This is part three of my account of a trip to the last ever UK All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Part 1 can be seen here & Part 2 here
On Sunday morning most of my chalet mates went off to see either Dungeness or to visit Rye, but Irene and I made our way to the downstairs venue at the unnaturally early time of 12.30 pm to catch a performance by Josef van Wissem. He is this Dutch guy who plays a lutey thing and has previously collaborated with the likes of the United Bible Studies as well as releasing a zillion records of his own. His instrument is this huge stringed thing like nothing else I have ever seen. He himself looks like he would be more at home playing guitar for some grease-rock band or carrying things around for Hawkwind, but his mastery of the lute is incredible. His tunes were all instrumental and I think all original compositions rather olde folkie songs. I liked them and came home with a Jozef van Wissem album, which I also like.
Van Wissem did a fair bit of striking poses with his lute. At first I thought this was because he needed to turn around the instrument to get at particular stings, but soon registered that this was not the case. Rather he was showing off the lute to us. It also made him look incredibly rock and roll. Towards the end of the concert he left his seat and the mike stands and walked along the front of the stage, playing the lute and letting people get a closer look at it. What was very striking to me was how loud it was – even without amplification, it was still clearly audible.
We should maybe have gone to see Tall Firs as they were entertaining at a previous ATP, but a walk on the beach beckoned. On returning, we made our way upstairs to see Michael Rother, the genial veteran of Neu and Harmonia. I think he had some other old fellows from the German music scene of the 1970s playing with him – people he described as his “chaps”. Sadly they were not all wearing tweed jackets, sporting astonishing moustaches while smoking pipes; such is life. But they did play some great tunes, music that was surprisingly dancey in the live context. Rother himself was a bit of a roffler, albeit of the extremely deadpan sort, and spoke with the kind of very deliberate English that I associate with Germans.
I caught the last two or three songs by Wolf People (Rarrrr!). They seemed pretty entertaining in a blues-psych-stoner rock kind of way (as in I cannot really remember too much about them but do recall liking them and am trying to guess what they sounded like on the basis that my retro friend M— is a pal of theirs). After that I saw The Magic Band. These are some former members of Captain Beefheart’s band playing the music of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band with some other musicians. I gather this particular outfit were conjured into being to play an ATP some years ago. Quite a few people I know were a bit sniffy about them before they came on, claiming that they are little more than a Captain Beefheart tribute act (something that the world is apparently over-laden with). John “Drumbo” French was also criticised for abandoning the drumkits and instead becoming the band’s frontman, with many seeing it as grossly inappropriate that anyone should try to imitate the good Captain.
But I myself loved this lot. Beefheart-esque music is not something you get to hear often in a live context, which is surely a bad thing. Getting to hear it from people who had some part in making the originals is a treat for all people of forward thinking musical tastes. And as M— pointed out, members of the original Magic Band suffered doubly from the fickle cruelties of an indifferent public and from the harsh rule of a musical genius not too big on apportioning credit or treating colleagues like human beings. On that basis it seemed only fair to give them some overdue respect.
The Magic Band seemed happy to be onstage playing to an appreciative audience. And contrary to what I had previously heard, John French made for a great frontman. Still, it was funny hearing him talking about how they formed the Magic Band to keep the music of Captain Beefheart alive. It must be weird when your own main claim to musical fame was being sideman to someone with whom you had a problematic relationship.
Goat were from Sweden. By the time they came on I had changed into my tuxedo and donned my fez, as the ATP organisers had declared a black tie dress code for Sunday night. I knew nothing about Goat, but had taken a punt on them being interesting by buying one of their t-shirts, as it had an interesting design on it (of a goat). The font on the t-shirt (similar to that used by BATHORY) and the slightly demonic image suggested that Goat would be some kind of Black Metal outfit. This was not to be the case.
Goat are one of those bands where there are loads of people onstage and they all wear funny clothes. Most of them were masked or had their faces somehow obscured – perhaps in Sweden they all have secret identities and do not want anyone to know they play music. They were fronted by two women (at least, I think they were women) who sang and danced, and had an army of others playing various instruments. It all made for great visual spectacle but maybe the music was for them a bit of an afterthought? My recollection is that it started off being almost neo-folkie but did head off into more psych-rock territory as the performance went on. They certainly seemed more musically engaging by the end and I found myself thinking that I would like to see them again sometime. I am also open to investigating their recorded output.
After a trip back to the chalet for some refreshing alcohol (far less time consuming than trying to queue at the bars in Pontins, proud employers of the world’s worst bar staff), we returned to catch the latter half of the set by Mogwai. It was only towards the end of this that my amaze brain remembered that the Mog had curated the first ever ATP, something I had missed because I tend to think of the Bowlie Weekender at the actual first. And as with ATP 1, I found myself less than enthusiastic about seeing them play, but rather impressed once I had them in front of me. There is a power and grandeur to their music, as well as an elegiac quality that matched the occasion well.
But the greatest moment in ATP history ever occurred after Mogwai finished and 'Teenage Riot' came on quietly over the PA while they started clearing the upstairs venue. People started dancing to this and eventually the sound people turned up the volume as everyone went increasingly mental to it. The whole thing made for an intriguing and completely unplanned communal end to the festival.
Though it was not the real end. We ended the night downstairs, where Barry Hogan (ATP Fuhrer) was DJing. He played a variety of gangsta hip hop tunes, which went down well with the white audience, and then finished off the night with the Velvet Underground & Nico’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, a tune that it is impossible to dance to. Things got a bit emo. I found myself wondering how I would discover new TV programmes to buy on DVD without ATP (this year’s find being the IT Crowd, a programme you have no doubt all been watching for years).
On Monday we walked into Rye and went first for lunch and then for a little drink in the Mermaid, where we said hello to some other ATP randomers. And then back to Gatwick and home.
Jozef van Wissem
The Magic Band
An interview with GOAT
An inuit panda production