Thursday, 31 August 2006

Frank Sidebottom - North Bar, Blackburn

frank sidebottom

north bar blackburn 31st august

Sometimes as you get older, things change, or you view things in a different way from how you did 10 years ago. This thought passed through my mind one night as I drank a pint of Guiness not too far from where I am right now. Pondering how I would react to witnessing the one, the only Frank Sidebottom later this evening. As a regular visitor to Blackburn in the past, Frank Sidebottoms Timperly Lectures were something to look forward to in the cold winter months of the mid 90's.

This is now 2006, we are older, but is Frank? A man who performs in a large papier mache head, pretending to be a superstar, speaking as though wearing a clothes peg on his nose (his real one, not the hand painted pretend one), and singing familiar songs but with reworked lyrics. An act full of in jokes and ridiculous routines, an act so strange it is almost impossible to explain, you have to see it to believe it.

That brings us to a wet Thursday evening on the last day of August, cramed into the North Bar Blackburn. In here there are some real die-hard fans, I do enjoy, or rather enjoyed Frank in the past, but how am I going to react tonight. The answer is really quite simple, one word, fantastic. Still the same old Frank, with Little Frank, and the silly in jokes still amuse and bemuse. His head is still large and made of papier mache, Little Frank is still of cardboard, and guess who's been on Match Of The Day, he has in his big shorts.

A constant factor with the sucess of Franks act in an interaction with the audience. You are expected to play along with and experience the strange world in which he inhabits, to become the 10 year old child again, living in a very special fantastic world, where cardboard figures take on strange personas and everything has a fantastic quality.

To the unintiated, this may seem like some strange ritual, grown men singing along gleefully to a man in a large head, women screaming at his as though he is a greek adonis sex symbol, but to those in the know, those of us who have followed this bizarre cult for many years, it is entertainment at its silly best.

Many costume changes punctuate the act, from his straight suit to Father Christmas, then later onto his classic football kit, and finishing the preceedings with the addition of the obligatory Freddy Mercury moustache. Is this the real life or is it just Timperly.

No pyrotechics, no digital effects, no smoke or mirrors, for what you see is what you get. A man in a suit with a rather large head, singing increasingly daft songs in a daft voice. Blimey, lets just hope his mum doesn't find out.

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Big Green Gathering

big green gathering

august 2006

This year there was no Shambala Festival, but the desire to pitch tent and drink Chai was too strong to ignore so an alternative festival was required to sate our thirst. Many are on offer, but how do you select one from the many, unless you have a specific criteria. The choice was reduced somewhat by others wanting to attend at the same time, so co-ordinating time schedules became paramount. Two made the shortlist, but only one can be attended, and the winner was 'The Big Green Gathering'. I know people who have attended the northern version of this festival, and have had a great time, but to visit the big one would be different, for one thing, it would be down south.

This year transport would be relatively simple, as other northerners are to be attending, they who attended Shambala for the first time last year, and are wanting to repeat the experience. Also an offer of a lift has been made and accepted, so i will be travelling with Jill, Carl and Lily. Also attending would be friends from Cornwall, those being Pla, Kirsty, Freya & Willow, and travelling from Yorkshire would be Chris & Francis.

The journey down was quick and painless, and a rendezvous arranged at services to accertain a suitable route to the festival. After a short wandering down tight country lanes our goal was in sight. Large fields beckoned us with waiting carparks, in which we could secure a spot and unload our equipment. As with all festivals, camping is positioned away from our vehicles so all our goodies must be moved by hand, or by any available means. Here horse power has been laid on, and horse drawn carts transport our bits to camping areas, basic but effective, this is a green festival after all.

Finding a large enough spot to accomodate our tents provided a slight obstac le as many weary travellers had already made camp, and space was rather limited, but space was found and the pegging began. Soon our camp began to take shape and the rest of our belongings retrieved from the cars, transported on backs and bike powered rickshaw type arrangement. We are here and ready to begin.

Like Glastonbury, this festival is spread over many fields, themed to accomodate differing tastes and desires. The Campaign field had stalls dedicated to informing people of differing ideologies from conspiracy theories to nuclear disarmament, and solar powered showers to running your car on vegetable oil. The family field had a funfair at one end, a huge open area in the middle for daily events, and a pub at the other for their parents who need beverages of an organically intoxicating format. If arts & crafts float your coracle, then the craft field would be the obvious location in which to exercise your facination. Chipping away at a stone or making a batik painting to take home can while away many an hour if you so intend. Or try your hand at some felt craft even willow bending, its heaven for occupational therapy, and a good way of discovering new hobbies and interests.

Other fields are themed in other ways, some more mystical than others, alternative healing gives respite to those with ails to be cured, or just to chill out around the stone circle.You can aimlessly wander from field to field in whatever state of mind you bring with you or endevour to discover, even meet yourself travelling the other way if you try hard enough.

Joining all the differing fields together food stalls assault your nasal passages, all of which provide nourishment of a vegetarian persuasion, Jamaican stalls rub shoulders with Indonesian, mexican is sold next to indian and Chai tea is sold by the bucketload. All the food is as organic as possible, sometimes a little pricey, but generally its all worth it, especially if you discover a new vegetable you would like to take home with you. If clothing takes your fancy then a festival high street splits the main fields in two. Jackets, jumpers, and jerkins are always available, festival fashions festooned in a myriad of colours shapes and sizes are arranged on racks to peruse and pour over. Often we return after careful consideration to purchase such items, to be worn continuously, or until the festival ends.

What is a festival without music, a festival without music. But this festival had music, and lots of it, more than you could shake a whole basket full of sticks at, and again many genre's for many tastes. Arthur Brown without his crazy world, headlined Thursday night without his crazy headwear, but for a man of his years, his performance was full of fire, good humour and his classic fire. Strange industrial techno preceeded Saturdays fireshow, loops of noise grabbed some by the Bjorks, some loved it and some hated it, but it was different and compelling. Nik Turner was scheduled to play with Galacticos, and did so, but the previous night, without any prior warning played in a chai tent with Space Ritual, must to the dismay of Mr Pla (a long time Hawkwind/Nik Turner addict), as he missed it. To finish Sunday night, The Baghdaddies performed Ska with a middle eastern twist, no oil crazed illegal invasion here, just damn fine music to end a damn fine festival.

So what else was happening during the festival, well plenty of wanderings, a fair quantity of alcohol consumed both during the day and in the evening, two locals became frequented, one being the Bimble bar situated near the bottom of the family field, the second being a magnificent chai tent usually visited last thing at night for an evening tipple. Amongst the other sights were Terry Pratchet, well if it wasn't him he has an identical twin. At least one wedding was performed, a mobile confessional captured unexpecting sinners, several grumpy goblins saught out gobliny things and death and mrs bolster paid a visit.

Sorry Shambala, you have lost your crown for family festivals, five days of chilled out fun, with perfect camping weather thrown in for good measure. Even though there are probably 3-4 times as many people attending The Big Green Gathering than last years Shambala, it felt far less crowded, plus there is much more to see and do, just a shame there is no mass fancy dress, maybe that could be suggested for next year, as for next year, i would like to do it all over again.