29 August 2013

Musical delights (and non-delights) Review: Day 2 Gentlemen of the Road and Mumford music in Lewes

Day 2:  I had not slept so well in a long time.  I think it was the darkened, quite room coupled with the busy day before...the amazing thing about festivals, and outdoor concerts in general, is meeting people.  Friday evening I had met a group of blokes from Liverpool out for a mates weekend with plenty of beer and music. They were quite a memorable bunch particularly two who offered up their shoulders so that I could see the stage.  I politely turned them down, but running into them again the following night wished they had remembered the offer as I would have clearly taken it to see Mumford and Sons!
My goodies bag which kept me pre-occupied
on that first night.
That night, however, I turned it down; I was completely obsessed with watching over my bag which I had had to abandon next to others' and Mr. Do-you-want-to-sit-on-my-shoulders #1 kept giving me quite a hard time about it; it made for an interesting night. 

The town of Lewes seemed to be transformed.  My quiet gem in East Sussex had turned into a haven for concert-goers; I was one of them!  The pedestrian traffic was like herded sheep and  by the time I was out and about grazing through town, restaurants, shops and the streets were filled with campers and visitors enjoying the morning air and their bits of food before the afternoon/evening of music.  It was astounding, and if I was in shock, I couldn't imagine what the local residents were thinking (with luck it wasn't anything too nasty).  After some food, I headed down to the Union Music Store to check out,The Self Help Group (see 3 August post).  It was then time to return to the concert site and a whole new set of bands to hear; with any luck they would be quite different from the night before, and indeed they were.  The music met expectations, shocked untrained ears and, even was at times underwhelming--in the end, however, a bit of something for everyone.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit- Johnny Flynn has been on my radar for a little bit, actually.  His solo album, Been Listening, had me hooked from the first sound of the glaring horns on Kentucky Pill to the steady beat of the mesmerizing drums so well included for a song named Drum. I was excited to see him on stage (a music not theatre stage where I had seen him a few months before) accompanied by his band. 
Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit on stage.
It did not disappoint.  Flynn backed up by the Sussex Wit was a highlight, and I wasn't the only one enjoyed it for directly behind me a fan of the group was singing along with every single song!  I felt somewhat a bit out of the loop not having known any of the songs save for the last, but Flynn and the Sussex Wit share the same sounds and style so where could it go wrong?  It didn't.  Flynn, with and without the Sussex Wit, is one of the best of folk to be coming around as far as I am concerned.  

The Mystery Jets- The name suits as this band was a bit of a mystery to me.  Maybe it was because the relatively nice, semi-calm crowd had turned into a mini-mosh pit of jumping and bumping teenagers.  Gone was my mellow crowd from Johnny Flynn just some moments before.  My size and lack of enthusiasm for the music at hand had me fearing that I was going to be squashed by drunken, jumping youths.  But, I held my ground using my arms as a shield and, consequently I suppose, missed out on the majority of the set. All I gleamed from the music making it's way from the stage was a pop-type sound that really didn't want to make me jump up and down; it just left me underwhelmed.  Nothing to spectacular, nothing to write home about...even though I am writing about it.  No, I certainly don't think I'll be hitting a hangar to see these Jets anytime again.

Deap Valley- Quick and to the point. This band had possibly the most unmusical sound coming from instruments, natural and made, that I have ever heard.  From the moment that the first sound came from the stage, I knew it wasn't the type of music for me and, if the thought of losing my place among the sea of concert-goers hadn't been on my mind, I would have taken that opportunity to get more alcohol (perhaps then I would have enjoyed it more). As it was, I sat, yes sat, staking out my place in the sea of Deap fans.  The ear-cringing, blood-curdling sounds coming from instruments and female singing (or was it yelling) on stage were enough to drive one mad.  My solution: drown out the sound on stage by losing myself in my iPod and a more pleasant sound.  It worked and I survived. I wasn't the only one seeking a musical life boat in the sea of fans, someone next to me was clinging to her ear buds as well; we only had to look at each other to understand that we were in the same boat...hanging on till the storm passed.  

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros-
Crowd gets groovy with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Redemption!  After the Mystery of Jets and traveling to the death Valley of Deap, it took a while, but musical redemption was achieved with the delight that is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Now these are tunes one can dance, jump, groove, boogy, jive, or however else anyone moves to music.  Sharpe has been around for awhile and, I must admit, had only heard one or two songs, but hearing them live has given me a whole new appreciation for the fun and quirky band that got the whole crowd dancing and grooving (yes, that is the word that comes to mind with them--groovy!).  Yet another music purchase to be made...

Evening turned to night with more music though hunger and a thirst for cider overtook me so, honestly, I just didn't pay that much attention to the act between Sharpe and the main attraction, sorry Vaccines.  Then a familiar sound boomed on stage, the crowd went crazy, and movement towards the stage commenced once again.  Even with using the Liverpool blokes, as a make-shift place holder and fibbing a bit by saying I was trying to get to a group of friends, I was still frequently blocked from getting closer to the stage.  Come on folks, what's the deal, I mentally screamed to the wrong-doers.  Eventually though I made my way to the spot I had come too earlier and could enjoy the main event...

Mumford and Sons- The main attraction didn't disappoint.  The mere hint of the first familiar notes of a song had the crowd going forward and I barely made it back from my pre-determined place amongst the crowd.
Mumford and Sons light up the stage and the festival grounds
 I have a 'live' album, but seeing them for myself was its own experience.  I will not diss the big screen at a large concert anymore...without that it would have been a less pleasant experience.  Staying back does have disadvantages, but I do not have any complaints (save for the gits that would get on others shoulders; now I really wished the shoulder-blokes from Liverpool would have offered me theirs).  The music was pure Mumford.  As brilliant some yards away as it, no doubt, would have been a few feet away. I soon found myself bouncing to keep up with the crowd, and finding that it was indeed fun when you liked the music you were jumping too.  I knew every song and could sing along with them...as many around me did.  And, when asked by Marcus Mumford himself to sing along we all happily obliged!  That was the most joyous thing, and a phenomena I feel is distinctly European--singing along.  I experienced it in France and now here in England.
A view of the band with the help of a camera zoom
 In the US, it may be occasionally experience with particular crowds and particular bands, but here the audiences are so into the music (and not doubt beer and cider helps) that singing along becomes natural and doesn't seem at all odd.  Americans need to take a cue from Europeans on this concert and festival-going practice.  It makes the experience so much more memorable to sing and be part of it with your favourite band.  So, next time you find yourself at a concert and you are asked to join in, don't hesitate and do it!  You'll find you will be happy you did.  It will be a delightful experience.

12 August 2013

Musical delights: Happy Birthday to me! A music festival with Gentleman of the Road and Mumford in Lewes on July 19 (Day 1)

My thirtysomething-ish birthday present to myself was a two-day pass to the Gentlemen of the Road concerts to see, amongst others, the delightful Mumford and Sons! On July 19th, three days after my day, I got to experience that gift.  Boy, was it an experience!  I have been to concerts.  I have been to outdoor concerts. But, I can honestly say I had not experienced a music festival: until now. 
Gentlemen of the Road flags on the walk to
the stage site

One thing I've learned:  England has many music festivals; it holds one of the biggest around--the well-known Glastonbury.  Well, Gentlemen of the Road was no Glastonbury (at least what I saw of it on the telly), but for this festival novice, it may have well been. For two days, the small town of Lewes in the Sussex countryside had transformed.  I had discovered the small-gem of a town a few months prior and was thrilled to see it chosen as a stopover city for one of my favourite bands, but even I did not recognise it when I got off an afternoon train and made my way up the familiar road from the station to the high street where my hotel was located.  So, no one of those tents is not mine (I was glad to have a room in the White Hart Hotel.  It was a basic room, but it was a room in a town that was fully booked that weekend).  

The first bands weren't scheduled to start playing until that evening and I arrived in the afternoon; I had some time to wander around before I made the journey to receive the braclet. I was celebrating my birthday so I went to my favourite Lewes record shop  to add to a growing collection of folk music.  
Musical purchase of Hatful of Rain, Iron and Wine, and Emily Barker.

The journey to collect the little green band of entrance had one passing by not only flags and a sea of camping , but some sites you may not see on a typical day.  A group of cadets (that is the only way I can describe them), though cadets of what I know not, could be seen marching and down the same road the herd of people were traveling in order to provide a service.  At one point they stopped their marching and chanting to collect a camper's many items and, presumably, carry it to the site.
 Maybe it would have been worth camping for that...nah, not really.

The unusual heat in mid-July, so talked about by every Brit in the UK, made it perfect weather for a music festival.  Sun-tan lotion, sunglasses and water .were essential.  Food was an extra...a real extra as I would find out. 

I arrived and took part in the great British practice of queuing.
My lovely queue on Day 1 in Lewes
 It was a bit odd at first and a bit annoying as I stood there not really knowing how long the line was and where exactly I was in it, and it was impossible for me to find out...I'd lose my place!  I stayed, I waited, I queued and after a bit of shuffling I received the braclet-pass only to enter another line to enter the site.  I can now queue quite like the English, I must say.  

Being on my own; however, I started talking to people.  I met several interesting people over that course of the weekend by being on my own.  It started in line and continued through the following day...more of that in Day 2 though. While in queue, I started a conversation with two locals who told me about some places not to miss while I was staying in town.  Taking the advice, Sunday breakfast was delicious!

Reaching the end of this great line, we were met by concert staff/security guards.  My luck:  I had a real arse.  He looked at my bag like it was from a foreign country and not the store in town and rummaged through it like I was trying to smuggle in drugs--which some festival-goers clearly did--and threw one of my sandwiches aside as if it was said drug! I soon learned he threw my food aside because vendors wanted concert-goers to purchase their ridiculously expensive food, rather than bring their own. I could tell my two line-acquaintences felt bad for me and I was too embarrassed to remain in their company...bye guys, thanks for the restaurant recommendation! I'm off to stake my claim on a piece of grass with a view of the stage in hopes to catch a decent glimpse of the evening's bands:  Youth Lagoon, White Denim, British Sea Power, and Vampire Weekend.  

Site entrance.  Past the arse of security
 Scenes from Day 1...
British Sea Power.  A pretty good band. 

03 August 2013

Musical delights: Local shops and local delights

It has been awhile so I am combining a few things.  The survival of local, independent music shops is a topic close to many an audiophile. I was lucky enough to spend Record Store Day 2013 in Soho taking in the sun,sights, and sounds of a busy day for the local music shops I have found myself recently browsing through. The survival of local record stores has been a topic of discussion for many people.  I have taken part in it myself since I do have an audiophile and record consumer for an older sibling.  Ok, I admit it. I buy music from iTunes and listen to an iPod, but there are things that you can find in your local, small record store that you can't on iTunes or in the big chain music stores (that also seem to be taking a hit from online sales). That would be knowledge and interaction.  Through those two things I made a delightful discovery in both music and a place to buy music (that's not online).  

I certainly wouldn't describe myself as an audiophile, but when I do find a group or genre I like, I stick with it. Indie folk, Americana...whatever one wants to call it, it's a good fit for the new mellower tastes I find myself seeking.  So when I found myself wandering in the lovely town of Lewes in Sussex, I stopped in the local independent music store, called Union Music Store, and had a singular experience that has just made me an even bigger advocate for their survival: a real conversation with someone who knew their shit; by giving examples of two bands, I was recommended a third that I have come to appreciate, enjoy, and find delightful.

Record store seekers in Soho on
Record Store Day 2013

A crowd outside Union Music Store in Lewes
Another unique aspect that made my experience at Union stand apart was the opportunity to hear some new music...live! Every weekend there was well-and maybe lesser known acts that would spend half an hour treating shoppers to a free concert.  A great introduction to a new band, or an amazing opportunities to see a newly discovered gem.  I got to see one of my favourites outside before a festival...it was probably one of the best bands I saw all weekend.
The band--The Self Help Group--is difficult for me to describe, as I have never been one for putting the music I enjoy into genres, but listening to Self Help just relaxes my soul.  They are the go-to for a sunny day outside, or the respite from the stresses of the daily grind.  Over the past few months, I have seen them go from an in-store recommendation to a highly-reviewed, rising band. I will be happy to say I have been a listener early on.  Don't believe me?!  Reviews can't be wrong: The Maverick, an independent country magazine in the UK, gave it a four-star rating.  And, when another review mentioned the US West Coast in the same paragraph, I was completely hooked.  One of the best concerts I saw during the Mumford and Sons Gentlemen of the Road festival was Self Help. I pass along my high recommendation as I continue in the delights of the local music stores like Union Music and bands such as The Self Help Group.
Introduction of The Self Help Group during a free gig in Lewes