Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Haunted Landscapes: a Season of Folk Horror: part 3

This is the final part of Irish Film Institute, to see Folk Horror themed films being shown as part of their Haunted Landscapes season. Folk horror is a term coined by Mark Gatiss. You can read my account of the first set of these films here and the second here

There was more black magic action in Night of the Demon (1957), Jacques Tourneur's adaptation of M.R. James's 'Casting the Runes', about a magus who is able to set a malevolent demon on his enemies and a man who finds himself marked for death by the monster. Among other things, it is famous for providing the "It's in the trees! It's coming!" sample for Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love'. It is also that odd beast, a noir horror film, with much use made of shadow, lots of men in hats and long coats, an opening scene in which a man drives along a darkened road by night, a closing scene in night fog beside a railway track. And yet it is not fully comfortable in its embrace of the uncanny, with the magus a somewhat bumptious type and various interludes with mediums and hypnotists seeming almost like comic relief for all that they are advancing the plot of horror. In that regard it feels less certain of itself as a horror film than Cat People, Tourneur's 1942 classic.

Night of the Demon is famous for the studios insistence that the monster be shown in it ("If people go to film called Night of the Demon then they'll feel ripped off if there is no goddamn Demon!" must have been the logic). Tourneur on the other hand wanted the Demon to be left unseen, more terrifying if the audience's imagination is left to run riot. In truth, the long shot version of the Demon is actually quite scary, reminiscent of the monster in Forbidden Planet in its semi-corporeality. The close-up version is pretty ridiculous though, that classic dud monster who ends up looking a bit cute thanks to its trying too hard to be fierce. And despite its ridiculousness, the close-up view of the monster gets used in all publicity for this film, including by the IFI in the run up to this season.

And how fares this enjoyable film as a member of the folk horror genre? I'm not too sure. All the black magic stuff and people in posh houses again feels like something other than folk horror. On the other hand, there is a bit where the protagonist goes to Stonehenge and looks at some runes carved into the stones, calling to mind the ancient folk ways of England, so maybe we will let them away with it.

And the last film was the most recent, The Blair Witch Project from 1999. You have surely seen that found footage film about the three people who get lost in the woods while trying to make a low budget documentary about a legendary with. Looking back on it now it is striking how none of the people involved in have gone on to do that much. Given how much of a stir the film caused at the time this may be surprising. I am also struck by how short it it is, possibly because a film of people wandering around in the woods and then being woken up by strange noises at night can only go on so long before it gets boring.

It is still a most unnerving. The sense that the characters are doomed comes early to the viewer, and it is their dawning sense of their inescapable fate that gives the film its mounting dread.

Sound design corner: I know people who are into cinema sound design get annoyed when people say "oh, like music?" when the concept of sound design is outlined to them, but in Blair Witch Project it was noticeable that in the very last sequence (when the characters run around through the world's spookiest derelict houses, pretty much knowing they are about to die) the film sneaks some low volume music onto the soundtrack. This should break the illusion that this is unmediated found footage, but the volume is so low and the scene so engaging that most audiences probably do not notice.

Folk horror credentials: well there is a witch in it (or mentioned in it) and there is a fair bit about folk beliefs and folk lore (albeit of the completely made up variety).

So there you go. After reading all this, what do you understand by the term Folk Horror?

For more Folk Horror action, see my account of interesting conference A Fiend in the Furrows here and here.

image sources

Night of the Demon (Verdoux)

The Demon (BFI)

Blair Witch Project: the basement (The Dissolve)

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Haunted Landscapes: a Season of Folk Horror: part 2

I continue my account of trips to the Irish Film Institute, to see Folk Horror themed films being shown as part of their Haunted Landscapes season. Folk horror is a term coined by Mark Gatiss. You can read my account of the first set of these films here.

The second day of the season saw us in the IFI's smaller screen for a showing of Quatermass And The Pit (1967), a Hammer film version of the late 1950s TV series, both scripted by Nigel Kneale. Kim Newman introduced the film, about which he has written a book. Quatermass (a rocket scientist) finds himself investigating strange goings on when workers on an extension to the London Underground discover an unexploded bomb that turns out to be a spaceship older than humanity. There are shocking revelations and the release of long dormant powers.

When things come together in Hammer films they are the best things in the world: not schlocky or camp but genuinely unnerving. Everything comes together in this one, with the design, acting, scripting and direction all making this one of their greatest works. But is it folk horror? One might say no, arguing instead that this is horror science fiction in the Lovecraft mould, yet it still has a folk feel to it. The horror is very much located in a physical place, with the sense that the buried ship has had a malign influence on its surroundings since time immemorial (a trip to the library reveals that the area above it has been regarded as haunted and unhallowed as far back as there are records).

With this film I must particularly sing the praises of Barbara Shelley, a Hammer stalwart, who in this plays one of the archaeologists. She appears in a succession of amazing outfits that appear to have driven the colour coordination of the sets and astutely plays a role a world away from the screaming victim more commonly seen in Hammer films (often played by Ms Shelley). Hers is not the lead role but I did watch this wishing she had been given a fairer crack of the whip by film history.

The next film was the first I had not seen before, it being Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a Czechoslovak film from 1970. Its Luboš Fišer soundtrack was re-released some years ago by Finders Keepers and became quite popular with people who like that kind of thing. Having listened to the record a good bit made for a strange experience finally seeing the film. It is a somewhat avant-garde work, described by Kim Newman as being exactly like Company of Wolves, except with vampires instead of werewolves. As such it falls into the world of films about teenage girls and their sexual awakenings. Valerie is menaced by shifty characters who try it on with her and who may or may not also be her close blood relatives. A sinister Nosferatu-like figure directs proceedings. Her grandmother may also be one of the vampires. Things happen, but it is not a plotty film. Instead it is a work of great beauty, with a wonderful combination of visual images and music.

But is Valerie and Her Week of Wonders folk horror? I fear not, but it would be churlish to complain about this rare opportunity to see this classic of obscure cinema.

Following that we found ourselves watching the third of the films that Mark Gatiss used to define the folk horror genre. It was The Blood on Satan's Claw, a 1970 film directed by Piers Haggard, made by the same production company as Witchfinder General, seen on the season's first day. This one is also set in days of yore (the 18th century or some such) and begins with a young yokel finding a strange looking hairy skull in a field while ploughing. He brings a grumpy old judge to investigate, but the skull has vanished, yet it soon transpires that Evil has descended upon the locality.

This one was introduced by Donald Clarke, Irish film critic. One of his interesting points was that the film is like a hippy dream gone bad. The servants of Satan in the film are the beautiful flower children, while it is ultimately The Man (the grumpy judge) who puts a stop to their shenanigans. For all that the cultists are murderers and rapists, they look far more like the good guys than Judge Establishment. There is a disturbing brutality to the judge defeating the cultists by laying into them with a big sword at the head of a mob of irate villagers.

This is a great film, managing a more straightforwardly disturbing tone than Witchfinder General and entirely lacking its sense of schlock. For all that the film features a Satanic monster gradually becoming more powerful, the real sense of menace is more psychological, either in the way that the young people are somehow turned by the Dark One or else appear to have their minds destroyed by exposure to the purity of evil. There is also an arbitrariness to the Dark One's ways: why does the lad who finds the skull in the first place remain unaffected by its power?

And is it folk horror? Well, there is not so much about folk practices but it is set in the English countryside and does feature folk, so I suppose it must be. Its eerie soundtrack is also reminiscent of music on the Mount Vernon Art Lab album The Séance at Hobs Lane.

The next film was Hammer classic The Devil Rides Out (1968), a black magic film adapted from the novel by Dennis Wheatley (with Richard Matheson writing the script). It has Christopher Lee playing the Duc de Richelieu, who discovers that a young friend has got mixed up with Satanism. Richelieu turns out to have made an extensive study of the Black Arts (while fortunately remaining resolutely on the side of righteousness), so he and another more square-jawed hero friend battle to save the impressionable young lad before it is too late. It is a film I have seen before and they showed the trailer before everything in the IFI recently, so it felt very familiar when I watched it. It is schlock but it is great schlock, with Lee delivering classic lines like "It's the Goat of Mendes - the Devil Himself!" as though he means them.

It is also striking how the film is pretty much about a battle of poshos against satanists, with most of the satanists also being poshos. Everyone seems to live in mansions and have armies of servants at their disposal. From having read the book the film is based on, this reflects well Wheatley's snobbish world view. Overall the film is an enjoyable romp: a good Hammer film but not necessarily the kind of thing enjoyed by someone not wedded to the Hammer aesthetic.

It is not particularly folk horror; in fact I fear that it is what members of the Folk Horror Revival community on Facebook refer to as "not strictly folk horror". There is nothing really about folk practices or traditional ways, with the film being more straightforwardly an example of gothic horror. So how did it make it into the season? Well, maybe there was a good print available, or maybe it makes for an interesting counterpoint with Blood on Satan's Claw in terms of how satanic forces are represented.

My account of the last films I saw in the Haunted Landscapes season can be read here.

For more on folk horror, see my account of A Fiend in the Furrows here and here.

image sources:

Kim Newman's Quatermass and the Pit book cover (Palgrave Higher Education)

Barbara Shelley (Magazines and Monsters)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Wikipedia)

The Blood on Satan's Claw (Ferdy on Films)

The Goat of Mendes (21st Century Wire)

Monday, October 03, 2016

Haunted Landscapes: a Season of Folk Horror

The Irish Film Institute held a season of folk horror films. What the hell, I thought, buying tickets for all of them. For those that do not know of such things, Folk Horror is a term coined by Mark Gatiss in a 2010 BBC documentary about horror cinema. The three films Gatiss proposed as the epitome folk horror are all from the late 1960s or early 1970s. They were included in this season, as were many several others.

I have not seen Gatiss's documentary so I do not know how exactly he defined his genre. I think of it as being a combination of the uncanny with folk beliefs and practices, though the canonical films do not all readily fit such a mould: indeed, it would largely leave us with folk horror being a one-film genre, with that film being The Wicker Man. So instead I will now bomb through the films shown in the season and we can see if any kind of commonality can be seen.

First up there was Witchfinder General (1968), one of Gatiss's trinity. Directed by Michael Reeves, it tells the story of Matthew Hopkins, a real historical figure who hunted and executed large numbers of suspected witches in eastern England during the chaotic Civil War period. The film has a curious relationship with the reality of the Hopkins story. On the one hand outdoor scenes are filmed in places where Mr Hopkins stalked and killed his prey, but the film presents a more lurid version of his activities, throwing in a baroque witch burning at one point (with hanging being the more usual method of executing witches, or so I understand). The film's narrative drive comes from the quest for revenge of a soldier whose betrothed has been abused and debauched by Hopkins & his thuggish assistant, with the grim ending turning the soldier from square-jawed hero into violent maniac.

For all that this is one of the defining films of the folk horror genre I find Witchfinder General's inclusion therein somewhat problematic. There is very little sense in the film of anyone actually believing in witchcraft (either people considering themselves witches or sincerely believing that others are practitioners of the black arts). Accusations of witchcraft appear as a cynical ploy for people who want to punish their enemies or satiate violent urges. Hopkins himself is hard to think of as anything other than a conman using his witch hunts as a way of enriching himself (though his being played by Vincent Price has a lot to do with this). Perhaps what makes this folk horror is its evocation of the latent sadism and malevolence of the common folk, which we see in those scenes where jeering crowds watch the abuse and execution of those accused of witchcraft.

Famously Michael Reeves did not want Vincent Price in the Hopkins role, wishing that he could have Donald Pleasance instead, but the studio insisted. Price and Reeves did not get on, and at one point Price exclaimed to the much younger Reeves, "I've made 80 films! What have you ever done?", to which Reeves replied, "I've made three good ones". Or so it is said.

That same evening I saw The Wicker Man (1973), again introduced by Kim Newman. I have started thinking that this might actually be my favourite film in the world and that I will never turn down a chance to see it. Part of its fun is that it circulates in a multiplicity of versions, so whenever it is shown you never quite know what you are going to get. Newman mentioned that they did not actually know what version they were showing tonight, so he must have been as surprised by me to see an odd two night version that nevertheless leaves out the snails and 'Gently Johnny', felt by many to be the film's best song. Newman also confessed to a sneaking regard for the short version, which was originally shown with no fanfare as a support film for Don't Look Now, with much of its early word-of-mouth power coming from the fact that people were seeing it completely without preconceptions. I know what he means, as I still shudder at the memory of short horror film The Cottage,which I saw unexpectedly before Airplane 2 or similar back in 1982.

The Wicker Man is the folk horror film because the sense of unease and then the horrific climax all derive from the crazy folk customs of the islanders. An odd feature of the film noted by Newman is that it has become very popular with neo-pagans, which he likened to Spotlight becoming a favourite of Catholic priests. The analogy does not quite work, as the priests are a shadowy off screen presence in Spotlight while The Wicker Man is very much about the islanders and their funny ways, but it does bring home how odd it is to have people watching a film about a death cult and saying, "we love those guys".

One other thing occurred to me after an online discussion on the film. In The Wicker Man the pagan islanders are in opposition to the uptight Christian cop Sergeant Howie (played as you know by Edward Woodward). To modern viewers (and I suspect to many in 1973) the two poles of unbending Christianity and pagan fertility cult are both equally strange. It might be that if someone were to try and remake the film now (please don't) or to make something new but similar they would need to replace Howie either with a Dawkins-style scientific rationalist or someone with a more "whatever" approach to religion.

Part two of my write-up of the Haunted Landscapes season is here.

If you want to delve further into this Folk Horror business, see my account of interesting conference A Fiend in the Furrows here and here.

image sources:

Mark Gatiss (Celluloid Wicker Man)

Vincent Price (Guardian)

The Wicker Man poster (Wikipedia)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Film: "Iona" (2015)

This was the last film I saw in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It set on a Scottish island, but not obviously the island of Iona, with the name of the film coming from the name of the protagonist, played by Ruth Negga. The film begins with her and a teenage boy driving a car, getting a ferry to somewhere, parking the car and setting fire to it, walking on to somewhere else and then getting a boat to the island the film is about. She is returning to the island after leaving it when she was 16 or thereabouts, with her son (who is… about the same age in years as she has been gone from the island dunn dunn dunnnnnn). It is one of those tangled webs and dark secrets revealed films.

I found aspects of the film appealing though I thought some of the roads it chose to go down were a bit distasteful. Ultimately it was only OK but it was great to see Negga in anything as she is one of those actors one could happily watch reading the phone book. Before she went away to seek her fortune in the world of TV and cinema she was the greatest Dublin stage actor of her generation.

Some women sat near me in the cinema tittered all the way through it, like they had been drinking or something.

image source (Up Late At Night Again)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Film: "Retour de Flamme: The Keaton Project" (1920-1922)

I saw this compilation of remastered Buster Keaton shorts in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It was introduced by Serge Bromberg, who oversaw the restoration. Buster Keaton is a legendary film figure but I had never seen anything of his before (apart from a short art film he did in later life with Samuel Beckett), so I was keen to see these short films.

Sadly I did not find these films that funny but I very much enjoyed seeing them. Keaton's self-mastery is astonishing to bold, the way his face can communicate depths of expression while maintaining an apparent deadpan demeanour. In that regard the more recent actor he most reminded me of was Leslie Nielsen. Anyways, these included The One Where The House Falls Over On Top Of Him and the One Where He FInds Himself Being Chased By Loads Of Cops, and many more. It is a bit sad that he was unable to successfully make the transition to sound films, but life is hard.

image source (Timeless Hollywood)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Film: "The Lure" (2015)

I saw Polish film in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It deals with a nightclub band who find two siren-mermaids and then bring them back to add backing vocals to their band. The mermaids also double up as strippers (who can shape-shift into human form when away from water). It is set back in the 1990s (it took me a while to register this) and it is a musical: as well as the scenes of the band playing in the nightclub there are moments when people break into song and dance routines. It is somewhat done for laughs, though I think it would be funnier if you got all the Polish cultural references, but it has its sadface moments on the transient nature of human-mermaid love. And it goes a bit horror from time to time. So thematically and mood-wise it is a bit of a dog's dinner.

I found it a bit sleazy and exploitative. It was noticeable that the two mermaids spend most of the film topless and possess a certain jailbait quality. Yet the director is a woman so maybe this is actually a feminist film, in which the audience are being confronted with their own voyeurism.

image source (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film: "Parabellum" (2015)

This is another odd film I saw in the Dublin Film Festival earlier this year. It has an Austrian director but appears to be set in a future Argentina. It is stylistically interesting in that it features almost no dialogue. It is not a silent film: there is sound and we do hear the human voice. But the scenes where people speak are mostly ones with instructors talking to students who remain mute. There are very few scenes in which Person A says something and Person B says something back.

How can this be? Well the film begins with a man doing a series of things that you realise are him bringing his everyday life to an end. He visits an old man in a home for the elderly. He sits in his apartment while an automated caller invites him to reconsider his decision to cancel his telephone line. He hands his cat in to a cat minder. There are snippets of news reports suggesting that things are going very wrong with the world (riots, natural disasters, social breakdown, etc.). Then the man goes off on a bus to a rural location and is blindfolded and brought on a boat through a river system to a combination holiday camp and training centre. He and the other new arrivals undergo a series of preparations… for what? It seems like a combination of general fitness training and self-defence, then learning to shoot and acquiring some handy survival skills. As they go about their business we see the odd fireball pass through the sky.

The detached tone and the cultishness of the setup reminded me of films by Yorgos Lanthimos, particularly Alps. I was also reminded of that Martha Marcy May Marlene film. The latter comparison seemed particularly apt when the film turns nasty, with the protagonist and a couple of his fellows going to a house in the country and killing all the people there (this portrayed in a detached manner, with most of the killings happening off screen).

The detachment and lack of dialogue in the film is its most appealing prospect but it also can be frustrating. The lack of exposition means it can be a bit unclear as to why things are happening, with the detached style of the acting making it harder to infer from them why they are doing things. In the end it seems like the community breaks down or maybe the protagonist cuts loose and heads off on his own. There is a stunning vista later on when he canoes towards a city that appears to be suffering very badly from a rain of fireballs. The film seemed to be on the point of a transition here but then it just ends.

Its odd nature may mark this out as the best film I saw in the film festival, though I think it may be one I like more in retrospect.

image source (Film Society Lincoln Center)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Film: "100 Yen Love" (2014)

Earlier this year I went to see a film in the film festival and actually saw the film. Jurassic Park! The film I saw was 100 Yen Love, about this waster Japanese woman who is kicked out by her parents and gets a job in a convenience store working the night shift. After doing this for a while she starts taking an interest in boxing, initially because she fancies this guy who keeps training in the local boxing club. Then she takes up boxing herself and it kind of turns her life around. It was an interesting film, providing an insight into a Japanese world of slackers a world away from the salarymen, gangsters or samurai who normally show up in the Japanese films that make it to the West. I'm not sure I liked it that much, though. It seemed a bit unsure of its tone, as to whether it was a funny film about the main character and her funny slacker world or a serious film about her overcoming her demons and getting back on the straight and narrow. I suppose films can be both.

There is one scene in the film that was a bit difficult for me to watch but has had me thinking afterwards. When the woman goes to work in the convenience store she has this co-worker who is also a bit of a loser (hence working in convenience store) but also a bit of dickhead. He is racist and also sleazy, continuously hitting on the protagonist in an unappealing manner. But this is all kind of presented as being a bit funny, in the way that sleazy characters often are in fiction. Then on a night out where they go for drinks after a boxing match he takes the protagonist to a cheap hotel and rapes her. This is clearly not funny, but it did make me think about how sleazy characters (in real life and fiction) may only be a step away from this kind of assault but still are treated in somewhat comedic terms until they actually go that far. These people are only funny if you are not the one worrying about being stuck in a lift with them.

image source (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Film: "Spotlight" (2015)

In the Dublin film festival earlier this year I bought a ticket to see Why Me?, a Romanian film about political corruption in the post-Communist era. I printed out my online ticket, went to the Lighthouse Cinema, showed it to the attendants and was directed into a one of their screens. I sat and watched ads and trailers, but then disaster struck. Instead of the opening credits for Why Me? coming up on screen, I was greeted by a film censor's certificate for another film entirely, one that was already on general release and which was not being shown in the film festival. This was a terrible psychic blow, which left me feeling that some kind of cosmic joke was being played at my expense. I thought of running out to try and find the film I was meant to be seeing, but feared that it would already have started. Inertia also suggested that staying in place would be the wisest course of action, a view supported by the film being one that I had heard something positive about.

The film I was seeing was of course Spotlight, the Tom McCarthy directed film about journalists investigating a systematic Catholic Church cover up of kiddy-fiddling priests in Boston. It is based on real events and features actors playing real investigative journalists who worked for the Boston Globe. I liked that it dealt with a difficult and distasteful issue like kiddy-fiddling in a manner that was neither voyeuristic nor sensational (readers will be pleased to hear that the film features no depictions of actual kiddy-fiddling).

In the film, the existence of paedophile priests is already a known thing, but the journalists uncover that their number is far greater than previously suspected, something that could only have happened if senior figures in the Church were working to hush up the extent to which these crimes were taking place; this coverup is revealed as going all the way up to Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston.

Aside from the sensitivity with which it handles a difficult subject, the film has a number of great strengths. One is the depiction of journalists at work, piecing together the story not by meeting silhouetted informants in car parks but through research and cross-referencing of published documents. The other thing that impressed me is its sense of moral ambiguity. Although we are left with no doubt that kiddy-fiddler priests and the people who shelter them are bad, other characters are revealed as more morally grey than initial impressions might suggest. The most striking example of this is the shyster lawyer who turns out to be arguably working to obtain the best deal he can for his unfortunate clients, someone who tried to blow the whistle on the scale of the paedophile priest problem but who gave up when no one was interested in hearing about it. And then there are the journalists themselves. Journalists in this kind of film are usually shining white knights, forces of unambiguous moral righteousness bringing the bad guys to book. And in this film they are like that, to an extent,but as the film goes on they (and we) become more aware of the older journalists' role in the cover-up of the paedophile priest scandal. They did not do so thanks to corruption or a desire to protect the Church, but because their prior biases could not support the idea that there really was a systemic problem with clerical paedophilia. People who asserted the true scale of the problem are dismissed as cranks, their claims buried on the inside pages of the paper if covered at all.

Aside from the fact that this terrible abuse of minors was allowed to happen, there are things that made me sad about this film. One was the fact that although set in the relatively recent past (late 1990s, early 2000s), it is like a relic of an age that is increasingly vanishing, one where newspapers were important institutions and serious investigative journalism still a thing. Overall though this is a powerful and well-made film with strong performances from various topnotch actors that I encourage people to see.

image source (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

July 1916

Hello Inuit Panda readers. I have been neglecting you in favour of my First World War blog. If you are interested in such things, here are links to my posts there in July:

1/7/1916 Carnage on the Somme

2/7/1916 The Somme: counting the cost, planning the next steps

2/7/1916 Baranovichi: a Russian attempt to smash the Germans

3/7/1916 The Somme: a failed night attack

6/7/1916 The Somme: piecemeal Allied attacks continue

8/7/1916 The horror of the Somme comes home to Britain

9/7/1916 The battle for Mecca

10/7/1916 Italian mine war in the Dolomites

11/7/1916 Verdun: Knobelsdorf’s last throw of the dice

11/7/1916 Italy explodes its mine under the Austro-Hungarian Castelletto

12/7/1916 Verdun: the furthest German advance

12/7/1916 Austria’s brutal vengeance: the execution of Cesare Battisti

14/7/1916 The Somme: Rawlinson sends in the cavalry

15/7/1916 Verdun: the French push back

16/7/1916 Britain sends Egyptian help to the Arab Revolt

19/7/1916 Australian disaster at Fromelles

20/7/1916 The Somme: Britain and France go their own way

22/7/1916 Exit Sazonov

23/7/1916 The Somme: British attacks fail but Australian troops seize Pozières

24/7/2016 Pozières: Germany strikes back

25/7/1916 Brusilov’s offensive begins to slow down, Evert’s continues to fail

27/7/1916 As the Somme grinds on, politicians become restless but Haig remains confident

27/7/1916 Germany executes Captain Fryatt

28/7/1916 The Dada Manifesto and the Cabaret Voltaire

30/7/1916 The Black Tom explosion

30/7/1916 The Somme: new German tactics

image source:

Reconstructed image of British soldiers advancing from The Battle of the Somme (1916) (The History Learning Site)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The incredible story of our cat

On the anniversary of our cat arriving into our lives I posted the story of her first year with us on Twitter. Now at last I am sharing this story for the benefit of my blog readers. This is a post that involves scrolling down a lot, but it does also feature a lot of pictures of what may be the world's most beautiful cat.

More amazing cat pictures here and here

Friday, June 24, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 7: Monday

My interminable account of the last ever ATP lurches towards its conclusion. Previous instalments (with actual music discussion) can be seen here, here, here, here, here and here

Sunday night ended on a positive note. The bad vibes returned on Monday morning. As we were getting ready to leave we learned that the following weekend's Manchester ATP had been cancelled. I imagined Barry Hogan spending the weekend of the Stewart Lee ATP barricaded into a bunker desperately trying to shuffle money around so that the other weekend could somehow still go ahead. I'm thinking things like "If I don't pay everyone who was playing on Stage 2 I'll have enough cash to put down the deposit on the PA if they give me a discount and some credit…", that kind of thing. Oh well. I heard reports subsequently that he was trying to borrow money from Drive Like Jehu, the Manchester ATP headliners. That's not good. I also heard of artists who found themselves marooned in England because their gigs (and the money they optimistically hoped to earn from them) had been cancelled at short notice.

Since then the Iceland ATP scheduled for July 2016 has been cancelled with barely two weeks' notice. This was a bit of a surprise, as it was reputedly underwritten financially by the Icelandic government, though having seen bad banks crash their economy they were probably careful enough not to let a mismanaged music festival do the same. And it appears that the wider ATP organisation is winding up, for real this time. I wish that ATP had stopped with the one that was originally billed as the last one ever, instead of continuing and pissing on their legacy.

I wish there were still festivals like ATP. The convenience of being able to stay in a holiday camp and see a wide range of bands playing is not to be sniffed at. I noticed on social media that a lot of people reckon they could do a better job of running this kind of festival than Barry Hogan. Maybe it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
More astonishing ATP pictures

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 6: Sunday (continued)

Amazing! I am still describing my trip to the last ever ATP festival. Should you want to see previous instalments, they are here, here, here, here and here.

I was very excited about seeing Bardo Pond on the main stage. They are a real ATP band, in the sense that I think playing at early ATPs played an important part in bringing them to a wider audience. There is a heavy rock freak out quality to their music, but their sound is also slow and restrained and less excessive than, say, the likes of The Heads. They include a number of blokes on instruments and a woman on flute and vocals. At previous ATPs I always saw them playing the smaller stages but this time they were on Stage 1, the big one. And while before they always seemed like a small stage band, this time they felt like they had expanded and upped their game to take on the expanse now offered to them. Isobel Sollenberger was fronting the band much more than when I had previously seen them. Her languid blissed out demeanour well suited the enveloping stoner rock sounds.
Perhaps because they have gained so much by playing ATP festivals, Ms Sollenberger actually thanked Barry Hogan from the stage. A ripple went through the crowd. I may even have heard someone saying "Fucking hell", but it was a measure of how the bad vibes of Friday had somewhat dissipated that her thanks were not followed by boos from the audience.

I saw a little bit of a 1970s documentary film about the Sunbury Pop Festival, this being an Australian music festival in the town of Sunbury. It looked like a very well made member of the festival film genre, with great footage of bands performing and then music juxtaposed with things happening in the crowd. As with every film of this type there was an incident where a guy who had taken too much acid had to be coaxed down from an observation tower. There was some interesting interview footage with a guy from a band where he was saying that what was so great about the festival was that it showed there was enough talent in Australia for festivals to be put on without having to bring in second rate American bands (for all that his band sounded like a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute act).

The most interesting bit of the film for me though was all the footage of cops getting heavy with festival goers. As presented, it looked like there were a lot of lads hanging around not really doing too much when suddenly the cops would roll up and throw people into police vans. Anyone who suggested that this might be a bit much was liable to join their friends in the wagon, perhaps receiving a few slaps into the bargain. Cops be cops.

It was also striking how white and British Isles the festival goers all looked. Unlike ATP of course! I read subsequently that Sunbury Pop declined into a festival for beer drinking dickheads. A pre-fame Queen played one year and were greeted with cries of "Fuck off back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs".

Sadly I missed the sing-a-long Wicker Man. I did catch some of Richard James, a former member of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci who must spend his time denying that he is the Aphex Twin. His music was entertainingly droney.
Rounding off the weekend for me then was the Sun Ra Arkestra. OK, let's get all Van Morrison School of Music Journalism (a phrase coined by one Dave Howarth to refer to music journalists who state the obvious or thoughtlessly parrot unchecked received opinions) on this. The Arkestra are a jazz big band led by Marshall Allen, who is in his 90s. They have their origins in the band led by Sun Ra, who was from Saturn (to where he has now returned). They wear sparkly capes. They have songs about travelling through space. They parade through the audience at the climax of their set.

To be honest, the Sun Ra Arkestra are pretty much the same every time I see them, but they are pretty much the same in a way that always makes me want to see them again. They are the perfect good time end to a festival like this. Friday's Bad Vibes were now definitively gone.

And so the festival ends on a high note… but Monday morning brought astonishing news. You can read all about it here tomorrow.

More astonishing ATP pictures

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 5: Sunday

I continue my long-winded account of my trip to the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival. If you want to you can see previous instalments here, here, here and here.

After my Saturday night perambulations I went to bed, carefully setting an alarm on my phone so that I would be up in time to catch Trembling Bells at 1.00 pm. After a bit I then cleverly decided to turn off my phone to prevent premature awakening from people ringing or texting me (which shows how confused I was, as no one ever rings or texts me). As a result I managed to sleep in till after the Trembling Bells were due to start. Disastro! I thought of throwing on clothes and running down to see at least some of them, given that they were one of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing, but ablutions and breakfast came first. I was still hoping i would catch them playing afterwards as backing band for old folkie John Kirkpatrick.

When I reached Stage 2 however Trembling Bells were still playing! And playing what sounded like their own stuff too. It turned out there had been a change to the running order and this John Kirkpatrick fellow was not playing after all, so Trembling Bells started late.
If you don't know the Trembling Bells, they could broadly be described as neo-folk-rock. They mostly (entirely?) play original compositions but the sound recalls that of folk rock outfits of yore. Their singer, Lavinia Blackwall, has the kind of soaring vocal style & ability of her predecessors in that world. What makes them bit unusual is that they are led by their drummer, Alex Neilson, a man of astonishing percussive chops whose background is in the world of improv and suchlike. In an interview recently, Trembling Bells chafed at the folk rock label applied to them. At a first listen to their music, their chafing is laughable as first impressions have them like something from the Steeleye Span, Comus or Fairport Convention era reborn. But there is something to their sound that makes them their own thing. A lot of this comes from the drumming but their is generally an unusual twist on the folk-rock sound to them.

Anyway, shortly after I arrived at Stage 2, I heard Nigel Tufnell's voice come over the PA to say "And oh how they danced". A load of morris dancers then appeared in front of the stage and did their thing while the band played one of those songs that seemed to be about dancers going into an irresistible maniacal frenzy. I think the morris dancers featured some of the people who just bob up and down to the music while wearing animal heads, though it was hard to see. I heard subsequently that they had been dancing previously outside this venue's Queen Victoria (every Pontins has a shit pub called the Queen Victoria).

After that the band played on, delivering what for me was another festival highlight. I must pay tribute to Ms Blackwall's amazing vampire lady outfit, which showed off her charms to good effect. I also salute her singing and to the drumming of Mr Nielson, something that it always worth being able to see live. I loved all the other members of this great band too.
There was a lot of improv at this ATP. I saw almost none of it because most of it was on up in Stage 3, a place I had resolved to visit as little as possible. I did however catch some Evan Parker, LR Thurston Moore, and some other blokes playing on Stage 2. It was good fun. I also saw a bit of Boredoms, but as I am the one person in the world immune to their charms I wandered off to buy a drink and get myself in pole position for Alasdair Roberts.

Alasdair Roberts was playing on Stage 2. As you know, he is a Glaswegian folk singer who plays both original compositions and songs of yore. Some of the songs he sings can be lyrically a bit dark, though he tends to offset that with a relatively cheerful delivery. He is also an astonishing guitar player, which makes seeing live all the more exciting.

He began with 'The Fair Flower of Northumberland', a song about a Scottish prisoner who seduces and then abandons an English girl to aid his escape north. It is odd in that it feels like it will end terribly for the girl, but instead [spoilers] it just become a character-building life experience, with her mother saying "you silly goose, don't do that again!" and the girl saying "I've learned my lesson and probably will not run away with any other disreputable Scot in the future".

The set got very dark later though when Roberts performed one of the 'Cruel Mother' songs. These seem mostly to be a thing from Scotland (land of cruel mothers), typically featuring repeated refrains with the name of a locality. The versions I have heard then follow the same pattern. A woman gives birth to twins in the woods. She suckles them and then kills them, leaving their bodies behind. But then later she sees two beautiful children and says to them "Oh if you were my children I would dress you up in clothes so fine" but they retort "But when we were your children you strangled us and left our bodies in a shallow grave. Now we are in Heaven and you will soon be going to Hell".

What always strikes me about these songs is that there is no mention of who fathered the babies. No one gives birth on their own in the woods for fun and I find it hard not to think that the songs obscure some terrible secret as to the twins' origin. I am reminded somewhat of the Irish folk tune 'The Well Below The Valley' (found on the Planxty album of that name), which is lyrically different but in some ways follows a pattern that makes if seem like it has evolved from a Cruel Mother song. In that one a stranger meets a woman at a well, and reveals that he knows her terrible secret: that the area is littered with the buried remains of the children she has had fathered on her by her brother, uncle and father. In that one too the stranger tells the woman that she is hell bound, though as with the Alasdair Roberts song she prays that she might be spared that fate.

So that is a bit of a digression into folk's dark corners. It is still interesting to compare Roberts to the likes of Richard Dawson. They both sing of unpleasant things but Roberts is much more restrained about it. I could be wrong but I think maybe that Roberts' delivery is more true to the folk tradition, though further research may be required. I definitely recommend that all readers seek out the music of Alasdair Roberts and see him live if they get the chance.
Nearly there! Come back tomorrow for more ATP action

More astonishing ATP pictures

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 4: Saturday (continued) - featuring festival highlight performance

This is fourth episode of my exhaustive account of my visit to the last ever ATP festival in Prestatyn, which was curated by Stewart Lee. You probably don't need to read previous instalments, but if you want to you can see them here, here, & here.

On Saturday evening I saw The Heads on Stage 1, sitting at the back because I was a bit puppy tired. The Heads rock hard and were enjoyably full on. I followed them by a trip back to the chalet. On the way I met a man who was being bitten by his girlfriend. We discussed whether this meant he would turn into his girlfriend and would then go round biting other people, so that everyone present would end up being a version of her.
Then I saw The Ex, who are an ATP staple: I first became aware of them at a Camber Sands festival and have seen them at ATPs on a great many occasions. Perhaps this engendered a certain laziness on my part that meant that I arrived down late for their performance on Stage 1, missing all but the last couple of songs. They're still great though. The Young Lad has settled into his role as replacement for the original singer and the band continue to give the impression of enjoying what they do. In fact their general positivity reminded me that the bad vibes of Friday had by now largely dissipated. That said, they finished by saying that they looked forward to seeing anyone who was going to the Manchester ATP, as they were also playing that; this may have been the ATP equivalent of the guy in a horror film who says, "Just nipping down to the cellar, I'll be right back".
I was planning to see The Fall but they were taking forever to setup. This may not have been their fault as such, as the programme this evening had gone a bit strange thanks to John Cale's late cancelation. But I could not wait so instead I went off to catch The BellRays. They are the band sometimes described as being what you would get if classic Tina Turner found herself fronting the MC5. And they are indeed a powerfully voiced black woman fronting a load of white guys playing music transitioning from late psych to hard rock. An appealing thing about them is that they are all quite old, possibly even older than me, yet they're all still going for it like motherfuckers. Catch them if they come to your town.

And that was almost that. We regrouped in the chalet (or in a chalet) for a bit of relaxation. There was still one more thing in the programme for that night, the enigmatically named Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon. It was generally assumed that this would be the Welsh singer DJing some pop records: potentially fun. But when we drifted back to it we discovered that it was something else entirely, for this was none other than Ms Church playing with a full band on Stage 2.
For the benefit of foreign readers, Charlotte Church came to prominence as a child performer of lovely songs that showed off her considerable vocal talents. As she has grown up she has pushed against the musical straitjacket of her youth and started trying to explore pop and art-pop directions. In her Late Night Pop Dungeon she sang a good few pop classics and a few songs she has had hits with herself. A stroke of genius was throwing in versions of 'Hometown Unicorn' by popular Welsh band Super Furry Animals and 'Holland, 1945' by Neutral Milk Hotel. This could be dismissed as indie tokenism but readers of a interviews with Ms Church will be aware of her liking for these bands. The actual highlight for me though was her cover of 'Don't Let Go' by En Vogue, with 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life' running a close second.

There can be something a bit terrifying about adult former child stars. In the case of Ms Church I think we see the upside, someone of youthful years who nevertheless has the polished stage presence of an experienced performer. Her set was a highlight of the weekend and one of the greatest ATP performances I have ever encountered.

That should have been the end of the day for me but I had certain responsibilities to fulfil. Friends were arriving late on Saturday from Dublin for complicated reasons. They were not going to be in my chalet but as a responsible adult I was tasked with making sure their chalet-mates remembered they were coming. So I had to bring one to the camp's entrance so that she could bring in the new arrivals. Then we had a party in their chalet which went on into the small hours. Eventually I had to make my way back home, though on the way I met some confused people who couldn't find their chalet. I had a map with me but it turned out their chalet wasn't on the map. They left me and may be wandering around Pontins Prestatyn to this very day.

Come back tomorrow for more folk horror ATP action.

More astonishing ATP pictures

Monday, June 20, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 3: Saturday

I continue my account of the last ever ATP festival. Previous installments here & here.

I went for a stroll into sunny Prestatyn and saw none other than folkie sensation Alasdair Roberts wandering around. This was very exciting as he was on the bill for Sunday, so if he was here this meant that at least one more act I was looking forward to seeing was still going to be playing. I thought of saying hello but I did not want to be that guy who annoys famous people. Afterwards though I wondered whether Roberts might be at that level of fame where randomers saying hello to him is still exciting.

I was in Prestatyn to do some shopping (including trying to pass a prescription for "stuff" in a local Boots), so it was fitting that the first things I saw back in Pontins was the last few minutes of Shopping, who played angular music suggesting a Congolese influence. I did not see enough to have an informed impression but reports were positive. I saw more of Wolf People, who could lazily be described as a late 1960s folk-rock revival outfit. They're good at what they do, though I think further investigation may be needed to determine just how good.

I wandered along to The Raincoats in a spirit of some trepidation. As you know, they emerged in the punk era and were considered strangely novel by all being women. Their career ran its course then but with the passage of time they have experienced several revivals of interest in their work. I am a great admirer of their cover version of The Kinks' 'Lola' but when I saw them at a previous ATP I found the experience dispriting; to me they were the wrong kind of ramshackle, coming across as amateurish and incompetent.

This time I only caught the last few songs of The Raincoats' set (something I seem to have done with a great many of the performances at this festival). But either they were more on top of their game or (more likely) I was in a more receptive mood, because this seemed like strikingly good stuff. It was still a bit ramshackle but it was good ramshackle, the kind of thing that is the opposite of slick. And there was a droney element to their music that I did not recall from the last time. I came away from this thinking that I should re-engage with this band's recorded oeuvre.

I also saw the last few songs of Bevis Frond. They were like a 1970s softy rock band who had somehow travelled forward in time to the 2010s. To me they were fundamentally inessential but they might appeal to others.

So I went to see Richard Youngs on Stage 2. I know him just from some performances he gave at Counterflows in Glasgow last year. He somehow manages to straddle the disparate worlds of folkie music and conceptual art music, which means that on any given occasions when you see him you never know quite what you are going to get. In this case he came on stage and did some kind of odd a cappella piece. Then he did a song where he would sing a line and then shout "HEY!".

I like to think of myself as a broadminded individual open to new experiences, but this was all a bit too in your face artwank for me, so I wandered off. I heard subsequently that I left just before it all got interesting. Apparently he sang a line and shouted nothing, whereupon someone in the crowd tentatively shouted "Hey?". After that the concert became a bizarre event based on unpredictable performer-audience interaction.

But I saw none of that because I was making a daring raid upstairs to see Laetitia Sadier. The last time I saw the former Stereolab singer (at a previous ATP) she was playing solo. This time she had a band with her, made up of young gentlemen. The whole thing was OK but again I found it somewhat inessential. Still, I did find myself standing beside curator and TV funny guy Stewart Lee for a bit. I thought of giving him a thump and saying "Who's having the last laugh now?" except he is well known for his skill at the arts of fighting so I decided against it.
Back downstairs I caught the set by late 1980s indie sensations The Blue Aeroplanes. They are one of those bands who weren't involved in shoegaze and never went seriously indie-dance, so now they are somewhat forgotten (but not, presumably, by Stewart Lee). I did not hear much of their stuff back in the day but always had the idea that they had an interesting art-rock quality to them, so I was keen to check them out. Now their line-up is made up mostly of younger musicians but there are a couple still who are or could be original members. The drummer is of somewhat advanced years but the two key oldsters are Gerard Langley, the beat poet inspired vocalist, and Wojtek Dmochowski, dancer.

That's right, readers, they have a dancer. Some have described Wojtek as the original Bez but I think there is a different dynamic to his efforts here. Bez basically shuffled backwards and forwards in a confused haze, but Wojtek is more of the interpretative dance persuasion. Lord knows what the musicians in the band though of him, but for me his presence was a key part of what made this a great performance.

Another great thing about the Blue Aeroplanes was how up for it the band were. Sometimes one finds with long-running or reformed bands where past members have been replaced by young people that you end up with detached session musicians, but here we had a load of excited players who gave every impression of being very invested in the music (and there were even a couple of songs that did not have Gerard on lead vocals). The last song they played was a particularly mental all hands on deck tune that would have been a great encore piece, if bands in the middle of a festival bill got to do encores.

Come back tomorrow for more ATP action!

More astonishing ATP pictures

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 2: Friday

So yesterday I gave you some background on my amazing trip to the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival… now let me discuss some of what transpired there.

The first band I saw was Ex Easter Island Head. Or rather they were the first band I tried to see. They were playing in the minuscule Stage 3. The crowd of people there meant that when I arrived I could see little or nothing of the band. They seemed to be some kind of percussive outfit, possibly Gamelan influenced, and it was interesting to see their drum sticks rising above the heads of the crowd. From where I was though I was doomed to have the alienating experience of seeing little or nothing and having people pushing by me as they arrived or left. FTS, I thought, so I made my excuses and left, developing an antipathy towards Stage 3 that I retained for the rest of the weekend.

By now unpleasant news was permeating among the festival-goers regarding further organisational and other failures. Some people had dropped off the bill, notably Shirley Collins and vintage outsider comedy act Ted Chippington (both from illness, though possibly not the same illness). John Cale, a relatively late addition to the bill, had cancelled at the last minute and was tweeting about having been let down by the organisers (by which I think he meant that they were not paying him money he was due). This news contributed to escalating bad vibes in Prestatyn, as people wondered who else would suddenly turn out not to be playing after all.
One lot who were still playing Shonen Knife. These are the Japanese pop-punk sensations who have been going for ages now with an ever-evolving line-up. Naoko Yamano remains the one constant, but she is joined tonight by another founding member, her sister Atsuko (who has switched from drums to bass). Naoko and Atsuko are both even older than I am (some might say too old to still be singing about capybaras and amusement park rides), but they are joined by the much younger Risa on drums.

In a festival where the bad vibes were rising it was great to have a band as relentlessly positive as Shonen Knife on the bill. They radiate such good cheer that they could not but lift the mood of gloom. To an extent anyway.

Festivals are great for checking out bands you have heard of but don't really know much about. Thus it was I went to see Sleaford Mods with an air of excited curiosity. Their name is a bit misleading, as anyone expecting them to be a Paul Weller tribute act would be somewhat disappointed. Instead they are two blokes, one of whom stands in front of a computer drinking beer while the other talks into a microphone. The talking hovers between rapping, toasting and verse-free invective. You could think of them as being like an art-rock version of Goldie Looking Chain (except with one rapper, so the analogy does not really work). I thought they might well repay closer attention but also suspected that they would be better live than on record.

I caught a bit of Richard Dawson, who was performing on Stage 2. He had been recommended to me. He is one of those neo-folkies and comes from a region. His songs are a bit in your face and often involve violent death. In between two of the songs he started telling a joke and then said, "You know what's a fucking joke? The organisational abilities of someone who isn't a million miles away from here".

Dawson did one song about some guy dying in an industrial accident or something, accompanying himself by stomping on the ground, but when he launched into a particularly in-your-face song about some guys taking forever to kill and butcher a horse I found myself thinking that there is only so much negativity I can take in my life. I'm not sure why murder ballads and songs about human death are manageable while I can't take songs about cruelty to horses (a class of animal I am not that pushed about generally), but I decided to skip the rest of Richard Dawson's set. The venue was also extremely warm, and in my tired Friday evening state it did not occur to me that maybe I could cool down by taking off some of my clothes.

I was getting very tired indeed by now but I decided to force myself to stay up to catch Friday night headliner, Roky Erickson (legendary frontman of legendary 1960s psych band 13th Floor Elevators). He is quite old now and has seen better days, as evidenced by his playing the gig sitting in a chair. He also began by saying that he almost did not play due to fuckwittery on the part of the ATP organisation but in the end he went ahead to keep it real for the kids. We appreciated the gesture. I heard it said subsequently that before playing Roky Erickson and his band were still waiting for ATP to cough up cash for a gig they had played in London earlier in the week and had packed up their stuff and were about to leave when Deborah ATP (Barry Hogan's business partner and wife) successfully begged them to stay. I was struck by how the 60s acid casualty turned out to be more professional than the festival organiser.

I was too tired to really enjoy Mr Erickson's set and can't but think it was a mistake to put them on so late on the first day when many people would have had a long day of travelling to get to the site. But I was impressed by his singing and his band (who recreated the classic Elevators sound by having a guy blowing into a whisky jug). 'Slip Inside This House' was a particular highlight, with this astonishingly being my first exposure to this song other than its recording by Primal Scream on Screamadelica. This version had a considerably more epic quality and lacks an early 1990s shuffle-beat. It felt like it could have gone on forever and in the moment it seemed almost to. But it come to an end and then Erickson followed it with some slow ballad that wasn't going to keep sleepy me awake, so I went back to the chalet to score some ZZZZs.

More astonishing ATP pictures

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 1: Introductory Yap

What's that, readers? You would like to read an account of what we now know to have been the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival? Well then, you've come to the rights place, for now I present part one of an account of my recent visit to sunny Prestatyn, where ATP was taking place in the Pontins holiday camp just outside the town. By now most people are broadly familiar with the All Tomorrow's Parties drill - it is a festival in an out-of-season holiday camp featuring left-field bands of today together with a smattering of musical artists of yore. The events are curated by someone, usually a band or musician though not always, who sets the agenda and has a major role in picking the acts who play. This year the curator was the popular comedian Stewart Lee.

People who get their news about the world solely from this blog may now be somewhat confused. Wasn't there an All Tomorrow's Parties a few years ago that was the last ever ATP? Yes there was, it was curated by Mogwai. I was there and so were many of my associates. So how was there another ATP happening in April? Well one might wonder about this question. It seems as though Barry Hogan (Mr ATP) decided that the world needed more holiday camp festival action. There was a winter ATP (officially a Nightmare Before Christmas) in Prestatyn last November and then two festivals were announced for May this year, the Stewart Lee curated one and another curated by Drive Like Jehu (a band).

The ATP have a well-deserved reputation for organisational and financial failure, with previous festivals cancelled or postponed at short notice. This made me a bit wary of signing up to this Stewart Lee ATP. This was the first all-new ATP that anyone I knew was going to and I was thinking that maybe it would be better to let them test the waters before I started trying to attend one myself. After looking at the tasty line-up however I decided to take the plunge. Given that anyone who buys ATP tickets on credit card can get a refund if the event is cancelled, all I would have to lose if it went south was the cost of getting to Prestatyn, which is not very much if you travel by boat and train from Dublin and are rolling in cash like me. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

And then in March, about six weeks before the festival date, signs emerged that it might not take place. There were reports that ATP had missed a payment to Pontins and lost the holiday camp in which the festival was due to take place. People became rather irate, but eventually ATP were able to pony up some cash and secure the site for the Stewart Lee weekend. Drive Like Jesu fans were less fortunate: it was announced that their festival would definitely be taking place, no problem, but was being moved to Manchester, with ticket holders being put up in hotels.

That pretty much was that until it was time to head over to Wales for music fun. There were a lot of us coming over from Dublin, because Prestatyn is basically the most easily accessible ATP venue yet for people from our fair city. The ferry brings you across the Irish Sea and then the train brings you to Prestatyn, in easy walking distance of the holiday camp. I was on the Stena ferry with a number of exciting people. We stopped for lunch in Holyhead and then travelled on to Prestatyn. There we had some time to kill before we could enter the camp site (bureaucratic reasons) so we grabbed a quick pint in a local hostelry. This proved to be a mistake, at least for me, as the hearty ales consumed meant that my early start began to catch up with me, making me a bit *tired*. Worse, when I met one of my abstemious American friends and his no-doubt equally abstemious chalet-mates I had to make great efforts to hold it together and not come across as some drink-addled lush. I think I managed, but one can never tell.

When you go to an all new site for a festival there is always the fun game of compare and contrast with previous venues. The Prestatyn camp is a Pontins, which means it is part of the same chain as the Camber Sands site where the fun began all those years ago. The chalets looked eerily familiar, clearly having been cut from the same cloth as their friends in Sussex. The camp seemed a bit smaller, with the chalets more compactly arranged, though I might just be thinking that because our chalet was closer to the venue.

One odd feature of this ATP was that there was a sniffer dog at the entrance. I presume it was checking for drøgs but who knows, maybe he was one of those dogs who can sniff out people who are secretly ISIS cultists. As is the way of these things, he soon had his own Twitter account.

That sets the scene. Come back tomorrow for more amazing ATP content, featuring actual music talk.

More astonishing ATP pictures