For the ninth time we've expanded this comprehensive review of the music of GREENBELT
Continued from page 2
VERRA CRUZ - Mainstage - 7.10pm
It was a cold, snowy night when I last saw Verra Cruz - on tour supporting Switchfoot earlier this year. The weather was markedly different on the blistering hot day in August when they hit the Mainstage. Marc James and the lads kicked off with "Cold That You Feel", oh the irony! Then out comes the trademark lapsteel guitar for the next song which starts off quietly before letting loose that memorable chorus recalling the glories of ancient bluesman Robert Johnson "With a Hell Hound on my trail". Clearly, the rock heroes were now in their element. Tight drumming from Jimmy Cooke and thundering bass from their new bass player Henry Cross ensued as they hurtled through "Storm Will Come" and a bluesy "Rise". Next a couple of less familiar songs before returning to the favourite "Rock And A Hard Place". Marc possibly spent a bit too much time asking the good people at Greenbelt if they would like to pre-order their upcoming CD, but we'll let that pass. For your information, the first 500 pre-orders do also get a free limited edition live album. After the hard sell it was back to "Strange Food" to round off a blistering set leaving the crowd in no doubt that they have witnessed a highly skilled, hard working band who deliver classic blues rock. It left me with a big smile on my face and dying to see them again.
LINCHPIN - Mainstage - 8.10pm
This band have been causing quite a stir in clubland over the last 12 months, so this was their chance to prove themselves on a big stage and to see if they are worthy of all the expectation. From the start of their set it's clear that this band fit in with the current catchy pop punk breed of bands like Fall Out Boy and Paramore. They play what they know, so the songs are all about issues of finding your identity as a young person or even the frustration of teenage love. So its not hard to see why this band are increasing in popularity, given that their sound is modern, edgy and relevant - but if you're over the age of 18, then the chances of the music not appealing to you is quite high! But the performance on the night is good overall and the younger end of the crowd were clearly caught up in the excitement of it all with the frontstage mosh pulling in more and more up-for-a-bash Greenbelters. The big test for this band will be, can they mature and grow as a band in order to survive the change in musical tastes which is inevitably just around the corner. But for now Linchpin are a band whose explosive dynamism and winning way with a song hook cries out for a big label record deal.
BELL JAR - Underground - 8.30pm
With this the third year of what has become a Cross Rhythms/Greenbelt tradition, namely this very comprehensive Greenbelt review, and having personally reviewed Bell Jar's performances at GB '05 and GB '06, I was careful to designate another journo to the task of covering the band this year. But as Mr Burns (the poet, not The Simpsons character) once observed, the best laid plans of mice. . . And so I found myself entering The Underground with the band in full flow. The first impression was that Bell Jar had, oddly, decided to play this year's gig in a sauna. The ferocious heat literally had sweat/condensation running down the walls. The second thing that struck me was how patently unsuitable this smallish, L-shaped room was for Stage 2 (now renamed The Underground). The third thing that soon became obvious was that Paul Northup, Charlotte Ayrton and the rest of "Cheltenham's finest" (the compere's description Paul was at pains to deny) have lost none of their winning ways with rhythm and melody. Their finely textured music was a delight. For those yet to discover their lilting-yet-meaty sound, I would describe it as "folk-tinged, art pop rock" but as such unwieldy labelling would probably be as unwelcome as "Cheltenham's finest" I will simply observe that the organic integration of chunky rhythm behind Northup's wistfully memorable melodies is a delight to the ear and a challenge to the heart. Those risking heat exhaustion who'd come along to hear seemed to agree, judging from the noise of their applause. This was a special Bell Jar gig in that all but two songs performed were brand new and intended for an eagerly awaited album which hasn't emerged as yet. As Paul wryly observed, at the moment all he seems to produce is children, not albums. Such parental success took on special meaning with the pick of the new songs, apparently inspired by a remark made by an elderly member of Paul's church who on hearing the news of the singer/songwriter's fourth son's successful delivery responded, "One for each corner of the coffin." Now that's what I call a great idea for a song.
KANDA BONGO MAN - Mainstage - 9.35pm
As one of the hottest days I can remember in my Greenbelt-attending history drew to a close, it was the perfect atmosphere to enjoy some cracking African party music. Kanda Bongo Man did not disappoint. He was halfway through his first number when I arrived at the Mainstage area, but the crowd was already in full party mode, with a couple of conga lines snaking their way through the masses. Kanda Bongo Man was his usual larger-than-life self, wearing his trademark Panama hat and accompanied by two female dancers and two backing vocalist/MCs (or 'animators', to use the correct soukous music terminology; their main job being to hype up or 'animate' the audience). One of the two animators also doubled as a dancer, throwing his anatomy into the most unfeasible shapes. The band was surprisingly sparse in numbers (just a drummer, a bassist and the most important component in a soukous band - the guitarist), but incredibly tight to go with it. As Kanda and his band worked their way through a selection of his greatest hits (which included the gospel song "Yesu Christi"), I was reminded of the first time I saw him in concert. It was at Sierra Leone's national stadium in Freetown way back in 1993, and whenever he would face the audience in the cheap seats, armed soldiers would go onstage and turn him back towards the VIP section of the stadium! There weren't any army officers in attendance at Greenbelt, but at times I thought we might need a few extra paramedics at hand whenever I saw audience members trying to copy some of the dancers' more complex moves! There comes a time in every music journo's career when you review one rubbish album or gig too many and forget what attracted you to the job in the first place. I've had my share of those, but this gig was one occasion where I found myself thinking "I do have the best job in the world."
KEVIN MAX - Performance Café - 10.00pm
I bet he hates us saying it, but ex-dc Talk dude Kevin Max graced the Mainstage at the last Greenbelt and stunned everyone with what people thought was a dog collar, but it since transpired that it was not. Some have described Max's humour as eccentric, but on this night he seemed to be moaning rather a lot. I could not work out why. Accompanied by a guitarist from Nottingham, his incredibly distinctive vocals blew me away right from the start in the opener "Seek", after which he berated his guitarist saying, "These young guys play so fast. My voice is like a car battery. It needs 15 minutes to warm up." This did not seem to be the case as he launched into "Run On For A Long Time", recorded by Johnny Cash on his last record. After some slightly disparaging remarks about dc Talk, Kevin performed three of their greatest songs, dangling his mic in front of the crowd as they sang back to him on "In The Light". His lessons in vocal geography were welcomed by the packed-out crowd. As the gig wore on I was convinced that his moaning nature is part of a self-disparaging humour, surprising considering his enormous talent and incredible voice. He used this UK visit and the laid back setting to reflect on the possibility of UK tours with the likes of Delirious?, Bowie, Kasabian and Tom Jones, also sharing some personal highlights for him: "The coolest thing in the last couple of years was having two children. I went from being a perpetual 19 year-old to a perpetual 21 year-old!"
SUNDAY, 26th August
PSALM DRUMMERS - Mainstage - 12.00 noon
Playing as the backdrop to the Greenbelt "Family Picnic" immediately after the Sunday communion service, a selection of Psalm Drummers had a rather challenging task to engage an audience that mainly wanted to eat and chat. However, I can report that they successfully kept this particular family entertained, including baby Ellie who was having fun trying to clap along to the drums! Apart from the variations in rhythm, the team added interest with occasional use of backing instruments such as a flute, drumming to accompany a reading, a drum duel between two of the team and, at one point, introducing a guest beatboxer to add some vocal enhancements! All in all, an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
JULIA MCKEE - Performance Café - 1.45pm
Julia having a Masters in jazz, I knew I was in for some smooth, easy listening from the singer, and to be perfectly honest I was skeptical. I don't particularly like jazz. Yet after Julia entered into her second song "What About You", backed by Andrew Milloy on double bass and Mark McKee on drums, my imagination found itself sat in a jazz club having a drink with friends. On wondering whether what appeared to be nice background music would continue, the introduction of her cheeky and sarcastic commentary in "Mount Vesuvius" was welcomed by the crowd. The song is an ode to the humongous sized ego of a man she once met, and was dedicated to all men of a similar variety. A more upbeat track, it featured accomplished and technical drumming from Mark McKee, with the particularly funny lyric, "Funny how your conquests all turned gay, perhaps your raging sex appeal scared them all away". A piece of theatrical jazz followed, with ironic comments on bitter men who resent their wives' better paid jobs. On a political note, she sang "It's money, guns and oil that make the world go round". The song, called "What A Woman Shouldn't Do", was inspired by Kenyan Minister Wangari Mathai's high-profile divorce case, when her husband claimed in court that she was too strong-minded for a woman. By now her voice had warmed up and she began to sing with warm authority. The contrast between the ironic and humorous on the one side, and the personal songs of reflection on the other, was rather awkward but Julia's wit and finesse were certainly appreciated.
SOMETHINGABOUTNOTHING - Underground - 2.00pm
It's good to see a young band mature and that is very much what last year's winners of the Greenbelt Battle Of The Bands have done. The music is more intelligent, deeper and well structured. Slow burning indie rock may not be to everyone's taste but it certainly wins them brownie points amongst fellow musicians and music aficionados. From a rock presenter's perspective, they are a little lighter than I last remember but I can certainly see a band maturing and improving with age. Their next CD release may not get airplay on the Rock And Hard Place but I'd expect it to get airplay on a number of other shows instead. This band is turning out rather nicely and time is still on their side. Now they just need to work out whether it's the pub and club circuit they want to break into or as support to the likes of Replenish and Superhero at (for want of a better term) 'Christian events' and on tours. But whatever the future holds, somethingAboutnothing are a band who deliver impressive, intelligent rock.
DENISON WITMER - Centaur - 2.45pm
As I step into the Centaur, Denison is already on stage. The first line of his music I hear seems to summarise his career so far. "There's a song I've been singing all these years as they pass." This 30 year old troubadour from Philadelphia has indeed thousands of gigs and countless air miles under his belt and so seemingly views the current interest in his finely crafted neo-folk (or whatever they call one-man-and-a-guitar these days) with an air of amused surprise. His lilting guitar and gentle voice urging us to "consider the lilies of the field" was a delight while his laconic in-between-songs links are amusing whether he's recounting the loss of a cell phone in Sweden leading to missing a night's sleep prior to this gig or a meeting with an Amish teenager charged with being drunk while driving a horse and buggy. Denison sings a particularly poignant song about his grandmother - clearly a lady of deep faith - then performs a couple of lullaby-style songs from his latest album 'Are You A Dreamer'. There's something surreal about a sleep-deprived singer/songwriter singing a gentle soporific song about sleeping and dreaming and for the Greenbelter lying on the Centaur's carpet next to me it's clearly proven too much and he is gently snoring. Denison concludes his set by referring to his recent British tour with Rosie Thomas "who was supposed to be here but couldn't make it" and finished his delightfully laid-back set with "Carried Away" with its memorable line "I'm not ashamed to say I don't know." A fine songsmith, even when he's half asleep.
[CRAVE] - Underground - 2.50pm
It's rather sad that for many people, the overriding memory of Irish rockers [Crave]'s set was Scott constantly having to retune his bass. It's a double shame when you realise that their set was without one bad song, every single number being top quality modern rock, each showcasing a tight rhythm, intricate guitar work and grungesque vocals. Rather than letting one song merge into the next, each stood alone by itself with Scott talking in between - explaining the meaning of each song and apologising for his technical problems. I wonder if they were without their problems, would they have stopped after each song? With a new album on the horizon, it's perhaps not surprising that a lot of their less familiar tunes got an airing. "Break" still remains my favourite of the band's new material and with added audience participation this year it really has a great anthemic feel to it. Sound problems aside, [Crave] put in an excellent set - expect them to support the likes of Verra Cruz or Superhero next year and fight them to the headline spot all the way.
ELECTRALYTE - Underground - 6.30pm
Electralyte's brand of Brit rock/pop kicked off with the title track from their first full length, 'Breakout'. The song is full of chirpy self confidence. "I'm desperate for that crazy rush, when I break out of here," sang frontman Matt Leeder in a strong voice that really carries the songs. It makes a change to hear a full on rock band that has thought-provoking lyrics and a full, rich sound. Their tight, inventive musicianship caught and held the crowd and by the time they launched into "Life On Mars" followed by "White Suit", the latter with lyrics like "Hey you, I'm speaking to you in your crisp white suit, are you really what you say you are," the crowd were baying for more. On "Book Club" Electralyte sounded a tad like Oasis, with the strident guitars and swaggering stance -though overall you'd say their indie sound has funk and modern rock influences. All too soon it's the last song "Q & A" and then it's all over. I was left thinking that only having 30 minutes in the sweltering heat of The Underground was just not enough time to properly appreciate a top rate band.
CHRISTAFARI - Mainstage - 6.45pm
This was Christafari's second Greenbelt appearance (the first was in 2002, if I'm not mistaken), and part of a gruelling tour of Europe. Trinidad has kind of ousted Jamaica as Mark Mohr's main source of inspiration ever since he married Avion Blackman (daughter of Ras Shorty I, the man credited with inventing soca music), and so I wasn't too surprised as I approached the Mainstage area early on Sunday evening to hear Christafari kicking off their set with a rousing cover of Nigel & Marvin's classic soca anthem "Follow The Leader" - after all, it is one of the biggest tunes to come out of Trinidad in the last 10 years or so. Mark bounced onto the stage dressed up in a green army fatigue type outfit; the equally bouncy audience willingly obeyed his instructions to "jump and wave", "move to the left", "move to the right" and shout "I love Jesus". That was the only cover they did, and even though they're touring to promote a new album, the majority of the songs were from their back catalogue, including old hits such as "Hiding Place", "Soulfire", "Valley Of Decision" and "New Movement" (the 'action song' from their children's album). At the close it was high energy skanking as the band launched into "The Prodigal", the ska tune featured on their new album. This was a cue for the guys standing behind me in the crowd to do some manic Russian dancing, Cossack style. Boy, they really went for it! But it was a surprise, non-music element to Christafari's set which was the most memorable thing of all. Mark took the spiritual bull by the horns and did something no one had done for many a long year at Greenbelt Mainstage. He preached the Gospel and then made an altar call. Many hundreds in the crowd responded to receive Christ. A powerful work of God.
CARGO WITH PAUL FIELD, COCO MBASSI & SADIE
CHAMBERLAIN - Centaur - 7.00pm
It's a courageous composer who is prepared to tackle one of the most painful sagas in human history - the ghastly trade in human misery known as the slave trade and then carry the story through to the modern blight of today's human trafficking - and be able to create a work that is not only watchable but enjoyable and even, at the rousing song "Freedom", uplifting. But that's what veteran Brit songwriter Paul Field has achieved with 'Cargo' and though the presentation doesn't have the big sets and flashy production of the big budget musical, it does have some memorable songs and, more importantly, clearly communicates the blight of slavery past and present. Aided by fine vocalists Coco Mbassi and Sadie Chamberlain and with an excellent actor (whose name I failed to note) handling the narration with every bit as much dignity as Sir Tom Courtenay conveyed on the CD, 'Cargo' progresses from a low key beginning interspersed with some memorable songs like "Strange Cargo" (sung powerfully by Coco) and "Midnight Rain" to a climax where a gospel choir of Greenbelters added dynamism to the hope-filled "Freedom". One left the powerful presentation with the words "imagine you could change the world" ringing in your ears. Wrenching us from the spirit-deadening torpor of modern day consumerism, a production like this demands we indeed act to change this evil for the millions caught in its grip.