In the blazing 35 degree heat burning down on the South East country side Lounge On The Farm 2010 put on its biggest, and arguably best, spectacle to date to help celebrate birthday number 5. Previously the proud recipient of 'Best Music Festival For Foodies' and 'Best Festival For Families' this years party at Merton Farm had something to live up to. Nestling nicely just outside the historically resplendent city of Canterbury, in the Garden Of England, Merton Farm is ideally placed. Access is relatively easy, the camp sites are nicely divided, there is ample parking and the site is both big enough to accommodate everyone easily without the fear of claustrophobia, and small enough to be able to enjoy all the delights without a mammoth trek.
There is a tremendous amount to do and see at Merton Farm, and that's when you're not being distracted by the myriad of local produce on offer, by way of tastily cooked treats. Anything from Al's Hog Roast and Merton Farms very own Aberdeen Angus Burgers through to the tasty seaside fayre of Octopussy or the Japanese treats to be found at MUU Street Food. The Kids are well catered for too with workshops, storytelling and even Strange Hill, the Farms very own youth club complete with table tennis table and Subbuteo. This year also saw fabulously well attended comic performances from both Howard Marks and Phil Jupitus. The latter performing in the Meadows Playhouse appreciative of the crowd at one of his first summer festivals, but not so of his other first of the year, a sunburn.."It's a good job I didn't wear sunglasses or else I'd have looked like a red and white Panda!"
So off we set, packed up as if we were about to have three weeks in the Dordogne, for three days in Kent. The tent was pitched remarkably easily for campsite virgins so over we went to sample the atmosphere on a truly glorious sunny day. To ease us all in gently we strode off across to The Meadows and made for the Farm Folk tent. Alex Quaye played a heartfelt set to a clearly eager, and relatively fresh set of Friday festival goers. Having been taken in along the way by the smells of the bbq at The QuaterHouse and then tantalised by the meat balls and pasta at the Italian Kitchen we decided to eat.
Fridays lunch was served from The Farmhouse Kitchen, together with some splendid locally produced cider. Set to the side of the main arena, in The Village Green, the eatery was ideally placed to sample the fantastically eclectic mix of bands playing at the Bandstand. Highlights included Rosco Levee's (Looking uncannily like EyeBall Paul) blues infused guitar. The Craters doing some unique folksy covers, including Dancing Queen, Oops I Did It Again and Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of Cheese!). 8 Piece Simian Artillery belted out a decent version of the BloodHound Gang's 'Discovery Channel' and then there was still time for an ice-cream. Hotrods & Gangsters rounded off our afternoon delights with some 60's flavoured pop.
Having made it so close to the main stage, The Cow Shed, we thought it improper not to pop in and see who was filling the awkward mid-afternoon slots. Up on stage at the end of the shed, through a smattering of people, was a band in fine form, rocking the joint, or at least trying to, with what looked from a distance to be some sort of Prince apparition. It was, as it turned out, Pope Joan. Up next was an early highlight of the weekend. Folk-tronica band Tunng "Welcome to the shed of cows". Trying their best to kick start the party Tunng delivered a snappy set including a love story "about a girl who kills cows and then writes stories with their blood". Luckily there were no cows left in the shed to hear the gruesome tale.
Later into the night Example, one of a few returning festival performers, eventually came on to an ever more frustrated audience. Being the bigger star these days afforded some build up and tension, arriving on stage like a budding Heavy Weigh Prize Fighter, getting the crowd to fever pitch before delivering his suitably organ shifting bass heavy numbers to the baying audience. Hercules & Love Affair brought the Friday Cow Shed roster to a close with their New York blend of Disco doused House. Day one drew to a close and so off to find our synthetic home of stitching and poles.
Up with the lark, the kids still get up at 6 something whatever time they go to bed, and off to get a brew from the 24hr shop. After a relaxing morning that saw temperatures in the tent reach 45 degrees we once again set off to see what we could find. The Belly Dancing work shop in The PlayHouse looked interesting, and as my daughter pointed out, there was at least one brave man prepared to give it a go. After a spot of face painting and story telling the music began to call.
In The Folk tent Mat Jenkins, suitably cool in his Wayfarers, gave a memorable set, unfortunately beset with technical troubles. He clearly connected with the audience, singing without electrical enhancement for some tunes and even, upon audience suggestion, playing within the crowd, mid-tent. His Dylan come Oburst amalgam of styles stirred the crowd with some lyrical gems..."Sometimes I may break you if only then to remake you, into a girl who may face this world alone." Life Ain't Easy, with its Johnny Cash flourishes, The Messenger, Come Away With Me and even the closer Spit all went down well, so to speak, with those assembled among the straw bails.
The temptation of the noodle bar on day 2 proved too much, the ginger enhanced tucker was spot on as we made our way through the main arena to The BandStand. the afternoon was given over to Smugglers Records who put on a pirate themed extravaganza throughout the day. The best of the Bandstand sets came from The Momeraths, close Female/Male vocal harmonies from the lead protagonists sounding wonderful against some off set guitar work and interesting percussion, via up turned dining chairs. The Lovedays seemed to be enjoying themselves in The Cow Shed dishing out their American sounding Rock N' Blues including a vocal on 'John The Revelator' that was a great Noddy Holder meets Robert Plant moment.
The intensity of the Sun was still undiminished as the second night beckoned. Just enough time to catch a few acts in The Sheep Dip, a tent no bigger than a modest wedding marquee venue that would see some great performances over the weekend. 'Summer Camp', with their lead singer in near Cat Woman outfit, set off on an 80's lilt with some power pop electronica, Sophie Ellis Bextor meets Belinda Carlisle. Up next were the Swedish sisters First Aid Kit. Having flown in at 6am that morning they vowed to not let that undermine their performance. It didn't. The vocal, guitar, drum and electro-harp combination worked wonderfully. They played the best songs off their last album including a fantastic version of Hard Believer, as well as The Sailor Song, Heavy Storm, I Met Up With A King and a new song, not yet recorded that had the rhythmic feel of some of Basia Bulat's latest work.
Ausie Sarah Blasko, back at The Cow Shed, remarked how she never knew England could get this hot. She ran through a lively set with a dogged professionalism looking as disappointed about the merge crowd as she could without actually making reference to it. The weather kept most of Saturdays festival goers nearer to nature. There were probably as many watching the human beat box, supplied again by Pirate Records, than there was watching Sarah. Time for a break, Venison burger anyone?
Saturday nights evening entertainment was supplied firstly over at The Furthur Stage by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Whilst it may not be that crazy these days it was still a crowd puller. The psychedelic organ sounds thundered out into the early evening. The climax duly came with an obligatory performance of 'Fire'. The great theatrics from an eccentricity of the sixties were suitably well received. Back over at the Cow Shed were Sunderland's finest exports, possibly ever, Frankie & the HeartStrings. A man at ease with his charisma could not quite fill the enormity of the venue. Slightly affected but with great stage presence Frankies performance seemed borne out of years dancing in the mirror holding a comb and having once seen Morrisey on TOTP's.
In The Sheep dip a little later were Silver Columns. Playing to a half empty tent but still giving it everything, the duo, megaphone at the ready, reeled off a strong set. The once anonymous pair, strangely reminiscent of James Bond assassins Mr Kitt and Mr Wint, lit up the room with Christmas lights and a disco ball. Playing tunes from their new album 'Yes, And Dance' they may have gone down better over at the Hoe Down Tent. That aside their single 'Cavalier' was topped only by the Bronski Beat meets Donna Summer style kitsch of 'Brow Beaten'.
So it's just gone ten and a difficult decision has to be made. Now whilst it may not be of organ donating proportions it still required some thought and attention. I had once been faced with a toss up, on financial grounds, between seeing U2 or The Undertones in the same week and then being somewhat traumatised by Fergal and the boys going their own separate ways whilst Bono, well you know what happened to Bono! Tonights justification came down to probability and age, a little respect and a little courtesy. Jah Wobble on the Furthur stage would have to wait. Martha Reeves it was then.
Turning up just in time to catch the end of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis was no bad thing, The throw back trio, complimented by Dad (looking like a 70's bank manager) on rhythm guitar and Mom (Straight out of the Alley Cats) on double bass were a fitting precursor to the main event. Getting the crowd rockin' in the aisles was what they were made to do. Older sister Daisy deftly delivered some great beats with here locomotive drumming. Kitty shone out front and at the end of the set she gave a superb harmonica solo before Lewis came out from behind the keyboards to showcase his talents as a guitarist. The crowd having been warmed up nicely awaited Ms Reeves & The Vandellas!
The Cow Shed sounds like an unlikely venue for a performer with the stature of Martha Reeves. The former councillor for Detroit, Michigan has been in the business nearly fifty years. Alabama born Reeves was at the forefront of the Motown sound and has a stack of hits under her belt, all radio staples and classics of their day. I was full of a sense of great anticipation mixed with a slight anxiety prior to her arrival on stage. As she was announced on with a welcoming fanfare, "Are you ready for some Motown" the MC cried, you could see a lady who loved the love of her audience, and one who wanted to give a performance. "I feel like James Brown" she said as she sung her heart out to show stoppers like Nowhere To Run and Jimmy Mack, "Someone who's name I've been calling for forty eight years." Taking time in between tracks to give some fantastic anecdotes, probably as much to catch her breath as to chat, Martha knew how to work the crowd. Poured into a dress that Divine would have been proud to wear Martha Reeves, And The Vandellas, raised the roof with Dancing In The Streets, "Thank you for making my life complete, thank you for dancing in the streets." Sixty nine in a few days, but still with a great vocal range, Martha may be no spring chicken but she was a fabulous performer. Only the acoustics of the venue or the sound mixing could have enhanced the enjoyment, but the shortcomings are not what tonight was about. It was about a legendary performer sharing her songs as only she knew how. Show over, time for bed.
Having rested up for what seemed like all of five minutes the heat of Sundays summer sun began to permeate through the tent ensuring there would be no further down time today. After the compulsory cuppa and make do wash from a stand pipe, a few buckets of water and plenty of wet wipes we headed forth. The very nice ladies at the RSPCA tent coloured in the kids faces and arms with UV pictures of flowers and stars, and all for just 50p....bargain! The more buxom ladies at Strumpets With Crumpets caught our eye and breakfast was duly delivered with a very welcome gentle breeze that momentarily took the edge off the sweltering temperatures.
Suitably fed and watered we walked all off 40 metres until we could walk no more and so rested up to catch a local Kent band do their stuff. That stuff being musically described, by them, as Black Grass! Son Of Kirk, another signing to Smugglers Records, stomped through an entertaining half hour with duelling acoustic guitars, electric violins and nicely paired male and female vocals. The latter being supplied by Kristina Warren in a rather Spanish looking polka dot dress who whilst not necessarily sounding like her, had an air of Poly Jean about her. Songs about crumbling estates in Wolverhampton, where dead animals lay among the high rises, were interwoven with tales of broken relationships told emotively on their only "attempt at a pop song", namely 'You Can Make It On your Own'.
Keeping the local flavour of our new day going we decide to ramble over to the Sheep Dip, whilst having a quick butchers in the 'You Say We Play Tent' along the way. Here, as with our only visit to the School Of Rock, our timing was off, nice as the theme tune to Friends may be to some it wasn't enough o hold our attention. So off we went to see Elephants in the Sheep Dip, not a sentence you're likely to hear very often. The Canterbury boys had managed to pack out the tent with curious onlookers and loyal locals. The crowd were treated to some cracking tunes delivered at full tilt, the best of these, 'Antlers', a song normally done as a balladic loving lament. Being only hours before the World Cup Final the audience and band were quizzed on their preferences whilst the sound guy adjusted the levels. Both were 90% in favour of a Holland victory, shame!
Meanwhile in the Cow Shed the first blasts of dry ice were being spat out by Maker. The band were fronted by a man who had clearly read, digested, and reread the Rock Stars Wardrobe Hand Book For Boys and memorised every line. If you fed all relevant information into a computer and asked it to generate an image of the complete Rock Star, this mans picture would be the result. Ripped white V-Neck band T-shirt, cuban heeled boots, shades, headband, necklaces, and bracelets, trousers to tight around the ..........and a belt made from a silk scarf, you couldn't make it up. All good fun, and he sounded pretty good too, Axl Rose eat your heart out.
Rose Elinor Dougal provided our next highlight, both of the day and the weekend. Performing in The Farm Folk Tent, with a full band, Dougal captivated the crowd with some near ethereal pop. The guitarist, looking a little like Rupert Everetts son if he's ever had one, played in a fabulous Felt and Cocteau Twins style to compliment the vocals of Miss Dougal who at times had a wry smile, perhaps amused by her own thoughts? After changing the batteries to her keyboard she half apologised to the crowd.."We're not strictly folk, we're a little bit louder than that, hope it's ok." It certainly was. The set of 8 songs was highlighted by 'To The Sea', 'Come Away With Me' and the church organ lead 'May Holiday'.
Later on back in The Cow Shed California's Chief were left to fill the near void. The Sun, eating, weariness, The World Cup and the Grand Prix all not helping to pull in the big crowds until much later in the evening. They soldiered on, giving the recent single 'Breaking Walls' a rather rockier outing as well as others including, 'Walk Into The Valley', from their forthcoming album 'Modern Rituals. They left the stage with words of wisdom...."When you take this much acid and ecstasy you have to drink lots of water." Ok then.
A quick visit to the Sheep Dip, prior to Sundays big hitters coming out, proved to be handsomely rewarded. Lupen Crook, with Keith Richard's looky likey on guitar, gave a stirring Cossack dancing version of 'Play Dead' and then out came Club Royale. Frederick MacPherson and his as yet unsigned band, who have released not a thing, lit up the tent with passion, presence and panache. "Presenting feel good music" Fred and his very dapper band entertained the assembled onlookers with quality power pop. A bassist in a bow tie and the man on keys in a cravat helped add flavour. 'Never Fade Away' closed off a stunning set from the unsigned band of the weekend.
The Furthur stage would be the next port of call. The Happy Accidents were a light, amusing and tuneful warm up for a headline act like no other this weekend. Used to at least a 3 hour sound check, not 30 minutes, and getting a little fractious back stage didn't affect the spectacular performance. Courtney Pine is a truly individual jazz legend, and until you have actually seen him perform rather than just merely heard him perform you cannot properly appreciate this. His playing was awesome, mind boglingly good infact. How does he do it, and how does he do it so well? This was a virtuoso performance second to none. He may have been out of his comfort zone but from the opener Haiti through to the very last number, he had the crowd and had them awe struck at just how jaw droppingly good he was. His band were not just making up the numbers either, the elegant keyboard work and fabulous violin solos were a delight. He and his band deserve all their plaudits.
The walk back to the Folk tent was time to wind down slightly after an intense experience. Tonight's final decisions as to who to see next had already been made so there was no dilemma to be had. How many times do you really want to hear Lip Up Fatty in your life time, and you can't ask Phil Jupitus or Buster! Jesca Hoop followed on from the very up beat closing number from Danny & The Champions Of The World, My Girl. Jesca and her band of backing singers, guitarist and drummer gave the nearly full tent a précis of her last album. Easing us in gently with 'Whispering Light' through 'Feast Of Your Heart' and 'Four Dreams' Jesca sang and played beautifully. "We're gonna take advantage of playing at a festival in a tent without dance music to play you a quiet number." Her take on 'Murder Of Birds' didn't see Guy Garvey in the wings waiting to accompany her but it was no worse off for that. She gave us some interesting information on the properties of pineapple juice and celery! (look it up) before rounding of the evening with her albums title track 'Hunting My Dress."
The very last of the weekends visits anywhere would be to the main arena, the Cow Shed. For the second time in two days a living legend born in the 1940's would perform to a packed crowd of eagerly awaiting festival devotees. Frederick 'Toots' Albert & The Maytals would top off the Ska themed night in flamboyant style. The man and his band have had more number 1's in Jamaica than any other. He has significantly influenced not one generation but two, and his first big international hit was some forty years ago, before most of the crowd were even thought of thinking about. Introduced by Don Letts as "A privilege and an honour" Toots & The Maytals came on to a pumped up 'Pressure Drop'. There was really no let up from that point onward. Despite a few reverb and feedback issues slightly spoiling Toots version of Louie Louie the crowd were very appreciative to have seen another full on performance from an institution of a man and his band. Monkey Man may have been adequately interpreted by The Specials but it is all about 'Toots & The Maytals'. Fionn Regan will be around again, how many times will Mr Albert? The right choice made the festival was at an end....
3 days, 6 stages, 6000+ people, countless bands seen and heard and now it was all over. The event had been blessed by the weather. The line up had been chosen with a justifiable resoluteness that had, in the end, answered its critics. The food was rarely corporate, a concession to Pizza Express and Byron Burgers aside, and was in the main fantastic for such an occasion. The atmosphere was very friendly, open and accommodating and catered for all its guests from 1 to 81 with equal aptitude. They say you can't please all of the people all of the time. That may be so, but Lounge On The Farm just goes to show that you can at least give it a damn good try! Roll on 2011 as LOTF is only set to get bigger and better. Count me in.