Back in April, whilst recuperating after my hip operation, I had a call from an old buddy of mine, Mark ‘Ulf’ Pedersen. Mark is a prolific visual artist, undertaking various hefty commissions around the UK and abroad, and was instrumental in the visual stimuli seen at the Big Chill’s early events. This is where we’d met originally and have since seen each other regularly, although ideally I’d like to see a bit more of the old fella..
The purpose of his call was, in some ways, an attempt to redress this. Another mutual old friend, Avril Stanley, who used to organise the Body and Soul areas at the older Big Chill festivals had been attempting to contact me using an old phone number with a view to curating and programming their Solas [a Gaelic word, meaning light] Stage at the 2016 Latitude Festival.
If I’m honest with you, I was somewhat skeptical about undertaking such a task. Firstly, I’d never done anything quite like this before, and secondly, it also clashed with a weekend that Nina and I had planned to take in Ireland for her cousin’s 50th birthday party.
However, after finally getting to chat to Avril at length on the phone, she convinced me that it’d be a good idea for me to face the fear and do it anyway. As I write this in retrospect, I’m seriously glad I took the plunge and agreed to it.
I was given a pretty decent budget to share the programming with Jenny Wren, who books some of the acts for the Body & Soul Festival that Avril and her team put together in Ireland each year. My brief was to book bands and DJs that I considered suitable for the four day event, concentrating primarily on ambient electronica. The area that the stage was situated in was shared with therapists, so it was important that my choices of lineup was sympathetic to the surroundings.
I guess I had a wish list of acts that I wanted to involve from the word go. With a reasonable budget to make use of, I initially approached a couple of acts that I really wanted to see play live, these being Ultramarine, who I’d been waiting to see perform since they released ‘Every Man and Woman is a Star’ back in 1991, and also a current favourite of mine, Seahawks, a band that epitomise easy listening, stoner vibes.
I suppose I also wanted to attempt to recreate the Big Chill ethos from many moons ago, where the primary focus was to book a lineup that was sympathetic to both sitting and listening but also grooves that one could shuffle around to.
In terms of the DJ angle, I was keen to book Chris Coco and Phil Mison, both key exponents in the Balearic scene. After many years in the business, I guess I have a rather extensive list of contacts which I rarely plunder, but on this occasion I made full use of my address book. The only downer was that the legendary Mixmaster Morris couldn’t come along due to a booking in Japan that he couldn’t wriggle out of. Still; no matter – pretty much everyone else that I had on my list agreed to come along to play and perform.
In the weeks and months leading up to the festival, I was introduced to a wide variety of people from both the Body & Soul and Latitude festivals. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with who was who, and what their roles were in the general scheme of everything, but I think I managed to hold everything together reasonably well.
Managing the budget was quite tricky; in hindsight, I probably got it slightly wrong – my initial idea had been to attempt some kind of co-operative ethos, where everyone, regardless of popularity and experience would receive the same fee. But after talking with various people who’ve undertaken this type of work before, I was assured that this wasn’t really the ‘done thing’. As I write this, I think that I’m the only artist who’ll come out of it without being paid anything! Ironic really, as I ended up being the busiest artist over the weekend. Not that I necessarily mind – I like being busy…
Anyway, let’s fast forward.
As the date of Latitude approached, I started to genuinely look forward to it. I’d booked everyone that I’d envisaged, I’d managed to sort out various friends and family with some freeness – all that was needed was a good dose of English weather to complete the picture.
Driving up to Suffolk, all of the signs were positive. The forecast was looking great, and as I drove onto the pristine site to meet all my guests at the artist’s box office, I was in a really buoyant mood. Almost like clockwork, my friends and family started to turn up and all of us managed to sort out tickets and wristbands with the assistance of a smashing box office crew.
The site reminded me of the Big Chill Eastnor site, minus the hills. We were directed to artists and performers camping, which was absolutely beautiful – a track bordered by tall trees which provided shelter from the sun for most of the day, keeping things relatively cool back at base.
Our convoy of wagons rolled onto site, and, after a little bit of pontification, we decided on a really decent spot just along from where my cousin Patrick Bickerton was camped. We circled the wagons, and, after setting our stuff up, ventured onto the site to explore. It took a leisurely 10 to 15 minute stroll to be right in the heart of the action.
Old friend Chris Pettit, one of my bookings, was first on stage at 4.30pm, so we walked up to the Solas Stage together. Chris was pretty nervous – understandably, really, as it was his first gig, ever. He needn’t have worried – his audience numbered about 10 people, 3 of which were the sound crew. However, during his set, the audience swelled slightly and he played a pretty sublime set of his own material.
The stage at Solas had been constructed from bamboo and other sustainable materials and the whole space seemed really harmonious. As the light started to fade, Ulf’s visual installations and lighting design came into its own – it really was gorgeous to behold.
Last on the bill on the Thursday night was Mike ‘Spikey’ Kingston, who played as good a set as I’ve ever heard him play, starting ambient and then gearing up to lazy grooves that proved irresistible to the large crowd who stayed dancing until the end of his set. By the time he’d finished playing, I was seven sheets to the wind; I’m reliably informed that I bumped into old friends towards the end of the night, but have little or no recollection of doing so.
Friday arrived with perfect conditions weather-wise. I awoke feeling completely intact and raring to go, and, after imbibing a decent breakfast and a strong coffee I strolled back onto site to have a wander around. What struck me was the demographic – a mixture of the young and old – and providing you stayed away from the main stage, the lack of litter was a joy to behold. A large lake formed the centerpiece of the whole site, and because of the high temperatures, punters were being encouraged to dive into the clear waters to cool down.
My first DJ set was part of The ‘Ambient All Stars’, which I’d designed to be a collective of whoever fancied playing back to back with me, utilising some of my DJ bookings. In the end, ‘Ambient All Stars’ turned out to be just Spikey and I – which worked really well! We played two tracks a piece and our tastes seemed to complement one another nicely.
Alan James came on after us; I’m afraid I had to shoot off for the majority of his set, but I’m reliably informed that it was rather lovely. I was then on stage again after him for my main DJ set, which took place late afternoon.
Some old friends of mine, Yeelin & Matt Parford were also at the festival. The weekend happened to coincide with her 50th birthday which she celebrated with aplomb throughout the course of the festival. The highlight was the birthday meal which she’d booked at the Blixen Bar for 50 of her closest friends. Blixen masqueraded as a restaurant and cocktail bar by day and early evening, but after about 10pm became a mecca for house heads, playing a deep techy soundtrack to a younger, energetic and quite hedonistic crowd.
The majority of our party of 50 or so all enjoyed a pretty decent meal, although I wasn’t massively hungry, so ate quite sparingly. My sister Julie had really made an effort getting dressed up, sporting a rather fetching glitter beard and billy-bob teeth, which set off her outfit quite nicely. I enjoyed a couple of the best bloody mary’s I’ve ever tasted and this set me up for the night. One of my live bookings were playing on the Solas stage so we walked over to take them in. Seahawks played a sublime set of smoky, jazz inflected ambient electronica, blissing everyone out to the max. It was then up to Chris Coco to whip the crowd up with his leftfield selection, which he successfully did. Everyone was dancing, me included. A top set.
Saturday arrived, with a wee bit of cloud coverage taking the edge off the heat, which had dried the site out sufficiently to the point where dust being kicked up by pedestrian traffic was starting to cause a problem. Everywhere was coated with a fine layer of dirt, actually a decent problem to contend with, rather than persistent heavy rain!
After the hedonism of the Friday night, it was down to Tom Green [Another Fine Day] to smooth out the rough edges, which was just what he managed to do. A traditional lunchtime booking throughout the lifetime of the Big Chill, his calming Marimba and thumb piano jams captivated his audience and the therapists alike.
BJ Cole and Guy Jackson turned up just in time for their sound checks. What I love about BJ is how grounded he is – for someone who’s worked with pretty much anyone who’s anyone – he’s not let the music industry and his stardom phase him one iota. I’d asked BJ and Guy to perform music from their ‘Transparent Music’ series of albums which I’ve really enjoyed over time, and they performed a beautiful set which followed on from Tom Green’s set perfectly.
The rest of Saturday afternoon was filled with some of Jenny’s programming, containing some absolute gems – I especially enjoyed the music of Colm Mac Ionamire.
Early evening passed by in a bit of a blur – I was having an amble over the site with Ed and Stu when we bumped into an old friend of ours from Harrogate days in the 1980’s – Nigel Barden. Nigel has since gone onto great things in the culinary world; he’s the Radio 2 foodie, guesting on all manner of programmes but probably best known for ‘Foodie Thursday’ on Simon Mayo’s drive time show. Either way, it was great to hook up with him and we chatted idly for a good while until I realized what the time was – the band who I’d wanted to book first and foremost were on stage and I was missing their gig! I’d met Paul, Ian and Greg from Ultramarine earlier in the day whilst hanging around backstage and we’d chatted about their stage setup, which was extensive to say the least.. Whilst most electronica-based acts are happy to plumb in a laptop and not much else [myself included!] Ultramarine appeared to set up a large proportion of their studio on stage. Apparently, a basic step sequencer is at the heart of the operation, but Paul and Ian have their own dedicated individual setups which aren’t actually connected to one another. This explains their unique sound – a wonderfully fluid, baggy affair that at times sounds almost discordant, but then all of a sudden comes together in such a joyous way it’s hard to pinpoint. I suppose it’s best that I recommend you buy their records and have a listen for yourself.
They finished their set with a fantastic rendition of ‘Canoe Trip’, a track off their second LP ‘Every Man and Woman is a Star’ which left the audience baying for more.
The stage crew then had to attempt to manoeuvre all Ultramarine’s equipment off stage to make way for Thom Green’s kit. Thom is the drummer from Alt J and this was his first performance as a solo artist. He was very nervous prior to going on stage, and I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy his set. I spent most of it chatting to the ebullient Phil Mison who’d turned up to play his DJ set. It was great to catch up with him. Thom’s music turned out to be quite dark, foreboding electronica and tellingly, induced the first rains of the festival. In fact, it rained pretty heavily for about 20 minutes or so, and I sought shelter under a gazebo back stage. Thom joined Ed and I for a post-gig cigarette where he professed to not really having enjoyed himself. I attempted to reassure him that it seemed to go down well with his audience and it was hardly surprising to feel that way, as usually he’d be sitting at the rear of the stage hammering away on the kit. A real nice guy, though.
Phil Mison took to the stage to applause and light drizzle and his choice of tunes blew the nighttime cloud cover away and with it, the rain. His set had everyone dancing and most importantly, he seemed to really enjoy it too. A top set, man!
The Sunday arrived, and with it, the hottest day of the festival. Anyone not wearing sunscreen would find themselves in possession of sunburn at the end of the day. I played another ‘Ambient All Stars’ set with Spikey – I had asked Patrick the day before as to whether he’d like to join us, which he seemed quite enthusiastic about, but in the eventuality, didn’t turn up. Spike and I played a very laid back set of really lovely tracks. After we’d finished, Andy Kearney came on to spin some tracks – he’s one of the Body & Soul crew and he played one of the best sets of the weekend, spinning pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear – had a great selection of tracks in his CD wallet. Mark ‘Ulf’ Pedersen came on after him – I’m reliably informed that he played a smashing set of tunes –he was the only DJ to use turntables all weekend. Ulf played some of the most memorable sets at the early Big Chills so it was an absolute pleasure to have him back on board here. It felt like a real gathering of the original clans, all round.
I’d programmed my own alucidnation set last thing; I was closing the festival. However, I’d learned the previous day that a whole bunch of people in our camp [and generally] were leaving the site early for a variety of reasons – in my sister Julie’s case, she had to be back so that my nephew Beau could get back to school on the Monday morning. So in hindsight, I’d kind of shot myself in the foot, and this was also apparent when I learned I was up against the festival headliners, New Order. I don’t know about you, but New Order have never really floated my boat, aside from ‘Blue Monday’. I preferred them in their previous incarnation of Joy Division when Ian Curtis was at the helm – a far more arresting band, both visually and aurally.
So, when I hit the stage for my sound check, there were about 3 people in attendance in addition to myself and the sound guys! I chose to kick off the set a bit earlier than 10.30pm and launched straight into a vocal track. I was surprised how rusty my voice was – unless I’m singing in my studio, I’m not really the type that belts out numbers in the shower, so I guess it was hardly surprising that I was having trouble hitting some of the higher notes that I’m known for historically. New Order finished their set at about 10.45pm, so about 20 mins into my gig, the area started to fill out nicely, and as is usually the way, everyone that turned up appeared to stick around, too. This is always a good sign, and as a solo performer, a real confidence booster. I consequently decided, off the hoof, to sing one track, then play an instrumental, then sing another etc. This seemed to work well, and although my monitoring on stage was a little odd, I was assured that I made a decent job of singing everything..
I’d planned to finish my set with ‘I’m Not Bad’, but old friend Emma Gomez insisted I sang ‘I Don’t Want to Hurt You’, an offcut that I’d included on the reissue of Induction, my debut LP. I wrapped up my set to rapturous applause from my audience, who were demanding an encore, but I was aware of the fact that the Solas crew were all pretty knackered and wanted to start packing up, so I deferred. Upon stepping off stage and going out front into the crowd, I was pleased to see that Deb and Chris had hung around for my performance. I was also told by three random punters that my set had been the highlight of their festival, and all three had never heard of alucidnation before. This made my Latitude.
Post set, and coming down off a natural high, I wandered over to the Solas crew camping and spent a little bit of quality time with Matt, Yeelin, Ped, Graina, Barnsey, AJ and numerous other fine folk who’d managed to get a little fire together, which we sat around and enjoyed.
I bumbled back to base to find Ed and Stu burning the midnight oil. We all enjoyed a couple of drinks together, before retiring for the final night onsite.
The following day, Ed, Stu and I drifted offsite, driving in the direction of the sea, and Southwold, where we enjoyed more good weather, a hearty lunch of Cromer crab, new potatoes and salad, with an accompanying refreshing lager shandy. After saying our goodbyes, I drove down the coast, ending up at Sizewell beach.
In a nutshell, I had an absolute blast, and I hope to repeat this experience in the not-too-distant future.
Thanks for having me!