring) and rolling fields stretching back towards craggy hills. As a backdrop, there’s also the fire and smoke belching steel-works in nearby Port Talbot – let’s pretend it’s a dragon, eh?
I sit on a hill taking it all in. People potter about setting up camp, wibbling by on bikes, staggering past carrying tents that they have erected in one place but that they now want to put in another place. Everyone says hello to me. Maybe because I’m dressed as Robin Hood.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: Tapestry Goes West has a medieval theme – and dressing up is very much encouraged. At first most folks mooch about in civvies, but as the weekend progresses, and with the arrival of a costume hire company onsite, there are more and more damsels, knights, wizards, archers, monks (lots of monks), er, castles, random cardboard constructions, a ‘def leper’, etc etc. In the end, the people not dressed up are the ones that look a bit mental.
We meet Delia and The Panther Girls who are being given a lecture on armour by a medieval enthusiast bloke who is presiding over a display of interesting olde stuff. Delia tries out a helmet and a sword and we have a quick sword fight – setting a precedent for the weekend. A form of Tapestry etiquette arises whereby if one meets somebody else carrying a sword (usually plastic) it’s rude not to have a quick skirmish.

Nothing much has happened yet, but it’s all very enjoyable. Eventually, a band gets going on Stage 2. In direct contradiction to the stage times list we’ve been given it’s not Piney Gir but The Poppies, who, according to the list are playing on Stage 1 tomorrow – oh well. How very Tapestry. They have some equipment problems, but manage to rattle out a few jaggedly cranky, leather-jacketed, new-wave tinged rock ‘n’ roll songs. A small audience lounges peacefully on the grass – as it will do by Stage 2 for most of the festival – it’s the kind of stage and the kind of grass that are perfect for lounging peacefully in front of / upon.

I’m hungry now, so I wander over hill and dale to the baked potato van near Stage 1. Unless you want to eat hog-roast sandwiches (not really my thing) this is the only place you can get food, unless you fancy the several miles trek to Port Talbot Tescos. I like this removal of choice, it simplifies things splendidly.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: There aren’t endless noodle emporia and stinky burger vans and marquees vending outrageously-priced overly frothy shit lager. There are, however, two medieval taverns, The Crimson Moon and The Dark Side of the Moon, proffering a dizzying array of ales, country wines, fruit wines and meads. These wonderous places provide both worm-holes back to the 1400s and drunken taste sensations in one convenient candle-lit, tapestry draped experience. Yum!

Nothing’s happening yet on Stage 1. It’s all very dozey. I start to fall under the Tapestry spell, shrugging off my London go-as-fast-as-you-can-at-all-times, what’shappening? andnowwhat’s happening?? buzzing head and replacing it with a go-with-the-flow, oh-look-a-tree vibe. I return to Stage 2 and stay there until night starts to fall.
The Threatmantics are playing. What they’re playing is oddball queasy pop filled with a crazy, crashing viola noise that barges over the sound of skiffley-twanging guitar, treacherous drumming and one-handed keyboard playing. It has a crunchy grooviness possibly reminiscent of Gorky’s more mad-eyed moments.

There’s new people on the stage!" a miniature knight tells his mum, excitedly. There are, too, it’s Piney Gir’s Country Roadshow. The sun shines and Piney shakes her petticoats, flashes her oversized superstar sunglasses and leads the band through a rollicking set filled with swooning pedal-steel guitar, heart-string-twanging accordion and tumble-weed banishing good-time tunes. Now and then, she’s joined by The Panther Girls who twirl, shimmy and kick their way through cute ‘n’ kitschy dance routines. It’s all crackin’, candy-coloured, country fun topped off with old fave ‘Greetings, Salutations, Goodbye’ which imprints itself on my brain for the next week or so.

I ‘test’ some of The Panther Girls’ peach wine (kindly donated by Tim Purr). It’s amazing – alcoholic essence of peach drowning your tongue and squishing your brain. By now The Panther Girls are off duty, but Radio Luxembourg are so chock full of skewy sunshine melodies that they can’t help but carry on dancing by the side of the stage. They’re joined by erk! Death! Yes, it’s him – in a long black cowl with pointy sleeves. Happily, he’s clearly charmed by Radio Lux’s mix of sherbety psychedelia, fuzzing garage crunchiness and fruit-looping monster pop, and frugs merrily with the girls. I discover I love Radio Luxembourg. They have a single that comes in an interactive sleeve and sounds like Super Furry Animals rolling on the lawn with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci whilst Olivia Tremor Control throw confetti. Once heard, this song will proceed to visit the inside of your head at odd moments, like a big flappy multi-coloured parrot. Radio Luxembourg say things like ‘The next song is about a pony’. They bring their own ‘trippin’ in the jungle’ hand-painted stage set which they construct with their very own hands and tools that they’ve brought along especially. I’m impressed by such all round workmanship.

Next, The Research. The last time I saw The Research they were supporting Sleater Kinney and their sprightly synthy pop got a bit drowned in a cavernous Koko. Things are different now though. For a start, the stage fits the band, so the songs burst out super-bright and showering sparks over our smiling heads. Also, singer Russell is no longer parked behind a squonky keyboard. He's...he's...playing a guitar. This goes against the grain of what we understand The Research to be. Indeed, a drunk girl beside me laments the keyboard’s passing. Happily though, The Research : guitar version are GRATE! Maybe it’s down to the fact that the evening sun is shining right in my face, and addling me into a Beach Boys universe, but now-with-added-guitars The Research sound like Beat Happening having a tea party with Dinosaur Jnr. Russell’s voice has a vaguely J. Mascis type whine to it and the tunes are all exuberant crunch pop. By the end, I’m so enamoured of the sun-filled joyousness of it all that I’m dancing with The Panther Girls and waving my sword in the air like I just don’t…
Hot Puppies! It’s The Hot Puppies! I’m still dancing about, sword akimbo and The Hot Puppies, dressed as knights and damsels and such, are spilling their darkly groovy music all over the shop. Sometimes they sound like Blondie, but mostly they play scratchety riffin, synth-infused, soaraway songs and their classy pop tunes make everyone get up, smile a lot and get on down like fools. We do an invented-on-the-spot dance routine to the monster boogie majestic sweep of ‘Clarinet Town’. What larks we’re having!

Now it’s dark and somehow I’m over at Stage 1 jumping up and down, pointing my sword in lieu of a devil hand-gesture, to The Tokyo Dragons. The Tokyo Dragons are in no way complicated.They do LOUD ROCK SONGS and dirty jeans and long hair and aren’t afraid of holding their guitars aloft like MIGHTY AXES. They wear trucker caps in a proper grease-monkey backwoods way, not a Hoxton twatster way. They are exactly what is needed right now – thunderous, berserko, legs akimbo, proper manly ROOOCCCKK!! Yeah. Argh. They’re great. At the end of their set we’re rocked to the nines and decide it’s time to run away and get a St John Ambulance man to ring us a cab.

(photos by Bob Underexposed)