Excited like a child at Christmas, bags packed and head full with a million blinding memories from last year, we set off to this years Secret Garden Party hoping against hope that everything was going to be, well… something like the same.
Last year’s event was mind-bending, not in a clichd or pre-conceived way, just utterly insane and strangely soothing, with bizarre sights like a man sailing down a hill in a wheelchair, a caravan awning shimmering on a hill with crazed dancers, and the drummer from Goldie Lookin’ Chain hanging out with his child and mother amidst providing a touching and funny undercurrent to the organised fare.
It was one of the most outlandish best festivals, and I was eager to see how it had developed for 2007. With a song in the heart, we pitched tents as quickly as possible and got out into the arena, the rolling slab of Abbots Ripton countryside opening up another realm of memories as it lay in sunny recline.
Euros Childs had passed me by already, and it’s a shame as his wondrous brand of folk/pop would have been a more fitting first act to see than The New York Fund, who in the midst of pumping it up a little, lost all of the inherent nuance and romance of country music to a disappointing rock bombast. The sparse crowd wilt after a few songs, and it’s time for the first little jaunt to strange pastures.
The sun pulsed down and the little knoll took us up and then down to the Centre Camp Stage, where people were relaxing to a bit of Beans on Toast, an alt-country singer/songwriter who purveys the genre in a more dignified manner than NYF, sounding a little like The Streets doing Chas and Dave if they were downbeat poets and social commentators with Merle Haggard fascinations.
Fantastic, underplayed rhythms give the Beans on Toast sound a terrific texture, and I joined the rest of the crowd in total absorption till he downed his tools and set off over the hill himself.
There’s been a distinct shortage of giant eyeballs so far, but here’s one now, accompanied by two ladies on stilts. And the eyeball tries to escape, but the stiltees follow in hot pursuit, til all three creatures are in a heap on the floor, and now I feel I’ve really been welcomed back.
The wander back to The Great Stage Stage is taken through a random smattering of people in a happy daze, which The Noisettes disturb like some defiant demon machine. It’s good, in places, flaccid in others. They certainly have that distinct commercial rock facade, but maybe it’s the result of just being very good rather than anything more deliberate. One thing I do know is that The Noisettes are easily at their best when a deep-lying art-rock edge rips everything else up into tiny shreds, casting shadows and chaos over any previous order
Daylight falls behind the main stage and the serene lake that sits beside it takes on a new shade, prepared maybe for another tussle of outmoded rock pretension vs. sheer pop genius. In their 19 year history Echo and the Bunnymen have walked through both pastures, and they take to the stage like wearied heroes preparing one last squeeze.
Ian McCulloch still looks the part, every inch the rock star, strutting towards us like Liam Gallagher with a melody, and as the band take off into their opening track, it’s undeniable that something impressive is going on. The sound is fantastic, huge in all the right places, but maybe there are too many of those “right places.”
I’ve never really got Nothing Ever Lasts Forever, and don’t tonight, finding its forced sentimentality grating, but at the same time Killing Moon is terrific, a big smouldering slab of emotion that sways with the best of them, McCulloch’s swagger giving way to humble magic for a few golden moments that are all too rare.
The sight of a pyjama’d middle-aged man smoking the largest reefer I’ve ever seen, glowing in the dusk like an atom bomb, reminds me that time-keeping here, of all places, is an old fashioned and bourgeois notion, one that I’m grateful for the lack of.
It’s a fantastic night, clear and fresh. The living museum that is Alabama 3 play a set of pulsing retro blues and rock in a gangster fashion that sets fire to the loins of their loyal crowd at The Great Stage, but it’s a passing fascination, and I much prefer Prinzhorn Dance School at the new Where the Wild Things Are arena, who give a display of intricate post-rock rhythms and abstract vocal lines that worship at the feet of Mark E. Smith.
It’s a set that finishes the day on a subtle high, and leaves me tongue out, drooling like a dog. Secret Garden Party 2007 can now be declared open, and it feels just that little bit like home.