Over 50 performances, seminars and events at the Greenbelt Tree Of Life festival on 26th-29th August are put under the critical microscope by the Cross Rhythms reviews team.
THE OTHER WINDOW - Stage 2 - 5.55pm
Described as psychedelic space rock The Other Window pretty much stick to their remit. Although if you were hoping for a British Brave St Saturn you'd be disappointed. For this is a brand of psychedelic rock harking back to the good old days of the 1970s when prog was king. But this is guitar-led prog with a synth in support and not the vice versa. It also manages to incorporate heavier, more metallic moments too (reminding us that the band features ex-members of Seventh Angel and Ashen Mortality). Whilst '70s psychedelic/prog rock is not my forte, the nearest comparison I can muster is the mighty Hawkwind - particularly with their closing song. Despite my Dad being a much bigger fan of prog than myself, it does not stop me appreciating it. This does highlight that this is a band that do have a particular audience, who sadly were not there to appreciate it. Large swaths of intricate instrumentals left little space for lyrics, which spiritually does perhaps leave them a little light. But overall a very well crafted set performed to a high standard.
SONS OF ADAM - Stage 2 - 7pm
Playing out to a packed Stage 2, Sons Of Adam from Bristol kicked straight off with a well received introduction leading into a brand of funk rock sorely missed by fans of V12. The vocals are gritty and slightly grungy which simply add to the lazy comparison I've decided to make! From thereon, the band developed their own style, which was described in the programme as "power rock". It's as good a name as any other but I certainly heard elements of funk and Brit rock. They reminded me also somewhat of the Elevation bands, particularly Quench and Supervision. If they play their cards right they may well get onto the aforementioned label, they've certainly got the talent for it. They also have the capability of working up the audience too, although I feel a strong home/fan contingent in the crowd helped that along. Nonetheless a brilliant live band with some beautifully worshipful moments too. They really do have the potential to go far (especially when you realise this is their first proper gig!), something the former editor of NME also agrees on. This is a name to look out for.
MARTHA TILSTON - Stage 1 - 8.15pm
Another year, another Greenbelt. Even a cursory examination of the programme/diary reveals an even further expansion of the attractions and venues on offer to the expected 20,000 punters. I count a staggering 22 plus venues this year - surely too many. The tendency for so many competing attractions to thin the crowd at each event and dissipate the 'festival atmosphere' is surely demonstrated by the meagre crowd (about 100) who gather at Stage 1 (the nearest thing GB has these days to a Mainstage) to see Martha Tilston though maybe, like me, it's just that few GB punters seem to have heard of her. It's all very well for the Greenbelt programme to tell me she's supported Damien Rice and "gained huge respect and a dedicated following in the underground new-acoustic scene" but her presence here as Stage 1's opening act seems more to be a reflection of committee members' personal tastes/CD collections than any sensible expression of festival programming particularly as Martha's hauntingly ethereal music is far better suited to a warm, relaxed, intimate venue than the cold concrete underpass that is Stage 1. Despite the setting and poor crowd Martha Tiltson does quite well, her impressive pipes echoing out through the concrete. With her guitar and a mandolin/violinist accompanist though most of her lyrics are lost in the harsh/brittle sound that echoes around the concrete. Martha's voice is truly impressive though and the occasional phrases that carry through, like "Now that I've found you," "I'm only paddling," "All the angels" leave me pondering if this gifted Irish songstress is, in fact, a believer.
SOMEWHAT CONFUSED - Cabaret: Gold Cup - 9pm
I think the title of the show fairly accurately described my state of mind come the end of the show. Described as a comedy sketch show, I can't help thinking the "comedy" tag was a little generous. Rarely did the show raise the level beyond the odd titter; causing more people to react with disgust than laughter alas. You see, for some reason the writer of this show had a recurring obsession with bodily functions and also deemed it fine to use both blasphemous terms and some milder swearwords when it really wasn't needed (if it's ever needed at all). The idea was to theme the show around questions found in newspapers and magazines . and utterly fail to answer them in the name of post-modernism! To my mind the best moment was their clever reversal of the situation of a man finding out his mate is cheating on his girlfriend, ie, he wasn't. But even that only managed a wry smile - some less experienced comedy consumers did react slightly more positively however. Some people seemed to enjoy this show but most remained nonplussed. Drop the "comedy" tag and they may have got away with a witty look on today's culture, but with it it simply failed to deliver.
DUNCAN SENYATSO - Outside Sticky Music Tent -
I'm on my way back to my tent feeling well fed (overpriced Thai food) and footsore when I espy a group of musicians I initially take to be buskers doing an impromptu gig outside the Sticky Music tent. In fact it turns out to be Duncan Senyatso from Botswana with a handful of Scottish accompanists and the music they're making is a delight on the ear. It's haunting, wistful and has an air of melancholic longing quite unlike anything I've heard. Duncan plays his electric guitar with delightful deftness conjuring up riffs for the others to follow while his voice carries the folk melodies of his homeland with plaintive musicianship. By the close of his set there's close to a hundred sat on the grass enjoying Duncan's artistry.
NORTHUMBRIAN COMMUNITY - Sovereign Lounge -
We follow the Boisil Compline service used at the Northumbrian Community and it is a lovely way to draw to a close the first evening at Greenbelt '05. The service is very popular and the Sovereign Lounge is full. The worship space sets the atmosphere for this short Celtic worship; lots of twinkling candles, Celtic artwork and a beautiful tented ceiling consisting of swathes of colourful cotton fabrics. Accompanied by a few members of the Community's choir and the worship leader we sing "In The Shadow Of Your Wings" and finish with a prayer which we all recite in sections. After a full day of loading our vehicle with everything but the kitchen sink, travelling to Cheltenham, pitching tents and exploring the new festival layout this service is the perfect opportunity to thank God for the day and the weekend ahead as we prepare to retire to our sleeping bags.
ARADHNA - Centaur - 00.15 am
With its restful mauve and amber lighting, the Centaur at midnight is the perfect venue to encounter Aradhna. Aradhna, which means "worship" in Hindi, are Chris Hale and Peter Hicks, although on Saturday night their special blend of South Asian worship music is complimented by a female guest vocalist and a very talented friend on tablas. Peter was born in Delhi and Chris was raised in Nepal and together they combine eastern and western music influences to play beautiful Indian devotional songs to Christ called Yeshu bhajans. Peter plays acoustic guitar and vocals and Chris plays sitar and lead vocals. An evening of singing bhajans is called a satsang (pronounced "sutt-sung" and is also the title of their latest live album). Eyes closed, sitting or lying on the Centaur floor listening to the enchanting sounds of the guitar, sitar and tabla, together with the dipping and soaring of Chris' vocals you are transported in your mind from the campsite of Greenbelt to India. The bhajans are sung mainly in Hindi but the fact that I didn't understand one word doesn't matter in the least as the music and sense of devotion to Christ is mesmerising and rise above language. Chris however, kindly interprets the meanings of the songs and we are all soon chanting simple Hindi phrases, such as lines from my favourite of all the bhajans - "Bhajo Naam": "Bhajo naam, japo naam, pyaara naam, Yeshu naam" (Sing his name, chant his name, the beautiful name, Jesus' name.)
RADIATE - Stage 2 - 10.30am
After a lengthy sound check, delaying the start of their set and potentially mucking up the rest of the schedule, Radiate finally start off after a building anticipation. And they don't let us down, starting off with former Rock And Hard Place favourite "Electric Indestructible". By the time their third song "Is It Ever Gonna Happen?" comes to a conclusion the lengthy sound check was well worth it as their live sound is bang-on. Quieter, more thought provoking, songs run alongside harder, intense barn-stormers. Elements of funk, Brit-rock, stoner rock and nu-metal create a sound I can't really attribute a label too, which will no doubt please them! A near-capacity crowd (at this time of the morning - testimony in itself to the quality of this band) are ably warmed up for the rest of the day by this bunch of genre-melding musicians fronted by the dreadlocked, gravely-voiced tones of Steve Bradfield. He is not only capable of singing both loud and quieter songs but also able to give a positive message that everyone needs to hear. God's spirit is definitely felt by many in the room.
QUENCH - North Stage - 1.30pm
Greenbelt festival darlings and local heroes Quench are the first band to grace this new venue. Two questions occupy my mind as I sit waiting on the grass: 1) Will this venue work? and 2) Will Quench have some new material? The answers are both "Yes." It is true to say that the sound does blow around a bit but, by the end of their set Quench have been turned up and everyone is happy. North Stage works well. Quench gigs are always great fun and today is no exception. Jamie Hill is jumping up and down, singing his heart out. Mark Cocks rocks on guitar. New boy Ed on bass seems at home, and we're all singing along: "Kill my, kill my idols," and then "I'd give anything to see you again." Most of the set is drawn from the excellent 'Afterglow' but there are three new ones: "Identity Crisis", "Consuming Destroyer", and "No More Pretending". As the titles suggest, the themes are heavier, as is the rock, as Quench confront their struggles with customary passion. A live DVD is about to be released and Jamie expresses hope for a new album next year.
STEVE - North Stage - 2.30pm
Steve is playing Greenbelt. Is anyone surprised? Their omnipresence is second only to God's. Neil is on fire today. "Are you all for worshipping God with me, people?" he asks. The magnificent "My Ever My All" sports a mellow introduction but is soon cooking at speed and Neil is urging us to raise our hands. "Divine Design", another favourite of mine from the 'Falling Down' album, follows. Funky bass prevails and we all join in: "It's all because, it's all because of you." The band drops back as Neil reads from the New Testament. He's on a bit of a preach today, but you can tell that he loves us. Now he's giving us a demo of their new Casio keyboard. I'm glad he's pleased with it. "In The Zone" is a poppy little number but Neil is laughing. A black-spotted yellow horse has turned up with a black and white cow, both of the pantomime variety. I don't think they are an official part of the act. "VIPs" rocks us to a finish but the band have not really been at their best. Not to worry. They're on tour in the autumn and should not be missed.
SNEEK - Stage 2 - 3pm
Kicking off this year's Meltdown at Greenbelt, Sneek start off with their most well known track, "King Of The Ring". This quickly establishes their nu-metal sound which they continue through the set. In their quieter moments, elements of funk are displayed as well however. Sadly they do seem to lack some of the slickness and tightness of some of the other bands but that may not be entirely their fault - Stage 2 has a reputation of mixed results with its sound. The vocals at times seem a little stretched, lacking the intensity that is perhaps needed to accompany this style of music. However the music never falls below par and often rises well above it - with some excellent build-up and breakdowns. During their more mellow moments the music flows beautifully and the vocals match well. It is during their louder moments that the vocals sometimes don't match. Lyrically the songs are strong, with clear Christian messages that are relevant to today's society - many of the songs are explained at the beginning or end to make double sure the message gets across. A good start to the Metal Meltdown but leaving room for improvement.
AFTER THE FIRE - North Stage - 3.30pm
North Stage is filling up nicely. What's going on? Many of the newcomers are 40-something men (and older). This can only mean one thing: After The Fire. I had the privilege of joining the 40-somethings at ATF's 25 year reunion gig here last year, at the insistence of my friend Roger. They all knew the words and sang along with the passion of a football crowd. Nostalgia touched hearts and grown men wept openly. "Life In The City" opens today's set and the band sound surprisingly fresh. "Dancing In The Shadows" follows with its optimistic guitar intro and sing-along chorus. Those men are at it again. The guitar-orientated tunes have fared better than those dominated by the keyboard. Those keyboard riffs and swirls are cheese to the contemporary ear. Such is true of their new single, a re-make of "One Rule For You, One Rule For Me" which re-lives as "One Rule For Trade Justice". Even the collaboration of the Psalm Drummers is unable to rejuvenate the sound. "Der Kommissar" confirms that the years have not been good to the ATF sound. "Starflight" concludes and contradicts. There is something compelling about this track. Keith Smith, the new lead singer, dressed in white vest and trousers, refers to the band's "Bounce-back-ability." First time listeners will struggle to understand.