Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Greenbelt Preview

Having downloaded the Daily Diary for Greenbelt here is my pick of the festival from Saturday to Monday, for some reason Friday evening appears to be missing from the document, which is a bit disappointing.

I’ll start with music and the Glade Stage on Saturday – Martyn Joseph is hosting The Rising there on Saturday afternoon. For those who aren’t familiar with this it’s where this talented and very established member of the folk community talks with other musicians about their work and influences. Both Martyn and the performers he is talking with play a bit too.

One of those Martyn will be talking to is Scott Matthews who has a smooth yet fairly melancholy voice. If you like Gaz Combes album Matador my guess is you’ll like to hear this this act.

Later on MOBO award winner Zara MacFarlane takes the stage with her haunting and beautiful jazz voice. For those who might not have heard of her if you enjoy the work of people like Leanne Le Havas you’ll love this.

Then the tempo changes for King Porter Stomp with their ska based mix of reggae and brass. This is good dancing music made for a festie stage and will be well worth going along to. These are my musical pick of the day.

There is a blast from the past when The Polyphonic Spree return to Greenbelt and the Glade on Saturday evening. They bring their weird and wonderful sound to the countryside and I suspect that will work well.

If you are looking for a bit of late night folkie weirdness then go no further than the Playhouse where The Revolutionary Army of theInfant Jesus will be playing some of their dark, haunting tunes. If you like Jaqui McShee and Pentangle then this will be your sort of thing.

The Canopy is a great stage for just discovering stuff if you sit there long enough. The only name from Saturday I am familiar with is Shlomo, the human beat box, who is doing a solo set which will be taking you back to the eighties.  

Best name of the day on that stage are Project JamSandwich. They are a crazy percussion and strings group who mix it up with influences from all over the place.

Duo Lew-Rey are playing this stage too on the Saturday evening. The duo play some chilled out modern electronic pop which is pleasant and will be good to sit and relax with if it’s fine weather.

Generally it appears that a lot of the music on Saturday will be quite hippy trippy stuff  Boat toRow on earlier on Saturday afternoon are another example of the circa 1970 revisited sound which will be coming from a number of the acts. Digitonal headlining the canopy stage on the Saturday evening keep this theme but take it in a different direction and if one listens to the sampler for their Beautifully Broken album you can hear how the chill out ambient sounds have a link back to the folk movement.

On Sunday the folk becomes popular as well as traditional as The Unthanks headline. Expect nothing but the best from them in terms of musicianship and look out for an interesting song about pigeons. (See my Cambridge Folk Festival Review)

Personally I would say if you want something with a bit more rhythm and far more exciting and a bit more messy stay up late on Sunday and go and see Ella and the Blisters who will be following the Unthanks with high voltage bluegrass. This lot seem like they’ll be much more fun and good to dance to. These I think are my musical pick of the festival.

Another act well worth catching across the festival is Tom Butler who is playing the Canopy on Saturday and the glade on Sunday. The lyrics of this guy are well worth listening to in numbers like Freedom.

Again there is lots more music on across at the Canopy including Greenbelt regular Iain Archer who is always worth a listen.

Moving on to the music on Monday there is what could be called a gathering of Greenbelt’s own on the Glade stage as the wonderful young urban folk singer Grace Petrie preceeds Martyn Joseph. Hopefully there will be a lot more of the political stuff in her set and a little less of the chat than last year. Having caught a little of Whatever's Left by Grace and the Benefits Culture, her fourth album, I think we'll hear some great things.

If you have never caught either of these two but you like the music and lyrics of people like Billy Bragg you must get yourself to listen to them. Yes, they do the odd “love song” in between but they both kick ass as political song writers.

It seems that if Saturday is the hippy trippy day then Monday is the day of the Greenbelt Family protest singer because in addition to the two mentioned above Garth Hewitt, (who I described back in the early 1990’s as sounding like a Christian Morrisey he was so miserable whilst being quite talented), kicks of the Canopy. For those unaware he has been a campaigner and member of the Greenbelt team one way or another for many years.

On the subject of the Greenbelt Family there has been a tradition of going into the pub for a sing-a-long every so often. I believe this may be happening on Monday evening about 7pm.

Moving away from the more familiar Coco and theButterfields who have a really good pop sound are worth a look. Their recent video for Hello was quite beautiful. They’re also on the Glade stage on Monday.

This is just a pick of some of the music, there is a lot to choose from. But Greenbelt is so much more than music in fact many people go and listen to the talks without ever getting to the music.

As I said previously my Daily Diary appeared to be missing Friday. I think, if I have it correct from Social Media, this is the evening Gemma Dunning will be doing a talk. Not sure which of the many topics she could be covering she’ll be talking about but it will include missional activity of one kind or another. She’ll be well worth a listen.

Greenbelt tends to get turbulent priests speaking and this year appears to be no different. Guardian Readers and others will be familiar with the work of Giles Fraser. He is a good, if somewhat polemic speaker and love it or loathe it you’ll not be board with what he says.

If you want a gentler yet at times just as radical voice from another well spoken Anglican priest Lucy Winkett who is talking on Reading the Bible With Your Feet will be worth a listen.

Both of them are on the Glade stage in the morning. Carrying on the theme of high profile Anglican clergy the points value goes up when Kate Bottley joins up with Giles Fraser and pop star turned priest Richard Coles for a panel on Twitter Vicars and the Sacrament of Social Media in the Pagoda. I suspect this will actually be worth listening to, if nothing more than for the fact Kate Bottley is a great woman who says it like it really is and doesn’t do pretention at all. She has her own slot on the Glade Stage on Monday morning talking about being the Goggle Box Vicar.

One great thing about Greenbelt is they are never afraid of dealing with issues which might be considered as too hot to handle by other conferences and festivals which have a high number of Christians attending. This year is no different as amongst the events on Saturday in the Treehouse are Thou Shall Not be Overcome: LGBT People, Our Allies and the Christian Church which has Ruth Hunt who is the Chief Exec of Stonewall speaking. Her talk is followed by three people talking about The Real Benefits Street and that in turn is followed by a talk on Primania: How’s Paying for your clothes with Katherine Maxwell-Cook.

Sunday provides a couple of interesting talks following each other in the Pagoda as Katherine Welby Roberts and Matt Haig discuss reasons to Stay Alive before theologian Marika Rose discusses Angels and Cyborgs.

Katherine Welby Roberts is also in the Treehouse talking about Life Doesn’t Come with A Bow. Again it is one of a range of interesting talks which will be occurring in there facing the issues the church doesn’t always want to. Asylum and Exile: Voices of Refugees is one of the other talks in there.

Monday is the day anybody who didn’t catch his great interview on Radio Two’s Good Morning Sunday a few months ago can hear Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow talk about the Shed which fed a Million Children. This will be well worth a listen.

I realise I could through the whole programme but this gives a flavour and some tips of things I think will be worth catching music and talks wise.

There are a couple of other things I want to signpost too before I finish.

The first is American performance artist, theologian and activist Peterson Toscano who will be bringing his Gender Outlaws in the Bible: A Theatrical, Theological Expose back to Greenbelt. He is also touring round different parts of the UK including London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Belfast and will be well worth seeing if you can, even if you can’t get to Greenbelt. Tenx9 is back on Saturday too. This year people will be invited to tell their own stories, for ten minutes, on the topic of power.

The other is the worship. There is a lot of worship that takes place at Greenbelt. Some of it is aimed at specific groups who often come together as a kind of subset of family at Greenbelt. The Outerspace and Goth Eucharists are both in the Treehouse this year on Saturday evening. I cannot begin to explain what the significance of the former has been in my own life – just to say there is something very moving about coming together and realising you are not alone.

Whilst I know people have various views on the Festival Communion service on the Sunday morning down by the main stage, this year the Glade stage, I have always found it to be moving…although some years conducted in a way which is better than others in terms of being able to worship to.

So those are my recommendations for the weekend. For the first time in about 15 years I (most probably) won’t be there because of other commitments. However, as I’ve written this for you and particularly people who might be first timers or just thinking about going. Greenbelt is a special place and it holds an incredibly special place in my heart. As somebody I know once said to me ‘it’s one of the places as a gender queer, gay, atheist, anarchist I’ve felt most at home and safe’.  That’s not because Greenbelt, despite what the critics sometimes suggest, is a liberal den of non-belief but it is because it is a welcoming festival for all of some belief or none.

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