Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Bowlie 2: Saturday (Part 1)

I am writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998. I have italicised the names of artists who played at the original festival. Read on as I talk about artists I saw on the Saturday.

Isobel Campbell* and Mark Lanegan performed songs from the dark country records they have made together (of which I particularly recommend Ballad of the Broken Seas). Gravel-voiced Lanegan is a wonderfullly expressive singer, playing well against Campbell's somewhat weaker vocal chords. It was odd, though, how statue-like the two of them were onstage, singing their parts with very little obvious interaction. I found this a bit alienating, given that the songs are duets and suggest a relationship between the narrative voices; Irene thought it was impressively austere. The aural reproduction of the records was certainly impressive.

Edywn Collins is arguably the man who invented indie pop (so future hataz will no doubt send a terminator back to take him out before he founded Orange Juice). He is also well known for recently having had a massive brain haemorrhage that limited his ability to speak or walk and apparently meant that he had to re-learn how to sing his songs from scratch. I had never seen him before, but there is a wonderful triumph-over-adversity quality to his performance** – these are great songs and for all his problems he can still sing them well. Having Teenage Fanclub as your backing band makes this almost the perfect musical experience. I was also struck by how well 'A Girl Like You' sounded alongside the Orange Juice tracks, for all that various people have accused it of being the crassly commercial big hit from an otherwise credible artist. But whatever, Collins received some of the most appreciative applause of anyone playing that weekend. I feel lucky to have seen him.

I love Julian Cope but I do not really like him when he plays live solo. The music seems a bit thin without the accompaniment of a band. Furthermore, playing on his own he has a worrying tendency to just stop the music and instead start yapping on about pixies and ley-lines. So I was a bit disappointed to find that Cope was indeed playing solo, especially after seeing him with a full band at the Portishead ATP two years ago. He largely stuck to playing the music, but it was not really working for me. Inertia meant that I stayed when I should have left for another stage.

Eventually I tore myself away from the baleful influence of the arch-drude, making my way to the upstairs venue where Dean Wareham*** was playing the tunes of his former band, Galaxie 500. This was amazingly good, and for all that I kicked myself for arriving so late that I only caught the last few songs, they are still among the best live performances I have ever witnessed. Wareham was playing with a band, but he could almost have got away with playing solo, as the power of these songs comes from the interplay of his soaring yet brittle guitar-playing and his slightly strangulated yet emotionally charged voice. Highlight #1 was the cover of New Order's 'Ceremony'****, while highlight #2 was Britta Phillips singing Nico's 'I'll Keep It With Mine'*****. Highlight #3 was 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste', which I have recently discovered was also a cover (something that may well trigger some [special voice] comments in the next issue of Frank's APA).

We were eating a pizza downstairs while Dirty Projectors were playing. They seemed interesting enough, so we stayed for a bit to get some sense of them, even though we were expected elsewhere. On a first pass, I like them – they seemed to combine being experimental with also being unproblematically pleasant to listen to. This seemed partly to derive from their having nice lady singers, as opposed to the tuneless squawking more usually associated with the avant-garde.

But we had to rejoin our friends to see some of The New Pornographers (or did we?). I did not see enough to fully judge them, but they seemed pleasant enough. However, they had the misfortune to be playing just before B&S started on another stage, so we (and almost everyone else) flooded away from them before they had finished their set.

*As you know, Isobel Campbell used to be in B&S, before romantic differences hastened her departure. I remember her as a key feature of original Bowlie, walking around Pontins with a striking presence that left me certain that she was more than just an average punter (this at a time when I had no idea what any of B&S looked like), and not just because of her stunning good looks.

** Then again, what else is he going to do – live off disability benefit?

***At original Bowlie Dean Wareham performed music from his then-current band Luna while Irene and I sat at the back of the venue eating veggie-burgers. It was one of the highlights of the weekend.

**** Reader's Special Voice: "I think you'll find that actually it is Joy Division's 'Ceremony' ".

*****Ken Maher's voice: "This was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan".

An inuit panda production

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