A festival not quite on my doorstep (part four)

By - Sunday 16th December, 2012

In this final in a four-part series, the Croydon Citizen’s very own foreign correspondent in Watford gives us an outsider’s perspective on October’s Cherry Orchard’s Arts Festival, and why Croydon is more than a car park

Previously – our correspondent discovers café-folk, and endures a trial by poetry

At 4pm, the entire festival packs up and decamps to the Glamorgan, which features on the menu exotica like the wild boar burger, the ostrich steak, and crocodile tail. (Sadly crocodile tail wasn’t on the menu this time, although I could hardly complain – the wild boar was delicious enough to have twice) Festival organiser Chris Matthews has provided a solid and varied lineup that entertains the assembled crowd up to 11pm. The first listed act is Chris’ own band, Monitor Sound, consisting of Chris on guitar and vocals and his solitary bandmate on piano. While showcasing your own band at your musical festival may seem theoretically like a shamelessly self-promotional move, any such cynicism has already been blasted out of me by the earlier entertainment and by Monitor Sound’s unaffected but charming songwriting. The two man guitar-piano combo isn’t exactly a common lineup in indie-acoustic music, but Monitor Sound aren’t riding it for quirkiness – they’re just breezing through earnest, well-structured songs about relationships and heartbreak that seem designed to make me feel slightly guilty for diverting some of my attention from the band to the girls in the pub. Their set comprises songs with titles like ‘Tools of my Trade’ and, from what I caught of the lyrics, one called ‘ooohOOOHooooh’.

Speaking of which, instead of rating the acts by something as subjective as how much I like them, I keep a mental score of the attractive girls to guys ratio. Monitor Sound obviously fails pretty badly for this correspondent, while their unscheduled opening act, Abigail Hardiman, plays the numbers and wins this secret competition by being a solo female performer. She has piercings in her nose and cheeks, and those weird earlobe-stretching things that always make me wonder what my generation will look like when it hits the retirement homes, but she has a beautiful voice and a similarly solid, frill-less songwriting style to Monitor Sound.

Following from Monitor Sound is The Frisbys (ratio – 2:2), a four piece band consisting of 2-4 guitar players, 0-1 flautist, and 4 harmonising vocalists. Their blurb on the program references Fleetwood Mac, and my subsequently high expectations are actually blown away – their music is haunting and has a way of making the room feel very much smaller.

The third scheduled act is Dan Shears and the Velveteen Orkestra (sic.) (ratio – 2:1) consisting of singer/songwriter Dan Shears and, naturally enough, the Velveteen Orkestra (sic.) which comprises a cellist and a violinist. I’m going to have to lay my prejudicial cards on the table here and say that Dan Shears fulfills most of my indie stereotypes that could have made me dread this evening – he is wearing a waistcoat, very tight trousers, and absurdly pointy shoes. Dan Shears and Chris Matthews seems to have a Kurt Cobain/Michael Stipe-type competition to fit as many ‘oooooh’s into the lyrics as possible. The band is definitely trying out something a little different, and each member is masterful at their instrument, but for whatever reason I’m left slightly cold – I’m not feeling the electricity in the room that Homebrood brought, or the hushed reverence that The Frisbys inspired.

This does, however, give me the chance to acquaint myself with my favourite barmaid ever. One of my native companions here tonight points out her likeness to Kate Moss, and reminds me that she (Moss) hails from this area. She (the barmaid) is on a constant dash throughout the evening to serve the packed customers, and is always friendly and smiley. When she omits my guinness from my second burger order, she offers the next one on the house. In a rare quiet moment later in the evening, she comes over to my end of the bar and asks me which whiskey I’m drinking, and recommends some others that are also extraordinarily reasonably priced. Combined with the exotic burger and steak menu, she makes the Glamorgan an absolute paradise for any red-blooded male with a soft spot for a barmaid and an appetite for meat.

But anyway. Next up after Dan Shears and a too-long setup time (I was anxious to hear these guys) is the Dave Markee Quartet (0:4). Dave Markee is a bassist who has played with Eric Clapton and, more importantly, Frank Zappa. Tonight he leads a quarter consisting of a drummer, keyboardist, lead saxophonist, and of course himself on bass. When the band overcomes their setup problems (and the drummer’s wrong choice of drumsticks for the first song) and lays into their set, they embody the sheer joy of great jazz music – musical virtuosity and interaction that requires near-military discipline, but also a sense of slapdash freedom in their pointedly complex music.

Next up is something completely different – Mischief Theatre (1:4). An improvisational comedy group, one member sits and interacts with the audience while the remaing four either act or provide music for the acting. The act is presented as a film that the audience interlocutor can pause and play, fast forward through, or change scene entirely to show the ‘deleted scenes’ and ‘director’s commentary’ found on DVDs. Like the previous jazz act, this clearly requires a great amount of discipline and mental energy to prevent it from falling into chaos, but the best parts are found in the chaos of performing in such a small space, as the actors riff on the liberties that they need to take to perform their piece in a doorway.

Finally, Ultraswing (0:4) is (sadly) not a postmodern mashup of 1930s swing music and the synthpop of Ultravox. Instead they are (not sadly) another brilliant folk band in the Homebrood vein, providing my third display of how incomprehensibly fiddly the accordion is. They take the stage after 9pm, almost 12 hours after the festival started this morning, but the crowd and the Glamorgan is showing no signs of thinning. Familiar faces from this morning are still here, still dancing, while further away from the ‘stage’ everyone seems to be converging to discuss the evening’s entertainment.

What’s striking (apart from the amount of money I’ve now spent on whiskey) is that there isn’t a single space in the pub where people seem to be detached from the event – there’s no group in the corner trying to hold a conversation over the band, or hurriedly finishing their drinks so that they can continue their chat outside. Instead, there are Tory activists chatting with Labour activists chatting with one of the Poets Anonymous who looks like a latter day Robin Williams. Although I’m doing my writer-thing of lurking to one side away from the conversation to survey the room, friendly faces keep appearing to confirm that we’re all having a great time.

It’s not every day, or every town, that you can find such treasures as a wild boar burger, an explosive folk set in a greasy spoon cafe, and a whiskey-savvy barmaid. It’s a far cry from the train station where you can be propositioned by the homeless, but there it is – the Cherry Orchard behind the car park.

Thanks for reading
Rob Mayo

Rob Mayo

The Managing Editor of the Croydon Citizen, and the only co-founder not to have ever lived in Croydon. Rob previously studied at University of Oxford and University of London, and regrets only one of them. Since co-founding the Citizen in 2012 Rob has completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Bristol, for whatever that's worth... Rob's stereotypically left-leaning views are personal, and not representative of editorial policy.

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