Boughton House, Sunday, 26h August 2018 concert review by John Cheek
The rumours had been going around, on-site, since the start of the Greenbelt Festival on the Friday afternoon. Yes, Pussy Riot were there, they'd made it to this country and ssh. . .look out. . .they may be planning a "secret" gig.
Pussy Riot, the Russian collective: part-punk band, part-protest movement, who had disrupted the World Cup Final in their native country to protest against Putin's policies; who had done something similar in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow a few years' previously, where they prayed to God to publicly "chase Putin out". Now they were appearing at workshops, seminars and question-and-answer sessions, as published in the programme. In excellent English they were making no secret of their Christian faith - even in their sensational Sunday afternoon mainstage performance, infiltrated by ticket-holding anarchist elements who displayed banners and preached to the masses immediately afterwards, and probably one-or-two KGB spies too, no doubt dressed like festivalgoers and filming the contents of the Pussy Riot set on their smartphones as well. Later on the same mainstage came a sensational new Christian rock act from Alabama, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, who have courted some controversy themselves in the deep south of America for their public critique of President Trump's policies. Bains twice informed their audience that there was going to be a "secret gig" at The Little Big Top venue that Sunday evening and we knew what he was getting at.
As it happened, the venue wasn't actually full, when the time came, but those there formed a tightly-packed, moshing scrum in front of the stage. We could only see Sasha (Maria Alyokhina) from Pussy Riot, although undoubtedly there were other members of the collective involved, and she was joined by Bains and the Fires for a 30-minute punk set, where Sasha on lead vocals was clearly displaying a prominent crucifix dangling from her neck. What sounded like a cover of Patti Smith's seminal "Horses" opened proceedings ("The boy looked at Johnny/Johnny looked at the boy. . .") but with Sasha's vocals in Russian it all sounded so surreal. Further standards from the genre followed, all in English, with Bains duetting occasionally. Fire and skill were filling the late night venue and Sasha's stage presence was combining to leave older members of the audience looking slightly bemused. One scally-looking lad, in his early 20s, left early on, complaining to me that it was all too loud. Well, this was punk rock after all. This secret gig quickly stepped up a gear from evocative to iconic, when those on-stage launched into two Aretha Franklin covers: "Freedom" and "Chain Of Fools". Bains dedicated them to our "recently departed sister" from America whom, he alluded, was similar in spirit to Sasha and him, prophetic believers not afraid to reveal the truth of their particular circumstances. Further covers followed which most of us didn't recognise, all played and sung tightly and impressively as if they had rehearsed all week: Sasha and Lee had both been staying in the home of the same festival organiser for several days. Before we knew it, it was all over and those present stumbled out into the night air, exhausted, wondering if what we'd just witnessed had actually happened.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.