Still expanding, now with 78 performance reviews, our coverage of the GREENBELT festival continues.
Continued from page 4
ENV - Underground - 6.40pm
Clashing with the performance by mainstream hitmaker Sway over on Mainstage, ENV came on to a pathetically small crowd. However, the London-based MC did not allow this to phase him and instantly entered into a brave performance with his positive, classically inspired brand of hip-hop. With strongly delivered rapid-fire lyrics, his "Back To Reality" remix went down very well with all who were there. ENV's consistently inventive backing tracks behind such numbers as "Take It Over" were always clever. With a very short set, ENV gave a punchy performance. It was just a shame that there wasn't a big enough crowd to appreciate it.
THE APPLES - Mainstage - 7pm
The Apples hail from Tel Aviv, and given Greenbelt's notorious pro-Palestinian bias I half wondered if an Israeli band might have a hard time connecting with the audience. But, fortunately, the Mainstage crowd for the evening either weren't interested in politics or were prepared to put it aside for the moment, and they were rewarded with a virtuoso performance from the jazz-funk outfit. Actually, calling them jazz-funk is probably too narrow a description; an Israel-based website describes them as mixing "funk, big band jazz, hip-hop and klezmer", and having Googled the meaning of the latter (it's a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism, in case you were wondering), I have to say that I can't beat that for accuracy. Whatever the terminology used to describe their music, it doesn't do justice to the sheer exuberance of a performance which combines a horn section, bass, drums and turntables to create something that manages to be both distinctive and full of tradition at the same time. Even though the weather was doing its best to put a bit of a dampener on proceedings, the infectious enthusiasm of the band was more than enough to keep the crowd dancing throughout. And the horn ensemble work was nothing short of sensational.
SHLOMO & THE VOCAL ORCHESTRA - Mainstage -
The anticipation was high in the build-up to this potentially exciting and unique performance and the crowd was huge, despite the growing threat of rain. Shlomo certainly did not disappoint, coming alone onto stage and grabbing the audience with nothing but his voice. Here was beatbox taken to a whole new level. He gradually built the crowd up into a frenzy creating the atmosphere of a packed club, despite the cold wind. Covering such modern classics as Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers", he gave a breathtaking opening performance. Just as the novelty began to wear off, Shlomo introduced a loop station into the mix. Having seen one of these used very creatively by a number of musicians I was curious to see how he would utilise this opportunity. Beginning to layer his voice, he formed a sound as textured and as full as any hip-hop or dance act. Having demonstrated this skill, he then proceeded to use the equipment rhythmically, causing the crowd to cheer in both wonder and support. Even by himself, he was consistently inventive and performed with such intensity it was hard to take your eyes off the man, albeit out of curiosity wondering how on earth he produced such sounds with only his vocal chords. Again, as the novelty of this started to pale, Shlomo introduced his Vocal Orchestra in comedic but striking style and the fascination with this extraordinary talent grew. The Orchestra consisted of various styles of vocal talent, including rappers, beatboxers and singers, this combination of skills was simply breathtaking to witness, both audibly and visibly with humorous and interesting choreography being added to keep the audiences attention. As the band began to "battle" amongst themselves, the aptitude that the group had was clearly visible, and with members such as Bellatrix (female world beatboxing champion) in the troupe, you could not have had a better combination of artists. As the rain began to set in, Shlomo announced that the band would create a fully improvised piece of music, and as the sound gradually got fuller and fuller with Shlomo acting as some sort of conductor, the band concluded the set having demonstrated complete mastery over their art. A simply stunning performance.
SAMSON AND DELILAH - Performance Café - 8pm
Kicking off with a gorgeous acapella four-part harmony that led into a song of mournful and surreal beauty, it was clear from the start that Samson And Delilah are a uniquely interesting band, the result of a wide breadth of influences and multi-talented musicians, including ex-members of the defunct Waverton Collective. Primarily comprising of Sam Lench and Anna Zweck, partners on and off stage, the lineup also consisted of Michael Doward on double bass, a fantastic Tammy Hermann on flute, piano, accordion and vocals and Tom Rydyard on drums and percussion. As well as creating sometimes sinister and always beautiful melodies with her impassioned flute playing, Zweck sang in a vulnerable, whispery tone, a voice that perfectly suits their brand of prog-folk. Alternatively, when Lench led, he offered a hardy, rough-around-the-edges voice with soul, accompanied by his mandolin, acoustic and bowed electric guitar. Based in Manchester but comprised of two Australians and three Brits, this line-up has been in place for a year and their creative energy shone through in this delightful set. "Swimming Against The Tide" stood out, channelling a touch of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" fluttering flutes while hinting at Lench's indie roots. The occasional unfortunate guitar cable issues were quickly overcome for the band to deliver a mature and elegant set. With a self-titled album due in October expect Samson And Delilah to make waves in the folk roots world in the coming year.
TAVENER - Centaur - 8.45pm
John Tavener has been one of the most prolific and talented composers of the last 100 years, with much of his work being inspired by his Orthodox Christian faith. At Greenbelt we were spoiled with a collection of some of his more spiritual work, loosely tied into the theme of Mother of God. The concert consisted of eight choral pieces interspersed between eight sections of 'The Protecting Veil'. There were also five anthems from 'The Veil Of The Temple' and two from an unnamed piece. For many the highlight may well have been the "Song Of Athene", which was of course most famously sung at Lady Diana's funeral. The music was provided by an all-string orchestra and got off to a very gentle and meditative start, moving into something more haunting and sorrowful, matched beautifully by the female singers. It was a beautiful journey but the problem with Tavener's music is that when someone plays a duff note it's blatantly obvious and this sadly happened on a semi regular basis. The room was pretty full but each person on the main floor took up a lot of space in order to lie down on the Centaur's carpet and fully soak in the music. No doubt by this point in the weekend some people also used it as a chance to take a wee nap in a warm environment with beautiful music washing over them.
DUKE SPECIAL - Mainstage - 9.35pm
The multi-faceted talents of Peter Wilson, aka Duke Special, have made him something of a Greenbelt favourite since the time when he was aka Booley, but this was his first time as a Mainstage headliner. The crowds were, accordingly, out in force and ready to play their part. Now, given the Duke's (if I can call him the Duke - "Peter" seems too prosaic) popularity at Greenbelt, I'm probably going to get excommunicated for this, but I've never found his recorded music all that gripping - some decent pop tunes, yes, but not what I'd call headline material. Fans, on the other hand, would probably point me to his excellent live performances as reason to adopt a different opinion. And they'd be right - both visually and musically, a Duke Special gig is a feast of entertainment that goes a long way beyond what's possible within the confines of a recording studio. But there lies the rub. The problem is that Mainstage doesn't really lend itself to a strongly visual-orientated performance - too many of the crowd are too far back, and with too poor a sightline, to get the best from it. The video screen helped, but if I wanted to watch a Duke Special video I can do it in the comfort of my own home rather than out in the wind and the rain. Ideally, I'd have preferred to watch this gig in an indoor venue where I could actually see everything properly, but there simply isn't one big enough at Greenbelt to make that possible and fit everyone in. So I came away from this feeling slightly disappointed, but I don't suppose I can really blame the Duke for that - it's not his fault he's too popular.
THE AUSTIN-FRANCIS CONNECTION - Performance Café -
As the very British hip-hop satarists set up their stage I began to reminisce on the various performances of theirs I had seen down the years and hoped they would top all of those. They did. From the word go, or rather the first beat, the AFC let loose a torrent of clever rhymes, unexpected insights and belly laughs. Placing a lamp and a television on the stage instantly meant the band were a cut above the rest who trod the Performance Café boards. Beginning with a beatbox performance by Hobbit, the crowd were instantly grabbed and the packed crowd went wild. Hobbit's skit consisted of some inventive and hilarious banter between the band with the laughs coming thick and fast. Hobbit was challenged to create a Donald Duck Dubstep which went down extraordinarily well. Entering into their song "Job Centre", the AFC gave a comical but vaguely political look on popular career decisions. Introducing the popular songs "Marmite" and "Alan", the AFC engagingly announced, "We are big fans of Duke Special and we are honoured that you have come to see us instead of him!" They introduced their new song "Superhero" which involved some audience participation and kept the crowd on their toes. The charisma poured off the stage was truly infectious. Long may AFC's unique take on hip-hop culture continue.
MONDAY, 31st August
ANDY FLANNAGAN - Underground - 10.00am
Arriving slightly late for a worship event isn't the best of starts, but if you're going to be late for something then it does help if you're late for something that will help you get over the stress of being late! Andy Flannagan and the band led us through a primarily music-based liturgy of worship, using both his own songs and a selection of contemporary worship standards, interspersed with readings and call/response sections. It's hard to review a worship event, since the point is to experience and participate in it rather than observe it, so probably the best thing I can say is that it was certainly worth participating in. By the time we'd finished I felt that the stress of the late start to the morning had already been washed away, and, in among all the performance-based music of the weekend it was good to begin the final day with something that reminded us of why we were really there at all.
THE AVIATORS - Underground - 11.05am
Bringing their curious brand of funk infused jazz-rock, it was evident from the start that The Aviators found it difficult to pinpoint a genre in which they could comfortably stay. Their cover of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music White Boy" made it obvious that this was a young band with old influences. Their laid back, tight and funky grooves got the crowd moving as they broke into Amy Winehouse's song "Valerie" though, in truth, it was musically a little sloppy. The band were communicating well with each other and so rectified their errors with their own song, "People". Overall, the Aviators gave an engaging blend of disco and jazz, with the rhythm section bolstering the band with tight, well knitted grooves which were soon replaced by some chilled out funk-jazz with the song "One Step Closer To The Moon". The poetic lyrics and beautiful grooves kept feet tapping. This was one of the Aviators' last gigs for a while. On balance, it was a good one.
THE SKETCHES - Underground - 12.10pm
These Leeds lads claim inspiration from Jeff Buckley and The Wildhearts; that's an interesting mix don't you think? Well it did the job, there I was waiting eagerly outside for their set to start and once inside I could see where they were coming from but I also noticed a hint of early Chevelle - certainly in terms of their musical range of styles. Their general rule was to use quite delicate melodies but with a slight mean streak. They reminded me somewhat of British indie art rock band The Race, which is no bad thing. This was best demonstrated in the song "Slow Start", which they'd previously released as a single. The song ended somewhat abruptly as the drum kit appeared to fall apart. The restart did the job and perhaps helped to underline which was the standout song of their set. Vocally there was a hint of both Matt Bellamy of Muse and Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It was all pretty easy on the ear but nothing about them was too ground breaking. Potentially they are, however, starting from a very solid base and there's certainly a lot to be thankful for that they've gone down the much more creative art rock wing of indie rather than the jangly mainstream version.
JON BROOKS - Performance Café - 1.30pm
This particular Jon Brooks (there are at least two other musicians with the same name) is a Canadian singer/songwriter who manages to combine looking like a lumberjack with writing songs that sound like political pamphlets. That's not to knock the songs, which are well-crafted both musically and lyrically and show a deft touch in making the point without coming over as excessively preachy, but at times I was struck by the contrast between the appearance of a man who looked as if he'd be more at home hunting moose in the backwoods and the words of a man who sounded as if he'd be more at home in the pulpit or parliament. Probably the standout track was the rather lengthily titled "If We Keep What's Within Us, What's Within Us Will Kill Us But If We Give What's Within Us, What's Within Us Will Save Us", a song about the contradictions of life lived in the place that you're not meant to be.
OK PILOT - Underground - 1.50pm
I always enjoy it when someone comes out of a venue saying, "They're too screamo for my liking". A good omen if you ask me. It turns out, however, that OK Pilot are not that screamo at all really. It was rather hard to nail their exact sound as the sound team didn't do the Exeter three-piece justice. Mind you, the lads didn't quite realise that if you shout into a microphone and then speak really quietly straight afterwards no-one will hear your spoken words, thus leading to some of the quietest audience banter I've every witnessed. Turns out that their pleasantly short set was a modern take on the Undertones, although perhaps lacking the depth of said band. Their English punk vibe all got a bit samey after a while but was still a fairly enjoyable listen. A friend standing near to me said, "All the tunes merged into one long 20-odd minute song". Sadly it was an accurate observation.
THE WELCOME WAGON - Performance Café - 2.30pm
For many, myself included, the absolute musical highlight of the weekend was The Welcome Wagon, the unassuming husband and wife team who, under the wing of Sufjan Stevens, have honed their nostalgic mid-western, folk hymns to a tee. In a rare bout of touring, Pastor Vito Aiuto (a nightmare set of scrabble tiles in a blue suit, shirt, tie and flat cap) and his wife Monique (quaint and un-showy) were joined by members of their Brooklyn community on double bass, piano and four vocalists who form the vital choir. The troupe treated a bursting-at-the-seams Performance Cafe to one of the most genuine, moving and authentic sets of this festival. For one thing, the Gospel was so clearly and commendably at the centre of their set and Pastor Vito and wife faced each other, maintaining eye contact the whole way through as if they were primarily singing songs about Jesus to encourage one another. This approach, far from excluding the crowd (which included for the first time their young son, enthusiastically clapping the whole set through), rather offered each member of the audience to be a welcomed guest, invited to be a part of something honest and intimate. The simple folk songs often contained subtle, fun and complex musical flourishes that gave away the band's clear talent. The Welcome Wagon live as "part of a community trying to make music in a creative and faithful and beautiful way to God" and the songs on show here were evidence of that humble approach. The hopeful "Up On A Mountain" was followed by a funky, superior cover of Daniel Smith's "Sold! To The Nice Rich Man". Song after song of great music just kept coming; "But For You Who Fear My Name" required the Cafe to provide a stomp/clap rhythm section, "Not A Word", derived from an African American spiritual, was greatly moving, as was the stark and beautiful "All The Way My Saviour Leads Me". In the tradition of the old west American settlements who sent out welcome wagons to offer local wares as an invitation to settlers seeking community, The Welcome Wagon came bearing gifts. Polish sausage was not on the menu due to the peril of getting meat through customs - so in order to "be hospitable and establish good will" before a cover of the Smiths' "Half A Person", Monique gave a hand-made Christmas decoration declaring "Happy birthday to Jesus and to you!" to a bemused member of the audience whose birthday happened to fall on Christmas Day, "because you're the person who always gets gypped". This charming, heart-warming gospel band deserve to be welcomed back to play every subsequent Greenbelt; after all, everyone deserves to sample the fine goods on the Welcome Wagon.