At each festival we worked at I wrote one line reviews of the artists or bands we'd seen. With one or two exceptions these were edited out of the final draft so here they are as originally published on our blog. Most are one line entries, but by the time we got to Cambridge I was into my stride and wrote more extensively about the bands and some further reflections that were excised from the book.
Sendelica - a band we both love - think instrumental psychedelic space rock and you'll be somewhere near their sound.
Thunderdog - who can boast the worlds most animated saxophone player.
Nukli - a more far out sound than Sendelica and with vocals. They opened with Dance of 1000 Spliffs - that'll give you a good idea of the Nukli sound.
Dogstooth - think a more ambient Motorhead with a charismatic manic front man.
The Penny Antics - a very young (to us) grungy two piece worth checking out.
Cressinda Cowell - How to Train yourDragon - was exciting, delivered interesting asides (like the fact that The Vikings used to throw angry cats at their opponents) and did a live illustration to bring her characters to life.
Barbara Erskine - launched her new novel Sleepers Castle, which Alison went to as a ticket holder and then elbowed her way into the signing queue to purchase an advance copy.
Patrick Ness - Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls - was charming and got the secondary school audience onside by sharing quips about what they did on Snapchat.
Polly Samson - The Kindness - Dave Gilmour’s wife and lyric writer, and Dave Gilmour - Pink Floyd and incidentally went to school with Alison’s father, were very witty. Polly was talkative and expressive while Dave spoke through his guitar. Hearing the 'scat' tracks he produces for Polly to put lyrics to was fascinating.
Dara O’Briain was as funny as you'd expect him to be on two successive sell out shows.
Tim Elliot et al. managed to illustrate immunotherapy with Ferrero Roche chocolates in a Cancer Research UK event that was surprisingly interesting and slightly fattening.
Marcus Brigstocke started well but we didn't linger because we were needed elsewhere.
Suzanne Vega delivered her hits Luka and Tom's Dinner well but otherwise wasn't our cup of tea.
Ruby Wax - A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled - was very funny and informative.
Salmon Rushdie - Alison challenged someone lurking suspiciously outside of his venue thinking they were sneaking in without a ticket, but they turned out to be part of his on-going security detail. We didn't bother going in to see him promoting Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights but have been told it’s worth a read.
Yanis Varoufakis - And The Weak Suffer What They Must? The former finance minister of Greece was funny, knowledge and razor sharp.
Germain Greer talking about Shakespeare: The Sonnets, managed to squeeze two ‘fucks’ and a ‘piss off’ into a discussion about the playwright’s poetry.
The Comedy Store Players were fun, incredibly quick witted and seemed to go down a treat with the audience.
The Acoustic Festival of Great Britain
Paul Young performed with his band Los Pacaminos. Having had her bedroom wall plastered with Paul Young posters growing up, Alison was excited to see him and had the opportunity to meet him before he performed. Not only that but thanks to the very kind stage managers who know the band well she got to be their 'Tequila Babe' and went on-stage with them to deliver Tequila shots during their set.
John Branwell (I am Kloot) was funny and one of the nicest men you could meet. As a bonus he delivered an amazing set of acoustic songs.
Dodgy were perfect for a summer evening in the beer tent.
The Outcast Band are festival regulars and their high energy, fiddle driven set was a hit with the crowd.
The Demon Barbers fuse traditional folk with Irish dancing, break dancing and a very clever sword dance. Quite how they survive a show without decapitating each other is a wonder.
Midge Ure. I wasn't sure how he'd do an acoustic set but his performance was immaculate and revealed new depths to songs like Vienna and Fade to Grey, which he wrote and was a hit for Visage.
Sons of Clogger had the entire beer tent dancing to their high energy folk, think The Pogues if they were from Newcastle.
The Jive Aces were terrific fun, worth catching live for their athletic take on swing and jive.
The Blockheads gave a faultless rendition of their hits like the seasoned pros they are. In the box office Alison told a customer they'd be playing and they excitedly responded "with Ian Dury?" She had to point out he was a bit too dead to perform himself.
Tom Seals was very good in a late night on Radio Two kind of way. The audience clearly loved his jazzy blues.
Toriah Fontaine came on as a guest to sing with Tom Seals and then delivered a set with him and one other as a blues trio in the beer tent. Her voice is amazing. She sings with passion and spirit and delivers her brand of blues in a way that entranced the audience and had everyone who witnessed her performance talking about her. Think Amy Winehouse crossed with Etta James, a sprinkling of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a soupcon of Mavis Staples and you'll be in the right area.
Sonic Rock Solstice:
Ed Tudor Pole - mad as a box of frogs but great entertainment.
Cpt. Roswell and the Lost Alien Tribe - good fun space rock.
The Bevis Frond – I own a few Frond records and enjoyed his set immensely. Alison took to Mavis.
Pre-Med - good honest rock.
TV Smith - the Ex Adverts front man is one of our favourites and well known to us as a regular guest with Tom Robinson. A storming acoustic show.
Dr Hasbeen - more space rock with Nik Turner (Hawkwind) guesting on Sax.
The Sacred Geometry Band - interesting arty rock with a good theatrical show.
Nik Turners Flame Tree - I really wanted to like Flame Tree. Nik had been around all weekend and seems like a nice bloke. The guitarist Dennis Rea hung around with us a bit and was smashing company, but experimental jazz fusion wasn't what we needed on a Sunday evening. When editing the blog Alison made it abundantly clear that she feels experimental jazz fusion is never ever needed.
Quartz - I once owned a record by them - a 12" copy of Count Dracula on red vinyl; a treasured possession among my heavy metal collection in the early 80's. I expected to see them chugging out old songs, sweaty has-beens trading on the fact they once supported Black Sabbath. Instead we got a great show. Mike Hopkins (guitar) looked like he'd been polishing the caravan on his driveway that afternoon before popping along to play Satan’s Serenade at brain melting volume and Dave Garner on vocals darted about and entertained throughout, playing the cheeky chappie with aplomb.
The Vibrators - headlining Sunday night, they delivered fast paced punk to a mixed audience and were great entertainment. Plus we’d had the added enjoyment of Alison asking if anyone had seen a car load of Vibrators when they were late arriving and she needed to get them checked in.
The Mercs – Opened proceedings on Friday with an energetic covers set.
Bessie & The Zinc Buckets – Great fun versions of well-known tunes and they went down a storm.
Mark Morris – A bloke with a guitar and lots of charm.
Frankie and the Heartstrings – Seemed very good. When they did Frank Wilsons Northern Soul classic ‘Do I Love You…Indeed I do’ followed by The Four Seasons ‘The Night’ people were dancing around their camping chairs and I skipped around the site, litter picker in hand, singing along.
Too Many T’s – South London based rappers with an energetic old school rapid fire hip hop style. Worked the crowd well and were very entertaining.
The Neville Staple Band – A short set but well delivered. They did all the crowd-pleasing Specials stuff and were particularly popular with men of a certain age and girth.
Grandmaster Flash – A DJ set by the master. His energy and a well-chosen up tempo selection of crowd pleasers had the crowd eating from his hands. People were on the shoulders of their friends, hands aloft and all but the most curmudgeonly had a broad smile on their face and a swing in their gait.
The Coral – We took a break during their set but what we heard was very good. They certainly went down well and were a fitting end to the festival.
New Wine Festival
The nature of New Wine meant that we didn't really see much in the way of 'entertainment', with two notable exceptions:
The Peanuts Movie - bloody awful.
Andy Flannagan - the perfect antidote to The Peanuts Movie, outbreaks of spontaneous prayer and rampant worship. Thoughtful reflections on faith, social justice and some crowd pleasing covers.
Don Airey (Deep Purple) delivered a stunning set, classic rock done to perfection.
DC/73 played mostly Bonn Scott era AC/DC with a polish that belayed their usual pub gig status. A great start to the festival proper and they get a mention here because they sent a charming thank you email to the crew. Yes, I really am that cheap.
There were tributes to AC/DC, Cream, Ozzy Osborne and Pink Floyd among the line-up every act was skilled, impressively like the band they were imitating and had an act to match. For us, these tribute acts are the closest we’ll ever get to watching the real thing and done well they are entertaining and fun. I still harbour mixed feelings about tribute acts though. Technically gifted musicians in their own right I wonder how many are doing it because it’s one of the few ways that being a musician can pay nowadays – lugging your gear around on the modern equivalent of the chicken in a basket circuit, pretending to be someone else and earning them royalties. On the other hand where else would ‘Ozzy Osborne’ hug you for finding his £1 pair of sunglasses?
Pure Floyd were lit up by an elaborate light I found the whole spectacle aurally and visually underwhelming.
Son of Man, a kind of hybrid tribute-come-spin-off from the original Welsh band Man. I wasn’t familiar with Man but Son of… were on great form with their psychedelically infused heavy rock. A band I’ll be seeking more of.
Remus Down Boulevard. Built around Dennis Stratton, one of the original members of Iron Maiden they played straight forward honest heavy rock with great aplomb. Of note too was their cheery down to earth ego free disposition. They chatted away freely to everyone, mixed with the punters around the bar and if anything dressed down before taking to the stage. Without wishing to appear rude Dennis couldn’t look less like a rock star if he tried and I love him for it.
Cregan and Co. Jim Cregan is a long-time collaborator and song writing partner of Rod Stewart and the band play their songs. Ben Mills, an X-Factor finalist, fronts the band on vocals and guitar. Now, normally I’d rather listen to the sound of my own testicles being grated than hear anyone associated with a TV talent show but he was great; perfect voice, poised and professional, permanently grinning. He reminded me of Marti Pellow without the smack.
Hazel O’Connor was as entertaining and down to earth as ever. Last time we worked with her she had a long conversation with Alison about dog biscuits. Today she turned up with a Sainsbury’s shopping bag containing her tambourine and bodhrán and wondered if it would be alright on stage. Suitably reassured she and her band delivered a storming set.
Carl Palmer, formally of ELP and a drummer of extraordinary talent. As impressive as his skills were they were matched by the guitarist and bass player who shared the stage with him. Simon Fitzpatrick on bass played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody on his 6 string bass and it was stunning. Normally I abhor Queen, Bohemian bloody Rhapsody fills me with revulsion and I consider that any bass player whose solo exceeds 60 seconds should be turfed into the nearest cesspit. (Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al has what I think of as the perfect bass solo). Today though I was won over by a masterclass performance. Hearing the crowd hush and then gently sing the words to accompany him was a spine tingling moment. The guitarist, Paul Bielatowicz looked about 12 years old; I swear he hasn’t started shaving yet; nevertheless he was every bit the match for his colleagues, leaning back and staring upwards, eyes tightly closed, lost in the bubble as the music flowed through him. We saw three masters of their respective instruments on stage, I even applauded the drum solos!
Gunrunner. A down to earth, no nonsense rock covers band of rare pedigree and talent.
Mostly Autumn – Kudos to them for winning Alison’s award for having the most organised van, a multi shelved affair split into compartments and packed like a game of Tetris.
Focus, the most laid back bunch of blokes of the weekend. Leading them was shambolic frontman Thjis Van Leer who assembled an old wooden Hammond organ, stool and amp on stage, all of which were literally held together by gaffer tape. With all the teak veneer his riser resembled my Nan’s living room circa 1972. Their set was characteristically Focus, mostly instrumental with occasional yodelling and cheerfully erratic stage patter. They went down well with the audience and were a fitting end to a great 5 days of music.
Photo credits. All pics by Ray S Canham except Corbridge - Alison J Canham Cosmic Puffin features Sendelica Acoustic Festival features Dodgy Sonic Rock Solstice features Dr Hasbeen Corbridge Festival feature Grandmaster Flash