Still expanding, now with 78 performance reviews, our coverage of the GREENBELT festival continues.
Continued from page 3
SUNDAY, 30th August
GREENBELT SUNDAY SERVICE - Mainstage - 10am
One of the key events that takes place during the long weekend is a Sunday service, which in previous years has been a communion service, although this year there was no communion due to swine-flu fears. However, when there are several thousand people gathered in front of a stage, if someone had the bug, you kind of get the feeling that it'd be too late by then to stop it from spreading! It was even suggested during the service the "the peace" should not be given in the usual way, of offering someone a hug, or even a spiritual kiss, but instead the "elbow bump of peace" was demonstrated, by - you've guessed it - bending your arm, and bumping elbows with someone near you. The reaction was a mixture of disbelief and laughter - probably from the comedy factor of such a bizarre notion. The "worship" (and I use quotation marks because I truly believe it was anything but...) was hosted by a collective, Agents Of Future, from Portland, Oregon. I later learnt that Cross Rhythms broadcaster Mike Rimmer has been raving about the guys and their independently released CDs. I was stunned by the ridiculous cacophony that came from the band. To start with it seemed that with the best intentions the plan was to put new words to old hymn tunes, which in general I don't have a problem with - especially when it's done well. However, on this occasion it wasn't. The band, or whoever had re-written the "hymns", had decided to extend certain lines in the verses so that notes were held longer, and no-one really had any clue when to finish one line and start the next. This also appeared to be random and not really following a pattern, so that the mass congregation were left confused and not really able to join in properly. That, interspersed with the lead "singer" (who could probably have benefitted with attending a talk on humility) constantly sticking in his own "whoa-yeah's" for good measure, left many people disinterested and certainly not in a worshipful mood. To make matters worse, the lead singer was playing a key-tar (a keyboard that is played over the shoulder like a guitar) which was supposed to be offering a sound something like a bass. Now being a bassist myself, I can assure you that the sound that came out of that key-tar was more like a block of wood being thumped, and nothing like a bass whatsoever. It was truly awful. Unfortunately that about sums up the whole of the worship that morning - truly awful. The rest of the band were made up of some percussionists, another keyboard, a deejay scratching records during the "hymns" (or was it itching?), and what seemed to be the children of the band members just being allowed to run around the stage not doing much (except showing off and generally getting in the way). To be honest, the lead singer might as well have been singing "it's all about me" rather than it being all about worshiping God, because from where I and my friends were stood it all felt like one big ego trip and not the challenging, heart-warming and uplifting experience that is normally the Sunday service at Greenbelt. In defence of Greenbelt, however, the rest of the service was very poignant and thought provoking as it explored both sides of the story that is the horrific struggle in Palestine, with words being given by both an Israeli and a Palestinian, and prayers being led by them both as well. In conclusion, I do hope that Greenbelt take in the disappointment and general sense of being let down by the worship that was felt by many this year, and learn from it. That sometimes "being different", for the sake of it, just doesn't always work. It certainly didn't this year.
THE CARPELS - The Underground - 12 noon
As I entered the venue for what promised to be a high quality, fresh faced couple of hours, I was faced with a very Killers-esque opening act who had been featured on BBC 6. So there were high expectations. Unfortunately, The Carpels were not all they were cracked up to be. Evidently nervous at what was probably their first festival gig, they blundered through their set with all but a smile on their faces. The set seemed to drag, but the audience seemed to love it so maybe I was seeing a different act. Closing the short 20 minute set with "Double Dare", they certainly finished on a high note but, in truth, seemed in need of more rehearsal time.
VIENTO SUR - Jerusalem - 12.15pm
For the second year running, St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace was responsible for bringing high-quality world music acts to Greenbelt. Thankfully, this year they chose to showcase those acts on the Jerusalem talks stage, a venue with a much bigger audience capacity than the shoebox that was Ethel's Tent at last year's Greenbelt. On Sunday afternoon, St Ethelburgas brought us the delightful Latin American band Viento Sur. The trio - consisting of Camilo on acoustic guitar and vocals, Vicky Cespedes on panpipes, bamboo flute and percussion, and Anthar Kharana on percussion and several other instruments - treated us to a collection of Cuban, Colombian and Bolivian tunes, a diverse mix of Colombian Cumbia, Andean panpipe music, and a spirited rendition of "El Carretero", the most popular Cuban song in South America (as opposed to "Guantanamera", which is the most popular Cuban song outside South America, Anthar informed us). It was fun watching a few brave members of the audience - presumably those who had attended the dance workshops - trying out some salsa dance moves as the band played. A perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.George Luke
YVONNE LYON - Performance Café - 12.30pm
More than one critic has designated the delicious-voiced Yvonne "one of Scotland's best kept musical secrets" though judging from the rapturous reception afforded her by the Performance Café crowd, the singer now has a growing fanbase south of the border. With husband David included in her backing band Yvonne's perfectly pitched pure toned voice was a thing of great beauty while her accompanists were clear masters of the less-is-more school of musicianship. There were some much loved oldies, including "Everything's Fine", a song inspired by a little girl smiling and waving to her while she sat at a set of traffic lights enduring a bad day. There was also some haunting new material from her 'Ashes & Gold' album set for October release. She held the Performance Café audience - who are quite prepared to chatter through the sets of lesser artists - spellbound. Yvonne is transparently a singer/songwriter now at the top of her game.
SAW A DOLPHIN - The Underground - 12.50pm
Their sound being described as "Dr Hibbert's tummy rumbling and a bird eating a missile at the same time", I once again entered the Underground with a great deal of hope. Unfortunately this veneer was broken when they began to play. Having only been in existence since January of 2009, Saw A Dolphin were a relatively new band and sadly this showed in both their performance and musicality. Covering "Anthem" by Zebrahead it was also obvious that they were suffering from a poor quality sound mix and so this did not by any means make the job at hand any easier. For such a new band, their inventiveness was admirable but unfortunately the out of time drumming and nervous performance left a lot to be desired, especially on a festival level of musicianship. Jumping a number of styles, Saw A Dolphin were curious with their set improving as it progressed, culminating in a song about a "Rugby Ball Pornstar". Says it all, really.
BELL JAR - Big Top - 1pm
What lengths do you go to when one of your favourite acts hardly ever plays live, and only releases new material (very) sporadically? I left my voluntary role at the festival mid-shift to catch one of the most underrated bands connected with the Christian scene, whose last live appearance was two years ago. My fears of hardly anybody still remembering them were unfounded: the surprising choice of venue was rewarded by the large numbers of old Eden Burning fans, filling-up on the exceptional talent that is singer-guitarist Paul Northup. With his long-time bandmate Charlotte Ayrton on electric acoustic, they led a five-piece carrying initially a serious look on their faces, suggesting that this could either be a comeback gig. . .or farewell show. It contrasted with the laid-back, expansive look of much of the audience, stretched-out on the grass, leaving just a couple of rows of like-minded obsessives at the front. One of them turned out to be a non-Christian, down from Manchester, with whom I got talking before the start, who loved the group. He quickly fell in love with the four new songs Bell Jar duly road-tested as well, ahead of their inclusion in next year's possible album. We were both impressed by "Follow The Road", also the title of the EP that Bell Jar released at Greenbelt. If I had one criticism, it's that Northup's songs are beginning to sound a little "samey"; perhaps the rest of the group ought to contribute more, in terms of songwriting ideas. On stage, they sound tight, with their Rhodes-tinged sound again somewhere between Elliott Smith and early Paul Weller solo. They complete a near-dozen song set, with a respectful, proper, brass-treatment of "Cage The Bird Up", reminiscent of John 3:8 and quite simply one of the best songs ever written. A truly divine few minutes. We eventually leave, to walk past the hundreds queuing outside for the next act and I feel genuinely sorry for them, having missed a lyrically intelligent, musically sublime performance. At least I can console myself, on the journey home after Greenbelt, by listening to the EP of the new material in their semi-complete state. Hopefully, it's a precursor to the real thing, next year.
HANNAH HAYNES - Performance Café - 1.25pm
Requesting to play in the Performance Cafe next year, Hannah Haynes handed her demo and phone number to the sound desk on the Saturday night of this festival. She was probably a little surprised then, when she received a phone call on Sunday morning asking her to play this packed lunchtime slot as a result of Project Notion's no-show. A little bit of ambition pays off and Hannah showcased a number of her own songs as well as a fantastic cover of Delirious' "Find Me In The River". The highlight of the set was "Down Upon Me" with its poignant chorus "Lay your load down upon me/It's too heavy for you to bear/Falling down on me, casting your burdens down/Lay with me your soul to rest", which was genuinely affecting. Looking and playing as if she was always intended to be here, Haynes put in a confident performance, clearly revelling in the moment and not quite believing her luck. Beautiful melodies and the creative use of lyrical meter draw, perhaps lazy, comparisons to Morissette or Mitchell, but that's hardly a criticism. Let's hope "super sub extraordinaire" Haynes will be playing the Cafe again in 12 months - this time with her name in the programme.
DINING WITH JAMES - Underground - 1.40pm
This was part of Greenbelt's Fresh Talent attraction but even so. . . When Dining With James entered the stage my jaw dropped. They must have an average age of around 13. Not surprisingly, my musical expectations were not high. However, as soon as they began playing I was in a state of astonishment for the second time. They played with an inventiveness and energy which was simply incredible for a band so young in years. They kicked off with a track which sounded like a cross between The Ramones and Franz Ferdinand, driving rock beats with a neat indie twinge which had heads in the crowd nodding and mouths smiling. Throughout they maintained their tightness with no rhythmical slip-ups at all, putting down simple but frustratingly catchy riffs, giving the stale indie-rock scene a much needed punky boost. Three songs through the set, the drummer joined his bandmates at the front of the stage with a drum and the band launched into an energetic instrumental interlude which had the audience clapping in support. Creative and lively, Dining With James had the audience almost dumbstruck at their potential.
JON BILBROUGH - Performance Café - 3.15pm
When Cross Rhythms reviewed Jon Bilbrough's debut EP back in 2003, it was described as "driving rock" and "a long way from the folky outpourings" of his father, worship leader Dave Bilbrough. On the evidence of this performance, though, it would seem that the genes have won out and Jon has gone back to his roots in more ways than one. But the distinctiveness now are the Asian influences on his music which create an almost unique mix of solid English folk and oriental overtones. Since this was a Performance Cafe gig it wasn't a full band, but Jon's finely crafted guitar work augmented by the haunting tones of an accompanying violinist was more than enough to fill the space. The only surprise is that he hasn't yet graduated from the Performance Cafe to a larger Greenbelt venue, but I suspect that it's only a matter of time.
THEBANDWITHNONAME - Underground - 3.30pm
Having re-invented themselves with the addition of guitarist and drummer, Chip and cohorts' gigs now have a whole new dimension. So it was a shame that this was axeman James "Jimmy" Adams' last gig with the band (he's going off to the USA). But worry not. Having discovered the essential element of guitar, thebandwithnoname aren't going to let it slip and a replacement of Jimmy will soon be announced. The band exploded onto stage with a cover of Queen's song "We Will Rock You". Following this was the usual magic, lots of energetic choreographed dancing to phat and heavy beats alongside some equally heavy evangelical spiel. The room was absolutely packed and lapping up every moment; for only the second time this weekend I witnessed a full Underground audience. Judging by the crowd outside it would be true to say that almost as many people were turned away as got in, only a small trickle of people left the venue after it was packed out - no-one wanted to miss this. However as it turned out, if they did miss it they'd still have been able to catch the lads on Mainstage at 5pm, filling in a gap in the schedule with an impromptu performance by the three main core men sans instruments. As for this particular set, well it was a decent length and in sweltering conditions the young crowd really lapped it up while the band's communication of Gospel truth was, as usual, exemplary. Manchester's musical evangelists still have plenty of mileage left in them.
GARETH DAVIES-JONES - Performance Café - 4pm
This was Davies-Jones' third year in the Performance Cafe, but his first with a cut-up ping pong ball replacing his broken thumb nail! We only have James Taylor to blame for the fact that the plastic broke after the first song. Still, the audience was largely made up of Gareth's growing Greenbelt fanbase and all were happy to hear new and more familiar songs expertly played with or without thumbnail. Promoting new album 'Water And Light' Davies-Jones' charm and skill as an acoustic singer/songwriter was obvious, and he is most easily compared with Martyn Joseph. However, an equally fair comparison on the basis of this set would be folk hero Seth Lakeman. Gareth tells beautiful and poignant stories with his lyrics; tales of mariners lost at sea, rain-swept Scottish Isles and beauty and power in nature. He shows a gift for creating vivid scenes and engrossing pictures and expressing them without being twee or cliche. "Princess Victoria" was a long time in the writing, the true story of a ferryboat that went down in the Irish sea, while "Scottish Lights" is a tribute to the lighthouses of Scotland and "the great architect", expressing "I look for your light to guide me". "Breathe" will be Gareth's first single in October and has great potential, featuring a massive chorus "There is always hope in every place, so breath in, breath out, who makes that happen?/'Cause we forget sometimes." Competing with Beer And Hymns in the Jesus Arms next door, Gareth suggested we embrace an alternative Tears and Pimms, a more appropriate tone to accompany the morose output of acoustic songwriters. But this set was far from morose, the excellent "'The Fields"' and "'Black Velvet Band"' being particular standout tracks.
TIMOTHY D AND THE TROGLOXENES - Performance Café -
With a name that sounds like a '70s prog band, I entered the Performance Cafe not knowing a thing about the band or their album on Risen Records. The band began with a mellow, laid back song with heavy folk influences. Introducing his sister, Timothy gave up the microphone for her to demonstrate her superb, floating voice. We were then treated to an excellent new song, "High Road", which was simple, inventive yet a tad predictable. The Trogloxenes gave a consistently interesting and skilled performance with enough going on in their acoustic interplay to keep the audience interested. Stripping the band down to just himself and a guitar, Mr D gave a rendition of a moving number about the life of Jesus; this song was the clincher which made me realise that this band truly had their hearts in the music. The final song, "At The Station" solidified this band as the only one I have ever heard that could be classified as "folk praise". It had the audience clapping along and held some beautiful, soaring vocal harmonies. A superb performance from a left-of-centre unit.
JAHAZIEL - Mainstage - 6pm
Considering the London-based rapper was a Mobo winner, Jahaziel didn't attract a particularly large throng though the fact that he was scheduled to play another set at the Underground later that evening probably kept some people away. As we all know, Jahaziel is a skilled and passionate presenter of gospel truth and with a full entourage of backing musicians, including one particularly impressive soulful voiced diva and a chap who burst into a delightful chunk of JA toasting, the set was as tight as Gary Barlow's trousers. Unsurprisingly, most of the material was from Jahaziel's 'Ready To Live' album with "What Friends Are For" and "In My Neighbourhood" standing out particularly well. I confess that his hard working set didn't receive my full attention as a record producer friend sitting next to me insisted on recounting the worst excesses of Bishop Gene Robinson's seminar he'd attended that day and it was only when the next Mainstage attraction - the Apples - started their blistering set that I insisted on halting my friend to more fully hear the music. But I saw and heard enough of Jahaziel's set to be impressed with his slick yet passionate performance. It's a shame though I didn't catch his Underground set. No doubt in a crowded club rather than a field it had much more impact.