Gashead's Blog Wonders

21Apr/120

OneFest – A Very Singular Festival

From OneFest 14 April 2012

My neverending quest to stalk Damon Albarn last Saturday took Vicky and me to Rockley in Wiltshire. Mid-April is not the most popular time of the year for a festival for reasons that became obvious later. We rolled up in the coach from The Barge Inn at Honey Street about 20 minutes before the gates were due to open, a formidable queue of around 20 people had beaten us to it. Perfect timing, we could hear Damon Albarn sound-checking The Marvelous Dream on the main stage a couple of hundred yards away. The minute the gates opened we legged it for the stage, but it was too late!

Plan B was the beer tent, after all it was noon already. Bath Ales Bounders Cider was the survivable option at 4%, the alternative cider was 6.8% and therefore not viable for a long day stood on our feet. Next up there were food options to explore and the Bath Pig chorizo stew looked good but we got sidetracked by a woman selling some amazing miniature guitars kerching kerching. Then I spotted a welly tossing competition, get both wellies to land on the target and you win a free pair, a pound a go for charity. They had only just opened up and I bagged a £35 Joules pair for Vicky on my second attempt!

Excellent chorizo stew necked, laden with miniature guitars and prize wellies, cider refilled we headed into the Tumuli Stage in time to catch Old Colours. Being old they looked like a bunch of kids to me but they certainly knew how to play. They are one of those bands where it appears any mate who can play an instrument will get in the band and they will adapt their music accordingly. Usual guitars and drums, a violin, a xylophone, a trumpet - but then I got into a band in the seventies purely down to my jew's harp skills that worked well for Bird On A Wire. In summary the bunch of spawny kids went down a well deserved storm.

Back out into the bright, overcast outdoors and Kidnap Alice did a very fine line in Bluegrass despite a couple of yummy mummies stood in front of the stage, backs to the band talking about their kids through the greater part of the set

The crowd were very different from the usual during the afternoon, loads of kids oblivious to the acts on stage, people with dogs, it was a kind of alternative afternoon out for the local Marlborough set. At some point in the afternoon the dogs and the kids disappeared leaving the site to the hardcore more conventional festival types.

Nick Harper followed on the main stage. We saw him last year playing Me And My Woman with the godlike genius of his old man Roy. Could he cut it on his own? Yes.

In an apparent nod to Damon Albarn's presence he slipped a few lines of Out Of Time into Love Is Music but further research indicates he has done this before. Despite trying to come across like a cantankerous bugger on the stage when we had a brief chat afterwards he was a genuinely warm man, a pleasure to meet.

Meanwhile, backstage, Damon was having a cheeky one.

From OneFest 14 April 2012

Back to the tent and Gaz Brookfield was showing an equal passion denouncing Simon Cowell and the X Factor in song. So impressed were we that we bought his CD afterwards. Just as I got to the front to ask him to sign it "For Simon and Louis" his pen ran out, ach well.

More cider, more consequential trips to the loo and a very nice set from Rae Morris

From OneFest 14 April 2012

She still had the chattering classes to contend with but her strong songs and vocals overcame them.

From nowhere a video camera on a tripod appeared, I gently enquired if they were early for Dr Dee but no, it was The UK Asian and their man Raghu Dixit and his band were due on next. Bizarrely they had been playing in Goa just the night before in 38C heat, caught a flight to Heathrow and came straight to OneFest. Despite the temperature being approximately thirty degrees lower they appeared on stage in bare feet, sarongs and T shirts just as they were in Goa. Whatever they feed kids on in Bangalore I think we all need it. A great set followed despite Raghu having contracted laryngitis somewhere along the way.

Yet more cider, yet more trips to the loo, some sweets and Dry The River appeared. We had seen them previously supporting Ed Sheeran, along with Damon and Graham Coxon (yes, that's why I went though Ed is great). I had them filed under psychedelic ZZ Top. Since then they had been to "The States" and it got mentioned, between every song I believe. One particularly handsome band member had acquired a beard and the highly refreshed girls behind referred to him loudly as "The Jesus Bloke" when not flicking things at my head. The increased volume rather tested my camera's sound capabilities but here goes anyway.

A quick trip to the loo while one of the refreshed girls let Vicky know people over the age of 30 shouldn't be at festivals (I look forward to her telling the old farmer who hangs around Glastonbury that), a change of camera to one with no darkness challenged auto-focus and it was Dee Time. The sun had gone down as had the temperature and the large band wandered onto the stage. I saw Dr Dee last year in Manchester with the full ENO production but there would be no room for this on such a small stage. I had expected Damon to perform a solo set but it was far from that. The three opera singers were warmly wrapped, Christopher Robson in a particularly thick overcoat and high scarf, having heard his marvellous falsetto previously I could see why in view of the dropping temperature.

So off we kicked with Damon striking a large bell as per Pink Floyd's Division Bell and on he proceeded into a run through of the opera. There were some very quiet, subtle moments slightly spoiled by the initial sound issues but it settled down and the three singers Christopher Robson, Victoria Couper and Melanie Oppenheim came to the fore in between Damon's soft, pastoral songs.


Progressively the cold began to bite, the high opera seriousness turned into a bit of fun and Damon began to interact with the audience (size unknown as I was on the barrier eyes forward). Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away even merited a reprise as it seemed to warm the crowd up a bit. One true gem was Cathedrals which was stirring in its beauty.

The opera came to a close but few realised as the work is still relatively unknown. Damon moved to centre stage, wound up an old gramophone record and struggled with the lid and a 78 finally placing the tone arm in the groove, a Piaf style voice sang out and the ensemble took the applause from a cold but fabulously entertained crowd. Beats by Dr Dee indeed.

In conclusion the day has to be considered a true success. Very friendly, well chosen food and drink and some superb music. Having the performers around enjoying the festival talking to their fans made it all the more special. That's all we want and it doesn't need a media company to suck the artistic blood out of it, just guys like Stephen Budd who cut the crap and please.
Google

26Apr/111

Stalking Damon Albarn

Early Days

The first time I heard Blur's There's No Other Way it was like discovering an outtake from Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Throughout their lifetime Blur drifted in and out of my mainstream, Country House doing much to persuade me Oasis had won the phony Britpop war. I heard the occasional gem like Out Of Time but they never quite made my elite Buy Every CD The Day It Comes Out list that is already far too big.

Their time passed and the boy moved on and I started hearing about Gorillaz. Some sort of cartoon hip hop band you never see, or so they said. One day I bought a compilation for Warchild called Help! A Day In The Life, ready to be copied onto my NAS drive for later listening, maybe when I retire. I played a couple of tracks then noticed a song called Hong Kong by Gorillaz, big heavy beat, miscellaneous hip hoppers bouncing around the studio no doubt. No, complete generalisation fail on my behalf. I played it 10 times or more that day and a week will not pass when I don't listen to it again.

As is my way when I hear something so utterly amazing I nipped out to Selectadisc in London's Berwick Street and bought everything I could lay my hands on by Gorillaz in search of that magical other track or two. As is also my way I backed the CDs up onto my network, filed them away and didn't really register the brilliance of Demon Days El Mañana and the stonking closing of Don't Get Lost In Heaven and Demon Days itself. This has since been corrected.

Africa Express

Glastonbury 2007, my second attempt at surviving the hellish conditions of Michael Eavis' fields in Somerset where trench foot and hypothermia are common ailments in late June. That weekend we had decided to stalk The Magic Numbers who had played the Pyramid Stage and then had to look at me 4 feet away from Romeo in the Guardian Lounge.

We were all clapping for more at the end of a 45 minute set but Romeo apologised and said they were playing shortly on The Park Stage and had to go. So off we trooped up to the stage we had been at the night before when Michael Eavis spoke proudly of his daughter's first project and introduced Lily Allen as the "very special guest" to kick things off. We, like many, were expecting something more along the lines of Radiohead but Lily had been at every Glastonbury since she was in her mother's womb and had to endure the childhood embarrassment of her dad Keith selling booze from the boot of their car. As such it was an inspired choice.

There were a hundred or so people up there when we arrived and some spawny kid called "The Human Beatbox" or something like that was entertaining the crowd with his mouth and a microphone. Various Land Rovers arrived to the left of the stage and people got out, including The Magics, Sir Billy Bragg and some heavy looking African dudes in clothes that would look strange anywhere but Glastonbury. I will choose another day to fully document the wondrousness of the evening, meanwhile read here and here for a flavour of what 169,000 people missed. Terry Hall and Lynval Golding came on after an hour or so of amazing African jam sessions and the full orchestra of world music kicked off A Message To You Rudy with Damon Albarn on the keyboards just where we were standing left of stage.

At one point he looked down at me as if he saw the joy in my face and smiled as if to say "you're fucking loving this mate aren't you" and I was. The evening was a triumph, we never got round to seeing Madness playing at Lost Vagueness, this was what Glastonbury should be about and after five hours the Africa Express gig ended, reluctantly, with what seemed like fifty musicians and a crowd of by then around a thousand belting out Rock El Casbah.

Afterwards I sussed out that Damon was the curator of Africa Express, the ultimate collaboration. One year later after one of the worst ever periods of my life I read that Africa Express were playing at Koko in Camden as a part of the 2008 BBC Electric Proms. This time around kick off was 8pm with a scheduled finish of 3am! Damon was everywhere that evening joining in onstage playing his melodica Augustus Pablo style or just being there

From Africa Express Koko 2008

The usual suspects turned up including The Magic Numbers

and significantly Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble who were later to join Damon both with Blur and on Gorillaz 2010 Plastic Beach world tour. The evening ended with a suitably refreshed Rachid Taha leading Rock El Casbah once more but the highlight was earlier in the evening when Baaba Maal, Amadou et Mariam and the best of Africa turned up the heat for what seemed like hours of magical, mysterious tunes.

Blur

In 2009 Blur overcame acrimony and reunited. First up was a gig at the East Anglian Railway Museum, a few miles from my home. I found the Ticketmaster pre-sale, snapped up two of 180 tickets, only to find Ticketmaster insisting I was from The Republic Of Ireland when I tried to pay. This went on for a good ten minutes, I ended up starting again only to be told the inevitable no tickets available. Notwithstanding I had to pick up my granddaughter from a party in Braintree that very same evening so I insisted she be ready by 10pm and we would see if security had knocked off early. We arrived at 10.15pm, Blur had knocked off early so their fans could get the last train home for London at around 10.18 or so!

Next up they were playing at The Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea. This time there were no ticketing cock-ups and Vicky and I joined the legions of boys and girls now in their late thirties wearing Fred Perry polo shirts for an amazing evening. The Essex boys were highly spirited and at one point my safe position stood half way back ended up on the barrier as I got swept up in the excitement, it was an enormous party after all, even the ever cool Alex James was visibly loving it.

From Blur, Southend Cliffs Pavilion 21/06/09

I managed to get back to my prime video spot though my shirt would not be dry again for several hours.

I changed my opinion on Blur v Oasis, the latter looked increasingly ridiculous with their sibling if not wibbling rivalry destroying the band while Blur came back with the passion I love in all my family of bands.

We went to Glastonbury 2009 but the sheer exertion of finding a camping spot on the Wednesday set off swollen glands and I reluctantly had to leave before they came on stage on the Sunday evening. Still, it couldn't have been better than the Cliffs Pavilion gig, intimate, thrilling...apparently it was!

Massive Attack

Massive Attack are part of my family of bands. They are from Bristol, my home town from birth until I moved to Essex in 1980, rumoured to include fans of The Forces Of Darkness (Bristol Shitty) but despite this amazing musicians. I buy everything they ever release, love them. Of course my Mum in her 80s is too cool for school and when I mentioned Massive Attack recently she told me about the time in Somerfield on the Gloucester Road when she got talking to a tall "coloured" chap who was off to Japan the next day with his band, step forward Daddy G!

In late 2009 the boys were on at Brixton Academy, possibly my favourite venue. They had been recording with Damon Albarn, an unlikely combination you may think until you see this

Yes, that's Vicky and me spotting Damon again 5 minutes in. He went on to perform Saturday Come Slow both that evening and the following February at Hammersmith Apollo.

Earlier in the year I had accused Bono of stalking me having turned up at Coldplay/Killers and Cat Stevens unannounced, now I was being stalked by Damon.

Gorillaz

2010, somebody wakes Gorillaz up from their slumber. They announce they are to play at Coachella but need a little warm up. I signed up for the Sub-Division fan club promising priority booking for their concerts. Probably worth the £25 and I get a limited edition Stylo car, of course the car never got made but I got a fantastic litho instead which is framed and above my bed now.

First up were the "rehearsals" with all sorts of caveats about it being not the full show, no films, just the group. Oh and they are on at the tiny Cambridge Junction but being a rehearsal it's only £15 a ticket for Sub-Division members. Like I cared. Oh...and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash are in the band by the way. WTF?! I last saw them together at The Bristol Hippodrome on the London Calling tour and completely adored Big Audio Dynamite. I can endure this rehearsal I am sure.

So I decided to take the day off with a spare ticket in hand, drove up to Cambridge with Plastic Beach on the stereo though no Bruce Willis in the passenger seat. When I arrived, way too early, there was a Dutch woman sat reading a book by the door quietly raving about the earlier sound check. I headed to the pub for a couple and came back in time to find a small queue. Nobody wanted my spare ticket and the box office was trying to flog remaining tickets to the public at the £15 fan club price. Not exactly popular it seems. The audience was mainly 30s and 40s, few street-wise kids who you would expect for a band made for the MTV generation. So I let them all go in first to get a few Lambrinis in, emptied my bladder just in case and walked in straight to the front pausing on the way to buy a couple of T shirts.

After much anticipation on came the band, when I say band I mean a small army of violinists, backing singers, guitarists, drummers, keyboard players and of course Damon. It was his birthday and he sat down to a chorus of "Happy Birthday". What followed was special. No dark screens, the ensemble dressed in naval gear, The Clash boys with officers' caps to hide their baldness.

From Gorillaz Rehearsals - The Junction, Cambridge

Not everybody was there, Lou Reed boomed out of the speakers but was probably in New York giving an interviewer a hard time. Bobby Womack was another virtual attendee. But we weren't complaining, the strings exhilirated, the choir sang Don't Get Lost In Heaven and Demon Days lushly, it was wonderful. Yet there were tickets going begging.

At this point I could probably have died a happy, contented and fulfilled man. But wait, there's more. Next up was The Roundhouse, another gig partly pre-Coachella rehearsal, also to be broadcast on the web. More Sub-Division priority tickets and this time a full supporting ensemble of Mos Def, Shaun Ryder, Kano, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Bashy, Gruff Rhys and The National Orchestra For Arabic Music...oh and films as well!

The heavy rhythms rather ruined the sound on half of my videos but they felt great vibrating against me as I stood by the right hand speakers! We left so glad we got to see our boys and wondering if we would ever see them again.

From Gorillaz at The Roundhouse 29/04/2010

Next big thing for us was Glastonbury, several of the participants from The Roundhouse were on the bill but no Gorillaz. Deus ex machina time, Bono finally paid the price for jumping off the stage at Live Aid when he spent half of Bad trying to get back up again and he needed spine surgery. No U2, somebody else was needed to replace them. One day in May I ran around the office like an idiot when I heard Gorillaz were their replacement. The perfect Glastonbury band. Collaborative, visual, generally loved. Mission on, find as much naval gear as possible and we will wear it for all five days and spend four days explaining to people we hadn't just sailed into Worthy Farm.

From Glastonbury 2010

They delivered, everybody there loved it including many people who didn't think they would, yet the armchair festivalgoers watching on TV were unimpressed by the gaps. For us it allowed us guerilla visits to The Cider Bus nearby and the talk there afterwards was how good a show it was, Lou Reed aficionados being particularly vocal. One younger chap was particularly surprised at the sheer quality and number of guests, he didn't think he would fancy them but now he loved them.

From Glastonbury 2010

Of course there was still a small matter of a world tour to complete. We had standing tickets for The O2 in September but this date was rearranged. Touring commitments were cited yet Gorillaz' visuals were all over the launch literature for Internet Explorer 8 at around the same time. I begged for tickets to the IE8 London launch expecting Gorillaz to turn up, I got none, they didn't. The show was rearranged for November and we went.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Gorillaz came, they played, they conquered. Unbelievably this was so much better than even the three other shows we had been to. Sadly we only caught the end of Little Dragon (since rectified) but De La Soul were amazing and got the audience pumped up and loving it.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

As for Gorillaz, the music had developed on tour and grown. Empire Ants was insanely good. Bobby Womack was almost in tears talking about how he had come to love the songs they wrote for him to sing, Cloud Of Unknowing is beautiful even without Bobby's voice.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Damon was all over the place keeping up the momentum they had supposedly lost at Glastonbury, this was the supreme version of Gorillaz 2010, fully developed. Little Dragon and The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble could never not play a Gorillaz tour again, they added so much. Will we ever see them again?

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Probably...as for Damon.

The Future

July, The Manchester International Festival, Dr Dee written by and starring Damon Albarn. We will be there, will it be any good, look mate you're talking Damon Albarn...