Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Festivals are safety valves: a controlled release of built up steam, allowing the populace to return to their quiet humdrum lives for the rest of the year. Or so it used to be. Once humans were happy with one day of wearing silly clothes, saying naughty things and drinking too much: now we seem to do it all the time. Now the darkness that surrounds us lights up constantly; now the jokes and jests and japeries run free.
So what is the function of the ‘festival’? Some people spend all year going to them, weekend after weekend in tent after tent (or teepee after teepee, or yurt after yurt if you are particularly flash (or flush)). I went to three last year, and only one this year; I now own more fancy dress costumes than I do real clothes (having managed to lose / destroy everything else). Now is the time for festivals to seep over into real life: now we must attend our jobs and our schools in soldiers’ uniforms and clown outfits, in shiny silver trousers and with glitter on our faces and ribbons in our hair. I can only hope that we are returning to the glorious days of the eighteenth century, when peacocks and pimps and fops and courtesans all jostled about in their finery and fripperies.
We do not need one festival a year any more, because life is becoming a festival. This can only be a good thing.
And one shining example of the new breed of festival is Standon Calling. Held at Standon Lordship, and organised by Alex Trenchard, this started not as a festival per se, but as a birthday party (its raison d’etre is celebratory; this permeates the fields and tents, a beneficent miasma, even now). This year there were more people than ever. Murder and detection was the theme, which spurred on many a marvellous costume: tweed-heavy Sherlocks and cartoonish Scooby Doos, white-faced zombies and grim forensic officers. An entire Cluedo board paced patiently around in pairs: I saw Colonel Mustard with the Study by the Lead Pipe. Sinister white-suited agents padded around, putting up tape around suspicious bodies: they descended upon the Cluedo people and surrounded them. A grim reaper stalked the alleys; two people maneouvred through the crowds in a cardboard coffin. Most interesting were those who had either misunderstood the theme or completely ignored it: the fat man in tiny blue shorts, or the huge, peeling banana. Although perhaps the blue-shorted man was showing that he had nothing to hide; and maybe the banana had once killed someone who’d slipped on it. Who knows.
Of the bands that I saw, the black suited and white-lighted Metronomy played like they knew everybody in the crowd and like the crowd knew all their bladed, shiny songs. I wanted to be friends with geeky, sweet CasioKids who electro-popped into the night. Marthas and Arthurs, feathers in their hats and skirts held up by safety pins, gently eased me into Saturday morning, strumming softly and melodically on guitars (and strange instruments whose provenance I know not). Three Trapped Tigers were roiling, addictive, pounding. I’d never heard of Revere, but they played so hard they knocked over their stands and dropped their guitars and they were all sweating very very hard. I at least was impressed by their passion. Hook and the Twin had a technical error which alas made them halt, but the three songs they played were beat-filled and frenzied. I was under the impression that I had seen British Sea Power, but the band that I saw turned out to be a rockabilly band. I missed Etienne de Crecy, but I heard the music coming up through the ground and wished that I could have been there. As ever my favourite haunt was the cattle shed, known mysteriously as Camp Alcatraz. On Friday night we stayed in there till dawn: it started raining, but nobody noticed.
I had to leave on Sunday, which was a shame, as Buena Vista Social Club (whose average age must be about 100) were playing. I’m sure they were brilliant. But I take with me the glitter (quite literally: I still have some on my face, three days later) and the music (thank you iTunes), and I will make sure the festival infiltrates through the rest of the year. Which you must all do too.