No sooner have we created a format than troublesome writers begin to undermine and twist the brief.
This night to remember was no night at all but a glorious, sun-splashed, hazy afternoon at the fag end of the summer that signalled the end of the noughties and the beginning of the botched Tory/ Liberal pact and for a couple of hours time stood still and three bands captured everything that my festival going life had been about and served it up to me to inspire another however many years doing exactly the same. It could have been the weather – gorgeous, it could have been the company – lovely people, it could have been the wine – deep red, it could have been the beautiful Garden stage with its peacocks and tromp -l’oeil but it wasn’t. They were the setting and the scenery not the main event.
It all started with Matthew Houck’s Phosphorescent flying in on the back of the album Here’s to Takin’ it Easy. The album was the backbone of the performance and each tune unfolded over the ranks of deckchairs and appreciative nodding heads. Houck was the ringmaster and storyteller leading the band through the country rock flavours of the new sound with his distinctive burr and keeping the ragged sound fresh with some delightful musical flourishes. Highlights included ‘Mermaid Parade’ with its bitter sense of regret and twin guitars. ‘Los Angeles’ a Crazy Horse soaked meditation whose guitar lines seemed to timelessly sway with the breeze that gently moved over the crowd and finally the spooked paranoia of ‘Wolves’ with Houck speaking to each one of us.
Next up Catskills’ finest The Felice Brothers bringing their dichotomous party sensibility and social observation to the wide-open spaces of Salisbury plain. Tapping into the vibe that was already apparent Ian Felice, bleached of skin and impossibly thin, sang of wild carousing and hardship, heroin and prison life. Highlights include ‘Roll On Arte’ with its waltz-time swing and raucous chorus, similarly ‘Frankie’s Gun’ featuring James Felice’s accordion whipping the crowd into a frenzy and then at the peak of this joy ‘St. Stephan’s End’. The band leave the stage and Ian Felice is left alone, guitar in hand to tell the stories of doomed saints, Edith Cavell and rampant elephants all soaked with exquisite melancholy and finishing with the singer seemingly wracked with pain and loss as the chiming guitar motif hung in the afternoon air and he prostrated himself at our mercy. And then it was over as we all took a large gulp of wine and sang along with ‘Whiskey in My Whiskey‘ desperately trying not to think of how deeply the last song had cut.
A brief respite and The Low Anthem continued the seemingly spiritual vibe that had taken over the afternoon with their sometimes gossamer-thin songs hovering above us, the extraordinary instrumentation bouncing off the cloudless blue skies. It seemed impossibly beautiful that the packed audience could literally hear a pin drop as the hammers struck one of the arcane instruments that littered the stage. It was a set of diamonds each exquisitely turned and the joyous highlight – the hymnal and almost overwhelming ‘Charlie Darwin’ – a song for the ages, surely.
And as the sun set and we headed for more wine I knew, despite seeing upward of 50 gigs a year before and since, I had had an almost transcendental experience. One of those times wherein you are reminded of the elemental power of music and musicians. What an afternoon!