Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lunar Festival, Tanworth in Arden, 5th – 7th June 2015

Italian horror movie soundtracks, Malian desert blues and arguably the best songbook in pop music history, this year’s Lunar festival had something for everyone under the sun...or moon for that matter...even Smurfs  Speaking of celestial bodies, given that just 48 hours before this year’s Lunar began we were in the grip of the kind of weather you’d normally expect in November the sudden appearance of the sun was the kind of miracle that would normally get people erecting shrines and speaking in tongues. Who knows maybe day one’s headliners Tinariwen brought it with them? Friday afternoon offered a lot more than just an instant suntan though with self professed “grumpy rock ‘n’ roll band from the West Midlands” Hoopla Blue’s Wild Beasts go surf rock sonics (check out the fabulous Holy Ghost), The Drink serving up a cocktail of hi-life, indie pop, post punk and psych folk and Welsh wonders Zervas & Pepper’s blissful rebooting of 60s good time vibes courtesy of the gorgeous We Are One. Kudos to them for doing a Drake number too (Lunar Festival is, in part, a homage to Nick) delicately embellishing Pink Moon with their own hip hippy stylings.

Allah-Las kept the summertime 60s spirit going, recalling Love at their slightly tripped out best, all of which made the next band something of a shock. 

Trading under the unwieldy name of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (apparently there are various version of the original Goblin band operating right now) they’re responsible for some of horror’s greatest hits as the go to guys for George Romero (they scored 1978’s zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead) and the influential Italian director Dario Argento. It may have been a warm and sunny evening but playing against a backdrop of clips from the films genuinely sent spines tingling all over the place. Fusing prog rock, early synth sounds and...well...the very spirit of Beelzebub himself, this four piece were, for many, the hit / discovery of the festival (okay, so they’ve been around for 40 years but come on, horror movie soundtracks are a little niche eh?).  

Also nudging close to their 40th anniversary is The Fall, although like Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin only one original member remains and Mark E. Smith is more ‘original’ than most. If you’ve seen Smith before you’ll know what to expect. Looking like someone’s drunk and pasty faced uncle at a wedding he wanders around the stage shouting lyrics that perhaps only he understands into a couple of mics. Sounds crap right? Somehow though, inexplicably perhaps, it just works. Maybe it’s the fact that Smith surrounds himself with great musicians (he’s notorious for sacking entire line-ups if they fail to make the grade...or just piss him off for some reason) and the current incarnation of The Fall is no exception with classic track Theme From Sparta FC given a particularly lively reboot this evening.

It was left to Tinariwen to soothe frazzled hearts and minds as the temperature dipped perilously close to the kind of chilly Saharan nights that helped birth the band back in the 70s. It’s blues, but not as we know it, the familiar licks given an interpretation that’s both as fresh as the breeze and perhaps as old as mankind’s earliest forays into music. 

Shut your eyes and you could have been deep in the heart of the desert and, as the traditional Lunar Festival campfire got going, it really was a pretty magical end to day one (for those with the stamina and the moves there were club nights on all three days too which went on until the wee small hours...brave souls).

Day two and Plank said it loud, they’re Kraut(rock) and proud, kicking things off with some marvellous moments of majestic motorik magic. Try saying that after a pint or two of Addlestones Cider. Kudos to Plank’s drummer for putting in 110% too, the dude barely stopped for breath. Compère for the day, Mark Radcliffe, made his first appearance to introduce Jane Weaver, lamenting the lack of beautiful young ladies into space rock when he were a lad. Whether Ms Weaver would have fallen for his charms in the 70s (or right now for that matter) we’ll never know. What’s certain though is that Weaver’s shimmering otherworldly synth pop went down well with the crowd, especially the falsetto vocal on Don’t Take My Soul. 

Strangely seductive and a little creepy at the same time. Hmmm...maybe she should hook up with Goblin? Next up Syd Arthur fused jazz with prog and folk adding some impressive changes in pace and some truly fret melting guitar solos into the mix before Mark Radcliffe and his band Galleon Blast packed out the Bimble Inn (an impressively eco friendly structure) stage. 
Part stand up routine, part sea shanty overdose (their last album was called Band On The Rum...ahem) they did provide one of the anthems of the festival (and any festival for that matter) courtesy of Bloody Well Drunk, so we’ll forgive them the jokes and pirate puns.

From the ridiculous (in the best sense of the word of course) to the sublime and My Brightest Diamond, aka New York’s finest Shara Worden who’s been talked about in the same reverential tones as Sufjan Stevens (whom she’s collaborated with) and St Vincent, which is about as cool as you can get right now.  

Pressure, a standout track from an equally compelling set, mashed in yer face military style drumming with ethereal vocals and a climatic chorus that Bassey herself would Shirley approve of. Possessing a stunning vocal range, from Nico-ish depths to angelic highs, and the ability to play a mean axe (plus keyboards and, no doubt, anything else she puts her mind to) she was arguably one of the weekend’s more interesting propositions. Bush (Kate that is...not the 90s rockers) and Bjork fans should be all over her.

After a potential star of the future to a band that should arguably have been much bigger back in the day, The Pretty Things. Now rightly hailed as one of the originators of the concept album, courtesy of S.F. Sorrow, they had their roots in the same fertile environment that birthed The Rolling Stones, in fact Pretty Thing Dick Taylor was even in an early line up being replaced by Bill Wyman after he decided to pack it in and go to art school instead. Oops. Meeting up with singer Phil May he formed The Pretty Things in 1963 and a mere 52 years later voila, here they are at Lunar Festival. 

The set’s a whirlwind tour through the band’s history from the distinctly Stones-ish Honey I Need through to one of the greatest slices of psych rock ever via 1965’s Alexander (which bizarrely was used in a long forgotten Norman Wisdom film, What’s Good For The Goose). It still sounds great half a century on as does the aforementioned S.F. Sorrow Was Born and it’s no surprise to learn that is was being recorded at Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles were laying down Sergeant Pepper. The set reached its peak with a couple of impressive solos from Taylor and Jack Greenwood on guitar and drums respectively during Mona, the latter an outrageous affair that seemed to go on as long as some band’s entire slots justifiably drawing some huge whoops of appreciation from the crowd. Pretty impressive all round.

Next up a guitarist whose recent return to good health has been Lazarus like. By rights Wilko Johnson should have been pushing up the daisies by now but here he is, machine gunning his way across the stage, eyes popping out of his head and playing the punk inspiring R‘n’B that made his name with the legendary Dr Feelgood. 

Backed by ace of bass Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe he blazed through Down By The Jetty, She Does It Right and Bye Bye Johnny like a man reborn, even playing guitar behind his head on the last tune for good measure.

That just left Public Service Broadcasting to close down proceedings on the main stage. Splicing clips from old movies, documentaries and public service information films with art rock soundscapes PSB’s aim is to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”. Nothing too ambitious there then eh? With a couple of albums behind them now there are plenty of tracks that seen to do just that, from the bombastic Kraut rock (or maybe that should be Tommy rock?!) of Spitfire through to the dance funk of Gargarin and the more transcendent Everest (by this stage in the evening it was suitably chilly too). The sampled voice ‘improvisations’ may be pre planned but they’re still fun with every Lunar Festival shout out getting a cheer and a ‘mistaken’ mention of London getting a pantomime boo. 

Day three and as the campers gently defrosted in the blazing sun with some Ska Aerobics and Morris Dancing to shake off any lingering hangovers Whispering Knights came across as Radiohead goes folk on the fine Rolled On By paving the way for one of the Midlands best bands right now, Midnight Bonfires. There’s something about their mix of influences that really works with a little light tropicalia, some indie rock and a lead singer who makes Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson (the dude who sang On The Road Again) sound like a baritone. If you can find a better Sunday summer afternoon tune than Lights Out I’d like to hear it. 

Right, guest reviewer time for a band that was drafted in at the last minute to fill the slot vacated by the poorly Zun Zun Egui, Föllakzoid. Over to the lovely Mr John Kennedy: “Chilean chilled, brain-washers on a mission, Föllakazoid, wear their retro Space/Psych-Rock drone warrior badges with pride (think - alien spermatozoa off-springs suckled on the rocket-fuel teat-nozzles of Hawkwind, Wooden Shjips et al). Their beat-looped grooves filled the sun-soaked main arena with gushings of Acid balmed abandon. Hypnotic atonal guitar chocka-chocka riffs and solar wind moody-Moog whispers were default setting for a highly regarded and much praised set. With controls locked on firmly for the heart of the Sun they closed with a frothily freak-out extemporised take on the Paranoid riff. All hail then, New World usurpers, Föllakzoid, battery-acid ear wash master blasters of the New World disorder.” I literally couldn’t have put it better myself…

Are the members of Radiophonic Workshop Daft Punk’s granddads? Discuss. On top of winning the award for most bits of kit on stage at any one time they seem to have invented that cool electro funk sound a full 30 years beforehand, doing it all with nothing more complex than a reel to reel tape machine, a metal coat hanger and some sticky backed plastic. Incredible.  This afternoon Wireless in particular hit an incredibly funky note, if a ‘new’ band came out with that you’d have the hipsters wetting themselves. Of course what everyone wanted to hear though was THAT theme tune. The music from Dr Who still seems futuristic, even if it clearly requires more keyboards than a call centre to play live, and surely every grown man in his 40s instantly regressed to a small boy as that distinctive “woooh woooh” sound rang out. Extermi-great.

Keeping the synth flag flying Sylvan Esso’s jazzy electropop was an unexpected treat with lead singer Amelia Meath busting some particularly impressive contemporary dance moves. Check out set highlight and recent single H.S.K.T for one of the most addictive tracks around right now.

Like The Fall on Friday you either love or loathe Julian Cope and his between song ramblings clearly did little to convince the non believers. “I spend most of the time in a mystical state…” he mused early on in a set that still managed to contain some genuine leftfield pop gems in Double Vegetation, The Greatest And Perfection Of Love and the Syd Barrett-ish Sunspots. 

You got the feeling that he would have happily stayed up there all night chatting away if they’d have let him.

After a quick blast of Robyn Hitchcock, unbelievably relegated to the Bimble Inn rather than the main stage, and his gently moving cover of Drake’s Riverman and his own typically oddball My Wife and My Dead Wife there was just time for some much needed nosh (some pretty decent grub on offer too) before Sun Ra Arkestra beamed down from whichever planet they live on. Sun Ra himself may have departed for another galaxy but the band’s in safe hands under saxophonist Marshall Allen’s leadership. For an hour or so the Arkestra freaked out the wildlife with some of the finest skronk jazz this side of Mars. At times it may sound like half a dozen instruments having a scrap in a back alley but I guess that’s kind of the point. This is music that challenges almost as much as it entertains and as Sun Ra himself put a match to conventions back in the 50s it was only right that Allen should lead the procession across the site, carrying the torch…both metaphorically and literally…to light the traditional Lunar festival effigy.

As the embers burned down to the ground The Bootleg Beatles pitched up. Okay, so they’re a tribute act which might send the musos running for the hills but when it’s all done this well AND you’ve got arguably the best catalogue of songs ever written by a single band, who the hell cares? To be fair most of the crowd got the point, singing their hearts out from Daytripper right through to the band’s later period classics that made up the bulk of the set. Taxman, Lucy In The Sky, I Am The Walrus, Come Together, Get Back, Let It Be…there was even time for a sublime While My Guitar Gently Weeps from George and a sweet With A Little Help From My Friends from Ringo. 

Shut your eyes or squint a bit and it could almost be the real thing up there, the current Lennon’s particularly good, not just vocally but with the odd witty aside too keeping the original spirit of the man alive. It was left up to Paul to close the show though and could there be a much better climax to the festival than a sing-along Hey Jude? Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah…

All photos courtesy and copyright of the lovely Richard Shakespeare aka Shakeypix.

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