Monday, March 14, 2022

My Life In ... Music Festivals

The fourteenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

As I was enjoying the bands at Solfest 2021 I thought to myself it is a very long time since I stood on grass in the open air listening to live music. 10 years ago I went to Cropredy and before that it would’ve been the Isle of Wight in 1970. But then I thought to myself this is a very strict definition of a music festival. They don’t all have to be a long weekend with multiple bands and accommodation in tents (unless you so choose) or even in the open air (although many are).

Thinking back I have stood in many a grassy venue under the open sky listening to a variety of bands, acts and orchestras. Some were part of a festival with a series of dates spread over several weeks, some were one off events. When I started to recall them I was amazed at how many festivals I’ve been to. These are the ones I can remember (thanks mainly to my blogging (click on the year for relevant post). 

Isle of Wight, 1970: my first and, in terms of artists, greatest ever music festival. Alas I can remember very little of it as I have written elsewhere on this blog.

Mayfly Festival, 1973 / 1974: this one I had almost forgotten about. It was a small two or three day concert in Oxpens Meadows in Oxford. I have no memorabilia but I believe I must have attended in 1974 because one of my college mates was a huge fan of Gong, Hatfield & the North and Henry Cow. and one of the acts was the Virgin All Stars comprised of members from all three bands.  

It was a lovely sunny day is about all I can remember. I also remember one of the performers saying that he rehearsed and rehearsed so that what you heard when you saw him live was as close as he could make it to the studio album. I am convinced that it was Kevin Ayers but I can find no evidence on the Internet of his performing there so perhaps I imagined it was him. Or it may have been some other artist.

Crystal Palace Bowl, 1983 / 1984 / 1985: I think of the 80s and 90s as the golden age of rock festivals, the likes of Reading and Glastonbury. I was never into those kind of events but I did attend several classical music concert series at the Crystal Palace bowl. A whole crowd of us used to go together armed with splendid picnics with different people tasked to bring different courses. Then a concert of popular classics with the last being accompanied by fireworks. Halcyon days!

Henry Wood Promenade concerts, 1972 / 1991 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016: Too many individual concerts to list. We usually booked a box for 8 and smuggled in a picnic to enjoy with friends. 

French Quarter Festival, 1998 / 2001 / 2009this festival is a small and delightful festival held in the French Quarter, the historic heart of New Orleans. We combined this with the jazz and heritage festival in those years were the two were contiguous. Many of the acts performed on street corners in the town itself but some were in various city parks. 

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 1998 / 2001 / 2009some years Jazz Fest followed straight on from the French Quarter festival. Jazz Fest is held on the grassy interior of the race track and one of the best festivals ever. Through this we have discovered many fine acts such as Keb Mo, John Mooney, The Radiators, Anders Osbourne and the unique Mike West as well as better known headliners like James Taylor, Dr John and Van Morrison.

Salisbury festival, 2004 / 2006: when we lived in Ringwood Salisbury was just up the road and we only discovered this festival on the very day in 2004. We bought tickets and rushed up the road to where the festival was being held in the cathedral grounds. It is there that we were greatly entertained by Blazing Fiddles, a band comprised of Scottish and Irish Fiddlers playing some very up-tempo dances and reels.  I also had a run in with a waiter's friend which resulted in a trip to the St John’s ambulance tent to get a plaster for my sliced finger. The second visit was much less eventful!

Jazz at the Tower, 2005 / 2006: in this case the venue was the moat of the Tower of London!  The first year we saw Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and the second year we saw Al Jarreau amongst others. They had a picnic area where you could bring in your own pre-concert repast and then move round the moat to the stage. The MC was a beefeater in full uniform and it is slightly surreal to see one of them enthusiastically saying “let’s give it up for…”. Sadly this concert series appears to have been discontinued.

Hampton Court Festival, 2008 / 2009 / 2014 (twice) / 2016 / 2017: while the concerts (Bryan Ferry, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, George Benson, Curtis Stigers, Cleo Lane and John Dankworth) were on flagstones in the courtyard many of these involved a pre-concert picnic on the well manicured lawn of the palace.

Hyde Park, 19962009: Legendary line-ups:

1996 - Bob Dylan, The Who, Eric Clapton. Eric played the blues, The Who played Quadrophenia, Bob murdered All Along the Watchtower with a croaky, dire rendition of one of my favourite songs.

2009 - Neil Young, Seasick Steve. We enjoyed Neil Young and were impressed by Seasick Steve who we knew nothing about. One clear memory was that it rained and Mary had to buy a plastic poncho to protect our jug of Pimm's!

London Jazz Festival (aka EFG Jazz Festival), 2007 / 2016 / 2019: Some great musicians including  John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek (three times), the latter introducing us to the extraordinary percussionist Trilok Gurtu.

Cannizaro Park Festival, 2010: just up the road from where we lived at the time in South Wimbledon. We went to see the 60s All-Stars comprising of a number of veteran musicians from various one-hit wonder bands back in the 60s. As experienced musicians they put on a fine show.

Cropredy, 2011: now back to a real pop festival in leafy Oxfordshire near Banbury: multi day, multi artist, camping available and in a real field of grass. We were drawn to this by the appearance of Seasick Steve and discovered many fine bands all unknown to me (apart from Seasick Steve, obviously) headlined by Fairport Convention. One uniquely British tradition was a burst of seated Morris dancing lead by Richard Digance.

BluesFest London, 20132014 / 2016: This was mostly held at the Royal Albert Hall but has since moved to The O2 Arena. It falls around our wedding anniversary so for several years we made it part of our celebrations. Artists seen include: Robert Cray, Marcus Bonfanti, Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman (plus many legendary guests).

Locus festival, 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019: This is a mostly free festival in Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy over several weekends in the main square. Every year there are some payable events at outlying venues, we saw: Kamasi Washington at Mavu Masseria, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at Masseria Ferragnano, and Lauryn Hill in the local football stadium. Through Locus we discovered two avant-garde jazz bands that have joined our regular play list: Go-Go Penguin and Mammal Hands

Chicago Blues Festival, 2016: this was in a local park and included a fine lineup of artists foremost of which was the brilliant Shemekia Copeland. The whole of the concert on the Sunday evening on the main stage was a tribute to Otis Rush.

Great British Rock and Blues Festival, 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020: Held at Butlins, in Skegness, in January it can get a bit chilly but the music is excellent. The GBR&B Festival has turned into a regular event where we discovered all manner of talented performers, some new, some old-timers: Catfish, Rebecca Downes, Elles Bailey, Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues, Mud Morganfield, Climax Blues Band, Lucky Peterson, the list goes goes on...

Solfest, 2021: Just up the road from our new home in Cumbria, near the Solway Firth. That brings this right up to date and the festival that started this reminiscence. For us the best band was Dutty Moonshine Big Band featuring my nephew, Chris Hutchinson-Mogg, on drums. 

Music - better than a Madeleine dipped in tea.

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