By Stu Vincent
August 2018 Hillbilly Boogie
Well, my turn to write a blog article seems to have come round rather quickly but time flies by when you’re having fun, right? So.. what’s been happening?
Oh yes: in the last blog I introduced the ‘goggles’ picture - some have said that I ‘cut quite a dash’ in this picture (very kind) – others have asked if I have taken up welding (unkind but understandable). Anyway, as I explained in the last blog, I am trying to convert my swimming style from ‘failure to drown’ to something more efficient and have had a modicum of success but have yet to achieve ‘graceful’… I fear that I may never achieve graceful but that’s OK.
In the last Hillbilly Boogie blog I wrote about the Northampton Music Festival which is a free one-day multi-stage music event taking place in my home town. In this fabulous jamboree, I was thrilled to see Gregg Cave host a reunion of his superb band CAVE, loved the very smooth sounds of the Wellingborough-based Cool Jazz Collective and was enthralled by That Joe Payne; but the band that really made a huge impression on me were Sarpa Salpa (who do not currently have a website, here is a link to their Spotify page).
So what was it that impressed me so much?
Before I go on, I need to make a confession as I was taught that honesty is the best policy.
I can look at my CD shelves in the Man Cave, the CD shelves in the living room or the bag of CDs in the boot of my car for rotation in the CD changer (not forgetting the downloads that I have been sent and bought) and I would pride myself at having an eclectic taste in music; but watching Sarpa Salpa (metaphorically) stuck me on my ‘sit-upon’.
I realised that, while I was going to the my favourite venues such as The Stables in Wavendon and the South Holland Centre in Spalding, I was not looking at (and listening to) what was right under my nose…and ears. Sarpa Salpa are a young band playing self-written music very well with a sound that is fast-tracked to hit my ears’ Happy Button. I also realised that, while I was going out and supporting live music, I was not supporting live music in my own town enough and that I was clearly missing out on some very good local music. That’s embarrassing to admit but it is important to me that I acknowledge this and I wonder if there are others, like me, on the other side of 60 (or younger!) who might say the same? With this in mind, when I saw the announcements for Twinfest Northampton and that Sarpa Salpa would be playing then I knew that I would have an opportunity to begin to rectify this situation.
Some background to Twinfest:
Northampton has two twin towns: Marburg in Germany and Poitiers in France.
Each town hosts an event which features local music musicians – Twinfest in Northampton, MaNo in Marburg and Les Expressifs in Poitiers. Les Expressifs differs from Twinfest and MaNo in that Les Expressifs is a wider-ranging arts festival in Poitiers of which music plays just one part but these three events are intertwined. Les Expressifs takes place in October.
MaNo is an event which takes place in March and is very similar to Twinfest in that its focus is on music and takes place across a number of venues within Marburg but it is on a larger scale. MaNo features 70 bands from Marburg (yes, seventy!) plus 10 bands from its twin towns of Northampton, Poitiers, Sfax (Tunisia), Sibiu (Romania), Maribor (Slovenia) and Eisenach in “Eastern Germany”. Over the three days, bands will play in 10 bars across Marburg.
Twinfest is a smaller event in that each day, the bands played at a different venue in Northampton. The opening event took place in the magnificent Guildhall in the centre of Northampton. Such a prestigious venue for the opening night of Twinfest was due the support of the former Mayor of Northampton, Councillor Gareth Eales. As part of the mayoral role, the mayor is allowed to nominate two bodies to use the Great Hall for an event and Twinfest was chosen as one of those. Councillor Eales: Thank you!
Friday night was hosted at The Lamplighter which has been very supportive of Twinfest. Saturday was hosted at The Pomfret Arms and Sunday at The Black Prince. Each of these venues is very close to the town centre and each has excellent facilities to host live music. To anyone looking at The Lamplighter, The Pomfret Arms and The Black Prince from the outside would be forgiven for wondering where the bands might play but appearances can be deceptive and the gardens behind the pubs had stages and gave plenty of room for people to meet and enjoy the music. The UK has been enjoying a very hot summer and the weather finally broke on Saturday afternoon just after the music was scheduled to move from the outdoor stage to the ‘barn’ stage (move of that later) so the music continued unabated. The weather on Sunday was forecast to be variable but The Black Prince had an indoor stage so – again – nothing stopped the music (or people gathering in the garden between showers).
This year’s Twinfest was the 23rd and 92 bands applied to appear at Twinfest. While bands from across the country applied, Twinfest looks to support musicians within Northampton and the county and, given the generous support of the Northampton Community Foundation, this is entirely appropriate. Note: for bands wishing to appear in Twinfest 2019, applications are likely to be invited from around March 2019. Speaking to Bee Precious, one of the Twinfest organisers, I commented upon the wide variety of genres represented at Twinfest and she replied that Twinfest were keen to see the event become even more diverse… are there any young Folk, Bluegrass, Barbershop Quartets out there? (but you’ll need to be good!).
Earlier on in this article, I mention my delight at hearing excellent, original music coming from a Northampton band and realising that, despite probably being nearly as old as their grandad, we were not that far apart in our musical appreciation.
At this point I am going to refer you to a comprehensive review from my friends at New Boots (an online Northampton-based music magazine). The reason being, as I mentioned before, my familiarity with almost all of the bands playing was virtually non-existent but the review of Twinfest 2018 by New Boots gives a day-by-day, band-by-band review of the entire four days (plus some fantastic photographs by David Jackson). To some, this may seem an odd approach but, as I said to the good people of New Boots, their knowledge of the bands is far better than mine and my article is more my reflection on Twinfest.
So, on Thursday night with a bottle filled with ice and water I made my way up the steps of the Guildhall dodging proud families taking pictures of their recently-graduated children & siblings who – quite naturally – were using the neo-gothic splendour of the Guildhall for their photographs rather than the front of the nearby Derngate Theatre where the graduation ceremony had taken place.
Having been to the Guildhall to hear presentations and run training courses and to get married (!), it was fun to attend to listen to music.
Keiron Farrow started the evening and quickly had the audience’s attention throughout his set. On Thursday night, the temperature at 7pm was still around 30 degree Centigrade and rousing a crowd who were visibly wilting from the heat is a tough job but Keiron did precisely that.
Following Keiron were the first of the visiting bands – HYLL from Marburg and they really set the tone of Twinfest for me. I had seen a YouTube clip of HYLL so knew (more or less) what to expect though their description of themselves as ‘Desert Rock’ had me intrigued.
‘Intrigued’ quickly turned into ‘blow away’.
Old hands, like me, will be familiar with any number of ‘power trios’ – Rush and ZZ Top immediately spring to mind – where, despite there being just three members, that’s definitely the magic number.
HYLL gave me the same reaction as Sarpa Salpa did at the Northampton Music Festival; essentially: Pay attention or you’ll be missing some good stuff!
I confessed to feeling sorry for any of the bands that had to follow HYLL as, in my opinion, they set the bar very high indeed and continued to do so throughout the weekend.
Following HYLL on Thursday night were Drinsipa, The Flims from Marburg, Mantras from Poitiers, Sarpa Salpa with The Barratts closing proceedings.
As with any multi-stage/multi-day event, I did not expect that all of the bands playing would be to my taste – that is just the nature of such an event - but every band that I saw gave 100% to their audience despite some sweltering temperatures. Neither did I get to see as many bands as I would have liked to have done through a combination of other commitments early in the following day and a much-abused knee which demanded ice & elevation.
I sadly missed the Friday night at The Lamplighter.
Saturday began with bright sunshine with rain forecast later but the fates were kind to Twinfest as it took over The Pomfret Arms. This is another of the deceptively large pubs in Northampton that have a reputation for putting on great music.
The extensive garden at the back had a stage and plenty of tables and seating for all – a fantastic atmosphere. Music was scheduled from 12:00 midday until 1:00am and it was planned that the music would move into the barn (in the garden) in the
late afternoon; the timing was good. As HYLL took the stage in the barn the heavens opened after a scorching two or three weeks of extremely hot weather. Not surprisingly, those that might have listened to the band from outside the barn took shelter inside and thus created the set of the weekend for me.
Word had spread about HYLL’s sets so there was a strong crowd and the barn was packed. Towards the end of the set the crowd were encouraged to crouch down and then lift up the guitarist, Martin Wunderkind.
To say that the crowd were bouncing is an understatement – it was (shall we say) extremely boisterous and reminded me of seeing early punk bands in the 70’s but was more good-natured. After taking this shot, my camera was put away for a while as certain amount of beer was flying. I loved it!
After HYLL, came Mantras from Poitiers. I had heard them speaking about their lap steel guitar and wondered if there might be something more akin to what I play on Hillbilly Boogie but that was not to be the case. After speaking with Pierre, he explained that Mantras play 70s influenced blues/rock and that he would be playing this on the lap steel – like Robert Randolph? I asked – Pierre was not familiar with Robert Randolph so may be the young man went home and investigated the old man’s suggestion, who knows?
I was particularly impressed with the improvised lap-steel stand used by Pierre – yes – an ironing board; low cost and 100% effective.
One of the surprises of Saturday at The Pomfret Arms was Leo Robinson – a rapper from Northampton.
Leo had been scheduled to play a set on Friday at The Lamplighter but technical issues caused the set to be postponed until Saturday.
I have not listened to much rap at all other than that which my grandson has played. Leo’s reputation is growing in his genre and it is easy to see why. He is a confident and clear performer and a very articulate young man who was well received by The Pomfret Arms audience.
Sunday: Because of the weather, all sets on Sunday took place on the indoor stage at The Black Prince. For us, the day started a little later than planned but we arrived in time to see the end of The Keepers’ set and then King Purple’s splendid set.
As we approached I was expecting to see a group of ‘old hands’ putting out some evocative psychedelia but this was not the case. Whether their parents had some very interesting record collections or King Purple had delved into the vaults, I don’t know – maybe both – but, once again, I was left very impressed by the musicianship and the performance.
Having missed a number of bands I was determined to see as many sets as possible but it just did not happen – but for good reasons.
We bumped into Joe Payne who, by now, will have made an announcement regarding…well…. you will have to go to his website and find out more but it will be exciting and an opportunity to hear his incredible voice.
We also bumped into friends who we had not seen for two or three years! Such is the way of things but it gave us an opportunity to catch up on life, for me to have a conversation with Bee from Twinfest and Antje from MaNo… but I did catch the end of HYLL’s last set, I HAD to!
So what did Twinfest mean to me?
As I said that the beginning, I realised that I was missing a great deal of very good music through a misconception and (if truth be told) laziness. I am embarrassed to admit that but there it is.
Did I see as many bands as I had planned to? – No (slight sulk)
Have I written about all of the bands that I saw? – No – I wanted to give a flavour of my weekend at Twinfest Northampton and would repeat my suggestion to read the blow-by-blow review from New Boots.
Did I enjoy Twinfest Northampton – more than I expected to
Would I recommend Twinfest Northampton – Yes, definitely – and would encourage Northamptonshire bands to submit their applications next Spring.
Did I have fun? – Definitely….and lots of it
Will I be going to MaNo? – seriously considering it!
There are many but I could not have written this without some of these lovely people and Twinfest could not have taken place without them:
Bee & Kenny Precious and Paul Brown – the organisers of Twinfest Northampton
Antje – one of the organisers of MaNo in Marburg who came over to Northampton
Sound engineers: Jan, Maddie, Christian and Tom Stilgoe (of Get Loud)
Theresa (Marburg) – one of the festival photographers
Former Mayor of Northampton, Councillor Gareth Eales for his incredible support of Twinfest and for enabling the Guildhall to be used for the opening night of Twinfest.
The Northampton Community Foundation who, once again, supported TwinFest
The countless volunteers who enable every event wherever you may go – some you never see but you would surely miss them if they were not there
Kingsthorpe Jazz for their fine photographs and videos and for the permission to use some of their photographs in this blog.
New Boots and David Jackson for permission to link to their review of Twinfest and for the permission to use some of their photographs in this blog.
All references to Northampton are Northampton in the U.K. and not that Johnny-Come-Lately in Massachusetts.
All photographs are mine except those specifically credited to the photographer