Review: Billy Bragg on form, Adam Ant in panto

28 Aug 2012 @ 12.13 pm
| Entertainment
Adam Ant: couldn't relive the glory days. All photographs: David Markham

Review: Adam Ant, Billy Bragg and Seth Lakeman
The Galtres Festival, Sunday August 26

David Markham braves the August Bank Holiday festival to see if one of the biggest pop acts of the last 30 years could stand and deliver at York’s “friendly festival”

Ladies and gentlemen there is a threat to all outdoor summer events in the UK. It is the weather. Galtres music festival is not immune to this threat.

It can be the curse of all festivals but on this August Bank Holiday weekend, when the rain poured and the sun shone in equal measure – the live performance of some great music by high profile artists and the presence of courteous and helpful event management, conspired to produce a fantastic festival.

I heard on the festival rumour mill that Friday was a good night – headlined by the Buzzcocks: they turned in a solid set. Ash headlined on Saturday and fought through a rainy night with courage. So what would the Dandy Highwayman of Sunday night “Stand and Deliver”?

The clouds were grey and rain was threatening as we arrived. We were pointed, quite cheerfully, to a stubble field that was to serve as our car park. The field was mud – literally mud. Turn the engine off and worry about it later.

We head to the festival site and check in. No queues. The site is a long thin strip of land that tilts from top to bottom where The Duke mainstage is located. In true festival tradition the length of the site is littered with food stalls, perfoming areas and stands selling this and that.

It is without doubt a friendly festival. None of the hard, youthful rock and roll edge that characterises Leeds festival. This crowd is friendly. This crowd want to have fun. They are here for the music and they have brought the family. Kids, parents, girlfriends, boyfriends etc.

It’s safe and, unlike the clouds forming overhead, far from threatening.

We check in at the press office to pick up our press wrist bands to be greeted by Virginia MacNaughton – who not only performs in her own right but doubles in a PR capacity to help the show run smoothly. Check out her music. A classic singer songwriter. A divine voice with the backdrop of a sweet six-string guitar.

We wander down the main thoroughfare and spend some of our Galtres vouchers. This is a cashless society where the Galtres voucher is king.

All goods and services are purchased with Galtres vouchers. They can be bought for cash in advance over the web or at the festival site. It’s a secure way of running the Galtres “weekend economy”. It means people don’t have to carry cash and the organisers maintain it helps to retain control and distribute cash to charities post the event. It works for me.

We head to the Arts Barge to secure shelter from the rain. The tent is very busy but not too busy and there are ten musicians playing on a small stage.

It really is a lovely atmosphere and the tent is decked out with sofas and giant lampshades on long lamp stands. The catering was good; tiny queues again because it is well run.

The Arts Barge is what it says on the tin. This floating arts centre – located on the Ouse in York – features all kinds of performing arts. The Arts Barge tent brings to the fields of Galtres a warmth and atmosphere that must be the envy of festivals everywhere.

It’s unhurried. It’s lazy. It’s relaxing and a fantastic way to pass time and have fun.

The first big act on The Duke stage was due to show at 6pm. Seth Lakeman is without doubt a prodigious talent. He’s also good looking and affable.

On the way to the press area we exchanged a few words and he was clearly looking forward to the perfomance ahead. He hit the stage and from the moment he struck his first note he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

He’s a sort of Jamie Cullum of the folk world. He delivers gutsy music. Rootsy music with a rhythm. A rhythm that is driven by a percussionist who never stops smiling – he’s having fun.

Tonight Lakeman plays a selection of music from Kitty Jay to Tales from the Barrel House. Ably supported by a three-piece band behind him – including his brother. They weave their way to a rousing farewell from an audience that clearly gets Seth Lakeman.

Time for a quick glass of wine – paid for with Galtres Vouchers of course – and then back to the mainstage for the Bard of Barking, Mr Billy Bragg.

Billy Bragg took to the stage with his customised Strummerville acoustic guitar in hand. No messing, straight into the first song. He looked a little nervous and hit some out of tune notes but by the third and fourth songs he was in his stride and looked completely at home.

The consumate pro with years of touring under his belt, Billy Bragg doesn’t drink alcohol on stage, he drinks tea. He stands with mug held high – saluting the crowd like a Sergeant Major after a day in the trenches with his boys.

Proud as punch. We’re all in it together. Solid. No pretentions. He plays his lesser known songs and they go down well. He plays his more well known songs and they go down even better. Milkman of Human Kindness and A New England probably recieve the best ovations of his set. An hour later and Mr Bragg is gone – but not and never will be forgotten.

It’s now dark and we await the headline act. The weather is fine and the crowd are in good form. Adam Ant hit chart heights in the Eighties that were breathtaking for a punk rocker from north London. A rock and roll star through and through.

His punk roots were displayed with pride on his first album Dirk Wears White Sox: sparse, energetic and art school based. It resonates to this day. His second album took him into the stratosphere – Kings of the Wild Frontier. After this album, the only direction was up and increasingly outrageous puffed up pop videos – and then – he imploded.

His personal problems have been well documented in the press and are no concern of mine. Tonight was going to be interesting.

Adam Ant + The Good, The Bad & the Lovely Posse entered stage right at 9.45pm. The band came first and then the man himself. I immediately felt a great sense of loss – that the Adam Ant we all knew in 1980 had left the building sometime ago.

He does have something in common with Elvis Presley though. Elvis went from smouldering youth to bloated Las Vegas cabaret artist. Unfortunately Adam Ant went from A to Z without the solid rung on the ladder of a ’68 Comeback Special like Elvis.

You can never relive the glory days and that’s something that any top notch sportsman, athlete or spaceman will tell you. Sure he played the gamut of Ant songs – from Deutcher Girls (where the mic broke down) to Cartrouble to Ant Music and Stand and Deliver but despite the effort he undoubtedly applied – it just felt like a pantomime.

It didn’t work for me. We left before the set had finished. It was a shame but it almost became a freak show as the evening progressed. The perfomance was far from effortless.

We headed back to the car and mercifully there was a friendly tractor driver who pulled us out from the mud in the field and sent us on our way.

It really is a great festival. It’s fun, it’s friendly, it’s safe – they do have some great acts. Adam was a one off but then again – maybe he always was. I will be back next year to the Galtres – we loved it.