Tonight at the bonfire a Geordie man dressed as a pirate was forcibly removed from the area. He had danced around the fire cutting the flimsy tape that was acting as a security barrier. He had also thrown on the fire a large penis carved out of the trunk of a tree a talented man with a chainsaw had completed an hour earlier.
As he was carried away by shaven-headed Neanderthals, limbs flailing and shouting something about freedom, a few stoned revellers chanted ‘fucking nazis’ to the authorities; a thoroughly half-arsed attempt at revolution. It was impossible to choose whose side to be on. I think the pirate’s, because I suspect that his problem was that he couldn’t handle his Calexico.
Calexico’s headlining set was far and away the best thing about the festival – sending many into a stupor where you might not behave rationally, hence this poor fellow. They were that good.
While their regular live act consists of a substantial degree of slow-burning build up before loud rocking out, here was purely rocking out. Each band member is a virtuoso instrumentalist, while their newest album, Garden Ruin marks a heavier, more eclectic direction, turning slightly away from the sound that made their name – spaghetti western Americana mixed with loud guitars and heavy drums. Tonight they combined both new and old material, slipped into Wilco‘s I’m A Wheel and encored with a cover of Love‘s Alone Again Or, in tribute to the late Arthur Lee. If there is a better festival performance by anyone this summer, I’ll be a pirate from Newcastle with radical ideas. Calexico return in November for a proper tour. Be there.
The literature tent today offered an array of events entirely in Welsh. In the midst of it all was an interview with Wizz Jones. Jones is one of English folk’s lost talents. While in the middle of a scene that included Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy and Ewan McColl, history seems to have ignored him because of his knack of missing the boat when record labels came a-knocking. Why would the world need another folk guitar master when you’ve already got a Jansch, Renbourn or Davy Graham?
Journalist Colin Harper spoke with him here about his not-so illustrious career and about how he is really the godfather of British folk. Perhaps he was. He headlined the tiny Green Man Caf stage that night, but he clashed with Calexico so there was no way I’d find out. Oh well. Given the huge re-appraisals of figures such as Annie Briggs and Vashti Bunyan, perhaps old Wizz will have his day.
Jansch himself was on the main stage today. His understated 45 minutes had people shaking their heads in awe at his fingerpicking.
Never a great one to interact with an audience, a festival crowd is perhaps not his ideal. The shouting of requests left him a bit miffed, but he reeled out the classic Strollin’ Down the Highway and Blackwaterside nevertheless. His recent work has included collaboration with Beth Orton, and he played a song of hers.
Flitting around the Green Man site was a flyer for the Spitz Folk Festival in September, at which Bert and Beth play a concert together. This should be quite something and will locate Bert in his spiritual home – the folk club.
Lower down the bill, Adem and 18th Day of May peddled their slightly underwhelming ‘new folk’. The former is still unable to find even one melody, while the latter suffer from being so exclusively influenced by just one band (Fairport Convention). That is never good. Finally, Cerys Matthews went down fairly well and credit to her for stepping in for Martha.
On the way back to camp, it appeared members of Circulus were dancing round the tents with a guitar and tin-whistle singing the greatest hits of 1650. They are so cute. They even came to symbolize what this still-maturing festival is about: fine music rooted in ancient traditions, but with an outrageous silliness that is almost self-mocking at times.
Hopefully the festival will settle at this new site and develop more of an identity over the years. If we are really lucky the price of beer and pies will come down some day, too.