2011 Haldern Pop must be acclaimed as evidence of the official “Year of the Beard Amongst the Young”. Gillette Wilkinson must be concerned.
Richard: Sitting round the backstage campfire, listening to La Brass Banda’s tuba player running through a melancholy passage from Bach, we reflected on a Haldern that had an element of Sehnsucht as well as the usual industrial-strength dollops of hippy dippy Zuckerzeit.
A strange year in parts. Maybe it was the weather, (glowering, leaden, ever-threatening)? Perhaps it was the zealous and clearly alien security measures brought in, we believe, as a national response to the tragedy at Duisburg’s Love Parade last year? Whatever the reason it brought a slightly melancholy note to the proceedings and a blast of the real world into this temporary land of faery.
But let us not dwell on the tiny down-side; let us reflect on some of the most memorable performances this magazine has ever witnessed here. Whilst normally our focus is on the sticky, bucolic charm of Haldern, this year our attention was sharply on the gigs. On the basis of their shows, My Brightest Diamond, The Avett Brothers, Socalled, Wild Beasts, Alexi Murdoch, Suuns, Hauschka and the Erased Tapes bunch (Rival Consoles, Codes in the Clouds and Nils Frahm & Anne Mueller) could all claim to be artists of the festival, whilst Fleet Foxes, Anna Calvi, Johnny Flynn, Bodi Bill, Gisbert zu Knyphausen, The Wombats (yes, the Wombats) and La Brass Banda could also demand attention and acclaim for their efforts.
On a less cerebral level, 2011 Haldern Pop must be acclaimed as evidence of the official “Year of the Beard Amongst the Young”. Gillette Wilkinson must be concerned.
Thursday saw Incendiary try and fail to get into new venue St. George’s Church for Isbells so we trudged back to the Spiegel Tent to see winsome chap Ben Howard play a nice set of folksy numbers.
Damian: Because of our (read my) inability to pass through doors without offending security guards, we also failed to catch any sight of Springer Parker, Moddi, Emmanuel & The Fear, Paul Thomas Saunders or Toy Horses – but that would have been impossible anyway. Sadly we also missed Retro Stefson and judging by the quality of moustaches on show in the programme, even on the women, I’d been looking forward to that.
Richard: Such is life. Anyway, on to Ben. Incendiary can’t honestly say we’ve ever been massive fans of this dreamy kind of singer songwriter stuff...
Damian: Speak for yourself.
Richard: …it reflects a society that seems to want to express itself in a more diffident and “pleasant” manner than we’re really comfortable with, (but blame the 1970s and 1980s for that). Still, it is something to get a cheer for standing up and we’re glad to have seen that.
Damian: I was very pleased to witness that moment. Well done Ben. We normally get laughed at for falling over but I doubt anyone would ever applaud our standing abilities. You must be cool if standing up draws applause now, mustn’t you?
Richard: Before you think this is an observation of a sexual nature, I will have you know that Mr Howard had sat himself down all nice and comfy, doubtless meaning to be intimate with his admirers; an action that led to him being well-nigh invisible onstage. Once stood up, the gig picked up and a fair degree of wit and verve (very much in the manner of Damien Rice) was in evidence. Nice enough.
Damian: The Damien Rice comparison is apt, both in the style of music and the qualities of his voice. Not only that, the quality of his songs ain’t half bad either.
Richard: Does music we create reflect our innermost personality, regardless of time and space? Or is there a more irreversibly generational aspect to the creation of sounds we consume? Whatever the answer to these bumbling questions is, maybe Yuck could ponder them for their own benefit. Yuck make very pretty noises and there’s something about their music makes you want more of it, but their attempt to play the “can’t be arsed playing to you lot” game fell very flat in Germany.
Damian: They upset me actually. Musically I thought they were excellent, but their attitude really rubbed me up the wrong way. Their lack of enthusiasm was more than palpable and if there’s one thing I can’t tolerate it’s watching a band simply go through the motions on stage.
Richard: Taciturn white boy/girl guitar bands will always feed this magazine’s sonic drip: the Bunnymen, British Sea Power, the Velvet Underground, Les Rallizes Dénudés, My Bloody Valentine… sure, they don’t really see eye to eye with the Bruce Forsythe School of entertainment. But then, they all have/had a sensibility that they are sons of the stage. Playing live is often about pride, and respect, and mutual understanding: putting on a show. A good performance is a creation of a portal though which both audience and band step. If you keep that door shut, Yuck, pretty soon we won’t come a- knocking.
Damian: At the very, very least learn to bloody smile once in a while. Look at your audience every now and again (especially you Mr. ‘too cool for school’ bass player). Yuck have the potential to break into some powerful Yo La Tengo territory, judging on the musical quality of this show but if they refuse to open up, even slightly, nobody’s gonna give a shit about them. Sometimes you have to earn the right to be arrogant.
Richard: Julia Marcell is from Poland. She has ideas, invention and dramatic looks. She aims at the musical cupidity that Bjork patented but she needs to sort out what stays in the bedroom and recording studio and what treads the boards. Then this magazine reckons she’s on a winner, because there’s a great deal of talent and budding personality waiting to be unleashed. For now it does feel a bit unfinished, gauche and a bit flat.
Damian: Yeah, she’s undeniably pretty to look at, (there wasn’t an eye in the crowd that wasn’t fixed on her, male or female) especially when dancing around with a see-through top on but it all felt a little naïve to me. The talent is there but it’s not fully formed I don’t think and, whereas the cracks may be covered up slightly on record, live I couldn’t help feel that there were more than a layer or two missing. Personally I’d like to see her up the power a little, add a little booze into the musical punch and give everything a bit of a kick.
Richard: Get a sweat on, girl… Sweat, passion, crowd interaction and having a good ol’ time were elements The Avett Brothers had in spades, however. Maybe it was the crowd’s desire to let rip at this point in the night, maybe it was the fact that the band didn’t come over as stand-offish or gauche, but the Avett brothers found themselves whipping up a maelstrom of good vibes in the Spiegel Tent.
Damian: Seriously, how come I’ve never heard of these guys before? How come nobody’s ever told me, “Oh have you heard of The Avett brothers? You’d love them!” Honestly, I’m disappointed in you all – and myself – for not coming across these guys earlier but, then again, that may have ruined one of the magical Haldern moments for me. And this was one of them.
Richard: I’m not one for this kind of hoe-down normally, but when you have a band moving up and down a kind of synchronised ecstasy of boot stomping, you can’t help but join in. The songs were pretty damned good too; amalgams of good country rock, bluegrass and honky tonk in the style of maybe Townes van Zandt, or maybe at times stuff that was close to Van Dyke Parks in spirit. And even though there was a fair dollop of winsome wide-eyed stuff (the slow one about getting married in January to your best girl would normally have me saying “enough”), they were passionate, sincere and had a self-belief that made you want to like them regardless. And how many bands have a stand up cello being thrown about with abandon? Not many. A truly great and uplifting gig.
Damian: They were astonishing. You can throw all the bluegrass, alt-country templates at them all you like but the quality of their show transcends all genres. They were quite simply magnificent here. They played with passion, they strained their vocals until their heads were beetroot red and they leapt about with such abandon that their vests resembled props from a Die Hard film before the end. Honestly, go see The Avett Brothers. You’d love them. Take my bike, if you like.
Richard: It could be very easy to write off Anna Calvi as a passing fashion but we’d advise you not to. There’s a steely purpose in her music, one that manifests itself through widescreen, glossy and immensely seductive songs like Blackout.
Damian: A true standout song of the weekend for me. Played with a fierce power that even the record lacks (and that’s no timid beast) Anna and company kicked seven bells out of the tent, without hardly breaking sweat. Sleek, stylish and incredibly sexy, her music is of true quality, at once old fashioned and refreshingly new at the same time – if that makes any sense?
Richard: The seductive element is dramatically increased in the flesh; but that’s more a case that she combines all this petite Brunhilda of rock stuff with an impression that she’s pretty shy. And sometimes it’s refreshing to know you are falling for old musical tricks; like playing poker on a ferry, you might think you know the ropes but those same old moves keep catching you out. This is the lynchpin with listening to Calvi’s muse. You want her to keep fooling us all into believing we’ve never heard such music before. It’s not all there yet mind, there’s a nagging suspicion that she knows she can get out of any tight corner simply by blasting us all away with that strident voice, or with the ridiculously good guitar playing, but still, it’s working for now.
Damian: In spades.
Richard: After this Incendiary jumped about good naturedly to Coma’s friendly but pretty standard dance music in the beer garden and called it a night.
Damian: Apologies to the Brandt Brauer Frick ensemble, but ‘techno cellos’ were a step too far for us at that point.