It's been fairly intense lately.
A couple of friends took me to see the White Horse
out in deepest Oxfordshire. We walked to a mysterious ancient burial mound, then a fighter jet flew over it. Subsequently, I got to go to a roof party on the Ashmolean museum. I did a show for sizzling guitarist Dave Seck at the Port Mahon, thus finally getting the chance to test out my newly-fixed guitar pickup, which we'd had to collect from Blackbird Leys in an adventure the world is not yet ready to hear.
The Swindler and I headed off to the Secret Garden Party
Leaving Oxford for the SGP was tricky, as it was raining so hard that we had difficulty getting from the doorway of the house to the car (it's always good to leave for a camping trip in these conditions, I find). After a while, though, the clouds cleared - and soon we were in Cambridgeshire, where we got stopped by the police for no reason. We entered the festival and, I'm embarrassed to report, derived no small amount of pleasure from walking past the purportedly three-hour-long queue for admission to which ticket-holders were being subjected. We established camp, made friends with our neighbours (one of whom drew a face on my right little fingernail in varnish which I can't now remove), and headed out to find our stage.
This proved difficult, and we would come to appreciate this difficulty as being characteristic of the organisation of the Garden Party. None of the stewards had heard of the place we were playing (it's true: we aren't rock stars) and we eventually got there by stumbling across Sam "The Princess Bride" Morris, entirely by chance. His friend directed us to our tent, where we banged out an absolutely terrible set (nothing about the sound system worked properly, is our excuse) (alternate explanation: we were being punished for enjoying walking past that long queue so much). We begged the good people at Hammer & Tongue
for a second chance, and they swiftly timetabled us in for a 2AM (yes) slot on the Saturday.
This made Saturday an interesting proposition, as we were already planning to play a small event near M40 J6 in Oxfordshire as well as a set at the Truck festival, near Didcot, on that day. Three sets, 100 miles, one day? More on this presently.
We enjoyed ourselves on Friday, by which I mean that I had a little nap and we spent some hours wandering around the Secret Garden festival site, which had been beautifully put together. There was a ferris wheel, which was truly excellent to ride at night with the whole site lit up beneath. The helter skelter, at £2.50 a ride if you please, was such a transparent ripoff that I barely noticed it*. There was a weird phone box you could use for erotic chit-chat with strangers (I tried to go in it again but there was a couple having sex in it the second time so I gave it a miss). A piano connected to an animatronic octopus was slightly disappointing. The brilliant ska band tore up a stage themed on Where the Wild Things are. I liked that there was no "main area" of the festival, that it was just lots of little things. One of the littlest things was Folk in a Box
, run by Max's old friend Frank from the George. Max and I both did sets in there, bumping into old allies Fiona Bevan
and Lail Arad
in the process. I also went in as a punter and recommend the experience!
Lail's set was great in the OneTaste
tent - we also saw some great gypsy stuff from the Hot Club of Belleville
, but the spectator highlight of SGP was the Destroyers
, a brummie-led contingent of staggering genius who we saw in a small, sweaty, intimate, chaotic little tent near the lake. It's a performance I won't soon be forgetting. As soon as it had finished we repaired to OneTaste for our 2AM set, which had been cancelled. Feeling a bit anticlimaxed (but at least we had redeemed our awful earlier set by playing a short one earlier on the Friday) we headed off - I to tentzor to get some kip in, Max to rendezvous with Chris "Dougal" Shipley and allies, with whom he partied until an hour uncertain.
The next day dawning bright, I managed to rendezvous with Sam to have a swim in the lake before Max woke up. It was excellent. We made breakfast at Tentzor whilst Max stirred into life, and then began the tedious process of breaking up camp. It was a shame to leave the SGP before it was over, but we had two other gigs to do! Our vibe of the place was slightly harshed upon leaving by a complete prannock of a steward, who said some very mean things to us - entirely without justification, I hasten to add - and ended by thumping the Peug. This is something you Just Don't Do, but he had a little radio and a high-visibility vest so we had no choice but to live with it. On reflection, I hope that wherever that guy is, he stubs his toe on something quite badly in the near future.
On the road, on the clock. We had until 4:20 to get to the Aston Rowant Nature Reserve
. Stopping in St. Neot's for vital provisions (raspberries) we voyaged through numberless A and B roads, stopping only at laybys for vital provisions (cherries). We got hilariously lost during the last bit (Aston Rowant Nature Reserve is not in Aston Rowant, nor is it signposted from there), and arrived ten minutes later than our advertised set time to find that the whole thing was nearly shut down. Pete the Temp
was still playing merrily to a small crowd in front of a truly dramatic panorama of Oxfordshire, but we were told not to bother setting up and to head over to Truck. Not great news - two out of three shows cancelled - but we grabbed a hog roast bap, leapt back into the faithful Peug, and hit the road.
I liked Truck immediately. It's about 1/8th the size of the Secret Garden Party - perhaps smaller - and much more music-focussed, possessing two large stages, a handful of small tents, affordable food (a portion of lasagne at SGP cost £7; 5 donuts at Truck cost £1 - although we were cooking our own food throughout on the camping stove, so it didn't really affect us), compelling home-brew ale guys, and nice stewards who at no point hit the car (big win). We were slightly dazzled by the number of teenagers - it was a very 'young' festival - but we set up and headed with our hearts in our mouths to the Cabaret tent to find out if our last show of the day was going to be cancelled too. It wasn't, and I think I can dispense with modesty long enough to say that we put 3 set's worth of energy into that one, and you could tell. Leaving the stage, we took in a little Mew
before heading to the Artist's camping field (!), crafting a nice dinner with our friend Alice, and then hitting the hay.
The next day the Peug broke, and the AA man came and fixed it on the spot. I really like the AA. We took in Los Campesinos!
in the evening - nearly becoming entangled in a teen moshpit at one memorable point - then, after crafting yet more food, we hit the road for Oxford town. A voyage to London followed which culminated in us eating rather nice nepalese cuisine on the bonnet of the car. I hosted Catweazle London
and we went to see the CBSO
do a prom
- that was last night, and I wish to remind anybody who's forgotten that the Royal Albert Hall is a very aesthetically pleasing building
, and that Andris Nelsons
is an unimpeachable conductor.
Somewhere in between all this I managed to do a day's work at the bookshop, visit Birmingham twice and move house. In a few hours I'm off to Camp Bestival
to play some songs on their House of Fairy Tales stage. Then it'll be time for the tour with Triple Rosie! A busy day is a happy day.
*this is not true. I am of Yorkshire blood and noticed it instantly.