For the ninth time we've expanded this comprehensive review of the music of GREENBELT
Continued from page 3
SOWETO KINCH - Mainstage - 8.00pm
Soweto Kinch has been to Greenbelt twice before, as part of Jazz Jamaica's horn section. Since then, a lot has happened in the Birmingham-based saxophonist/rapper's career. and so with an acclaimed album and several awards under his belt, he finally got to appear at Greenbelt as the main act, rather than as a sideman. His small band was made up of some of the other names causing a stir in the British jazz scene today; people such as guitarist Femi Temowo (Amy Winehouse, Four Kornerz) and drummer Troy Miller, plus a MacBook-weilding DJ hidden at the side of the stage. Much of the music played came from Soweto's latest album. 'A Life In The Day Of B19' is inspired by the everyday life stories of Soweto's neighbours - B19 being the postcode for the part of Birmingham where he lives. It's a part of the city that has had a lot of bad press, so rather than give more airtime to drug dealers and gangsters, Soweto has chosen instead to chronicle the lives of regular folk, taking inspiration from the Scripture, "The last shall be first and the first last." Using a unique mix of jazz and rap, Soweto brought B19's often faceless inhabitants to life; people such as "Adrian" who was such a good footballer during his childhood that at the age of 11 he was being headhunted by major football teams. He chose instead to find his fortune in America. Things didn't quite go as planned (in fact, they got very messy), and he's now back in Brum working as a bus driver. Before the gig started, audience members had been given a mobile phone number and asked to send any pictures they had taken on their phones which they feel really captured the essence of Greenbelt. For his final number, those pictures were projected onto the screen behind the band, and Soweto made up raps about each picture as they appeared on screen, showing an incredible ability to think on his feet. A great display of hip-hop-influenced jazz with a uniquely British twist.
EMILY BARKER AND THE RED CLAY HALO - Performance Café -
Normally a quartet, illness had deprived the band of two members so this was a rather makeshift performance. Fortunately, the healthy participants included the band's eponymous lead vocalist/guitarist who, along with an accompanying accordion/flute player, served up 40 minutes of alt-country-tinged folk. Emily Barker has a terrific voice which, at times, reminded me of Lone Justice-era Maria McKee, but it would be doing her a disservice to suggest that she's anyone else's soundalike as her Australian origin and British residence combine to create something very distinctive. For me, the standout track of the performance was the brooding "Orlando" - named, apparently, after a book by Virginia Woolf rather than the Florida city (or even the Lord Of The Rings actor), but my literary ignorance didn't stop me appreciating the quality of the songwriting.
JOHN TAVENER - Centaur - 9.00pm
As the 60-strong Greenbelt Festival Choir launched into an introduction with a heavenly contrast between deep male voices and angelic female vocals, warm memories of Inspector Morse were brought back to me. I expected a lot of hushed silence, clapping and a man stood in the middle of the stage on a pedestal, looking like he was miming. The conductor in fact was Gavin Sutherland. All the previous things transpired as I listened to a gentle and soothing Mozart piece before the Tavener compositions began, but I was also treated to a squeaking pram passing by, a Korean journalist next to me on instant messenger, and a couple of rude interruptions of the mobile phone variety. My neighbours found this disrespectful, and though I write with a touch of sarcasm, my new found love for classical music saw me wagging my head and craning my neck in the direction of the perpetrators. Cellist Robin Thompson-Clark launched into the first Tavener piece, with a reverent and haunting solo. The composition dramatically altered between the sparse but captivating sound of the cello on its own, to the cello accompanied by the magnificent choir, the grief and tension tangibly felt by the audience. You could almost hear a pin drop as all eyes were transfixed on the cellist as he drew his final flawless notes. The shoulders of the conductor dropped, the orchestra and choir followed suit, and the audience paused before rapturous applause. Captive faces smiled and the only word I could think of with regards Tavener's music is majestic. Other highlights of the event included the unique voice of Patricia Rozario, dressed in a sparkly sequin scattered outfit, and the wonderful display of voices in "Hallelujah".
MONDAY, 27th August
A GENUINE FREAKSHOW - Underground - 10.30am
I don't have a lot to say about A Genuine Freakshow. They didn't have the chance to say much between their three songs either. Needless to say they are rather progressive, to the extent that I would have quite liked to have seen them come out and announce themselves by saying "We are A Genuine Freakshow. This is our last song, thanks for listening", before launching into a 30-minute epic disaster. However, it was humorous that they did so after two songs. Their first song saw a military style drum roll, picking guitar, moody trumpet and a gradual ascent towards a big soundscape and vocals that can only be likened to Thom Yorke. Unfortunately their cellist could not make the gig, and one of their guitars was forgotten and left behind in a cellar. Yet they did manage to borrow a guitar from another band and a cameo role for some free-styling trumpet was a welcome addition. Apocalyptic and haunting sounds infused a nothing but entertaining set.
STRANGEDAY - Underground - 11.20am
Seldom have I witnessed a rock band gig so dominated by one band member. The drummer of Kent-based Strangeday, one Westy, is a mighty monolith of unrelenting rhythm who propelled every song with raw percussive power. Not that the other guys in the band were slouches. Dreadlocked guitarist Anwar contributed some wonderfully jagged riffs and even sang an occasional bit of harmony while singer Toby Hawkins, though his voice occasionally cracked on the high notes, had enough frontman charisma to ensure one overlooked such musical niceties. As he bawled his vocals over the scorching neo-punk rhythms. I mused how much the band have improved down the years. The crowd had filtered into the Underground dozily indifferent after a weekend of music and sunshine but by the close they were up and jumping. Strangeday have been around a fair while - I remember them when they were My Kid Sister - but this current lineup and armoury of fiery songs shows they've put in a lot of hard work. Particularly effective were the two closing numbers "Insight" with a funky bass line from Ally and the careering pogo-rhythmed "Get Me Through" with its bellowed prayer "Waiting for God to get me through" being undeniably powerful. As we filed out at the close I spotted a sizeable bunch of punters striding off to the CD tent to search out a copy of the band's new 'Please Intervene' album. After that set I'm not surprised.
NICAR AL-ISSA - Performance Café - 12.00 noon
Proclaiming himself as the oud master, Nicar Al-Issa took to the stage in the Performance Café before an intrigued audience. For those of us that don't know what an oud is, it is like a lute but of Arabic origin. I must admit that although his mastery of his chosen instrument was fascinating and inspiring, Nicar's voice left much to be desired and often seemed flat. Although the songs weren't in English each song had a special story. The story that stood out most to me was the one of a woman who followed her husband to war as she wouldn't leave him on his own. Overall, an interesting gig though one that occasionally seemed more like a music history lesson than a musical performance.
HOME WRECKERS CLUB - Underground - 12.10pm
Another last minute substitution taking the place of the advertised Fijidots, HWC occupied the poppier end of indie with a nice collection of guitar figures and singable songs. With some strong hooks that would sound good on radio, this four-piece had an excellent visual presence and left a vivid impression with the receptive crowd.
JULIA HARRIS - Underground - 1.00pm
Regular Cross Rhythms radio listeners will know Brit Julia for her turntable hit single "These Days". Julia opted to do this gig without her band due to illness (theirs, not hers). If she hadn't told us we'd not have known, as the songs rendered well with just her voice and guitar. One of the Underground stewards rated this as the best gig of Greenbelt (and he naturally saw a lot). Julia has a good voice and underpins it with some funky acoustic guitar playing with songs that occupied the Ricky Lee Jones / Joni Mitchell (or even a less husky Melissa Etheridge) end of the singer/songwriter spectrum, with extensions (and I'm not referring to her hair here!) that made the style all her own. A great set from a singer with huge potential.
JON BILBROUGH - Performance Café - 2.00pm
In the absence of a band usually including a tabla, xylophones and violins, Jon Bilbrough was left with his worn guitar, some ankle bells and a voice that projects itself powerfully. His driving finger-picking was often accompanied by gentle verses and hauntingly soaring choruses. Eastern influences set him apart from other acoustic singer/songwriters, as does the variety of his vocal ranges and influences. He can really carry a note with depth, soar with beauty, whisper like Damien Rice and loop his vocals to create an even more haunting background to his songs. Rural scenes and songs of love infused the mellower tunes, while his feet were sent tapping with ankle bells on his more upbeat material. One such song was the penultimate song "Jealousy", which saw the crowd nodding their heads in time. While he might not headline at Greenbelt like his dad in the past, bigger things must certainly be expected of his such finely crafted music.
ZEROSTAR - Underground - 2.00pm
It's unclear what the crowd thought of London's indie rockers, Zerostar. It's clear that the band put their all into the set, which allowed for a lot of light work, dry ice and frenetic dancing by lead singer Bentley Browning. But the crowd didn't seem to possess quite the same energy. Was it just that they are an unknown force to most Greenbelters, that the audience were tired after three crazily hot days and an equal number of sleepless nights, or that Bentley's dancing was rather scary? Whatever the answer to this puzzle, Zerostar delivered an entertaining set of jangly pop rock - which on other occasions has courted a number of big name plaudits. As you'd expect, the band closed their set with the song that has become their trademark - "A Rockstar Saved My Life", the single of which got them airplay on a number of stations (including Cross Rhythms) and that made them Grant Nicholas' (Feeder) favourite unsigned band. A great finish to a musical performance that is bound to get Zerostar invited back next year and will continue to win over fans in the mainstream.
CATHY BURTON - Performance Café - 3.00pm
I arrived just a bit too late for this, as the tent was already packed to whatever the canvass equivalent of the rafters is by the time I turned up, so, after persuading the stewards to let me take a few photos I had to leave and listen from the outside. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing as, two gigs later in the same venue, my posterior was suffering badly from the very uncomfortable benches inside! In any case, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the gig as the sound was perfectly good from just outside the tent and I was able to lie on the grass and soak up both the sunshine and Cathy's music with equal pleasure. Cross Rhythms readers and listeners will mostly already be familiar with Cathy Burton so there isn't much for me to add other than the fact that this was a very polished performance from a band - featuring Dan Wheeler on guitar - who are clearly comfortable performing together. Some of the songs were new to me and others I recognised from Cathy's 'Silvertown' album, but all seemed to go down well with the audience - at least as far as I could tell from the outside!
THROUGH SOLACE - Underground - 3.00pm
Last year I compared Through Solace to Zao and the Nodes Of Ranvier and I wasn't wrong to do so. However, this year I shall add that with frontman Luke Nicholas, we could well have the UK's answer to As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis on our hands. Not only is this some of the most brutal metalcore in Christendom but as its backbone it has some of the most deep and poetic lyrics you'll ever hear screamed at an unsuspecting crowd. However, unlike Lambesis, Luke has yet to put much variation on his vocals. Whilst some of their newer stuff does allow for a touch more melody, Luke's voice is stubbornly sticking to what it does best. Musically, Through Solace's newer tunes seem to be even more technical and even better structured - I really am looking forward to hearing their next release. So it would seem were the crowd too, providing without doubt the best mosh pit of the festival. Monday's Meltdown Sessions kicked off in a right royal style, sufficiently pleasing the people who had the discernment to avoid the cockney nostalgia of Chas & Dave.
THIRD DAY RISING - Underground - 3.40pm
First things first, if you're expecting a review of the '90s Welsh hard rock outfit by the same name, think again. These guys probably struggle to even remember the '90s! In this band's less-than-a-year-old history, they've done a very good job of making synth-ladened pop-friendly screamo. They rounded off the summer with their one and only UK tour, touring the EP they made a few months prior. The tour finished here at Greenbelt and you could tell they'd used the tour to polish off their live show. This is a very young band (in terms of average age as well as longevity) that shows a huge amount of potential - so it's a real shame that all the members bar one are going their separate ways from their home town of Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Two things give away their age; the first is that they have quite obviously been heavily influenced by the latest buzz-genre, emo. Secondly, they came mighty close to being extremely cheesy - something with age, people can be very sensitive to avoid! Although to be fair, the cheesiest of all their songs, "Not Even Captain America Can Save Us Now", is probably my favourite - its glorious intro is something you have to hear to believe! It's a shame we're unlikely to witness this band mature into a really tight and proficient force - as this time next year they could have had a nice armoury of tunes.