lt’s mid September but the trees are yet to exhibit their autumnal hues as I pedal through the South Oxfordshire countryside to Braziers Park, for the final day of the Septembersong festival. It doesn’t feel like summer’s drawing to a close, but it is and this is likely to be my last outdoor musical event of the year. Septembersong is a brand new festival organised by brothers Robin and Joe Bennett who are also responsible for putting on the Wood Festival at the same site. Much as I’d have loved to, life intervened and I was only able to attend the third and last day.
I arrive in time to see Katy Rose Bennett lead a joyful, early morning, ad hoc choir, put together as part of a singing workshop out of the Marquee to entertain the few us gathered around the fire, supping coffee. On the Wonky Church stage, Hugh Warwick is projecting his inner Brian Blessed talking about connectivity and a book that he wrote called ‘Linescapes‘, the title of which was thought up by Robin Bennett. He talks about anthropogenic, linear features such as roads, railways and canals, and how these affect the natural world. His talk features hedgehog jokes, but the main thrust is the fragmentation of the landscape and its impact on nature.
Over in the Marquee, Rholben, who are named after a hill near Abergavenny, are just commencing. They’re a beautiful combination of two fiddles, double bass and acoustic guitar, complemented by lead singer, Siriol Davies, playing oboe on the instrumentals. They sing primarily in Welsh but we’re also treated to a song from Galicia in northern Spain and some fine acapella performances. They finish with a wonderful sing-along.
In the Wonky Church, as the rain commences, Robin Bennett is in discussion with Michele Stodart and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf about the art of song writing and their careers in music. Stodart relates tales of rehearsing in her parents’ living room and becoming her brother’s “assistant“, which is how The Magic Numbers came to be. Both Caws and Stodart were on Heavenly Records but had never met before. Caws discusses how he puts Nada Surf records together. Stodart plays ‘Push And Pull‘ from her new album, a moving song about having a young daughter and balancing a career in music. Things are brought to a close with Caws performing ‘So Much Love‘, which he was asked to write for South By Southwest.
It’s raining cats and dogs as Katy Rose Bennett takes to the stage in the Marquee. Fortunately, both performance areas at Septembersong are under cover and there’s plenty of room for people to come in from the wet. Bennett performs her soothing set to accommodate her and the audience’s slightly fragile state relatively early in the day. After performing ‘Beyond Blue‘ she gets her brother Joe up on stage to help her, and together with the audience, they sing ‘Trees‘. She finishes with ‘Bird Song‘. It’s a magical moment with Bennett conducting a couple of impromptu choirs, which despite her electric guitar falling to the floor during the song, is a wonderful way to end things.
Ping ponging between the stages, it’s back to the Wonky Church where Vocal Spokes, an Oxfordshire based group are performing contemporary, acapella versions of pop songs unamplified. Their set commences with Olive’s ‘You’re Not Alone‘ and The Cranberries ‘Dreams‘. They started three year’s ago during lockdown on Zoom. From Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work‘, it’s on to Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘Human‘, before the group spread out into the audience to sing Billy Joel’s ‘Lullaby‘. They finish with Kate Rusby’s ‘Underneath The Stars‘.
In the Marquee, husband and wife duo, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou, have stepped away from their band Big Reference to “reunite“. Clustering around one microphone their close harmonies are always a joy to listen to. The stark lyrics of ‘A Proud Surrender‘ are a counterpoint to their beautiful voices. ‘We Should’ve Gone Dancing‘ is followed by ‘Concorde‘ which gets its live debut and features Robin Bennett on flute. We’re told at that they got back together at the behest of Raz Cobbing, the landlord of the Betsy Trotwood in London, where they often use to play, the excuse being that it was the 13th anniversary of their first album. They play some new songs, so perhaps another album is on the cards. A great performance is brought to an end by what Moss says is their most requested song ‘Cheap Wine‘.
The ARC Songwriters comprise Kate Ellis, Anna Howie and Kris Wilkinson. They’re all playing acoustic guitars, but it’s the way their voices combine that is where the magic lies. They play ‘Cardinal In The Snow‘ which was inspired by a video of bird standing out in snow. The crowd join in with ‘Hot Chicken‘, the raunchy nature of which makes it clear it’s not about their local takeaway. A great cover of John Prine’s ‘Speed Of The Sound Loneliness‘ brings things to a close. Matthew Caws of Nada Surf takes to the Marquee stage to perform a rare solo gig armed with just his Gibson J200 acoustic guitar. ‘Matilda‘ is about Caws’ youth when he says he was “more pretty than handsome” and as a result teased about it at school, but received support from his father. Towards the end of his set Caw turns on the laptop next to him to use a sample taken from Boston garage revival band Lyres’ album ‘Lyres Lyres‘ as the backbone to a song. Caws ends a fine set telling us a cautionary tale about multi-tasking. Whilst donning noise cancelling headphones he let the bath overflow, setting off the smoke alarms in his house. This inspired the brand new song, ‘In Front Of Me Now‘. Ralfe Band are the first band in the Wonky Church to feature a drum kit. They’re the creation of Oly Ralfe who describes one of their songs as “horse drawn techno.” They’ve got a new drummer who’s only been only afforded one rehearsal but does a sterling job. They finish with a foray into bossa nova which has everybody up and dancing.
The night ends in the Marquee where Robyn Hitchcock, wearing one of his trademark shirts, takes to the stage with Kimberly Rew on guitar, Lee Cave-Berry on bass and Morris Windsor on drums. He’s supposed to be performing solo but tells us that he’s brought the band so that they can help him get home. ‘I Often Dream Of Trains‘ is followed by a song that Hitchcock says “needs no introduction because if it was introduced it wouldn’t make any sense!” From Hitchcock’s latest album, ‘Shufflemania!‘ we get the ‘The Sir Tommy Shovel‘, about a pub which he intimates would be a favourite drinking place for Brexiters. As ever, Hitchcock’s raps between songs provide much entertainment. He regales us with how it was the Saxons not George Martin who invented double tracking and phasing, and that’s the reason that the Normans invaded Britain. He also tells us that “There’s no such thing as a pastry butcher because nobody slaughters pastry“. We’re left with ‘The Bells Of Rhymney‘ with Hitchcock replicating Roger McGuinn’s guitar riffs superbly. The Bennett brothers along with Danny George Wilson and Fin Kenney on drums bring the festival to a close as Bennett Wilson. They run through highlights from the first two Bennett Wilson Poole albums. Raz from the Betsey Trotwood steps on to the stage to play harmonica on ‘Wilson General Store‘ about Wilson’s grandparents’ shop in Melbourne. After ‘Not Forgetting (Just Not Remembering)‘ it’s ‘Ready To Serve‘ and with ‘Find Your Own Truth‘ a set of classics and a great day is over.
On my way home to Reading, as the dark envelops me and my bike, an owl hoots as if to welcome in the autumn. In the pitch black, I figure that if you could cut Septembersong open it would have the name Bennett running through it like a stick of rock. Wood Festival and Septembersong have provided the perfect bookends to the summer, but it’s over now, still there’s always more gigs to go to and songs to sing.