Festivals are back!

Two reports from festivals attended by Tony Richardson and Joe Coxhead

 

But how safe are they?

Remember the UK government said at first, before the complete opening up, that they were allowing several test events, including festivals. Does anybody know the results? Were there any? They allowed increased attendance at the Euros, no evaluation because nobody was tested afterward.

As a result of one Scottish game 4,500 people were declared positive, so they must have been asked if they went to the game.

So it was with confidence, but without data, that the UK government opened up all festivals, nightclubs, and football games, with full crowds.

The problem for many festivals was that they were not among those few that were officially supported by the government.   Those did not include Womad. Perhaps it was remembered how people chanted for Corbyn there but they could not get insurance. The government after the event now says it is looking at a scheme of insurance support.

Culture is so important to human existence, so I want to present reports of two quite different festivals. One by me the other by Joe Coxhead (see below). Live music spectacles are important as they are a societal, and not an individual cultural event. The pressure is on to individualise all our experiences.

Television hardly covers either of these types of music, unless it is in getting people to support competition amongst what are essentially tribute bands/singers. Jazz got a mention recently because Charlie Watts played it when he wasn’t doing his day job in the Rolling Stones.

The Festival I am reporting on is in France, conditions are not dramatically different. Here many festivals were cancelled, because of confusion over the Passe Sanitaire, limits on attendance, and lack of confidence in whether further changes would happen. So some had low bookings and would not be viable.

The Festival I went to was ‘Jazz Sous Les Pommiers’ in Normandy, 25-29th August. This is mostly indoors, although there are free street events. This was its 40th anniversary, and it is so well established that it normally has top US, UK, and international acts.  It combines Jazz with World Music.  However, like most festivals, as Womad had planned, they had to rely mainly on acts based within the country, or in this case Europe. There was only one act from the US, several from Scandinavia, and several French-based African artists.

The concerts were heavily booked, but only a few sold out.

Covid rules

To go into the concerts you needed to get a bracelet at the start of each day, you could only get this with a Passe Sanitaire, which requires full vaccination or a test, or proof of having had Covid.  As most of the audience is older this was not a problem. Masks were not mandatory, but about 75% of the people wore them in the concerts. Even some older people clearly felt that double vaccination meant they were safe and could take risks. The same went for restaurants and cafes. Cafes in France are pretty strong on compliance and have occasional police checking.  I sat at the end of rows and tried to avoid mask-less people. So I felt pretty safe and was able to enjoy the experience.

As for the music, I will divide it into two types:

African:

  • Cheik Tidiane Seck, brilliant pianist with quality support from Mali and Cote D’Ivoire, very much African jazz,
  • then Manu Kache a Drummer, with guest performances from Eric Truffaz and separately Keziah Jones who are both big selling artists in France, Kache plays all over the world.This two hour session was really good jazz.
  • Then there was Sam Mangwana. a singer from Angola whose speciality is the Rumba Congolese. He is an old star popular all over the world and very infectious.

Scandinavian:

This was my favourite because it was a revelation. The group Rymden was formed by the two remaining members of Esbjorn Svenson’s group after he died about 10 years ago. I really liked his piano playing, but his replacement. Bugge Westeltoft, from Norway, seemed to me to be quite different. He was frantic and the driving, ever-increasing drumming was a great sound. This was not quite the same level as the group that included the legendary Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer.

As with Joe’s report below, there weren’t many women headliners, but I particularly liked the Macha Gharaibian Trio. She was of Armenian origin and had a wonderful voice.  Her set included Armenian songs.

Altogether it was a great festival experience, not so much politics as usual, but maybe I missed some because of the speed of the French speakers.


Green Man festival

Reviewed by Joe Coxhead.

There have been persuasive arguments in favour and against music festivals like Green Man going ahead. We are here, with mandatory double vaccination status or a recent negative test. Mask wearing was negligible, maybe 0.1% of attendees. Turning around from the barrier at the end of Nubya Garcia’s set to see all the smiles were joyous, compounding the nice bass in the chest from the music. It all felt elemental, but whether it was worth the risk or not is another thing.     

Arriving in the Brecon Beacons on Monday, the week’s entertainment was begun gloriously by Kim Hon. They’re in the eccentric guitar band lineage of Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The singer is refreshingly straight-talking with the audience, bemoaning the lack of affordable housing in his home village in North Wales. He asks “English comrades” to only buy if they’re going to live in the house and be part of the community. This sentiment bookended the entire festival.

Headlining the Walled Garden stage on Sunday night with thick grooves, Gwenno performed a song from her commission for the movie Bait. The second home in Cornwall story mirroring problems faced in Wales… “It’s simple, people shouldn’t have second homes”. Definitely some squirming in the audience! In such a bijoux space (festivals being places where people like David Cameron go), it was good to hear a deviation from “you’re all beautiful” patter. Having said that, poet Alabaster de Plume was very enjoyable, giving that affirmative love with a jazz backing. Musically not too distant from drummer Sarathy Korwar’s band, but in contrast, the poet Zia Ahmed here was caustic… “I am auditioning for the role of terrorist #1/ Yeah, I can do that in an Arabic accent”.

The programming has diversified over the years to include lots of non-folk/ rock. Surely related is that some editions in the past had very few people of colour playing. It felt more inclusive this year. However, the festival still stubbornly limited the three main stage headliners to white men. It’s frustrating, maybe the organisers would use the argument about the limited numbers of available acts ‘at that level’. That would be a cop-out though- this 25,000 capacity festival always sells out early, so they have the freedom to ‘risk’ promoting an act or two to headline – to be the change, not entrench the status quo.


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