harvest festival, brighton

I'd never been to Brighton before. It's a nice town. I arrived early on a sunny Sunday morning. Had a big breakfast at a sea-front café that kept me going all day. Then over to Jonny's place.

Jonny and Nathan are the impresarios behind today's events. I have a car. And they've got lots of gear to shift. It takes three trips. Louise rushes off to sort out covers for the free cdr that each punter is to receive. You can sense that it's all being done on a wing and a prayer. Somehow you know everything's going to be fine in the end.

The venue? A most unusual affair, the Hanbury Arms Ballroom. They tell us to go outside while they polish the wooden dance-floor. It has no windows except for the glass in the dome on the roof above. The décor is a Victorian take on Eastern mysticism. In keeping with Brighton Pavilion, perhaps.

A lot of hanging about while sound-checks are done, then people start arriving. Tables and chairs have been arranged on the dance-floor with candles on each table. Quite atmospheric really. A condition of admittance is the bearing of some gift (a tin of food, fruit or vegetables) for a local homeless charity. The collection around the specially commissioned Harvest Festival loaf grows impressively.

Jonny comes over and says "You're on." Me. The Fabulous Nobody. I haven't sound-checked. Now I'm plugging my guitar into some amplifier I've never seen before. Let's get this show started. It seems to go well. No-one throws any bottles at me. Always a good sign. For one song Louise comes on stage with her recorder. She'd only heard some recordings the night before. She worked out a part that she plays beautifully. It must be nice to be that talented.

The place is filling up nicely. Birdengine are on next. One Lawrie Tilbury the Third is the mastermind behind this act. He's a tape manipulation genius but this time he's showing us what he can do with a guitar. He has an accompanying cellist who is a very charming young lady. Very quickly becomes the object of several crushes. The instruments interweave like the DNA double helix. Plaintive singing seals the deal. This is really good, for a couple of songs each they do solo. They're really at their best complementing each other. Occasionally finding some surprise unrealised angle into the listeners' heart. Loud appeals but no encore.

The ballroom is quite full. The bar is doing a roaring trade. The pile of offerings at the front of the stage has become a sprawling mass. Between bands there's various DJs. One chap brought his own system. A children's toy turntable. It works too: conceptually and practically. A microphone on the little garish plastic speaker. Bob's your Uncle. This DJ goes by the name of The Bleeding Hearts Club, I think. I like his style anyway.

Jonny says each act has to introduce one of the others. It's my job to announce Blanket. That's easy. I've heard them before. All I need to do is tell everyone how wonderful the next band will be. They'll do the rest. I can't think of anything terribly witty to say. How to classify Banket? Tried a few labels for size. The only one that fits is "very good." Singer Vicki looks like a model in between assignments. A highly distinctive and lovely voice. The chaps in the backroom are unassuming talents. Deftly employ a range of instruments. They do Dirty Water. If flood, fire and pestilence struck right now, this would still be the best gig I've been to in ages.

Breathlessly, Oddfellows Casino arrive. Set up quickly. They've been busy elsewhere. It's good to have them here now. They premiere a film and live performance soundtrack. The film's about a chap called Oddfellow. It's in black and white. It's silent. It's been made on the most modest of budgets. The screen behind the stage is rolled down. Lights are dimmed. The film is oddly affecting. The music accompanies the film beautifully. Is this to the detriment of the band itself? They're polished and professional. The horns and strings provide dissonant delights. But it's the film itself that leaves the lasting impact.

The place is heaving. It's like sardines. Jonny has astutely scheduled his band now. The Stars of Aviation. They're a ten-piece. The stage is too small for them. The bass player stands off to one side. I once saw one of their worst ever gigs. Still rather enjoyed it. This isn't one of their worst gigs. They peak when they do The French Song. Accordion, gallic lyrics and lovely melody. They encourage a bit of audience participation and are rewarded with raucous enthusiasm. So many instruments. Includes trumpet and violin. It might be difficult to pull everything together. No. All the elements hook up for a brilliant set.

It's getting rather late. It's been a long day. Tomorrow's Monday. A few people head off home. Good Morning Captain sound-checked about nine hours ago. Have patiently waited their turn. The quartet arrange themselves around a bright upwardly pointing light. Huddling around an un-flickering camp-fire in the desert in the chill of the night. The music is intense. Densely woven instrumentals brood darkly on weighty matters. It's not exactly easy listening. But all who stayed are rewarded. Clamour for more when they're finished.

The lights are back up. People drift away reluctantly. I hang around for a while chatting. Know that very likely I'll never meet them again. Everybody has been wonderful. The audience, the bands, the people running this unusual venue. Life should be like this more often. There's an offer of a bed for the night. No. Like the undead I must return to home soil before sunrise. I drive like a maniac from the Sussex coast back to the northern wastelands. Reflect on a day that I'll always remember. While I can still remember anything at all. (Laurence)


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