the unconventional Apple Cart Festival and enjoyable family day
The Apple Cart Festival 2011 review
published: Fri 12th Aug 2011
Apple Cart Festival 2011
Victoria Park, London
last updated: Thu 4th Aug 2011
As small festivals are being cancelled left, right and centre, disheartened organisers can find comfort in the story of The Apple Cart Festival. The event was called off last year for numerous reasons, leaving the Underage Festival and Field Day to steal the Victoria Park limelight. But this year it returned, determined not to be the warm down festival for its more famous stable-mates.
The day started perfectly as a host of families filtered into the park to enjoy the plentiful activities under the blazing sunlight. A broom-sweeping slalom, splat-the-rat, a monkey mascot dressed in a glitter-suit. It was shaping up to be a memorable Sunday afternoon; and then the rain came. At first it was a light drizzle, but it was clear that the climate was going to wreak havoc on The Apple Cart, the way the economic climate did the previous year.
The harmonious Boys Outside managed to combine repetitive arrangements and simplistic verses to feign the sense of a epic track, but when the rumoured crescendo became no more than a hoax, the audience never felt cheated. Mason was very appreciative to the mature crowd, perched on the edge of the stage under the cusp of the shelter from the trickling rain as if he ought to be roughing out the weather too. He closed with King Biscuit Time's classic I Walk The Earth. The lazy groove and typically powerful chorus "hey knock me, picking on your own reality" was a real hit with the swaying crowd, rustling in their ponchos, and Mason applauded their efforts as he walked off stage.
Moments after the set, the heavens opened, and the torrential rain forced a mass exodus to the nearest tent. The Apple Cart prided itself on its variety of entertainment, and consequently the bulging crowds were treated to performances ranging from comedy to magic. Sadly the increasingly boggy ground meant that the village fete games such as the wheelbarrow race and the dubious spanking post, were kept on standby. After grabbing a curiously cheaper yet more substantial pint of cider from a phantom marquee, it was time to return to the main stage.
Early tracks such as the upbeat Take A Chance and 2005's big anthem Forever Lost were met with an unusually lukewarm response, even with bassist Michele Stodart motoring around her sibling singer and fellow band-mates. However, those nauseating smiles eventually become difficult to ignore and the subdued atmosphere evaporates in the latter half of the set. The delicate I See You, You See Me and the sumptuous vocals from keyboardist Angela Gannon lead to cheers and was the catalyst for clapping along the bass-line towards the track's climax. There was a placard in the crowd with an animation of the band showing that band still has a loyal fan-base, but the muted response to newer songs showed that such love is now merely out of nostalgia. The last songs proved just that because while mid-noughties hit Love Me Like You spurred a sing-a-long, closer This Is A Song was muted by comparison. The Magic Numbers are a likeable band, but there is a sense their time has past and should now consider joining the Ash school of recycling old hits.
The walk back to the main stage felt appropriate for the next act. Spinning carousels, inflatable slides and dodgems, are all things that could have easily made the sleeve to Patrick Wolf's 2007 album The Magic Position. The flamboyant Londoner divides opinion amongst music fans, with some calling him an eccentric multi-instrumentalist genius, while others brandish him as a pompous self-indulged Rufus Wainwright rip-off. Fortunately, the crowd sided with the former and after a classical introduction, the lofty singer emerged, shrouded in a black cloak before removing it to reveal a red zoot suit. A Patrick Wolf set almost feels like cabaret, and his backing band ranged from a voluptuous fiddler to a metal head drummer. The soothing string arrangements and extravagant vocals, notably in Time Of My Life, cry out for an 80s romance to be played a screen behind.
The Apple Cart site was a bit of a maze for its small size and one wrong turning could send easily send the glittered-suited monkey to the spanking post. Fortunately there was an array of food vans with superb service meaning queues were never an issue. Towards the end of the chain of eateries was the comedy tent featuring the horrifically poor Kevin Eldon. For somebody who has starred in Brass Eye, Alan Partridge and Spaced, there was a bewildering lack of intelligence throughout this woeful yarn. Derogative remarks about drama students supposedly skipping all the time saying "ooh look at me I'm acting" brought a whole new low to the pitiful genre that is observational comedy. Further jokes about the Tory party were followed by repetitive squeaky-voiced chants of the word 'satire' mocking a brand of comedy superior to his own. However the set was well-received and a closing song about the inadequacy of CDs harnessed great laughter. Observational comedy has always been a popular genre, but its mainstream appeal is due to the lack of thought-provoking comedians from these shores. As a result we are left with the likes of Kevin Eldon and other 'funny-men' from the McIntyre speculum.
The early part of the set was dominated by songs inspired by his partner. Disillusion was about him being a scarcely believable sex magnet to the opposing gender the moment he entered his relationship, while I Saw You Walk Away was about their darkest days. The poignant lyrics were deeply appreciated by the crowd, but the 41-year-old believed the muted reaction was glum, joking that the next song would be about suicide, before stating he was funny. Gough created a cocky persona that was so over-the-top that most fans were tickled by remarks that included being the best song-writer in the world and the organisers should have cancelled all the other acts because he was clearly better. But there was definitely a sense of irony in these comments, and after stating You Were Right was the best song ever penned, lyrics such as "Always hoped you'd be my wife, but I never found the time for the question to arrive, I just disguised it in a song" treads the fine line between the fantasy of celebrity and the grim reality of life. Gough moved to the keyboard to play crowd-favourite Silent Sigh, and after toying with everyone by morphing the intro into Madonna's Like A Virgin, his flagship single was performed to great applause. The set ended with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road, a tribute to the late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. The beanie-topped musician laid down his guitar, jumped off stage and sung the entire track whiskers away from the audience. It was a poignant conclusion, which deserved to end not just his own set, but arguably the whole festival.
One of the highlights of the Apple Cart was the cabaret tent, a gargantuan dwelling with fine dining tables at its nucleus hidden beneath masses of jigging punters. The showcase act on the stage was Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales, who can be best described as a manic version of Erik from Phantom Of The Opera. Bashing keys, the piano lid repeatedly, and wailing into the microphone behind him, this was a whole new meaning to the world maestro and certainly did not smack of elegance. But each note was played with such perfection it defied all laws of human capability. Accompanied by a drummer dressed in a suitably madcap lab coat, songs ranged from a bongo rendition of Happy Birthday, to a techno version of the waltz. Sadly there was a lack of respect by Gonzales to the other artists, complaining that being sandwiched between two DJs was underwhelming. But after he correctly predicted the sun would appear after another musical experiment, all was forgiven. The set concluded with a guest appearance by Marawa the Amazing, a hula hoop act that can practically turn herself into a human slinky. Gonzales was irked that he was not on the main stage, but the truth is his show is perfect for a cabaret environment.
As the set ended there was an onrush to the main stage for the biggest draw of the festival. Comedy-rock superstar Tim Minchin was appearing and latecomers would have needed binoculars in the surprising absence of big screens. The boggle eyed creature from down under consistently sells out arenas worldwide, which exacerbated the anticipation. Minchin is essentially a singing comedian, but what stands him apart from the likes of Mitch Benn, Bill Bailey and his kiwi arch-enemies Flight of the Conchords, is that he is an accomplished pianist and a word-play genius. The controversial nature of the set means that many lyrics cannot be repeated but a limerick that discriminates every minority to support the ideology of equality, goes some way to explaining Minchin's style.
The undoubted highlight was the song Prejudice and the line "only a ginger can call another ginger, ginger, just like only a ninja can sneak up on another ninja", a perfect analogy for the current state of political correctness. Further songs border from a cringe-worthy love song about cancer, to a downright stupid jazz song about cheese. The intervals between songs were dominated by Minchin's bumbling banter as opposed to any witty remarks, leaving the comedy rooted in the heart of his songs. There was definitely a sense that the Australian fancies himself as a serious musician, but even in his most plausible track, Dark Side, the random chants of yippee break down the respectability of the ten minute epic. But ultimately Minchin is a comedian with a level of free-thinking intelligence that is a chasm from Kevin Eldon and his tales about electronic devices.
It was an unconventional end to the most unconventional of festivals. The all-round entertainment, choice of food and the intimate surroundings made for a real alternative to the music-dominated Underage Festival and Field Day. Sadly the rain hampered with the more unusual activities and the pricing of alcohol was horrifically inconsistent. But these minor concerns did not distract from a enjoyable family day out that will hopefully be staged again next year.
review by: Neil Manrai
Apple Cart Festival 2011
Victoria Park, London
last updated: Thu 4th Aug 2011
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