Thursday, March 03, 2011

Bowlie 2: Sunday

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.

On Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed at some ungodly hour in order to catch some of Stevie Jackson's set. Steve "Action" Jackson is the guitarist, co-front man, and shy sex god from B&S, though we could not but notice that (like the rest of us) he has chubbed out a bit over the years. His solo stuff was amusingly whimsical – enjoyable to listen to but possibly not something you would ever bother spending money on, unlike some of the underappreciated classics he has written for B&S. However, I was unimpressed by the song he finished with, a song about popular artist Vincent Van Gogh that built up to a lamer pun that only works if you use the incorrect American pronunciation of the artist's name.

Folk sensation Vashti Bunyan was playing upstairs. As you know, she recorded one album back in the 1960s, no one bought it, and she dropped out of the music business to bring up children and stuff before being rediscovered and having a second career. She sings a bit shyly but is nevertheless an endearing stage performer with many attractive songs. She was also saying that this would be her last concert with her current band line-up, which I hope does not mean that she is going back into retirement.

After that we went into Minehead to meet people in a pub for lunch. Originally this was going to be a mini-Frank's APA meetup, but then someone who shall remain nameless remembered that his chalet mates were doing a hog roast for him, so he made his excuses and did not show up. The rest of us went to not to the nice pub in the CAMRA guide but the easy to find one in the harbour. However, we were informed that due to a spike in demand it would be an over an hour before we got any food, so we left too – much to the delight of the inbred yokels drinking there. We had a nice cream tea in a nearby tearoom, but this had the odd feature of not having toilet facilities available for customer use, which seemed like some kind of breach of health and safety regulations.

One anti-Minehead rant out of the way and we were back in the Butlins for more concert action. This time round we were in the swish upstairs venue for a concert by Ethio-jazz sensation Mulatu Astatqé. This was a considerably more satisfying concert than when we saw him playing with some other Ethiopian jazzers and the Either Orchestra in London. The Either Orchestra guy was slightly annoying, but tonight we had what seemed very much like Mulatu leading his own band. The upstairs venue was the perfect place for this, as we were able to sit at tables and sip cocktails while listening to that sophisticated Addis Ababa sound. For me this was very much one of the festival highlights.

And then The Vaselines. These were a band from back in the late 1980s fronted by a man (Eugene Kelly) and woman (Frances McKee) who used to make sexy time with each other. They recorded one album and then they split up, both musically and sexually. But now they are back together, at least for the music. In their first run The Vaselines were a pretty obscure outfit, but the passage of time means that they are now very well known as key players on the Glasgow indie scene, so they were playing at the festival on the largest stage and to a lot of people. I am not sure the change suits them, as they are very much a small venue kind of band, but they still managed to do the job.

Now, if you know the band on record you will know that some of the songs are a bit rude (e.g. 'Rory Ride Me Raw', various lyrics to other songs). Some of this works particularly because Frances McKee has the kind of voice you expect to hear singing nice folk tunes. They really played up to their saucy rep with their between song yap, with a great many allusions to their former sex lives with each other. It was all a bit much, frankly – these people are in their forties, so they have no business to be talking about bunga bunga. Small wonder that I saw several aghast and blushing sailors fleeing from the venue.

Laetitia Sadier probably did not go on about her sex life, although she was often singing in French so it is hard to be sure. The sometime Stereolab singer was playing solo, accompanying herself on guitar. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would – she seemed to have less of the hauteur that sometimes marred her appearance with her old band. Her guitar playing seemed a bit basic, but the uncomplicated lines seemed like a good minimalist accompaniment to her impressive voice.

And that, dear readers, was the last musical performance I saw at Bowlie 2. We have inexplicably turned against indie-pop stalwarts Camera Obscura so we did not stay to watch their set. There were other bands playing later (notably Them Beatles, a Beatles tribute act who were, I suspect, friends of people in the other bands or else people in the other bands moonlighting), but sitting in the chalet playing a train building game with my chalet-mates seemed a bit more appealing.

I did venture back to the venues to hear a bit of the Finders Keepers / B-Music DJs, playing where How Does It Feel? had been packing them out the night before. Their tunes were excellent, but sadly they were playing to almost nobody. There was another disco on in one of the other bars, playing tunes that could only be described as lamer faux alternative wankerboy music, but this one was completely rammed in a not particularly pleasant way, so we called it a night.

An inuit panda production

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