Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Mud, Sweat and Tears - Greenbelt 2012 review...

...the rains came down and the floods came up - inside the G-Source marquee...

It will be inevitable that Greenbelt 2012 will certainly be remembered for the mud! For some the effect the torrential rain and resulting quagmire(s) was very acute, particularly traders in the infield area of the racecourse where the mud matched the images of a rain soaked Glastonbury. The media usually describes such conditions as those attaining 'Biblical Proportions' and, at times, the deluge was as dramatic. Despite these conditions, a surprisingly joyful spirit pervaded throughout the festival and my abiding perception was that it was a good year!

Prior to the festival I contributed to the Greenbelt Five blog, outlining a selection of events I hoped to attend, I landed up scoring a measly 2.5! So let's start with the music programme, it was exceptional this year with astonishing highlights, here's a top five with some extras:

In fifth place I'm going with Nitin Sawhney. It was clearly a coup to persuade such a respected and an artiste with such cult status to appear. And for the audience such a joy to allow the gorgeous sounds to massage the senses with an audio chill after all the cerebral input that happens at Greenbelt.

Next up is Bruce Cockburn with his welcome return to these shores. Whilst being familiar with his catalogue I had never seen him perform live and love the way his solo approach heightened the lyrical beauty of his canon.

In third place is the performer I've seen most, Seth Lakeman, love his material, playing and was delighted to see the incredible percussionist Cormac Byrne in the line up for this Greenbelt appearance. I've blogged before about the Seth Lakeman trio which features both Cormac and Bellowhead's Kirkpatrick.

The Proclaimers made a most welcome return and provided everyone of all ages a delightful, warm and nuggly feeling as we all celebrated their enduring songs at the top of our collective voices, splashing out 500 miles (and 500 more!) together. I'm placing them at two and a half ;-)

So in 2nd place, only by a whisker, is the brilliant Bellowhead. I've been reflecvting on how best to describe their exuberant performance and musical skill so am going with symphonic folk. The arrangements of the songs tips a nod towards an orchestral structure but with joy and instinct rather than being culturally elite. Sometimes what was happening was simply breathtaking in its sophistication and virtuosity.

Retaining their top slot for a second year running is the phenomena that is Hope & Social. Check out their blog to learn more about the chapter of trouble that befell them on their way... then they still deliver a couple of stunning shows. I've already established that whilst some songs will be delivered in a fairly straightforward manner, the rest is totally about the unexpected! Be prepared for an experience... a unique event.

... a poignant reminder for all those singing along at the Performance Café gig...

In their mainstage late afternoon slot they, as in 2011, started with playing to a sparse audience which grew and grew. Their energy levels, despite the lack of sleep, is remarkable. The entertainment value interminable, the audience engagement powerful and charmingly natural. I persuaded a good handful of friends to make the pilgrimage across the swamp up to the Performance Café for a brilliant, vibrant and deliciously intimate event which won over everyone's heart, I truly hope they will be given better mainstage billing as they represent the epitome of what Greenbelt is all about.

Other honourable mentions must go to:
  • The Hobbit of the Austin Francis Connection with his breathtaking (geddit?!) beatboxing.
  • Karine Polwart for her charming offer of hope in The Rising singing 'The Sun's Coming Over The Hill'.
  • The Tim Crahart Blues Band - caught their excellent set when trying to secure a table prior to Hope & Social's one.
  • Willy Porter, the incredible acoustic guitar thrashing virtuoso!
  • Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch
  • My buddy Rob Halligan's set in the Performance Café
So onto the Talks which I endeavour to try and not overload and land up devouring far more than planned every year! Again there was much to see (or miss!)...

Having earmarked Dave Tomlinson's wonderfully entitled How to be a Bad Christian... talk as a must see it delivered all it promised. A wonderful affirmation of your feelings about there being more of the image of Christ in everyday folk than the established church would acknowledge all imparted in a gentle and inclusive manner.

My next 'Greenbelt Five' plan was to endeavour to catch the first uk showing of Steve Taylor's film 'Blue Like Jazz' drawn from Donald Miller's book of the same title. Various impromptu encounters and delicious Southern Indian cuisine courtesy of 'Lalitas' meant that I landed up in Centaur instead for another keynote speaker, the much hallowed Tony Campolo.

Whilst what he said one couldn't fault, the style was very much a shouty, loud tirade. I was not alone in being a puzzled beratee. The irony was that he made a great case for condemning coercion through use of power yet, by the end, you could only conclude that his preaching style was, well, coercive! Overall the points he made were good, particularly making clear the distinction between use of 'Power' versus 'Authority'. Much redemption was gleaned when he directed some scorn at modern worship music ;-)

The Saturday was all a bit hectic, starting off with Giles Fraser's wise words on 'The Trouble with Growth' then legging it round to the lovely new venue, Eden, for a talk on 'Forest Church'. This was both seriously inspiring and challenging, speaker Bruce Stanley had us all exploring new senses and experiences that are neglected or latent.

I then managed to squeeze into the seminar entitled: Does God love Radio too...? This included representatives from the BBC and the independent production company for Radio 2's 'Pause for Thought' and Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day'. In addition three of the regular presenters of the Pause for Thought were on hand to discuss the working relationship and to give us a first hand read through of one of their own scripts. Here the impressive Abdul-Rehman Malik stole the show with his endearing tale of failing to secure the leading part in a school musical!

From then on the storms started to brew in earnest and the mud started to emerge! My son, Sam, the camera man in the first video above, was keen to go to the Big Top for Frank Skinner and I decided to tag along... a very good move! He was, as expected, funny and articulate, yet it was the extent to which he has explored deep and profound theology that was uplifting. His journey back to a Catholicism included attending services of other denominations and religions, much reading and an acknowledgment that Catholics have ritualised many things that are not biblical. However, it is interesting that now he simply accepts that and goes along with it, seeing it as relatively unimportant. It struck me that Anglicans haven't reached that point in their development yet, devoting far too much time trying to justify all the bits they do that aren't in the bible with absurdly flaky theology. There was no vulgarity, just a couple of suggestive comments which, with perfect timing, coincided with a substantial increase in the sound of the rain pelting down which he made the most of!

Sunday kicks off with the communion service, this year labelled an elemental Eucharist. When I arrived and examined the service sheet and saw 'Lord of the Dance' as a closing hymn I confess I walked away and considered simply chilling instead. However, I did go back...!

The first half of the service was very ponderous and anachronistic with its rather lengthy, earnest and wordy prayers. However, delightfully, the Mike Scott's wonderful song 'Bring 'Em All In' was sung as a congregational hymn and this triggered a different engagement so that from there on it was all rather good. Another important contribution was down to the instrumentation for the accompaniment; acoustic instruments playing in a ceilidh, celtic style that even breathed new life into Lord of The Dance! Immediately after that hymn the band burst into a jig and reel... brilliant!

So, how can I put this gently to avoid derision from my friends? It is an undeniable fact that I, Peter Banks, was actually partaking in, and enjoying, moments of Liturgical Dance... only at Greenbelt, eh??!! (pssst, liturgical dance = dosey doe)

Next was a bit of a reunion as after I listened to 'The Next Factor', an enlightening talk on Optimism for the English and Brits I met speaker Cole Moreton for the first time since he was in my youth group 30 years ago... another one of those Greenbelt moments!

Then there was one of those unfortunate clashes which meant I missed out on another one of my Greenbelt Five selections. Sadly I had to leave Ian Morgan Cron in favour of Hope & Social on mainstage, consoling myself with the thought that I could, at least, get the MP3 of Mr Cron.

My final talks moment of the day came attending the Literature venue, The Hub, for some novel reading by authoress Kate Charles. This made me think I must attend more @greenbelt_lit moments next year.

The first talk on Monday, Ciaron O'Reilly and Ben Griffin on Faith based non-violent resistance, I have already blogged about here, this was my unexpected seminar; unplanned, shocking yet motivating to the extent of wanting to become involved.

My final talk attendance, after my 'note to self' moment re literature, was listening to science fiction author Simon Morden talk about the changes within the publishing world presenting challenges and opportunities, another unplanned moment that proved seriously informative.

So what was there not to like? Not a lot! Just the weather and resultant mud... although I found there were some talks I simply couldn't make either because of programme clashes or because I didn't want to break away from conversations I was having. I felt this was a great festival, a real sense of celebration as Greenbelt moves inexorably toward it fortieth year. As a veteran of the inaugural Greenbelt in 1974 I do harbour a personal hope to be involved in some way next year. Equally I also heartily endorse the implication within the title 'Life Begins' that it should, as a priority, be about looking forward.

To illustrate this another one of those special unplanned moments was stumbling into the Performance Café and hearing Harry Baker giving his Slam Poetry some serious welly. Check out his performance of Paper People here. Here was new blood, effectively another generation spearheading new creativity with vibrant humour and aplomb.

Long live a festival that's all about joy, justice, the planned, the unexpected, nurturing, giving, receiving, faith, hope and love; distinctly Christian regardless of denomination, belief or creed



nevell said...

Thanks Peter for a great review. There's so much going on! Did I really see an optimist trying to soak up the biblical flood with a couple of sheets of newspaper??
Glad to hear you survived "Lord of the Dance" - takes me back to school assemblies ;-)

By the way, thanks for your earlier blog tips for Ian Morgan Cron (who you didn't see) I read both books this summer, and will do so again. "Chasing Francis" was probably my favourite, although in a way it has a rather too- comfortable roundness too it, due to the form adopted. The more recent, autobiographical book is a rather less comfortable,even painful read and helps inform some aspects of "Francis", but yes, it had me chuckling too:-)
Your son is good at filming legs and bums. I recognised everyone!

Andy Long said...

Thanks for the great review and the video is bringing it all back. I'm glad you enjoyed our set too.

Andy Long

(Tim Crahart Blues Band)

Peter Banks said...

Cheers Tim... relieved the books went down well!

Welcome Andy and thanks for reading the blog. Had already had a quick listen to your bandcamp stuff, sounds great!

Bestest one and all, P

Unknown said...

Hi Pete! Love your descriptive writing! Almost felt like I was there! Hope I can be next year. I haven't been to Greenbelt for many years, and I am so glad to hear that it retains its Christian roots. Would love to have been a fly on the wall during the dance session! H

sharpies said...

You didn't DANCE, Peter Banks?! Good for you! :-)

Liz Hinds said...

Sounds great. What a lot of interesting stuff.