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Rhythm Festival, Twinwood Arena, Bedfordshire, August 20th-22nd 2010 (Part 2)

August 30, 2010

Mr P and I enjoyed a quiet morning until Pete J, D, the Browne Bluesman and Mrs B showed up at the tent for an impromptu tailgate party. After demolishing a three-litre box of quite drinkable Sicilian red, we went into the arena to take our places on the bar’s deck area. Very pleasant – unlike Ed Tudor-Pole, whose ‘quirky’ brand of nudge-nudge posh pirate punk always rubs me up the wrong way. He’s as annoying as the late-summer wasps that had developed a fondness for sticky spilt beer and were buzzing around the bar.

Things looked up considerably when Jackie Leven came onto the stage. Mr P (to whom thanks for the great photo, left), the Browne B and I took up positions on the rail as Jackie started with one of his amusing and dubiously true anecdotes and sang his fine Elegy For Johnny Cash, following it with a funny tale about Ralph McTell and his allegedly sharp temper. The next one, Call Mother A Lonely Field, is one of the many songs Jackie’s written that’s well-observed, carefully written and well sung. It also contains the great lyric, ‘Like young Irishmen in English bars, the song of home betrays us.’

You always get jokes and fun with Jackie, and he tells one about being heckled when playing in Glasgow. A loud Glaswegian greeted one of several songs about Jackie’s late father with a bitter cry, ‘Typical Fifer – showboating about how he knew his dad!’ Next up was David Childers’ Heart In My Soul from 2008’s Lovers At The Gun Club album, and King Of Infinite Space, prefaced by a great tale concerning the Columbo episode which guest starred Johnny Cash. Last up was new song New Wreath from this year’s Gothic Road to finish off what had been a funny, touching and compelling set. Jackie’s guitar-playing can be surprisingly delicate for a big fella and his voice – inflected with that soul style that’s so common among Scots singers – at times sounded just like Aaron Neville’s. The crowd was rightly impressed.

We resumed our seats up at the bar to watch and listen to the entertainment from afar. Geno Washington and his band performed a perfunctory set of soul and rhythm ‘n’ blues, though I feel this party music would have suited to later in the evening. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t understand why headliners have to appear last on the bill. They might be the biggest act but they might not be the ideal rumbustious way to finish a festival evening.

It was then we spotted a slightly harassed Jackie Leven lugging his bag and guitar case in our general direction. We said hello and he asked us to look after his stuff while he slipped to the bar for a swift pint. I got the impression that he was due to leave but wanted just one more – and who can deny a proud man of Fife his pint of ale? He came back from the bar empty-handed, however. I think he’d had second thoughts, as his driver had just arrived. We said cheerio and I told him I was looking forward to seeing him at the Union Chapel in December.

Roger Chapman, with his 70s blend of blues and rock, was the next main-stage attraction. As with Geno, it all passed by pleasantly enough without making much of a great impression. He’s still got a good voice, though. The day’s emcee and provider of between-sets entertainment was the excellent Juan Pablo from Mundo Jazz – very funny and convincingly 60s latino-stoner…

On next were popular post-punk politico partyers The Men They Couldn’t Hang. I saw them back in January and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to them. They turned in a similarly stirring performance of politically tinged folk-punk-rock with lots of favourites – Devil On The Wind, The Ghosts Of Cable Street, Wishing Well, Bounty Hunters, Shirt Of Blue, and the a cappella seafarer’s lament Barrett’s Privateers. Then they went soft and invited their kids onstage (along with the two chaps from Weddings, Parties, Anything) for a rousing rendition of Bank Robber. They squeezed in an encore, The Colours, which left the bopping crowd very happy:
I was woken from my misery by the words of Thomas Paine,
On my barren soil they fell like the sweetest drops of rain,
Red is the colour of the new republic,
Blue is the colour of the sea,
White is the colour of my innocence,
Not surrender to your mercy.

After all that exertion, It was back to the bar’s deck again, this time for the rest of the evening. The Wailers came on to great acclaim and played a good set of reggae classics. It was just right for a relaxed Saturday evening, though it seemed at some point that the band’s front-man Koolant started haranguing the crowd. Not sure what was going on there. Final act of the night was the cosmic elf himself, Donovan, who played a crowd-pleasing set of folky psychedelia and fey pop whimsy – often too whimsical for my tastes. Catch The Wind and Mellow Yellow are fine, but most of those ‘I love my flower girl and she loves me’ numbers are just annoying. And he’s still putting on an embarrassing cod-Jamaican accent between songs. Can anyone tell me what that’s all about?

After more beer we said good night to our four compadres, who were pampering themselves in local hotels. As I listened to the torrential rain on the roof of the tent at three in the morning, I couldn’t help but feel a pang or two of envy…

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