Saturday, 25 April 2015

Something Else Solar Stage Launch

Grass Roots can mean different things to different people but, to me, a "grass roots" event needs to be small, independent and support unsigned and local acts. The Something Else festivals achieve all of this in spades and manage to create intimate, friendly events which have lovers of great live music returning time and time again.


So when Gail, the force behind the Something Else machine, announced she wanted to create a solar stage and was organising a launch party to help fund it, it came as no surprise that the limited tickets sold out quickly. At just £25, supporters would get two nights camping in tent or vehicle, a line-up of some of the greatest independent musicians on the circuit and a drink and meal thrown in for good measure; plus the company of some of the nicest people you're ever likely to meet anywhere. A crowd-sourced push to raise the necessary money and an iron will to make it happen meant the stage was ready on time - no mean feat. A vehicle had to be sourced and converted, solar panels, a sound system and canopy bought and installed and someone had to be trained to drive the thing. It's a testament to the dedication of Gail and her team when a project like this gets off the ground.


Having fallen in love with the Something Else way of doing things early last year we were among the first to get tickets and the date couldn't come soon enough. Sitting very early in the year it promised to be a great warm up for the main festival season. So did it live up to expectations?

We were a little late to the party as we had a gig to go to in Leicester the previous evening when many of the crowd were assembling for a pre-party session and a jam around the firepit with the famous Keef and his Ukes. By all accounts this was a excellent, if relatively gentle start to proceedings. Even so there were a few thick heads evident on Saturday as everyone started gathering and Gail's own Muddy Summers And The Dirty Field Whores kicked off the music, christening the stage with their irreverent, politically-loaded numbers delivered in typically flamboyant style. For most of the set we were still faffing with the van, getting settled next to our mates tent, renewing old acquaintances and enjoying the feeling of being back in a field again with a whole bunch of like-minded people.

Hangovers seemed to be fading as singer-songwriter Doozer McDooze continued the political theme and took to the stage again on his own. He soon had the slowly building audience joining in with his catchy numbers as old favourites like I Don't Wanna Go Home and I Think Politicians Should Be Put On Minimum Wage struck the usual chords. Whether on his own, with his full band, Deferred Sucess or as part of Muddy Summers, Doozer always puts on a good show despite often being on early in the day with smaller crowds. He's releasing I Think Politicians Should Be Put On Minimum Wage as a single just before the general election. Would be great to see it chart, so get your copy!


Next came one of the most anticipated acts for us. Firepit Collective is the brainchild of the hugely talented Jay Terrestrial of Inner Terrestrials fame and was born out of jams around fires and a love of resistance songs and folk roots from Europe and the New World.

You rarely get the same act twice with FC. Guest musicians drift in and out as they are available and the sound ebbs and flows with them but the core has always been Jay and Chesney Newman up to now. So it was disappointing to learn that Chez was away in Spain and we were to be denied his effortlessly complex Bouzouki on this occasion. The set was still superb though and crowd-pleasers like Deep Sea and Hanging Jonny were lapped up as greedily as ever by us fans. The debut studio album To The Lost is quite simply one of the finest works I've ever come across; a beautiful collection of new and traditional songs and melodies, moving, evocative and uplifting and if you haven't got a copy you are seriously missing out.


Before Pure Evil took to the stage we were treated to a moving set of poems performed by the writer Bethany Gee. Putting yourself in front of a bunch of strangers to reveal deeply personal thoughts and feelings is never an easy thing to do but she really pulled it off and the smile as she took her bow to cheers and applause was priceless. I'll admit to not taking to Pure Evil in the past and we grabbed an opportunity to take a little break from the music during their set and get some food and drink. But something about the raucous, rockabilly, bluesy rock and roll hit the mark this time as it drifted over to us and I'll certainly be paying more attention during their next appearance.

They were followed by festival favourites Tarantism - one of the best band names I've ever come across. Fronted by Mel Rogers and her brilliant whistle-play and folky vocals, the eclectic styles - sometimes rocky, sometimes reggae, always entertaining - really work for me and I always look forward to fun numbers like Tent Up and We Drank The Leveller's Rider.





No Something Else festival is complete without a turn from either Gaz Brookfield or Funke And The Two Tone Baby - often both. With Gaz on tour on the near continent, in this case it was the latter; Dan Turnbull's crazy, pedal-looping maze of sound, pumping out his high-energy, unique take on blues. You've probably never heard anything like it before but chances are Bella's Kiss and Cannonball will be ringing in your ears afterwards and the man in the hat will have you coming back for more.

It was about a year ago we first heard Leatherat and we were instantly smitten by the powerful rocky folk sound so closely allied to the original Levellers sound. Another festival mainstay for many years, we weren't the only ones keenly anticipating their performance, but it was to be another cut down experience. With talented fiddle-player Jono Watts on holiday (again!) and an acoustic lineup left to do the honours, many of the superb tracks from their brilliant last album, Snake Eyes, were missing from the set. What was left was delivered with customary raucous verve and gaps in songs like Rocky Road To Dublin were filled by a whole orchestra of, only mildly sarcastic, air fiddles from the audience at the front. This was where the dancing started in earnest! Leatherat was made for mad leaping about.

 Another quick break followed for us - a chance to top up on some of the superb beers and ciders available at the main tent (not to mention a nibble of top quality cake). For me the Spirit Of Warren James is the perfect pint and is an integral part of the whole Something Else experience. Named after a freeminer of the Forest Of Dean, a man instrumental in the fight to restore the rights of freeminers eroded during the industrial revolution. Freemining persists in some form to this day although Warren James himself paid dearly for his part in the miners' refusal to bow to commercial and political pressure. The Spirit Of Warren James By Gail Something-Else.

I'll admit it came as a bit of a surprise to me to learn that Les Carter's Abdoujaparov project has been around over 16 years. This and the whole Carter USM thing has never really been on my radar and, despite seeing the act quite a few times now, I'm struggling to warm to the band's sound. I guess I just like things a bit folkier these days. Les himself is of course a joy to meet and seems to have a permanent grin on his face. He is now doing sterling service with another Something Else festival mainstay, Ferocious Dog, sadly missing from this year's line-ups as they relentlessly tour and cast their festival net wider, continuing their steady rise in popularity.

So to the headliners. 3 Daft Monkeys are another long-running festival band with a strong following who pick up new fans every time they play. We were with a first timer at Boomtown last year who didn't like folk music and didn't dance. 3 Daft Monkeys proved him wrong on both counts. The music has a deep traditional folk basis but injects gypsy rhythms and innovative twists to create a beguilingly unique sound with lyrics inspired by tall tales from the band's home county of Cornwall. A fairly early curfew meant a fairly short set so the band kept it up tempo throughout with favourites old and new and we were all a sweaty danced-out mess by the end. Through the whirling orgy I thought I could detect more virtuoso fiddle than usual from the genius fingers of Athene, warmed by mittens donated from the crowd as she'd been feeling the cold.

It was a great way to end a great beginning. OK so this time of year can be a bit chilly, we had a little rain late in the evening and there were some teething issues with the stage's new sounds system. But none of this troubled the assembled party-goers. The debut of the Something Else Solar Stage was a great success, so much so that the event will be repeated next year as a warm up party for the season, which is what it proved to be this year. The original Something Else In The Dean festival in September grew out of the end of season party for the tea tent crew and it is kind of fitting that Something Else events will now mark the beginning and end of the festival season. Long may they continue!

A huge thanks to Danny Garton for allowing me to use his superb photos of the event in this article.