Sunday 22 August 2010

Tapestry Super Sonic Sunday, 4 July 2010, Shenley Park

We’re all going on a summer holiday…no we’re not but there is a clapped out red double decker waiting to ‘whisk’ us away for larks ‘n’ hi-jinks in the sunshine. It’s the Tapestry Super Sonic Sunday and after only the smallest amount of confusion (circumnavigating a roundabout three times in a row), we arrive at the ludicrously bucolic Hertfordshire village of Shenley.

The festival takes place within the idyllic confines of Shenley Park Walled Garden, which has been landscaped to create a grassy amphitheatre. The ‘DJ Booth’ is a cute ironwork gazebo. In one corner the Hemel Hempstead Brass band strikes up, filling in the music-free gaps before and after the first couple of bands. They provide a suitably country fete style soundtrack as cheery punters shake out their picnic blankets and peacefully swig their first pints of the day. Ahh, the pints. Everyone’s fave Farringdon joint, The Betsey Trotwood is running the beer tent and truly it is the queen of canvas booze emporia. It’s beautifully laid out, strung with fairy lights, the straw bale bar topped with gingham cloths and ooh! a wooden dresser laden with a selection of fine single malt whiskys (I shall be returning to this later). Instead of flat foamy crap lager there are fine ales and ciders to quaff, e.g. Betsey’s Festivale (a ha ha!) and ‘Barry’s Bitter’ (after organiser and all-round hero Barry Stillwell). We opt for pints of Badgers Scrumpy and Perry in keeping with the rustic theme.

The heat is oppressive – there’s not a lot of shade amongst the herbaceous borders, so we slap on the factor fifty and watch children doing mental inhibition-free dancing to the first band, The Black List – a local band for local people – who have ventured here from er, Borehamwood. As the Tapestry clientele tends to include numerous 30-40 somethings, there are quite a lot of children here having a high old time. It’s great for them as it’s only a small garden and they can be contained by the wall.

The Hemel Hempstead Brass Band treat us to a bazillion song medley (which includes, erm ‘Jingle Bells’, cheers!) and then Oldboy rampage through some ferocious boogaloo blues. They are led by Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne and his mighty firey axe licks. It all goes a bit seventies dazed and confused (if you ignore the brass band sitting nearby) with vicious boogie - like an amphetamine ZZ Top; low slung blues a la Blue Cheer; country tinged calmer moments, and a fine bit of rockabilly to round things off (this gets an old brass band geezer nodding with approval).

Mister B the Gentleman Rhymer is a whole other kettle of fish. Clad in stripy blazer ‘n’ boater combo, he strums a banjolele and raps in a simply marvellous manner. This is ‘Chap-Hop’ apparently and it really is frightfully good. Tunes include ‘I Say, You! (The Rock Steady Crew)’ and (“what on earth has happened to”) ‘Timothy’ about an old school chum of Mister B’s who has gone rather squiffy “I used to prep with him you see”. If we guess who the song is about, we are told “you may announce it gently in a Sunday afternoon way, if you wish” (it’s Tim Westwood, obv). We are also treated to Mister B’s unique take on a selection of rousing old skool bangin’ choons e.g. ‘Out Of Space’, ‘The Magic Number’, ‘I like To Move It’ &c, &c. Bravo that fellow.

We lounge in the sun, gossip with friends, peruse the fanzine stall, wander round the garden and read about its history on a handy sign-post (it dates back to the 16th Century you know). Whilst this is going on Zun Zun Egui provide a soundtrack of stop-starty art rock with whooshing synths and thunderously funky bass and drums. Sort of Field Music with afro wibbling if you please.

We are excited to discover an unadvertised addition to the bill in the form of German comedian (yes!) Henning Wehn. His set revolves around English / German stereotypes and the relationship between the two countries. Every now and then he’ll check his watch and announce how many minutes of ‘jolliness’ we have enjoyed so far. We are encouraged to clap along to a cheery German folk song, before being informed it was a favourite of the Nazi’s and is basically saying ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ By the end many minutes of jolliness have been accumulated and we feel most efficiently entertained.

After these laughs, it all goes a tad drear with The Trembling Bells. I like a spot of Fairport Convention-influenced folkie do-lallying, but give me Eighteenth Day Of May (R.I.P) with their tunes and psychy grooviness, over this slightly joyless snooze. I am disappointed as I’d been looking forward to investimagating this lot. Things perk up with the last song’s dirty prog-folk droneyness. Maybe the rest of the set was just an off day? Will try them again sometime.

The festival is running early!!!!! What??! When has this ever happened anywhere?

To soak up the booze there are organic burgers, Mediterranean salad boxes and an ice cream-dispensing bicycle. NUM! We eat our tea whilst Kitty Daisy And Lewis get the crowd up off their lazy Sunday afternoon arses to jive to their thumping jitterbuggin’ quiff-a-riffic sounds. There’s a good bit with spitty beatboxing, some mean harmonica playing and Lewis knocks out a spot of evil honky tonk piano. At one point, ska legend Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton leads proceedings, trumpet ahoy - the perfect sunshine soundtrack.

Only now its gone right nippy. We sit on a bench under a hedge to hide from the chill wind and go ahhh! warmth! when the sun peeks out. Luckily, we get ourselves all hot and bothered once The Jim Jones Revue come out to play. You can’t not dance like a loon to the JJR and their rip-snorting, filthily scuzzed rock ‘n’ roll. Best band of the day, oh yeaahhh!

It’s blimmin’ freezing now – what happened to the balmy summer eves we’ve been enjoying of late? As The Magic Numbers take to the stage, I take to the Laphroaig, attempting to conjure warmth medicinally. I also try and snuggle into the crowd to leach a bit of body heat whilst the band lead us through songs old and new. Michelle appears to have become a mean rockin’ heeled boot stompin’ mutha, flinging her bass high to give those jams a right good kicking. Angela is poorly, swigging back the cough medicine (er, not in a Codeine way), her voice breaking down so much she has to abandon croaking her way through some bits.

It’s a warmly received, set, but we’re still chilled to the bone and amble off into the darkness to see if the coach has arrived yet. Eventually it shows up and we charge on alongside ale-addled fellow festivalers, back to the big smoke. The driver insists on playing the radio, even though it’s only partially tuned in so we’re mainly listening to white noise (not in a good way). Shouts of annoyance echo up and down, there’s sweariness and drunken bickering. For a while there, thanks to Barry, we were a blissed out bunch of Londoners getting mellow in the country. Sadly, it didn’t last long.