Wednesday, May 05, 2010

SING YE FROM THE HILLSIDES II 30 April - 2 May 2010: Part Two

I would struggle with four hours sleep at the best of times. But four hours in sub-zero temperatures with the icy blasts shaking the canvas all night was just torture. Stumbling out of the tent I saw that some had a novel way of dealing the situation: a small group including several of The Phantom Band had stayed up all night around the bonfire keeping warm and drinking (they then came into pub and got a few rounds in. Impressive).

Sunday morning was a very mellow one, settled on sofas in the lounge, napping, reading the paper, eating and drinking. At 2pm the pub quiz started across all three rooms of the pub with 21 teams playing for BSP-related goodies including being able to request the opening song of tonight’s set. Our team included Basia Bulat plus Holly and Paul (he wasn’t Canadian!) from her band - and a fine Anglo-Canadian effort saw us finish just one point behind the winning team.

Enjoying the warmth of the pub so much and with the cold winds not subsiding, a tactical decision was made to take down the tent and drive home that evening rather than attempt another chilly night under canvas. With occasional snowflakes spotted this seemed like a very good idea indeed.

The evening started with Alessi’s Ark playing in the barn. I had heard mixed views but went to watch with an open mind. Alessi on acoustic guitar was accompanied by Marcus on electric guitar/bass and played delicate folk whimsy. Her gently wavering voice is quite other-worldly and I can see why this might be too much for some but in the quiet of the barn this was a lovely, floating start to the evening. Alessi came over as quite sweet: “thanks to my Dad for driving us here...oh and for making me”. She was another bowled over by the warm reception and was called back for an encore. She offered us two ‘appropriate’ options: ‘Over The Hill’ or ‘The Mountain’. “Play both” was the response and so she did.

Matt Eaton was down on today’s running order to play with his band The Point of Conjecture. Setting up in the Lounge Bar, he revealed that that band was of course “pure conjecture”. So he played electric guitar accompanied by Noble on snare drum and pub piano.

Matt played the same spot at this festival in its first edition. This set had the same mixture of relaxed vibes and moving songs but didn’t quite have the captivating magic of the previous time - maybe the novelty of seeing him first time or the high expectations this time? However there is an undeniable and genuine charm to the man and his music, here playing a set from new album “Cheers Pal” with just one from his highly recommended first album “Finish Your Chips” . The set also included a song for everyone whose birthday it was that weekend, a sea shanty with (toy?) accordian, accompaniment from Louis (aged about five) and cries of ‘Who ordered the three bean chilli’ from the kitchen staff during the last song. He kept smiling throughout.

Rose Elinor Dougall and I were linked by a Wikipedia citation (not my doing) relating to her live debut in this very barn in September 2008. However someone has edited that citation out (not my doing either).

From that hesitant, nervy and nerve-wracking start, I’ve seen her several times mainly in BSP support slots and it’s good to see her confidence and playing improve each time. However her swinging, upbeat pop still doesn’t really move me. But Rose and I go back a long way and I still feel a kind of paternal attachment: so please give her music a listen and make up your own mind (She has a new single ‘Find Me Out’ out this week).

The quickest of listens to a handful of tracks by Erland and the Carnival had me sufficiently intrigued to ensure that not even waiting for overdue but much needed food from the over-worked pub kitchen was going to make me miss them. They made an immediate impression. Singer Erland Cooper looks like Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy wearing Ian Curtis’s dark overcoat and sings with a equally interesting mixture of moody and impassioned.

The five-piece band plays dark, swirling folk-rock that is more weird than whimsical with haunting fairground keyboards (played from the rear of the stage) and intricate, almost pagan drumming (played from the front of the stage). The sudden pounding of the drums as one song moved from quiet passage to loud was so genuinely surprising and loud, it made the woman in front of me nearly jump out of her skin. ‘Was You Ever See’ below was the quieter and therefore non-representative song from their set. One of the highlights of the weekend for me.

I’ve never been a huge fan of iLiKETRAiNS but with some recent listens to individual tracks I may be warming to them. And tonight’s set certainly helped. The Leeds band opened with four or five newer/unfamiliar songs that were quite accessible and almost poppy. And this was accompanied by a relaxed demeanour to the band and even – shock – chat and banter.

Mid-set they played ‘Terra Firma’ and the volume was upped and that flailing triple guitar wash of sound returned - but I still enjoyed this too. The band had earlier claimed to be ‘broken’. Not sure why they said this but didn’t seem to be anything broken in tonight’s performance for me.

There had been plenty of debate over the weekend as to what the set-list for this second performance by British Sea Power would comprise. Having missed Friday’s set, I was just happy to see them whatever was played.

They opened with ‘The Scottish Wildlife Experience’ as requested by the winning quiz team. If most of the festival crowd were a bit tired by this late stage of the festival, the band didn’t appear so; they seemed relaxed and jovial (clearly the beds at Tan Hill Inn are comfortable and warm).

However not everything would happen as planned. Towards the end of ‘The Great Skua’ the sound went dead, the lights went out and the barn was left with the green glow of emergency exit lights. Undeterred the band conducted the crowd in a sing-along finale to the instrumental – a great unifying moment. Realising there wouldn’t be a quick fix, the firework display was brought forward.

So most folk trooped outside to huddle around the bonfire with sparklers. Watching the firework display at 1am in the morning in the enveloping darkness of the Yorkshire Dales was something quite special but the edge was taken off the pleasure by the thought that the night’s music might be over (also by stepping more than 3 metres away from the bonfire – into those icy winds).

However resume it did. Back in the fully-functioning barn, the band opened with (what else?) ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’ completing the set (but missing out ‘How Will I Find My Home?’ from the set-list below). They were also joined again during ‘Carrion’ by the teenage lad who had been on stage for ‘The Great Skua’. One brief appearance was amusing – the second and third were just annoyingly distracting.

Of the new songs, I’m not sure about ‘Cleaning Up Room’, an ambling drone with mumbled vocals from Hamilton, but ‘7/4’ sounded good and it was the second hearing of ‘Pyrex’ for me and it already sounds like a winner. Given the lateness of the hour the band didn’t bother leaving the stage to return for an encore, they simply started playing (“our last song… but it’s a long one”).It’s a while since I’d heard the majestic ‘Lately’ and as usual it turned into ‘Rock in A’ and associated shenanigans: both Noble and Yan crowd-surfing to the central wooden beam and tying themselves and the crowd together with fluorescent tape. It doesn’t make sense when you write it down or read it – you just had to be there.

Metronomy were due to play a set now but at 2.30am it was time to scrape the ice off the car and hit the road home.

Sing Ye From The Hillsides is a one-off: sometimes more like a lock-in in your local than a (micro-) festival. This year the quality and range of the bands had improved (apparently Marc Riley had a hand in recommending some to the band) but I would still like to see more music in the afternoons. The wildlife, games and antics are part of the quirky charm there’s always room for some more music in my book. A couple of things could be improved : next year regular emptying of the portaloos and limiting any appearance of children alongside bands to a single two-minute slot if that please. But keep the mixtape CD and book swap, the relaxed atmosphere, the friendly spirit and the remote setting. A world apart from other festivals – literally.

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