Archive for September, 2008

Blacksand, Hampstead Heath, 5am

September 21, 2008

By the light of the moon an audience of 13 trekked silently across the Heath to a secret location where we found Blacksand sound checking and putting the final touches to their set up.

In the darkness we gathered in a clearing under the canopy of a majestic ancient beech and wild service tree. Some climbed up and perched in the branches, others lay on the floor gazing up at the moon and stars through the leaves.

Using two guitars, lots of pedals and the power from a ship’s battery, Blacksand, aka Nick Franglen (also one half of Lemon Jelly) and Charles Casey improvised ethereal and ambient electronica. Looping and building their melodies they cast a shimmering soundscape into the night air, cut through with the mournful cry of Casey’s slide guitar.

For the past two years the duo, who released an album to great acclaim earlier this year, have revelled in finding site specific locations in tune with their work. Past venues have included a mine shaft, an aircraft hanger and a submarine. They have their eye on some stone circles near Oxford for the next gig.

What a treat to be part of this sensational union of music, nature and early morning magic, so rare in London’s concrete jungle. As the sun came up, it seemed as if the dawn chorus joyfully joined in with the music; delighted at the concert going on in their midst. 

After two sprawling ‘songs’ Franglen announced ‘That’s it’, and the little audience clapped politely as the birds raised their voices to the breaking sun. 

Casey apologised as the battery was too drained to boil the kettle, but as we walked out across the misty dew and into the city a cup of tea seemed a small price to pay for this special musical offering.

End of the Road Festival

September 21, 2008

Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire, 12-14 September

The last hurrah of the festival season got off to a bad start as a downpour left it awash with mud. As the rain poured, Brooklyn Forties swing outfit Clare and the Reasons brought a smile to everyone’s faces, singing the word ‘Obama’ to the melody of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. And what do you know? A whopping rainbow appeared.

The sun shone from that point on as 5,000 revellers connected with their inner child and wandered the enchanted woodlands (complete with piano, flashing disco floor and tree of knowledge with books for loan).

Much of the line-up consisted of reliable, if unadventurous, folk and Americana. Calexico and Mercury Rev both delivered big shows, heavy on lights and drama, while an animated Conor Oberst, backed by four beefy guitars, made for a great performance, though his classic rock set felt hollow compared with his solo introspection.

Most anticipated were Bon Iver, three young men from Wisconsin who held the festival in thrall, their falsetto harmonies and primal drumming melting even the most unromantic of hearts. The biggest drama came from the unlikeliest of sources. Alan Sparhawk, frontman of the mellow Low, ended his set by declaring ‘I’ve had a crap day. Everyone I love has told me they hate me’ and hurled his guitar into the crowd. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Best performance Bon Iver.

Overheard ‘He said: “I could make you a natural beauty if I covered you in fake tan.”‘

Best discovery Wildbirds & Peacedrums.

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review