Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Garden Party 2007 @ Abbots Rippon, Huntingdon

28 July 2007

Ah, day three of Secret Garden Party 2007. My tent door springs open to reveal another day of blessed weather and a reveller who seems to have fallen asleep perched perilously on a the nearby bush. I try to wake him from his slumber, but to no avail. He’ll have to stay perched until he comes round or falls off.

This is the day where I’m finally going to catch a full I’m From Barcelona set. Bubbles are blowing and the Barcelona crew, like an indie Scooby Doo gang, light up the main stage with grandiose pop in its purest form.

It’s a strange phenomenon, because on record the band are not really half so festive, but their live show feels like the best New Year’s Eve you’ve ever had. Singer Emanuel Lundgren is a real character, twee in the most meaningful sense of the word, open to the magic and possibilities of the world with enough maturity to drink in its sadness and make great art. Confetti is shot, balloons fly and songs emerge like rabbits from hats, creating a whirl of fantastic sentiments.

A comedown is called for, and the hot chocolate that’s replaced Friday’s diet of red wine is sampled before getting back to the front for of The Great Stage, where Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan are consummating their nu-folk rock marriage.

Campbell and Lanegan stand there like they’re waiting for something to happen despite themselves, the epic balladry a little to staid and a little prosaic, so it’s off to the Where the Wild Things Are arena to catch up with Brooklyn’s Mia Riddle and Her Band.

Their live show is a bundle of subtle energy, swaying and beautiful songs building around Mia’s sweet voice, which is a fantastic mixture of myriad country legends and indie queens. Mia’s shy stage demeanour adds to their total charm as the songs wrap themselves around you till you can’t let go, and after half an hour in their lilting presence I think I could float out through the roof.

There’s all sorts of things going on from impromptu tennis matches to art exhibitions and sock wrestling, but the site of a medieval cyclist floating past with a joust is the thing that sends me back towards The Great Stage and the next act a contented man.

Aproaching The Great Stage, a lovely melody meets me on the breeze, and getting closer again a girl called SoKo cuts a tiny figure, holding the crowd like a pocket-sized magnet. First of all I’ll tell you that SoKo is beautiful, all dark Hispanic grace and naturally looks, but her songs are really something else, coming together at the half-way point between maybe the aforementioned Isobel Campbell and Josephine Foster, low-key textures dancing carefully around vocals that are silkily soulful.

Unabashed songs about sex and love generate a rare intimacy with the audience, and by the time she comes to an end with a track that sounds like Vashti Bunyan doing Kimya Dawson, the impression for all present is sealed. SoKo is a rare and beguiling talent.

Reading the programme in a quiet moment afterwards, I’ve noticed a quote taken from Tom Robbins: “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious; but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature,” and it’s an extra good line to read when you’re right there amongst exactly what he’s talking about.

A quiet walk turns into a jaunt to the Where the Wild Things Are arena, where Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip are providing some amazing electroglitchbeat acrobatics, splicing Bob Dylan and Chuck D into sounds that somehow hit nails right on the head.

Pip seems like a genuinely impassioned and clued up character, lambasting the current state of UK hip hop with a smile that says that makes it’s ok, that he’s about to change it all, and if he etches out sounds like this every day he’ll hopefully taking the genre out of the hands of commercial chancers back into those of the genuine poets.

We’re heading towards the final headliners of the weekend, but it feels like it could go on for another three days, the usual Sunday night festival exodus having not happened whatsoever. The people here are a hardier breed, and it seems like everyone is walking the same path to catch a band that are maybe the musical embodiment of the whole Secret Garden Party ethos.

Stories of pop theatre and random crazy antics have enhanced the Of Montreal live reputation no end, but while that’s great I’m still sure it’s the music that’s the main pull, and as we follow behind a robust lady who marches her friends to the front we get a sense of the fanaticism they attract. One outlandish costume after another weaves its way onto the stage, before Kevin Barnes appears and the thundering beats take us up, up and away to electro-pop heaven.

Barnes commands the stage with a relaxed mischief that makes the crazy antics of his fellow band members even more funny, at the same time holding the crowd’s attention with his songs’ fantastic lyrical content. Barnes is a tremendous creative mind, etching wondrous and labyrinthine journeys of cabaret pop that writhe with outsider soul, and here he manages to turn the party festivity up to eleven.

Flaming limbs flow with the beats, tears flow to the lines and laughter flows to the visual gags, before the band leave to let anticipation grow for the encore and final climax. It’s come to this final blow up like the craziest game of chess you’ve ever seen, and the costumes, music, and people all blend to make a celebratory atmosphere that’s wonderful. Everyone seems to tune into the relevance of the whole event, coming together as one under the thundering lights and beats, and it’s like a religious experience.

Secret Garden as a whole is a celebration of outlandishness in its subtlest, most humorous and poetic forms, a celebration of the modern human spirit that’ll inspire the people here for the cold months to come. It’s been another weekend to treasure, and the Monday morning won’t come with the usual festival hangover, but rather a heightened sense of hunger and wonder at the big wide world that awaits with bright colours.

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