Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Garden Party 2006, Day 3 @ Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon

20 August 2006


Sunday, traditional Raawk day at the bigger festivals as everyone’s minds are too far blown to comprehend anything else. No such problems here (though minds are blown in a good way most before they came here), and we’re all set for another kaleidoscopic day of discovery.

An impassioned voice wakes me from my tent (another canvas that has no known name), and it’s off to the nearby main stage to see guitar-wielding chick Evi Vine. Vine is a peroxide blonde with a difference, and her set, played to an understandably sparse crowd of morning revellers, is a dreamy buzz of downbeat rock that not so much as eases you into the day but demands that you listen intently. Her parents are at the front, and take their daughter’s more biting lyricism in their stride. Considering the bogie timeslot, this is a distinguished set that certainly marks Vine out as one to look out for.

For Sunday it seems that the older crowd have come out to play as the younger cats slightly subside, and the caravan awning that has resounded all week with eager dancers, morning to night, has become a rather sad haunt for hampered pianists (today’s the first day it’s been empty enough to see that there’s a small piano in there). The Puppini Sisters have a charm of novelty to speak to all generations though, and as they start their set the crowd gather in puzzled wonder.

Having regaled London jazz clubs for the past year, Universal has released an album of their ’50s girl-group renditions of classic American standards and classic indie, produced by acclaimed Belleville Rendezvous composer Benoit Charest, and if this isn’t the setting for such a thing I’ll eat the biker helmet of the girl next to me.

The Puppini Sisters‘ blend of voices is astounding live, and they perform with the consummate formality of the age they choose to evoke. Some new, old songs are thrown into the set, and the Sisters are thrillingly fluent in the Italian of Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano recitative, but, as on their LP, it’s Blondie’s Heart of Glass that steals the show. The song lends itself perfectly to the girls’ and Charest’s fifties arrangement, and when the verses kick in you’re left to simply revel and drool.

Over at the Up All Night tent, an astounding afternoon set is put on by The Steals, who’s female singer, all elegant litheness and long ginger hair, has a voice that draws people in from the immediate surroundings. On closer inspection her songs are tremendous too, and the overall, sustained effect is of a rare beauty to behold. The Steals are certainly on the list of previously unknown bands who’s music I’ll definitely pursue after the festival, absolutely mesmerising and fantastic.

Given the extent of the outlandishly musical thrills of Flipron‘s set on Friday night, if they had recommended I go see Orson in the Huntingdon Town Hall I would have frankly enjoyed it, but The Deadbeats back at the main stage fit their illustrious billing well, regardless. Their shambling, rambling, country-tinged indie provides a beguiling half hour of tunes, evoking contemporaries like Pete and the Pirates in their easy manner and great vocals, and easing some of us further into the day as others more adventurous skinny dip in the nearby lake.

Indigo Moss are as unassuming a bunch of indie-folk troubadours as you’ll get, and they ensure that dinner is further delayed with a set fascinatingly pinned together by banjoist Hannah Lou’s hampered plucking. Singer Trevor is flanked on the other side by a bassist in a pirate outfit who looks like she’s having the time of her life, in her own quiet way, and the Moss’s inspiring and quirky fare reminds us that maybe we are, too.

Holly Golightly plays with a similar smile, and her set a little bit later on is a blast of laid-back songsmithery and terrific organ playing that draws a healthy late afternoon crowd. I believe I recall her supporting Laura Cantrell on a UK tour a few years back, and she shares that same unmistakeably effortless feeling for a song as the New York chanteuse, and is a joy to see playing live.

Friday night at the festival was enlightened by a set from New York avant-garde artist Thomas Truax, who played on an instrument he might well have knocked up at the hotel the night before, and it’s fantastic to see the Truax spirit given a place on the main stage in the form of the albeit more famous “fourth Beastie Boy” Mark Ramos Nishito (AKA Money Mark).

Night has fallen by the time he starts his set with a screeching effects box, and he plays this impossible instrument articulately throughout, having also got Holly Golightly’s organist in to fill out the sound. Mark is certainly a guy who knows what he wants, and as he tries to orchestrate the stage lighting too, can’t help but step on the toes of the sound man, who’s by now fumbling like Inspector Clouseau under pressure from the legend.

Thomas Truax incidentally is everywhere on the site over the weekend, and seems like a great and well-liked guy, providing me with a personal comic moment when he even passes by on an overtaking train as we sit in Paddington station on the way home. Still I never get the chance to ask him what that instrument was that he played.

It seems that everyone has gathered in The Penthouse for an end of Party party, and again the music from whoever were the final DJs is a peerless selection of indie and soul nuggets, and I would have fought my way to the back to find out who these people were if it was humanly possible. Another cider at this point seems like a good idea, and we set off to the bar back at the main stage to find the DJ there playing a choice selection of New Orleans jazz that somehow makes perfect sense. The closing act, who, with the curfew and time change and all, I find impossible to name at this point, draw a fantastic crowd of revellers for the final performance of the weekend, and their good time soul and hip hop is a just way to end the main stage proceedings, though the crowd don’t want to let the band or the festival go, and are left pretty unsatisfied by advanced-forecast promises of a return next year for the great unknowns (I’m sure someone can tell me who they are).

Poorer for the loss of the Up All Night tent and due performances from the aforementioned Deadbeats (great on the main stage earlier), The Suffra Jets and Low Sparks, we stop there to see a manic drum solo from our Goldie Lookin’ Chain pal in defiance of the shut down, which was brought on by complaints from local villagers, but the place is now ready to be taken down, and it’s back up to The Penthouse, where a few late night revellers have gathered around the piano. I can’t say enough about the great atmosphere of this festival, and everyone at this Last Haunt Standing seems to want to draw it out for as long as they can, eagerly seeking musicians to play whatever they know, which, alas, invariably doesn’t match what anyone can sing.

The Secret Garden Party is a festival where the participants are the artists too, because they can’t help but be. As our temporary haven comes to a slow halt back at the public campfire, it’s soon to be back to the real world with a smile and a sack-load of memories.



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