Sea Change Festival – 3 Great Reviews in One!

3 Sea Change Punters Give their Verdicts – Alistair Moffat, Nigel Pickles and Leo Trimming

The Parrots
by Alistair Moffat

The Parrots

The Parrots

 

Madrid’s the Parrots have certainly brought some Mediterranean heat with them this evening as they take on Friday’s 7pm slot in the Civic Hall. The fact that they are here at all is testament to the fondness the folk at Heavenly Records (to which the three-piece band signed in April this year) hold for this town, also bringing with them headliner’s TOY from the label roster and several heavy boxes of vinyl for Saturday’s DJ slot over at the Barrel House.

‘Lets Do It Again’ bounces along like Hamburg-era Beatles but with more distortion; the bass player even has a violin bass. Just like Paul. He later swaps it for a stunning Vox teardrop. Just like Brian (Jones). ‘No Me Gustas, te Quiero’ is pure plodding, shout-along garage-sleaze recalling the lazier moments of the Seeds. But, despite the obvious 60s influences (Question Mark and the Mysterians, Los Brincos, 13th Floor Elevators spring to mind) they have a contemporary edge, reminding us that good-time fuzzy rock and roll is simply a straight line through pop culture, from the Blues, Stooges and the Cramps to more recent bands such as Palma Violets, Deep Vally and the Parrots. Messing about. Having fun. Making it look easy. Playing great tunes with crazy hair and lazy moustaches. Then piling backstage for a drunken party. That sort of thing.

There is no stage invasion (as has happened at previous gigs) but frontman Diego leaps into the audience and rolls on the floor just before the end to the delight of those stood around him. A girl performs her best punkabilly moves; Diego picks up someone’s shoe and holds it like a telephone; we all beam smiles at each other like loons; Diego jumps back on stage to great applause; they thank us and we make for the exit and fresh, cool air.

 

Nathan Salsburg and Joan Shelley
by Nigel Pickles

I have attended many festivals over the last 45 plus years as punter, performer and organiser, but the inaugural Sea Change Festival was a first for me as a Steward, and a very enjoyable experience it turned out to be. I spoke with many of the festival goers and all were enthusiastic about the eclectic mix of performers expertly curated by the team at Drift Records and at an affordable cost. Owing to the variety of events and venues all seemed to have their favourite acts but many mentioned that they were pleasantly surprised by the quality of performers they had not previously heard of.

Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg performing at St Mary's Church

Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg performing at St Mary’s Church

My own music preference covers folk, roots and acoustic and St. Mary’s Church proved to be an excellent venue for performers in these genres. I had seen Nathan Salsburg a couple of years ago at the Barrel House where he had divided his set between excellent finger-picking guitar playing, in the style of John Fahey, and an A-V presentation of the online Alan Lomax collection, which he curates from his home in Kentucky. This collection provides access to old-time Americana which he uses to good effect, particularly noticeable when joined by Joan Shelley at the end of his set and later during her set when her voice filled St. Mary’s to the roof beams.

Also living in Kentucky, her performance was a mixture of traditional and self-penned material with some intricate guitar work from Nathan behind her simple guitar picks which made it a wonderful experience. Her beautiful voice was highlighted when she came out from behind the PA and sang an unaccompanied spiritual number. You could almost see the angels of St.Mary’s sitting enraptured up on those roof beams.

 

SEA CHANGE
by Leo Trimming

A remarkable musical event happened in Totnes recently – the Sea Change Festival. Intuitively organized and lovingly curated by Rupert Morrison and his cohorts at Drift Records this was an impressively diverse festival with a variety of fascinating acts. The organizers used various venues across the town, including the South Devon Arts Centre, The Barrel House, Birdwood House, and gloriously St Mary’s Church. The main acts were staged in the Totnes Civic Hall, and it was great to see this great venue resurrected as a significant venue for live rock music – let’s hope this marks the beginning of a resurgence in this venue for such gigs. These are my personal impressions of this engaging event – such was the variety and number of acts appearing across the town, often simultaneously, that each person who attended this fabulous event will have a different perspective drawn from the patchwork of their different recollections as to what they happened to chance upon in the festival.

The wonderful Magic Bus, featuring on keyboards Jay Darlington once of Kula Shaker, started the festival musically in the Civic Hall with a great set of Canterbury style tinged psychedelia, including a great new song from their forthcoming album.

Magic Bus - sets it all off

Magic Bus – “Sets it all off”

Led by singer songwriter Paul Evans with talented guitarist Terence Waldstradt and Viv Goodwin-Darke on flute, and a new young driving rhythm section on bass and drums, this is a band from Totnes to be treasured and encouraged by the town. They certainly gave the festival a great opening, their bright summery music a perfect reflection of the lovely weather blessing the festival weekend.

Yorkston, Thorne and Khan (YTK) later played in St Mary’s Church and produced a mesmerising and beautiful set, fusing double bass with acoustic guitar, dulcimer, sarangi and vocals ranging from folk to Hindi chanting. This was a wonderful mixture culminating in a fusion of spiritual psychedelia, producing a standing ovation in the packed Church. A truly moving and mystical event – a wonderful discovery with the disc purchased next day from Drift Records.

The wonderful Yorkeston Thorne Khan

The wonderful Yorkeston Thorne Khan

Ordering a pint of lager in the church also felt quite different! Almost a throwback to the communal events that used to surround Medieval Mystery Plays, and the Church is to be commended for throwing open its doors to the festival, underlining this as a place of true spirituality and community. As if to underline the variety of the event next stop was the krautrock wall of sound in the Civic Hall produced by young band TOY – quite a contrasting experience after YTK to say the least, and difficult for me to process after the delicate, moving and spiritual music just seen!

TOY - "Wall of Sound"

TOY – “Wall of Sound”

The next day emphasised the nature of the event as it continued to provide unexpected delights of music that I would personally not usually search out. On my way to another event I chanced upon another act in St.Mary’s Church – a young man called Howes performing electronic music in ‘oscillating modular jams’.

Howes - improvising electronically in the church, Hypnotic

Howes – improvising electronically in the church, Hypnotic

Watching someone fiddle around over an electronic box may not sound entertaining but it was strangely compelling – weird hypnotic sounds and beats in extended pieces of improvisation resonating around the wonderful acoustics of a full Norman Church… and I’d had no intention of seeing him but loved it anyway. Such was the joy of this event – unexpected experiences to stimulate us and jog us out of musical complacency and closed mindedness. Over to the Civic Hall for Szun Waves, an electronic trio – very ambient with echoes of late Talk Talk.

Szun Waves - from ambient to startling

Szun Waves – from ambient to startling

 

Dream like to watch and hear live… but personally I need a touch more fibre in my musical diet. Nevertheless worth seeing live, and part of the ethos of the festival – experiment with what you see and hear, move beyond one’s usual musical boundaries.

 

 

 

 

Next up were local band Matthew and Me – What a great gig by one of Totnes’ own – sweet, ethereal rock with entrancing sonics that draw you in. Matthew’s beguiling voice and engaging persona topped it off. The very full hall loved a truly beautiful gig played by lovely people. They deserve a much wider audience, which will hopefully come their way. This was turning into quite a weekend… and it was barely past tea time yet!!

Matthew and Me at the Civic

Matthew and Me at the Civic

Back to the Church for another experiment in to the unknown for me – Sound of Yell, acoustic experimental music from Scotland filling the echoing vaulted ceilings in front of the beautiful, back lit medieval altar screen.

Sound of Yell at St Mary's

Sound of Yell at St Mary’s

Lovely sounds floating through the air… my receptive state of mind probably helped by a bizarre ‘Marmalade Gin’ at the Civic Hall just beforehand! The diversity and mysterious feel of this event never ceased to amaze me.

As I left the church I did ask one of the security guards ‘I bet you’ve never been a bouncer at a church before, have you?’ He replied that was indeed the case… and admitted to being a little embarrassed! These arrangements are probably essential for health and safety reasons, but I did not witness any issues at all at any event I attended – this was an event attended by good natured, well behaved and relaxed individuals who probably do not need very high degrees of security.

Back in the Civic Hall the evening started to really rock with BC Camplight, from Philadelphia via Manchester – a brilliant performance of power pop, soulful balladry and what can only be described as an astounding psychedelic finale – never heard of them, but great stuff – indeed that was true of so much this weekend, which was part of it’s charm and fascination.

BC Camplight

BC Camplight – “astounding psychedelic finale”

The main ‘headliners’ for the festival (for many festival goers) was the Indie Rock band British Sea Power who had clearly drawn in quite a few punters from across the country especially for their show. What a fantastic gig to end a wonderful event! The Civic Hall was packed, but probably for the only show of the weekend a few disappointed punters were unable to gain entry to this very popular gig. British Sea Power thrilled the crowd with high powered, passionate, entertaining Indie Rock, playing on a stage somewhat bizarrely decorated with trees and Oak leaves.

British Sea Power - "manic performance"

British Sea Power – “manic performance”

 The crowd was REALLY up for this show, and the band fed off that tremendous energy in a hot, heaving hall … and then later two bloody great enormous Bears appeared dancing in the crowd… of course they did! This led to me asking something I thought I’d never say:
“The Bears? Is that normal then?” “Oh Yes, happens at all their gigs” came the reply from a British Sea Power fan next to me – course it does!

Release the Bears!

British Sea Power – “Release the Bears!”

In truth they were probably people in bear suits (really?!!)… but still very strange and hilarious. Amidst the high energy rock British Sea Power could also enchant with songs like ‘The Great Skua’… but the bears certainly left quite an impression on anyone there that night!!

Festival beer!

Festival beer!

A truly outstanding gig to complete a wonderful weekend (for me at least – other events continued at other venues late into the night).

It almost seems like a dream now. A town bustling with good natured, curious and happy people (many from outside the area), just delighting in revelling in a plethora of music. There seemed to be an infectious atmosphere of positivity and curiosity as festival goers mixed and moved from venue to venue. This festival was perfectly pitched for Totnes, appealing to those with open minds, willing to stretch their boundaries. Was it perfect? Of course not, no event is perfect – some complained about not being able to buy individual tickets for gigs, even though the organizers had been fairly clear about the need for a day or weekend ticket. The logistics and finances simply did not allow for such ticketing. This was not a major money making exercise at all for Drift records. Bureaucracy and other issues put paid to any such notions of this being a money spinner, but that was never really the intention.

This was about spreading the message about the wonderful range of music that does not get massive exposure. It’s certainly widened my musical horizons. It is to be hoped that Drift feel brave enough to repeat the exercise in future and that the local councils and community actively support and encourage an event which reflected so well on the community and attracted many visitors on a weekend competing with the Dartmouth Regatta. The town’s economy as a whole would have benefitted from more visitors, and the reputation of the town was definitely enhanced by the feedback I heard from various out of town festival goers who were all so impressed by the beauty and open minded atmosphere of Totnes.

This could also be called the ‘Iceberg Festival’ because my recollections only really touch the tip of the iceberg with so many singers, bands, speakers and DJ’s appearing at other venues I did not see.

If they hold it again I’d be there in a heart beat… and if Totnes as a community has any sense they will proactively support the event even more.

Thank you so much Rupert Morrison and Drift Records.