Solfest (Cumbria) 2008…a personal journey


Hello Good people who read this blog

(there may be some editorial mistakes I missed still swimming about)

( this post is very long to save your eyes from going funny copy it & print it!)

I am still coming down from the high of going to Solfest where although there were some initial stresses a thoroughly good time was enjoyed by myself and my companions.

You just can’t beat Solfest as a small friendly creative festival. It has no pretentions of grandeur it is what it is like most of the festival attendees it’s simply there being alternative, subversive, artistic, musical and just a having bloody good time . It doesn’t need to do any social climbing or promote itself.

It sold out but it doesn’t sell out to corporate nonsense or music biz nonsense.

The clips I put up were made by other people I was too busy enjoying myself to film anything!

This is the Human Jukebox you have to put a pound and they will play what you chose!

The Journey to Solfest

Although my son decided to travel from London up to the festival some 10 million miles away in a small car containing 4 blokes,  4 different types of guitar, a mixer, a saxophone, computers, a keyboard and 4 tents, 4 rucksacks and probably more. I decided to travel up the easy way by train and was due to borrow one of the lad’s guitars to perform as I couldn’t carry mine along with everything else.

I have a lot of respect for any festival that puts on a free bus from the local train station and no respect for those who don’t! We all need to be green and some of us don’t drive. There was a lot of traffic trying to get into the festival  and our friendly patient minibus driver took us through the lake district on a detour to avoid congestion he then took me and a couple of others near the artist’s gate which I was very grateful for.

There were a few teething problems on the Friday at The Chill-Out (Dogs in Space) stage jointly organised by Michael Dog of Megadog and Fred of SPACED which was where I was due to camp and perform. I think there were gremlins at work either that or just the heavy rain. The power was failing frequently all evening leaving punters in the dark and with acts having to start and stop, plus there were sound problems with feedback when anyone used a microphone onstage and other technical problems with speakers and then with the generator but the vibe was still good. Thanks to the hard work and brainpower of the crew the many various difficulties were all sorted out by Saturday . I was due to perform the next day at Saturday lunchtime and didn’t really start to relax and enjoy myself fully until after my gig.

Another creative lunatic from Solfest this year!

Never lend a guitar to a man at a festival (even if it’s Bob Dylan wanting try out his new song)

I got up Saturday around 11a.m. after a couple of hours sleep , being camped backstage is great in many ways but you have to be able to sleep through the universal “doof-doof-doof-dum dum doof-doof-doof etc…” from the Dance Tent combined with the much quieter all night djs in the Chill Out tent and louder than both of these were the bass lines bursting out from the Disco Fromage nearby.

Subsequent nights I slept fine with some well placed earplugs and an extra layer of clothing to keep me warm in bed.

I had my pre-gig nerves but knew these could be handled if I followed my plan to rehearse alone and spend some quiet time to relax before going on.  But hey, it’s a festival… I should have known better than expect anything to go to plan!

I borrowed a six string acoustic guitar from one of the two Hamishes resident at the Chill-Out tent.

I started to rehearse backstage with a bit of an audience and this poet who was also about to go stage just before me wanted to play me a song and said he was going to use the guitar onstage. He was a nice guy and in spite of the fact that I soon wanted to garrotte him with a guitar string in a very unhippie way I am sure he is still a very nice guy.

I reluctantly handed him the guitar and to cut a very long story short this was a big mistake. He kept telling me that if I was nervous I had to do this breathing exercise and trying to persuade me to do this exercise while simultaneously breaking the strings on the guitar one by one. Then he was rushing off to get another string to put it on and then telling me to do the breathing exercise again for my nerves, then showing me how to put on a guitar string ( as if I didn’t know how to do this after putting them for myself for 35 years) and each time he would snap the string again. Somehow he got through two spare sets of guitar strings. He would not let me or the owner of the guitar have it back as he was deeply apologetic and was adamant he would fix it himself.

I lost count of how many strings he broke after 4 or 5 I could no longer stand watching him and was frantically going up to random people asking them to lend me an acoustic guitar as I was about to play on stage. Eventually he found a replacement guitar for us ( thanks to Blenkie the owner of said guitar)   but I decided I’d had enough and was not going to risk any more damage. In a very unhippie way,  I grabbed the guitar and made a mad dash off with it while the poet was still telling me to do this breathing exercise to calm my nerves.

The adrenaline from stage nerves , the string breaking incident plus some feedback problems on stage meant my performance had a few mistakes in it but no one seemed to notice and it went well, the lovely  people at Solfest came up to me throughout the festival to say they enjoyed it.

I sincerely hope to play there again and other festivals but with my own guitar which will be kept hidden from poets.

Doof! (Mr Psik)

Some of the people I met

Here is one of the enthusiastic and vibrant people I met and saw perform  Buntyface in the Chill-Out tent this year but this footage is from the previous year…need to feed my brain now…

All the people I met at Solfest were friendly and approachable although a minority were too out of it to really communicate including one old hippie complete with hippie hat who came into the Chill-Out tent and played with the decor of dangling shiny silver threads in the middle of the tent then proceeded to climb on the tables and fall on people, another old drunken hippie was shouting “What about me?” to various people  very loudly during a film and I also saw a steward crawling into a speaker under the stage to pass out from the evening’s excesses ( I checked to see that he was still breathing). But generally speaking people were able to hold full conversations and/or dance wildly to the proceedings.

Various people made an impression on me for instance I was chatting to a singer the same age as me. She said she wouldn’t even bother with women who lied about their age that it was a kind of dishonesty , that she was proud of who she was and that her age meant she was able to give advice to people. She was a (young) grandmother and proud of it. She also had a disability which meant she had to take very strong painkillers every four hours, even in the middle of the night or be in such pain that she would pass out and needed a special kind of bed to sleep in.  This woman was performing in a band and camping at a festival. She also had a varied lovelife. I suddenly felt that there were no excuses not to live your life fully no matter what your circumstances and to wear your age with pride.

I was also impressed by a woman working at “The Camel’s Arse”café one morning. She was single-handedly taking a constant stream of orders, dealing with the money and calling out people’s names when their meals were ready. She was clearly exhausted and stressed and yet she had a smile on her face illustrated with facepaints and greeted each customer with a welcoming cheerful tone that warranted a medal.

The Saturday fancy-dress code enabled people to be endlessly inventive. There were hundreds of interesting costumes for instance in our tent I saw someone dressed as a whoopie cushion, a couple of dominos danced with a pack of  fascinated little children while a Big Friendly Giant on stilts scared them a bit.
Outside at night I saw an incredible sight. Four illuminated people on bicycles. Each bike and rider covered with carefully placed fairy lights, each  a seperate colour, they were spectacular when they cycled in the darkness.

Loads of men in drag, usually the butch macho men.

Outside the Chill-Out tent I shared a fag with “Martin” and “Amy”, two bumbling drunk hairy macho scousers with big black wigs, mini skirts ( frequently falling down and needing to be pulled up again), and make-up plastered on their face. One of them staggered up to me and asked if I had any crack cocaine. I was a bit taken aback until I realised he was “in character” and was pretending to be Amy Winehouse. He showed me his tattoos on one bicep he had a delicatedly drawn diagram of male sexual equipment and on the other a more scrawled “BLAKE”. “Martin” who I suggested should be called “Martina”  was well over six foot tall . He asked me if I liked his make up as he had spent hours getting ready. I looked up at his face, his crimson lipstick was not just on his lips but also plastered all around his stubbly face along with eyeliner that was also heftily and precariously applied. I just looked at him and laughed. They ranted about how they had left their wives and children and were going to have the operation and other things. Everything they said and did made me laugh. I told them they made a great double act and should be onstage. Martin responded “You haven’t seen us together in bed yet” the image was too much for my mind to cope with.

The “Dogs in Space“crew were great too and I had many rambling and bizarre conversations with them at all times of day and night, I already knew most of them some being part of the family past or present.

Here is a clip of the Chill-Out tent at night taken by Michael although it was a lot brighter than this in real life! ( I am  hoping  he won’t mind me linking  it up here  but I don’t think he will. Go to Michael Dog’s myspace

www.myspace.com/michaeldog

for more photos of Solfest 2008 and another video of daytime in the chill-out tent!)


Some of the acts I enjoyed

In terms of entertainment I missed a lot of it because there was simply so much going on and I was spending most of my time at the “Dogs in Space” tent. I still have not attended a Solfest workshop or other activities such as sauna etc..
At the Chill-Out ( Dogs in Space) tent there was a huge variety of acts going on and it was very different to the previous year. The tent ran 24 hours a day and ended at 8 a.m. Monday morning so there was room for variety.
They had acoustic bands with harps, hurdy gurdies, jazz, singer-songwriters, djs, vjs, experimental electronica bands, films, poetry, weird jams, hip-hop rapping and probably more that I missed. Hosted by Michael Dog and assisted by Len from Needle and Thread not forgetting the invaluable input of the second Hamish and sound engineer Matt both great characters.

Some of my favourite acts from the “Dogs in Space” tent included……..
The 2.2 killaVolt Cables whose beautiful melodic electronica that can be listened to lying down or when dancing. In their spare time they also put on shows  with a dance company from the Laban School in London.
To listen to their music check out their myspace :   http://www.myspace.com/twopointtwokv

I also greatly enjoyed an extended set from the Bonsai Big Band from South London. Their brand of nu- jazz was immaculately performed and structured in sections like a symphony with layer upon layer of tastily textured instrumental lines.

I missed Mixmorris Morris’ set  as he was on in the middle of the night but had a chat with him and hope to see him again. He said he’d been in Canada and Japan djing recently and he was very excited to tell me that he had sung with a band his own songs at The Big Chill Festival earlier this summer. It was the first time he had sung on stage for years. He looked well and relaxed.

I also enjoyed hearing the acoustic guitar virtuosity of Hamish Meany ( whose guitar was trashed by a poet and who drove half the performers 10 million miles up to the festival).

The cheerful jazz showtunes of Tres Fez fronted by the talented Helen Maher ( singer and accordion player)
and more….

I didn’t visit the Drystone Stage ( Acoustic Music)  much. This was because I spend a lot of time in acoustic clubs performing or listening to acoustic music and I wanted a break from it. However you can listen to a podcast of some of the performers by copying and pasting this link:

http://drystone.podOmatic.com/entry/2008-07-01T08_29_18-07_00

I was also not in the mood for dancing as my legs were tired so I didn’t venture too far into the Disco Fromage or the Dance Tent.

However I was unexpectedly taken backstage into the Dance Tent and sat on a metal box onstage behind Michael (Dog of Megadog ) while he did his set. The sound wasn’t too loud through the on stage monitors and I was able to rest my legs and enjoy the music and the spectacular lightshow/projections. God I sound like I’m 100 years old.  Some really mad band went on after him and I danced a bit to that. Sorry that is such a brief and sedentary review of the Dance Tent!

On the Main stage I saw a bit of Supergrass , a bit of Alabama 3 , a bit of Dreadzone.
My favourite acts included the very manic folk/rockabilly/ska  Black Velvet Band. Although there was an embarrassing moment when the over-energetic lead singer said ” This next song is the story of a virgin and a ( something or other)…Are there any virgins out in the audience?”
Then he looked down as there were about 20 or 30 little girls and boys dancing right in front of the stage and said . “..except for you of course” .
Oh how I cringed on his behalf!
* (see comment by Louis of The Black Velvet Band below this post)
I also very much enjoyed dancing to the mute Bikini Beach Band who dressed in orange costumes, fez hats and shades played a variety of pop tunes re-arranged in ace surf music style and accompanied by two Hawaiian grass-skirted dancers.

On the Bar Stage I went to see The Hamsters but arrived just in time to hear them say a final ” Thank you and Goodnight”. Still I can go see them back in London at the Half Moon in Putney where they play the last Saturday of every month.
I saw a couple of mad heavy rock bands that made me laugh, cheered me up and made me realise I’m not that good a guitar player and should learn  more.
Firstly a band called “Off the Hook” with an impressive over-the-top lead singer and frontman with a wrestler’s demeanour, stomping about the stage like a stormtrooper hitting cymbals attached to the microphone stand aggressively. He also took the bass player by surprise hitting him between the legs with his drumstick. (This sounds rude but it wasn’t, it was just bonkers.)
The final act on the Bar Stage was just so entertaining I’ve saved writing about them until last.
Forget MOTORHEAD, forget BLACK SABBATH, forget “The Darkness”
( who?  they were easily forgotten) for now we have a band who not only are Motorhead and Sabbath rolled into one but they can turn any pop tune into a heavy metal epic.They’re bloody good musicians and hilarious too.

I am speaking of a band who are the new Spinal Tap and Bad News but more inventive.( they might even be as good as Bludgen..seeThe Chainsaw Party (still feeling guilty about this)


This is a band descended from Vikings (having emigrated to Newcastle) known as  “AROCKALYPSE NOW”.

Here is a clip from their Rockumentary the full thing is up on youtube ( starting off with a cover of a “Bad News” song and then to disco hit “You Spin Me Right Round”)


On Sunday night I had left my son and his friend dancing at the Disco Fromage as I wanted to go hear some live music.

I then came across the fabulous “Arockalypse Now” doing a heavy metal version of ” Play That Funky Music White Boy” on the Bar Stage and it was so good that I ran back down the hill and dragged them off the illuminated dance floor saying “I’m taking you to a higher place where you can both dance and hear good live music“. ( or something less dramatic but it doesn’t sound as good).
They were persuaded and when we got there they were not disappointed. The audience were going completely berserk dancing and headbanging carried away by the passion and lunacy of the performers on the stage. Some people behind me were all dancing while holding up a carpet, it was mad. They played a number of tunes including codpiece Cameo’s Word Up“. The thing is the quality of the musicianship and how they arranged the songs was just amazing. If they were in London I’d go and see them every Saturday night to shrug off the stresses of the week.
Here is a clip of them at Solfest doing “The Final Countdown” but it’s not as great as I remembered at the time. I think being far away from the stage , poor sound quality and not being actually there in the drunken crowd has a lot to do with it.
Check out their myspace site….  http://http://www.myspace.com/arockalypsenow
(they do a great version  of Ziggy Stardust).
Enjoy!

Love and peace
Born2rant
(Undercover Hippie tempted to start headbanging again)

(My thanks to Michael for “strongly suggesting” I play in the Chill-Out tent and putting me on his artist list and to Len (for strongly accepting the suggestion))

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