The tenth installment of music reviews from the GREENBELT festival held at Cheltenham Racecourse, 26th to 29th August.
Continued from page 1
SATURDAY, 27th August
REND COLLECTIVE EXPERIMENT - Big Top - 9:00am
As Cross Rhythms readers surely know, this Collective from Northern Ireland are taking modern worship into exciting new territory and in the process sound like a cross between Mumford And Sons and the David Crowder Band (although, peculiarly, one commentator on YouTube described them as a "Christian Coldplay"). For this set, billed as part of the worship schedule rather than a performance, they played it fairly straight with a mixture of self-penned songs, some of the best from contemporary writers (including my favourite "Oh Praise Him" by the aforementioned David Crowder - the first time I've heard this song used for real in an actual worship environment) and classic hymns. An excellent start to Saturday's programme and a reminder that there's a lot of life in the contemporary worship movement.
ALICE GASSON - Underground - 11:00am
Manchester-based singer/songwriter Alice took to the stage a little nervously explaining, "I'd normally have a full band with me but they're on holiday right now". The young songstress soon got into her stride though opening her short midmorning set with the delicate and personal "Dreams". Accompanied by just a keyboard Alice displayed a powerful yet sweet voice and some well written material. While still only 19, Alice's songwriting showed great maturity and she was particularly engaging while describing the inspiration behind her songs. The melodic "Away We Go" she explained "was written at the Soul Survivor event about the importance of spending time alone with God and blocking out everything else". Another highlight was "Who Needs It?" a soulful number with a positive message, "We can do more than we think possible," said Alice encouragingly. Here's hoping Alice returns to Greenbelt next year with a full band to show what she's truly capable of.
MUSICAL BRIDGE PROJECT - Performance Café -
Anyone wandering into the Performance Café to see what musical fare was on offer without consultation of their programme might have been stopped in their tracks. It's not everyday one sees a full size harp centre stage, not to mention four female singers and a glockenspiel. Their mouths would have dropped open further when they heard the casually dressed man start to sing in a treble voice, higher than most female sopranos. This chap transported the listener back in time to the medieval Church. But surprises kept coming. The sound suddenly changed to a jazz reading of an old spiritual as a girl from the female foursome in the Musical Bridge Project gave a credibly soulful rendition of "I Told Jesus" complete with jazzy gracenotes and some bluesy electric piano. By the time Burmese folk musical elements came in it all became a bit overwhelming and Joe Punter was beginning to switch off in exasperation though there were some in the crowd who remained engrossed by this daring experiment in cultural eclecticism. The MBP are graduates from the leading musical conservatories and are clearly hugely talented. And though it was difficult to take in all the jarring changes in tone and texture their set was a fascinating experience if not quite the "journey to Mandalay situated in the heart of Burma" promised in the programme.
ARCHIVES - Underground - 11:45am
"Excuse me, sir, you do know this is the Underground?" the helpful steward challenged the grey-haired old geezer in the chunky cardigan, carrying a deckchair. In other words "Careful granddad, might be a bit loud for a man of your advanced years". Archives aren't Greenbelt favourites Secret Archives Of The Vatican nor the mainstream act Archive but an alternative rock outfit who demonstrated a lot of musical influences wrapped in a reasonable amount of talent. They write clever arrangements using drop tunings and melodic hooks with an indie/post-punk flavour. I saw some great musicianship in this short set but sadly for me the vocalist ruined the whole thing. I'm all for a spot of screamy-shouty vocals, the angst of youth versus the insensibility of society. Unfortunately this bloke just doesn't pull it off, he can shout a lot, but there seemed a lack of sincerity and power. It all came across like a talented band fronted by Harry Enfield's rebellious teenager Kevin. Maybe, just maybe, the steward was right and I just don't get it? Who knows? Pass the cocoa.
HARRY BIRD AND THE RUBBER WELLIES - Performance Café - 12
Now here was a Sunday lunchtime treat. Harry Bird, Christophe Capewell and Paddy Durkan (minus accordion) kicked their set off with some new songs and over the course of their 40 minutes introduced some of the back catalogue, transforming a slightly subdued but appreciative crowd into 'true fans' desperate to offer a heartfelt, standing ovation to the troupe! Harry and co displayed a wonderful ability to make a strong connection with their audience - when not singing Harry always seemed to be interacting with the crowd, smiling or laughing and at one point he even jumped up and down on the spot with glee at an audience comment that tickled him. Paddy had a fine range of percussion that he showcased in a sweet little solo during "The Butterfly Song", while Christophe showed his dexterity on a number of instruments including, keys, fiddle, ukelele and what appeared to be a child's toy organ during a pirate song. The highlights are too many to mention but I'll give you a few: Harry's brother Jamie joining the band for the second half of the set; the wonderful harmonies juxtaposed with the sharp, convicting lyrics of "Who's Gonna Lead The March Upon The Jailhouse?"; the comedy build up and execution of "The Beard Snood"; the roll-call to find out whether Greenbelters who assured Jamie they would come had actually showed up (they had), and rousing set closer "Ban The Bomb!". Why did HB&TRW prove to be one of the most exciting acts of the weekend? Well, they showcased a blend of acute, powerful, funny songwriting and storytelling, a real sense of being friends together, the illusion of simplicity that masked some incredibly powerful and moving songs (a twist on the lyrics of trad folk song "He Was A Friend Of Mine" sung as a tribute to friends suffering in Syria) and the vital ingredient - warm humour. The band shifted effortlessly between the introspective prayerfulness of "Dirty Hands" to a lighthearted song about cycling, without ever seeming to just be anything other than themselves. Thoroughly deserving of the warm reception they were accorded, this is the kind of unique, fun, thought provoking band that Greenbelt should be championing - let's see them on main stage next year.
THE DIRTY TRICKS - Underground -12.30pm
Local boys The Dirty Tricks paid a whistle-stop visit home from Reading Festival to play this set, and their travels were rewarded by the presence of a large group of supporters ready to make the most of this Underground set. Self-penned tunes "Sink Or Swim" and "The Night" were both insanely catchy and I loved the '80s electronic vibe that rode high over the set's energetic rhythm section and tight guitars. A nifty little interlude saw the rhythm section have a little fun, keeping the atmosphere charged while guitars were being tuned. Unfortunately, a cover of the Foals' "Spanish Sahara" was an ambitious misstep that sucked the energy built up by the earlier songs. When interacting with the audience, vocalist Tommy Wright was upbeat and had a good rapport and "History" landed the set back on track and was one of the strongest songs of the set. Another, more successful, cover of Two Door Cinema Club's "What You Know" followed. A strong set and a good turn out made for an engaging 45 minutes before they whipped off back to Reading. I suspect we'll be hearing more from these guys.
LANRE - Performance Cafe - 1:00pm
This Nigerian singer/songwriter was formerly a member of the London-based R&B gospel collective GK Real. She looked calm and composed as she began her solo acoustic set. At first, her Greenbelt debut didn't seem to offer anything new and exciting, but then as time wore on the music seemed to take on a new charm, with Lanre's unique style of storytelling through her sad songs, often in her native tongue. In one slightly more unsettling instance, she challenged Christians as to how we can be so closed to the pains of others ("He must be more than praying out loud with fancy words/He must be more than living with faith without words"). A potent message from the ex-choirgirl who struggled to find purpose in her youth. Lanre was eventually joined on stage by GK Real bandmate Karl Nova, who a few people may have recognised after performing on the Underground stage in 2009. Overall, Lanre delivered an inspiring message, even if her music was a little downbeat. Clearly her 'Pen Voyage Chapter One: Singing For Change' needs to be investigated.
FOR CHRIST'S SAKE - Underground - 1.15pm
Droning bass heavy metal was the order of the day at the opening of this year's Meltdown Sessions. Droning may sound like a negative term to the uninitiated but it's not entirely intended to be, although to those not used to this brand of thrashy and guttural metal it quickly went from novelty to repetitive. To everyone else, assuming they got past a rather slack rhythm section and a knackered bass amp, there was something to keep them entertained. It's true to say that in the UK there's no band in Christendom doing this kind of thing, that in itself is to be commended, but I personally was struggling to see the variation and more delicate moments that were alluded to on their debut EP. Not only did I enjoy "O" enough to play it on The Rock and Hard Place radio programme but Terroriser magazine followed suit and put it on a recent sampler they produced. For Christ's Sake clearly weren't bothered about engaging with the people who turned up to see them; they showed the least crowd interaction out of all the acts I saw the Greenbelt weekend. The perennial problem of the live sound at the Underground( when ARE GB going to get it sorted out?) may well have been a factor in FCS not sounding as good as they maybe should have but I also think they simply don't quite have the repertoire to keep a crowd entertained. I know these guys can be good but this performance clearly didn't realise the potential or expectation I'd loaded them with.
FOLK ON - Performance Café - 1.45pm
Only their second year at GB Folk On are already well on the way to becoming a Festival institution. For those who have still to encounter this eccentric trio I would observe that Derek Tinkleberry, Donald Cornfoot and Edmund Sidebottom live up to their names (real or professional, I know not) and look and sound every inch the folk singing farm workers they humorously portray on stage. And indeed the sound made by their acoustic guitars/mandolin and tight rural harmonies is a convincing pastiche of what we expect English folk music to sound like. It is their songs and between song quips that make the cloth-capped threesome such an irresistible force of nature. For example, "We Think You're Alright" delightfully catches Greenbelt's theme of inclusiveness ("Whether you're big/Or you wear a wig/Or you're only three foot tall"). The black humour of "You Can't Take The Summer From Me" is also finely judged as it hilariously depicts a character clinging into his sunny optimism even while in the process of being run over by a tractor. Sometimes the humour is childish but fun (everyone enjoyed the milking the cow hand actions), sometimes cleverly witty and sometimes marginally off colour (which clearly is no problem for some Greenbelters - a review in the Greenbelt newspaper even headed Absolutely Folking Fantastic). One tongue-in-cheek number even engendered sympathy by its pathetic admission of loneliness. One of the final songs was "Hug It Out" which, if the cheers that greeted its announcement are anything to go by, is already a big favourite. Afterwards groups of teens, presumably instructed by the song, were gathering in GB thoroughfares to hug unsuspecting passers-by. It's a shame Folk On can't hold back on their more ribald quips because they have the rare ability to entertain teens and wrinklies alike.
GUNGOR - Big Top - 2:00pm
This radical worship collective from Denver led by Michael Gungor have gained a reputation as a powerful and honest act who aren't afraid to do things a little differently. For the opening few numbers of their set in the bustling Big Top just Michael and wife Lisa took to the stage to perform songs that were tender, heartfelt and beautiful. For the rest of the set the duo were joined by a full band and the mood switched to spine-tingling rock praise with sweet melodies and tight harmonies. A particularly great song was "The Earth Is Yours" which was expertly built up from a gentle acoustic intro to an epic, uplifting praise anthem. Gungor list their influences as Sigur Ros, Muse and Sufjan Stevens and I also detected a Bert Jansch influence in Michael's deft acoustic guitar work. An eclectic mix but one that gelled perfectly and along with inspired lyrics created truly inspiring modern worship.
SAVING STRIKE - Underground - 2.00 pm
London lads Saving Strike are pretty new to the scene and seem to have their sound already nicely nailed. Post hardcore meets pop punk has been a fairly popular genre over the last few years and it's a pretty easy genre to sound good in quite quickly. It's crowd-pleasing stuff and so it should be, it's catchy with great hooks and beatdowns, the perfect stuff to bounce around to. The band themselves were frenetic, full of energy and a youthful evangelistic zeal. They seemed set to get crowd dancing, and had reasonable success despite the low numbers in attendance. "Get Up", the only song of theirs available to listen on social media, got the best reaction for obvious reasons and deservedly so. It's a cracking tune. A good solid start from a young band.
PAUL BELL - Performance Café - 2.30pm
Paul Bell is a singer/songwriter from Sheffield who, at his best, has a nice lyrical turn of phrase covering some genuinely original topics. One song in particular, "What I Ccall Romance", with lyrics talking about the everyday acts of commitment to married life, struck a chord with me. At other times, his songs aim at humour, including a paen to the need for biscuits. But I have to say that this gig left me feeling a little unfulfilled, and not because I didn't have my ginger nuts with me. Paul has an excellent voice, and he and his backing band are clearly talented musicians, but the material felt thin at times. The problem, for me, is that Paul's funny songs aren't quite funny enough, and the serious songs sound just a little too much like Martyn Joseph to be distinctive.
CONDUIT - Underground - 2.40pm
It's no surprise that Conduit commanded one of the largest Undergound crowds of the weekend, they've played Greenbelt a number of times and in fact deserve a larger stage. They also have a cracking debut full length debut album which they've now had plenty of time to hone in a live environment. It was good to see so many people in the crowd singing along to now fully established crowd favourites: "And Then There Were Four", "I Am The Moth" and still my favourite "Look To The Skies" (which commanded the loudest of all the crowd sing-a-longs). Notably this year the band looked at their most confident, being much better at banter and more natural crowd interaction, they still use a good selection of samples and backing tracks along the way, adding atmosphere and emotion. The guitars were a little off a couple of times and the vocal levels didn't seem right in places but generally speaking this was a tight set that had plenty of variety and energy. New track Outstretched Arms proves they're still striving to write creative new music and with Through Solace sadly behind us these guys really are the best in UK Christian hard music.