Switch off your phone and dance – and put to shame by 60-year olds!

Kabal Where?house Party, 22nd March 2014, Dan’s Birthday Bash, 12th April 2014, Black Market, Warsop – sorry, another mammoth post!

At the end of last month, I went to a Kabal party, with my friend Angelina. We’ve known each other for ten years this year, which is a truly scary thought, and since we were twenty-somethings, we’ve worked together, and enjoyed wonderful experiences, holidays, meals and night out. Angelina has become an amazing dance teacher, and I now run my own writing business. We’ve come a long way together!

Hands in the air at Kabal

Hands in the air at Kabal

Eight years ago, we ended up at our first Kabal party, in an old chapel in Walkley, and loved the atmosphere of no-nonsense dance music in a friendly environment. We’ve made close friends there, and both fell in love with the music of the down-to-earth house music legend Winston Hazel, his infectious rhythms and dancing with his vinyl. The nights were sporadic, and in unlikely, secret locations – the old funeral parlour was a favourite of mine, the legendary Yellow Arch Studios, and the basement of the Ethiopian restaurant, with its candle-lit corners; upstairs rooms in pubs transformed into red-velvet lined boudoirs. At first, the parties were a closely-guarded secret, attended by older ravers and dance music enthusiasts, with enough space to enjoy ourselves. Toddla T, now absolutely massive, was originally one of the resident DJs, taken under the wing of Winston Hazel and Pipes. That’s when the parties started to get a bit out of hand, with students turning up in droves. to avoid becoming a victim of its own success, Kabal went underground again – open to everyone, but info is only given out via its email list, so you have to know someone to be “in the know”.

A few weeks ago, the Kabal night was held in the old Dog and Partridge pub in Attercliffe. A very strange coincidence, as I’ve been editing the memoirs of the ex-landlady of this infamous Sheffield landmark. In the 1950s, it was a busy pub in a booming district, but after the decline of the the steel industry, the “Dog” also fell on hard times and eventually became a strip club, and most recently, apparently, a cannabis-growing factory! The large upstairs rooms were dimly lit, and draped in the trademark Kabal red curtains. We got there quite early and made ourselves at home, dancing around with lots of space, as the venue started to fill up.

As more people arrived, we started to feel old! Lots of younger clubbers were in force, and the room glowed with the screens of many smartphones. We laughed to each other. Our phones had remained firmly in our handbags since we’d caught our taxi. What do they need a phone for, unless they’re giving directions to a friend lost en-route? Are they busy Tweeting each other about what a good time they’re having? Are they actually having a conversation via text, standing next to each other? Nobody was dancing with their ass (except us). Back in our day… But the music gradually took hold and people put their phones in their pockets, threw wilder shapes and partied like it was 1988 again (scarily, the younger ravers wouldn’t have even have been born then, and I suppose I can’t talk, I was about to start secondary school, and I actually liked Bros!) It was a great night, and a few of the old faithful were in force, but in the taxi home, we couldn’t help feeling a little sad at the rise of a new generation, feeling more tired than we used to do in the small hours of the morning.

But should we give up, and give ourselves over solely to dinner parties and talk of car insurance, interior decorating and cavity wall insulation? A few weeks later, I had the answer.

The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican - featuring special guest Justin Bieber!

The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican – featuring special guest Justin Bieber!

My friend Ben invited me to an all-day festival at the Black Market venue in Warsop, in deepest, darkest Nottinghamshire. A former working men’s club in the heart of the old Notts coalfield, it’s become the HQ of rapidly rising folk rock band Ferocious Dog, as the event was to celebrate fiddle player Dan’s birthday. It was an incredible line-up. I’ve known Ben since the first ever Bearded Theory festival in 2008, where we were next door neighbours, together with his friends Steve and Phil. Ben was in his early twenties then, and Steve and Phil were well into their fifties – and twins, who are still partying, even though they are now into their sixties.

I was dressed in my festival finery – psychedelic spandex leggings and a Levellers t-shirt. The horn beeped, and Ben and I stepped outside to see Steve, at the wheel of a huge VW camper van, resplendent in cheesecloth shirt, long curly beard and patchouli oil! We arrived in style.

We warmed up slowly, chatting, drinking real ale, and watching acoustic acts. It was reassuring that a a good proportion of the audience was older than me, old punks and hippies together. We chatted about festivals, and when the music on the main stage started, had a little dance to Brad Dear, a talented young songwriter, reminiscent of Frank Turner. A few pints in already, and we visited the excellent chip shop in Warsop, handily located opposite the venue, and sat eating them in the sunshine.

It might have been the beer, but I was highly entertained by a punk covers band Colon Zamboni (for an embarrassing moment from the bar, which is a long way away, I actually thought that their singer was Dave Vanian from the Damned!) And a brilliant set by the Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican, one of the finest things to come out of Barnsley! I was looking forward to punk stalwarts Goldblade, but they didn’t get off to a good start, with singer John Robb losing his temper and storming off-stage because he didn’t think his microphone was working (it was!). A few minutes later, he was coaxed back on, and he invited several delighted hard-core fans to dance onstage with the band for most of the gig, increasing the feel-good factor quite a bit! A few songs in, and most of the audience had forgiven and forgotten the whole incident!

More hands in the air at Ferocious Dog!

More hands in the air at Ferocious Dog!

Ferocious Dog put on a great show. It was the first time I’d seen them, and I was really impressed by the combination of punk rock guitars, frantic fiddle and lyrics from the heart, several songs about the tragic suicide of singer Ken Bonsall’s son Lee i 2012, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, following his time in the army, the song, The Glass, leaving Ken unable to sing and in tears. It was a moving moment, in a rowdy, emotion-filled gig. Ferocious Dog have built up a passionate following, nicknamed the Hellhounds. The band have been going for a long time, but they are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

After grabbing a chip butty (more chips, I know!), I returned to watch 3 Daft Monkeys, who have been a festival favourite of mine for almost ten years. I would have preferred to see them on the big stage, but playing on the smaller stage at the side of the hall, they gathered a good crowd, swaying along and waltzing each other around. They are a brilliant live band, always enjoyable and lots of fun.

I love Dreadzone, and I’ve loved them for nearly twenty years, but by this time, my feet and legs were screaming at me to let them sit down. Ben did sit down, blaming a dodgy knee, but I soldiered on, attempting to dance with my pint of cider, but eyeing the comfy chair by the side of the sound booth throughout their set! While we were struggling, veteran twins Steve and Phil were still at the front, bopping around for all they were worth.

It was a brilliant day, but my legs have got to do some work before they’re ready for festival season. Glastonbury will involve vast distances, and stewarding’s always hard work on the legs, even if it’s muddy. Enjoying yourself can be hard work, but it’s worth it, and getting older is no reason to stop. I might drink less than I used to do (honest!), and sometimes pace myself a bit more, but I hope that I’m out and having fun for as long as possible. One day, those eighteen year old clubbers will be older too. Approaching middle-age is no reason to stop having fun and sometimes behaving disgracefully!

(As long as we’re back home to pay the mortgage / weed the flowerbeds / clean the bathroom / bake some scones / grow some basil / look after the kids / cut our partners’ hair. One day we’ll take off into the sunset with that campervan, even if we’re in our seventies by that point!)

Still rockin' out! Tam o'shanter style!

Still rockin’ out! Tam o’shanter style!


All things bright and beautiful!

After WOMAD, I had a few weeks of catching up with “real” life – which thankfully isn’t as “real” as it used to be! Making fairies out of pipe-cleaners, talking to elderly people about fairgrounds and editing novels and getting paid for it is quite a lot more pleasant than sorting out someone’s flooded basement or clogged up shower. Early August is Lammas time, the ancient festival of the wheat harvest, and a good time to take stock of what I’ve achieved over the year! I’ve pleasantly surprised myself. Just before Beautiful Days last year, I’d reached the bottom of my overdraft – and I had a full-time job. This year, I’m keeping myself afloat, and I’ve completed one of my first novel editing projects. My networking and making links with people and organisations is working. I’m enjoying life a lot more than I used to, and I feel that I can be “me” all the time, even in a “work” situation.

It was time to travel to the next festival on my list, Beautiful Days. I was volunteering as a steward for Oxfam again. Luckily, I got a lift this time, with a lovely lady called Caroline, who was driving all the way from Newcastle! The drive went very smoothly, and by the late afternoon, we arrived at Escot Park near Exeter. We were welcomed warmly onto the site, and given our pink wristbands. The only problem was that it was tipping down with rain, so it was on with wellies and cagoules for the first trip to the campsite.

The Beautiful Days campsite is shared with other staff and artists. It’s the Levellers’ own festival, and as I’m easily impressed, it’s great to be sharing a field and its portaloos with celebrities! Not the sort of celebrities who miraculously have cellulite in Heat! magazine, but people who’ve entertained me at festivals and whose albums and books have influenced me. Famous people I’ve queued for a shower with at Beautiful Days this year include: Simon Friend from the Levellers, John Robb from Goldblade, who’s also a top music journalist. John Robb coined the term “Britpop” apparently! He also goes into the shower without a towel – very rock ‘n’ roll! I also saw the singer from 3 Daft Monkeys, who are on tour this autumn!

Away from the glamour and excitement of the crew field showers, I settled myself into Lazyland – my friends’ event shelter, which makes a lovely hub for stewards to camp and gather together. Many a pleasant hour was whiled away at Lazyland at Beautiful Days, drinking cider, painting my nails, waiting for henna tattoos to dry and chatting with friends new and old. There was also a small gathering of stewards after the briefing, and the vegan chocolate and banana cake went down very well. The first night was a great opportunity to relax and chat.

Thursday afternoon was spent having a pleasant wander around the site in the sunshine, taking photos, shopping and exploring. I was due to start work stewarding the kids’ field at 9pm, so I took it easy in Lazyland. The first shift went well – it was very quiet, but we made friends with the people running the welfare tent. They gave me a challenge – a lady in the welfare tent gave me a tea bag, and I’ve got to keep swapping it until I get something amazing. Apparently one bloke ended up with a piece of land eventually! Over the course of the festival, I upgraded to a pack of glow-sticks and I will keep you posted on what I end up with!

On Friday, I got to see the Levellers’ acoustic set, which always happens on Friday afternoon of every Beautiful Days. The big top was packed. I managed to meet up with one of my oldest school friends, Mary, who now lives in Exeter. It was brilliant to meet up. Before starting work again, I saw Sam Lee & Friends and really enjoyed it. It was quiet and atmospheric. I was lucky enough to be working at the theatre stage on Friday evening. I caught a bit of “An Evening of Trance and Rap”, which was a comedy performance about a Victorian seance! A stand-up night followed, starring Robin Ince. I had a little chat with Robin Ince before he started his show, and as we had a full house, I was able to watch a lot of his performance. It was very funny, but I did have to chase the buggy driver for a replacement radio battery! He thought I just wasn’t listening to the radio as I was engrossed in the show. After the theatre tent closed, we were sent over to the Big Top, where Clannad were just starting. It was beautiful, but a bit too ethereal and “wafty” for me, but it certainly beat wandering around between fire towers on the campsite, which was my job last year.

Saturday was my chance to see as much music as possible, as I was on the night-shift, starting at midnight. Unfortunately, the grey skies gave way to rain before I left the campsite. Despite the rain, Goldblade put on a cracking set of no-nonsense punk – and even made the rain stop for a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was pretty aquatic for The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican’s slot on the Band Stand, but they didn’t let the rain put them off their set of hilarious Barnsley-related songs. I particularly enjoyed the one about Sean Bean always dying before the end of a film. It’s true – he never makes it to the end! I met up with Mary and her friends after the gig and although it had stopped raining, John Robb’s scheduled interview with Miles Hunt from the Wonderstuff had been moved into the bar next door. We missed it, even though we were standing next to it!

After faffing around in the campsite for a while, it was time to see another South Yorkshire band, 65daysofstatic. Definitely not a comedy band this time, their post-rock soundscapes were perfect for the damp, overcast skies. I stayed at the main stage for the rest of the night. This is something that happens to me a lot at Beautiful Days – the music they programme is so good that I usually stay put, partying with my fellow Oxfam Stewards. I was really impressed with the next band, The Living End, an Australian band who combine a rockabilly double-bass with metal riffs ranging from AC/DC influences to Rage Against the Machine. They put on a really great live show.

The Wonderstuff are one of my favourite bands. I’ve loved them since the very early 90s – or possibly the late 80s, when they first emerged onto the “Grebo” scene. They’re often compared to the Levellers with their folky sound and fiddle-led riffs (the stunning Erica Nockalls has now replaced the original fiddle-player, Martin Bell), but their sound is much more indie, with wah-wah laden guitars. They play a great set and seem very much at home at Beautiful Days.

Main stage Headliners Primal Scream are a band who’ve constantly evolved, embracing electronica and Stones-referencing rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve seen them many times live, and the experience can be hit and miss. Their performance of the Screamadelica album at Glastonbury 2011 was akin to a religious experience, but at Glastonbury 2005, singer Bobby Gillespie was drunk, incoherent and abusive on stage and ended up getting escorted away by security guards! It was very entertaining though. So before Primal Scream get on stage at Beautiful Days, I hope and pray that Bobby’s on form this time. And he is. The band pull off an awesome set, with songs from the new album sounding great alongside old classics. Bobby has been complaining about the commercialisation of festivals recently, but he must have approved of the anti-corporate, DiY feel of Beautiful Days and gave us a show we deserved. I had to tear myself away after a mind-blowing version of Loaded and I made my way up to the Oxbox (the Oxfam stewarding office) to start my shift. Here’s a review of the gig by John Robb himself: http://louderthanwar.com/primal-scream-beautiful-days-festival-live-review/

We were “response” stewards, so we were pleasantly surprised to be sent to the dance tent and in charge of the silent disco between 2-5am. It was great fun watching people sing and dance to music we couldn’t hear – with off-key singing and people in various interesting states! After 5am, we were sent to the deserted kids’ field again. The highlight of that part of the shift was chatting to a lady from folk band Moulettes, who were playing the next day. She was a bit worse for wear but we had an interesting conversation about creativity. The shift ended with me struggling to keep my eyes open in the Oxfam marquee, reading Grazia magazine to the stewards. Eventually, the shift came to an end and I stumbled into bed! That was my last shift and I took proud possession of my souvenir Oxfam badge.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny – but with annoying heavy showers, so I got soaked in the shower queue! At least it was refreshing. I put on my leopard-print finery for the “animals” fancy dress theme, in a tribute to the Manic Street Preachers! The feather boa was a bit hot though, and shed enough feathers on the grass that one bloke asked me if I’d eaten a crow. We kicked off the day with Citizen Fish, a classic ska punk band with radical politics. We stayed around for 90s festival favourites Dodgy, whose music matched the sunshine. I missed the amazing Babylon Circus to see Dudley Sutton again – a fantastic veteran actor and performer, most famous as Tinker in Lovejoy. He put on a fantastic show and got a standing ovation, but the heat and darkness of the theatre tent had me struggling to keep my eyes open as I’d not had too much sleep after my night shift. After Dudley’s performance, I headed to the Big Top and caught the last song by the Moulettes. I was really impressed – and the fiddle player I’d been chatting to at 6am was very talented and looked beautiful.

I joined my friends at the main stage again. They were watching Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebel. It was all a bit jazzy and one of my friends said that life was too short for all the noodling around – but eventually, they played Make me Smile, which got the audience dancing again. The Skatalites are one of the original Jamaican ska bands and they had the crowd skanking from the very start in the last warmth of the evening sun. It was the perfect summer set, with the band and audience bathed in a lovely golden glow. Imelda May was a pleasant surprise. She was far better than I thought she was going to be – there was a real rockabilly vibe, the songs were really catchy and she’s a sexy, engaging performer – definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

The Levellers‘ headline set on Sunday evening was excellent. The Levellers have come a long way since they formed 25 years ago. Their discography is as long as your arm and they’re one of the hardest-gigging bands in the business. I’ve seen them more than thirty times. I’ll work out how many times exactly one day. It made meeting up with Mary all the more poignant, as it’s twenty years since we first saw the Levellers, in Leicester. Not much has changed, certainly not the energy of the gigs, but the band are more rugged, although singer Mark Chadwick wasn’t wearing his hat, proving he’s not thin on top!

Apart from trivial details like hairlines, the Levellers have stayed at the forefront of protest culture, supporting the SchNews alternative newspaper for years and speaking out on issues close to their hearts. They’ve supported up and coming musicians at their studio, the Metway in Brighton. Setting up the Beautiful Days festival in 2003 was a brilliant move – its reputation for quality music, great atmosphere and a sponsorship free zone now attracts people who haven’t even heard of the Levellers – and they’re often blown away by their performances and the passion of their fans. The Levellers now have three generations of fans – there are people who’ve grown up listening to their music and embracing their free-spirited philosophies. Beautiful Days is a festival where tribes gather in harmony: punk, hippy, folk and indie, and become one family. How many other bands can claim such a legacy?

It was another classic gig, but the night-shift had caught up with me and even the spectacular fireworks couldn’t revive me. It was time for bed. I went to sleep with the sounds of the backstage bar in the background, wishing I had the energy to party, but happy to have experienced another great festival.

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