Summer of Festivals

At the tender age of 66, this summer has seen me going to more music festivals than ever before. It just worked out like that. The first trip was to deepest Suffolk, where the Maverick Festival was taking place on a rather sweet petting farm. I wasn’’t actually there for the festival but rather for the annual conference of the UK Americana Music Association, which was tagged on to the festival. It was a beautiful sunny day and the expedition involved a delightful train journey via Ipswich and getting off at a station that doubled as a boatyard – – just sweet. A meticulously polite taxi driver took me to Easton Park Farm, where I found the conference rather intimidating. I expected a load of scruffy oiks like me boozing and nattering about music (which was actually true) but the formality of the occasion, complete with a programme of keynote speeches, seminars and workshops was giving me panic attacks as it reminded me so much of the horrors of Inset days. Anyway, I had a couple of beers and before I knew it was joining in and heckling with alacrity, although I was rather offended not to be approached by more people in the “speed dating” section. I stood in a corner feeling embarrassed and the only people who spoke to me were aspiring artists keen to press their latest CD on anyone who would take one. Truth to tell, it was a fun day and I was able to stay long enough to catch the first few acts of the festival, which looked to be gearing up to be an excellent event. I’’d always shied away from Maverick on the basis that it was too “straight country” for me, but it seems to be in a state of transition and I may well give it a go next year.

But time waits for no one (truth to tell, I was too stingey to book a B and B, so had to go home), and anyway, the very next day was Blissfields. It was like stepping into a different world. At Maverick, I felt completely at home, whereas at Blissfields, I was a good three times the age of almost everyone else. Set deep in the Hampshire countryside, this is a very successful enterprise which has been going for a number of years now, building up a strong following. It’’s true to say that I am deeply jealous of them, because my little festival in September has stubbornly refused to attract more than a hundred punters, while theirs has risen steadily to several thousand, despite having, – in my opinion, of course, – a weaker line-up. The answer is to position yourself as an ideal place for students to celebrate the beginning of their summer holidays, and to provide loads of non-musical things to do, such as sit in a jacuzzi. I was surprised to see some tribute bands playing here, and also disappointed to find that Chloë Howl, who I expected to be edgy, was bland and backed by session musos. There were more drunk people in evidence here than at any of the other festivals I went to this year. But it was worth it for the gorgeous drive through the charming picture postcard villages of Hampshire.

The following weekend was the best of the summer. It wasn’’t really a festival; but I had an incredible feast of music in Hyde Park, where I went not so much particularly for Neil Young but more for the underbill of Phosphorescent, Caitlin Rose and Midlake, all favourites of mine, and all playing on the second stage, which was a sort of Spiegeltent affair. We set up camp there and stayed for the afternoon, this niftily avoiding the likes of Tom Odell and Lucy Rose. And missing the rain. We emerged blinking into the sunlight in time for a classic Neil Young set which was so good I was able to overlook the extraordinary segregated auditorium and the £25 T-shirts. The plebs’’ section was far from sold out, so we enjoyed the show in conditions of spacious comfort.

Next up was Truck. I was at the famous one a couple of years back where it went all Americana and also went bust. I know a few musicians who didn’’t get paid that time but somehow Truck has resurrected itself and I thought I’’d give it another try. A convoluted bus journey took me there to find that its fortunes have really been revived; it had a sold-out feel to it. The bill was full of people I really like such as Steven Adams, Chris T-T and Co-Pilgrim. There was a fantastic atmosphere throughout the site, particularly at a den of iniquity called The Saloon. Luckily, I was able to get the last bus back to Oxford and thus avoid any late-night carousing that would undoubtedly have taken place. And the next day, I got picked up and taken home by my daughter, very rock and roll.

In stark contrast to Blissfields, at Wickham Festival I felt almost like one of the younger audience members. The number of punters struggling through the mud on zimmer frames was shocking. – I kid you not, – but fair play to them for getting out and about. I’’ve always said I’’d do the same. Birgit and I went one night and came home after one band because the line-up was so shocking, but the next day we had the privilege of seeing Steve Earle at his best, and were also unexpectedly impressed by Hazel O’’Connor. Wickham has a very confused musical identity (it’’s basically a folk festival but one headliner was James Blunt). On the other hand, it is well organised and extremely popular.

End Of The Road was a total blast. I took the shuttle bus there (like everything else at EOTR, it is super efficient and excellent value). My friend Phil The Thatcher was doing a craft demonstration near the Tipi Tent, which allowed me to use it as a HQ and also to camp in the relatively luxurious crew field. It was also dangerously near the cider bus but I managed to resist its attractions on the grounds that you feel like shit the next day. The music was out of this world, so many highlights such as Deer Tick, the Felice Brothers, Sean Lennon, Jenny Lewis and,– oh god, the Flaming Lips being simply exquisite. It was a musical paradise.

Unlike last year, my own sc4m Festival was relatively uneventful. I say relatively. One band was ill and had to be replaced, oh, and we didn’’t actually know whether the venue was still going to be open or, if it was, whether there would be any beer. But supplies were brought in and lasted for most of the day. The whole thing went like clockwork and was appreciated, I think, by all present. But, even though I was convinced I had put together a great bill, we only sold the hundredth ticket at midnight on the eve of the festival. That was a tense experience, since I had budgeted on selling a hundred tickets to break even. The reason for the lack of popularity? I guess we’’re just not cool, because virtually none of the media that I spent many hours informing about it chose to give us a mention, and a good number of people who I expected to support the event, based on the type of music they like, simply didn’’t. Was it a thankless task? Not at all, because I was surrounded and helped by my beautiful family, the artists were all uniformly wonderful (it would be wrong to single out individual acts). They played their hearts out and the warm-hearted music lovers present loved every minute. Will I do another one? Not sure actually.