I thought my appearance last year along with our 4-piece band was going to be a once in a lifetime thing. But I was wrong.
I kept seeing ads on Facebook for Standon Calling tickets and I was wondering whether I should go as a spectator this year or not. The Octopia Stage had been a great festival experience, what with a variety of totally superb acts last year, but there was no mention of it on the official festival website for 2017 and little artist info other than who was appearing on the Main Stage. Then, about three weeks before the festival date, I got a Facebook message from Martyn Hall, promoter and Sound Engineer to Biffy Clyro, UB40, The Editors, Echobelly (you name them, he’s done them) - in my humble opinion, one of the best pairs of ears in the business - to say “Do you fancy an acoustic set at Standon Calling this year?”
Another bite of the cherry? Playing the Standon Calling festival two years running? I jumped up and down, just as I had done when I got back into design engineering contracting, quadrupling my daily income after 6 months of driving a London double-decker bus on a low wage to try to pay the rent. Now, not that I’m knocking bus driving for a living - it was fun and there’s a really nice bunch of people driving them, but the hours on a split shift are unsociable and, as a musician, you can literally kiss goodbye to your gigs. But to get to play Standon Calling again, even if it wasn’t with the full band, well, it redefined cool. I was booked to play on the Autumn Shift Stage (no mention on the official website, but this year, got included in the printed brochure). Saturday night, 9:30pm. I looked forward to the camaraderie of the campsite, superb bands, ear-bleeding noise and action like I had last year. I started revising my “singer-songwriter” set, threw out a few old tunes I defined as being too slow for this festival and ended up with a pretty much upbeat, sweaty solo acoustic 30 minutes.
Work commitments meant I couldn't attend all three days, so on Friday afternoon around 2:15pm I picked up Deb, a friend, ex-colleague and stalwart supporter of live music as my crew and we set off into the post-work-early-quit rush hour, the Clio loaded with tents, camping kitchen gear and acoustic guitar, heading round the North Circular for the A10 at Walthamstow. Well, there was a lot more stop than start. The sky was was getting more grey by the minute and there we were - a three lane car park to rival the M25. Even after we managed to get moving, it was nose-to-tail almost all the way to the festival site. We’d left at 2:15pm and finally arrived 40 miles and 4 hours later at the site at 6:20pm, after having an essential stop at Tesco in Cheshunt to buy food and booze.
It had been raining and the crew site was full of cars parked on a fairly steep grassy hill, which was where I was directed - all the way to the end of the line! I was parked about 500 yards from the crew and artist campsite. There was a buggy service, but it was infrequent and only came downhill so far. I wanted to catch Kate Tempest’s gig on the main stage at 7pm after seeing her stunning performance from Glasto on the BBC iPlayer and I thought I was going to miss it. Artist registration went, mercifully, without a hitch (unlike last year) and we were advised not to wait for a buggy, but to lug the gear up the hill. I was right, I had missed Kate Tempest. But then, good fortune prevailed and I bumped into Paul Luxford, our promoter who directed us to where the whole ex-Octopia gang were camped - Martyn and Makeila, Paul, Natasha, Christine, Darkwood, Alastair Binnie-Lubbock. An hour of multiple trips to the car, heavy lifting and dragging and erecting tents (fortunately the “2 Sec” ones from Decathlon) ensued and after a fair bit of sweat we settled and put some sausages on the burner and opened a bottle just as the light was starting to fade. We opened another soon after. Then another. Out came the gin. Our new (and much younger) neighbours came over and we made friends. It started to rain. We got soaked. We trotted down to the Autumn Shift stage in time to catch some great comedy from David Hoare, Chris Campion and Martyn Hall himself.
There may have been some medicine. I don’t remember too much after that.
Apparently I hit the sack at around 7:30am, assisted to my slumber spot by Paul and Carl who were about to go off to work. I don't think I'd been clubbing or even been to a single gig by that time. But like I said, I don't remember too much.
I do remember being awaken by Mr. Motivator, the 90's breakfast TV leotard-clad-get-fit-for-ladies-who-lunch around 12:00 on Saturday. Not literally. Just the sound rolling up the hill from the Main Stage. This was good - it meant I hadn’t missed my performance slot. I wasn’t feeling too clever, but not bad considering age and previous consumption. I remember thinking how spacious the Decathlon 2 man 2 Sec tent really is - until I realised not all of me was inside the tent. About half of me was outside and fortunately I was dry by virtue of the fact that I had gone to bed as I had driven to the site - wearing rainwear, shorts and hiking boots. Apparently, poor Deb in the next tent had had to put up with my snoring. Most likely too, the sonic percussions of anal wind reaching Mach numbers only a sphincter can provide. If that was the case, then at least she only suffered the noise, being safely tucked away in her own tent which hadn't seen the light of day for 20 years. Maybe other campers had also been so inconvenienced but I suppose they had been too polite to say!
Unrestrained off-key wailing from Lisa "Adele" Martin on the Main Stage followed by the equally grating and largely tuneless Rockaoke final - not just me; there were groans coming from tent inhabitants all around - ensured I was up and about in short order. Gingerly and deliberately - as you do when fragile - I started to make tea and cook eggs - and subsequently became popular with the local festival performers camped close by. Chris, who took to dressing in pyjama bottoms, Ollie and a few girlfriends - who were at Autumn Shift performing as Rhymes with Orange, a limerick writing and poetry gig - and Athos , another Ollie and two girlfriends from another adjacent teepee (aren't they popular for some strange reason?) sampled the tea and gin and that seemed to put them all right again. Considering that Chris had acquired a teepee which was letting the rain in quite badly, the Rhymes crowd were pepped up and raring to go for their performance on the Sunday, which sadly I missed, as it was happening when Deb and had to pack up leave. Natasha, part of the Autumn Shift crew and a big JTD fan came over for some green tea with mint and a chinwag. Paul Luxford turned up having been organising stuff in the morning. Hardcore as ever, he hadn’t been to bed at all. Martyn and Makeila turned up to their tent but had to get back down to Autumn Shift soon after as, in the early hours, some A-holes had tried to trash the mixing desk. Fortunately, it was undamaged. Charlie Manning turned up with his guitarist Adam and girlfriends in tow. I was looking forward to his Sunday performance. Charlie thought the Jimmy The Dog t-shirt was the funniest band t-shirt he'd seen. I had an one XXL t-shirt left, which I gave him for being so enthusiastic. Charlie, a young man of slight build, won't be wearing it I hope. I suggested instead he use it as a duvet cover. He said he'd frame it.
The rain abated until we’d finished “breakfast” and then it came at us full pelt vertically, thankfully not horizontally. But this time it didn’t stop. So for once, the Glasto crowd, back in June, had it sunny this year and we paid their price. Mud skating was fun! I kept wondering how, the next day, I was going to get my car out of the field I’d parked in.
As the rain got heavier, I lent out a spare rain jacket to Carl, one of the Autumn Shift stage crew and then kind of regretted it as the jacket I was wearing took about 2 hours of soaking, then decided to ‘let through’. Undeterred, we went down to the Autumn Shift stage where DJ Darkwood, with his encyclopedic knowledge of music was playing some great tracks, obscure versions of well-known songs. I did a couple of songs on Open Mic in the afternoon, then decided I better get some more shut eye before I took to the stage that night. When I woke up, the weather was so wet, I couldn’t keep my hands dry and I’d begun to wonder if my fingers were going to make it through the set, but I found dry gloves which came to the rescue and all was well. I unfortunately missed most of the Main Stage set by the excellent Nothing but Thieves, but managed to catch enough that I wanted to hear more. Then Deb and I took in the first three songs from Clean Bandit on the Main Stage before heading over to Autumn Shift for my gig. They were very good to a point; polished sound, high energy, great stage lighting and effects, tight, but each song sounded pretty much the same to me and failed to keep my interest.
I don’t get to do so many singer-songwriter gigs as I do bluesy ones, but as I wanted this gig to be upbeat I started with my song, “Angelina”. During this, the sound was too muddy but halfway into the equally perky and swingy second song, "Time of My Life", I noticed Martyn had just arrived at the sound desk and within seconds he had me sounding gooood! All our tent neighbours turned up! I followed up with - ironically given the weather - “Summer Sunshine” to find that the Autumn Shift tent was full! Was it because of me or was it the rain? I wouldn’t like to say!
As Deb took photos on her phone, I moved on to the aptly-named “Oddball”, which seemed a crowd-pleaser and then my off-the-wall story song (in a nod to Tom Waits), “Cripplejohn”. That set the tone for the audience participation finale, “Life is a Festival”, with its Mumford-esque folk beat and one-time-learn chorus that got everybody going! I was on cloud nine when I got an encore, which I decided was going to be “Oh Darlene”.
I was sorry to have missed Shaun Redlake who’d been on before me, I’d seen his material on YouTube and was impressed. The performer who came on after me was DJ Companion. This was not your usual DJ set. This was all done live with an Ableton-enabled MacBook, an APC40 interface controller and sample trigger and a Novation keyboard. Now this guy WILL blow the roof off a party! He was supposed to do a 45 minute set and I think he kept going, on request, bouncing up and down in his pyjamas for 2 hours. Half way through his set I was also bouncing around with my rain jacket on the floor and my t-shirt around my neck. My knees would complain the following morning, that was to be guaranteed, but what the hey. This guy’s set had so much energy that people were leaving adjacent stage dance sets to come and join this one. Knackered and happy but sober, I hit the sack about 2am.
Sunday morning was spent first having a hot shower (yes, that's another reason to go to this festival) and then breakfast from the remaining food, followed by packing up. By the grace of God, the sun came out and dried our tents enough to be folded up dry and when we’d managed to get all our kit into the car, Deb and I went down to the Main Stage to see The Cuban Brothers. This is a must-see. They’re a Cuban spoof musical comedy, hop-hop and dance act and are utterly hilarious! Next on was K T Tunstall who was excellent as ever then we wandered over to the Autumn Shift stage where we’d just missed the superb Scott Swain doing his Americana set but managed to catch Charlie Manning, a young man with a big future. We’d had to set off after that as work beckoned early the following morning and had to miss out on The Editors, Gary Numan and Grace Jones as well as Autumn Shifters Beautiful Mechanica, Andy Twyman, Burnz and Jordan Gray. Next time peeps. But nevertheless, we’d had such a good time once again; the road home was easy and the sun was finally out. I unloaded the gear then bathed and slept the sleep of the, well, you know.
So last year’s sign off, "Would I do it all again next year, considering my advancing years? Your damned right I would!", went from being an expression of gratitude to an unconsciously-manifested second bite at the cherry. And I will always be grateful for it. Thank you Martyn Hall - you ARE the man!!