Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thumpermonkey & Grelch at the Engine Rooms

It's official, I'm too old to get drunk on a Tuesday night. I always welcome a mid-week jolly, but from now on, I resolve to stay off the booze until Friday night. Last night I tried to act 15 and woke up feeling 50. A gang of us went down to the distinctly seedy Engine Rooms, to support Michael's first Brighton gig with his band Thumpermonkey, stopping first for a civilised tipple at The Regency. The gig had been held up thanks to a slack, absentee promoter, and Michael eventually came on stage around 9.15pm, by which time I was already tipsy and indulging fond memories of similarly grungy rocker nights, half my life ago. There was even a familiar Eastbourne face from the 'Inn on the Track' days, though my memories of then are too hazy to recall a name. The highlight of Thumpermonkey's set for me was their tongue-in-cheek cover of 'As the World Falls Down' from the Labyrinth soundtrack, which topped off my teenage nostalgia trip nicely. After Thumpermonkey, a local band, Grelch, amused us with folk-rock pastiche and worryingly oddball humour. There wasn't much scope for conversation what with the small space and big speakers, so Mat and Ant decided physical communication was the way to go and ended up having a girlie brawl reminiscent of that classic Darcy vs. Cleaver scene from Bridget Jones's Diary. Nice.

I woke up this morning with a killer of a stiff neck, which I can't even put down to moshing (I'm more of a foot-tapper these days), and a bleary-eyed hangover which doesn't seem to be wearing off. Quiet night in tonight then.







Monday, June 26, 2006

A Midsummer Night's Dream?

On Saturday night I found myself in a glade on the South Downs Way, where a bluegrass band were playing under a gazebo. A scattered audience sat or lay on the grass, among them a barman from my local pub, my ex-yoga teacher and the 1930s couple who've been stalking us all summer (OK, not stalking exactly, but they do seem to have been at all the same cultural events as us and are particularly conspicuous due to their striking vintage attire). This was an unexpected turn of events and a rather surreal experience. We'd walked along the ridge from Devil's Dyke to Truleigh Hill, to ambush Mat, who was camping at the youth hostel there. He'd mentioned something about an acoustic event going on, but this was not what I had imagined. We sat ourselves down and ate our picnic while the next band up, a Tortoise-esque stoner-jam ensemble, induced a welcome torpor among the crowd. Mat and his girlfriend, apparently unaffected by the mellow moment, decided it was the perfect time for a game of badminton. Sadly we couldn't stay to find out what other musical delights were on offer, as the light was fading and we had a 3 mile walk back to the car. I'm still not sure whether I was really there, or whether I just fell asleep in the garden and dreamed it. Either way, it was a memorable night.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Isle of Wight Festival 2006

Suffering from post Brighton Festival blues, I was idly looking online at summer music festival line-ups and feeling downcast at not being able to afford to go to any of them. So I started searching for competitions to win tickets, and entered three or four, quickly forgetting which ones they were. Imagine my surprise when last week I opened a junk-mail-looking envelope to discover two complimentary tickets to the Isle of Wight Festival that weekend. After a brief debate over whether to sell them or go for it, we were soon booking ferry tickets (possibly the most expensive crossing per mile) and digging out the camping gear.

Ant picked me up from work on Friday, after a gruelling 3 hour journey from Brighton to Chichester. He was understandably on edge and this escalated as it took us another 2 hours to get to Southampton. Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for a ferry, but it was dark before we arrived on the island. Pitching up in darkness is never fun, and we trapsed around for quite a while before finding a decent spot. Sadly we missed all of the Friday night bands and I was quite looking forward to the Prodigy. It was midnight by the time we were camped, and we were exhausted. So after a quick swig of mead and a wander, we crashed out.

On Saturday morning we met up with Mat Smith and his mates, who were on a lads weekend. Mat's friends then abandoned him to go and watch the football, so we hung out, watching Suzanne Vega, followed by a distinctly un-memorable set by The Upper Room and then The Proclaimers who were undoubtably my festival highlight. Vega was excellent too - a nice chilled atmosphere and simple, folky music kept the crowd mellow as we all lay about in the sunshine. By the time The Proclaimers came on, we'd had a few beers and a couple of flapjacks each and became rather silly - prancing around to 'I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)' and doing dog-howls along to one of their more maudlin ballads. We missed The Kooks, Dirty Pretty Things and The Editors in favour of dinner back at the campsite and a rest from the oppressive heat. We returned later for Primal Scream, who made the mistake of doing their greatest hit first, so that the rest of the set was a real let-down. They were followed by the headline act, Foo Fighters, who I last saw live at Glastonbury in 1998. Not wanting to repeat my near-death crushing experience of that gig, we decided not to follow Mat & co into the mosh-pit and found ourselves a less claustraphobic spot a bit further back. Dave Grohl appeared on stage, chewing madly on gum, with a slightly manic look in his eye, and displayed remarkable energy for a middle-aged rocker, running up onto speaker stacks and playing the crowd. They are certainly good at what they do, but it doesn't really do it for me - I just kept regretting never having seen Nirvana live.

On Sunday we left the festival site to see a bit of the island, and had a yummy lunch at Liberty's cafe in Ryde, followed by a little drive around, taking in the stunning scenery. Back at the festival, the wind had dropped and the heat was intense, so ageing hippies Procol Harum provided the perfect soundtrack by which to doze in the sun. A surge of flowing grey hair and tie-dye wafted past us as fans dashed to the front to sway along to 'Whiter Shade of Pale'. We couldn't face sticking it out for another three hours to see Lou Reed, and there was nothing else appealing on offer, so we broke camp and made our way back to the ferry. One of the most annoying things about the Isle of Wight Festival is the lack of alternatives to the main (and extremely mainstream) stage. There was a token 'bandstand' for more obscure bands, but they struggled to attract an audience, stuck in a thoroughfare with nowhere for people to sit. My other main gripe was the lack of information or knowledgeable staff provided. No-one seemed to be able to direct us to the 'quiet' campsite and if you wanted to find out who was on when, or even about the bands themselves, you had to buy a programme for £7 - rather steep if you'd paid £105 for a ticket. Most other festivals I've been to give you some sort of pocket-sized guide, with timetables and a bit of blurb about the acts, so that you can discover new music, rather than just going to see bands you've already heard of. It's not what you'd call a music-lovers festival - most of the crowd seemed more concerned with getting mashed than anything. I wouldn't pay to go back, but for a freebie it was a fun weekend.