The heat! The dust! The flies! And especially those flying ants buzzing around your ears at night, keeping you awake and sounding like Hell’s hornets. All this and more comes as part of the Festival Experience, and are some of the perils of covering such an event.
But the best hazard of all befell my photographer and I on the Friday night. It was dark and we were hot-footing it over to the main stage for Clint Eastwood And General Saint. Negotiating collapsed bodies, cow-pats and the main stream on site was successfully achieved, but when caution was thrown to the wind Simon and I stumbled into an unfenced foul-smelling brook!
But with equipment undamaged and dignity restored, we arrived in time to see Eastwood and Saint introduced, and they quickly made their presence felt. The crucial difference about the pair when compared to most other reggae acts in this country is that their material is rooted in the situation in the UK; their exuberant humour is happy to ridicule any pomposity or righteousness and their sharp spread of social commentary invariably hits the nub of the problem addressed.
Asa result, the set was nicely contrasted and paced so that one moment the high-stepping, track-suited, on-stage antics of jaw-cracking vocal interplay on songs like ‘Matty Gunga Walk’, ‘Scandle In The Family’ and ‘DJ Reaction’ could crack you up with laughter. And then the mood would be broken by the sombre intro to ‘Nuclear Crisis’ or their tribute to four million unemployed who ask ‘Give Us A Job’.
The vital link to the success of Eastwood And Saint is their magnificent backing group, the Inity Rockers septet. They are one of the few UK reggae groups I’ve seen who can open the music out, pushing it mightily forward. Their several instrumental high-spots were contributed primarily from the soulful sax of Courtney Pines, the snakey wicked guitar licks from Cameron Pierre and Delroy’s stylish keyboards, the latter giving a new meaning to bum notes.
Perhaps the tightly knit Eastwood And Saint verbal and dance routine occasionally spilled over into the realm of cabaret, with the audience milking – for example, Saint teasing at the end of each song “another one bites the dust” – going a bit too far. But Eastwood And Saint are good fun for anyone’s money and their train is always worth catching.
Saturday daytime was an opportunity to find our bearings. The covered walkway shopping arcade felt, in the heat, like walking through a greenhouse but offered a wide range of clothes, food, antiques and other paraphenalia. The social, political, religious and welfare organisations were well represented, but seemed to draw few takers. So the most enjoyable activity was to have a drink on the Isles Of Elephant, a constructed platform streching out into the river Tiddy from which you could watch the swimmers and the mud-people, the latter being some of the stars of the weekend.
As twilight approached, so the beauty of the Elliot estate and the surrounding countryside became less incongruous with the opening rumblings of SPK. I could have been worried about them and their motives: from their publicity material with its pseudo-mystic Psychic TV predeliction for substituting K’s for C’s just like the Crowleyites and Sixties hippies, and for the possibility of them being another set of Rock Conceptualists whose words outshone their deeds.
But SPK ritually disembowelled the sequence, logic and time of Rock, presenting a vibrant music. Pre-recorded rhythms, sounds and textures provided the backdrop and any number of variants could be added, be they trumpet, the eerily phrased voice of Sinan, or the demolition derby percussion exploits of Graeme and Derek.
They embody the true spirit of un(en)forced internationalism: New Zealand, China and England are represented in this group and their tri-levelled pipe/metal/machine music is an apposite soundtrack for the holidaymakers from the North who had been hammering down the M5 that day.
SPK can summon up the trance of Tibetan monks, the solemnity of Catholic rites to conduct their own version of the Spanish Inquisition (the drill says it all) and the movement of the Industrial Age, and mould them into an exhilarating dance-form. Future recordings may indicate a marked step towards accessibility and club connection but in performance, SPK are a living, breathing trio celebrating the unity of Man and Machine. They can put me in their camp of concentration anytime.
The clear darkness of summer provided an essentially intimate setting for a date with the Cure, and the band didn’t let us down.
I’d had a sneak preview of the new line-up in Bath two nights previously, and it’s obvious that the personel changes have been for the better. The new recruits, drummer Andy Anderson and bassist Phil Thornally, have added a much needed zip and punch, which gives a freshness to the group that transcends the cocaine-suffused cocoon of numbness that afflicts some Cure recordings.
Over their four LPs and numerous singles, the Cure have inspired a devotion from their fans and have developed a group sensibility that parallels the progress of Joy Division into New Order.
Lyrically, the JD connection is in the field of more songs about Death, Rooms without a View, Water and Love Embittered, with the importance and drama invariably concluding with the drums. And the musical link with NO is shown by the moving away from Guitars and Doom, towards synthesisers and the maxim: Alienation? Enjoy Yourself! This Is The New Age!
The Cure’s set was long – some seventeen songs, none of them ‘seconds’ and running through what could be viewed as either a Greatest Hits swansong, or clearing out for a new era.
There were the classic atmosphere-laden, rolling pleas for help and understanding: ‘Figure Head’, ‘Drowning Man’, ‘Cold’ and ‘Hanging Garden’. The quasi-motorik anthems of ‘Forest’, ‘M’, ‘Play For Today’, ‘La Mente’ and the stunning ‘One Hundred Years’ where Anderson added a jet-propelled funk backbeat over which Robert Smith contributed a steaming, searing guitar solo that could saw your ears off.
And even the semi-punk/rock pulse of ‘Primary’ and ‘10.15’ were given a new dimension, driving their definition to a new frontier.
This was a group at ease with itself, supplying close on two hours of music that could score, sooth or scintillate without ever losing control, and they provided a classic illustration of the possibilities of imaginative rock music.
© Dave Massey & Melody Maker