Soup for the soul, that's what they say.
And this year's Audio Soup festival, back for its fourth year, was no exception, providing another soul-restoring break for over 1000 festie fans.
Audio Soup took place this year over the weekend of July 18 to 20, moving from its previous late August/early September slot.
The move should on paper be a good one - warmer weather and more light for a start - but this year is a busy year in Scotland and a number of events have been forced to cancel - not least of which was the mighty Rock Ness - or change dates due to clashes with events such as the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow or the Ryder Cup in Perthshire.
So, Audio Soup this year clashed with Rewind, the 80s nostalgia fest in Perth, although I am not sure that there is much cross-over in audience there. It also clashed with the Beat Herder festival in Lancashire, which was a week later this year as the Tour De France went right through its site the previous week, and which Soup organisers say a number of their regulars already had tickets for.
This year was also the first year in what is to be Audio Soup's home for the next five years, and the site is a good one - flat, open spaces for an almost arena-like experience (albeit a small arena) with all of the stages, tents, bars, stalls and food outlets in one place and everything within easy walking distance. The new site increases the potential capacity of the event up to 2000 and has a decent size camping area too - handily located near a beautiful river for kids of all ages to bathe in, either for fun (the younger kids) or reasons of hygiene (the older ones). And the location is truly amazing, nestled in the green embrace of the rolling hills of the Scottish Borders, around an hour or so south of Edinburgh.
We arrived kinda late on the Friday night having driven down after finishing our day jobs, and that famous Lothian harr (mist) had settled over the moors, which - coupled with the closing darkness - meant that we didn't get to see much of the magnificent scenery and views on our way into the site. But we did manage to make it into the festie site to catch the second part of Friday night headliners and ska faves, Bombskare.
They played all their popular, crowd-pleasing, skanking hits, including Do All Dogs Go To Heaven, Where Eagles Dare, Freedom 35, and covers of Walk Like An Egyptian, Inspector Gadget - complete with extended solos - Dark Side of the Moon - complete with Matt from the Girobabies who played the Beat-Root Cafe later on - and Sally Brown in another high octane performance at what is many of the band members' home festival.
Singer Andy announced that it was to be their last gig with their current drummer Dave Morrison however, as he is off to the United Arab Emirates for the foreseeable, but don't panic ska fans, Edinburgh's finest are keeping ska and carrying on somehow. I know because they played Speyfest the weekend after and have got a number of festival appearances lined up for the rest of the summer.
The party continued for many, dancing their way into the small hours to the beats of Rebecca Vasmant, in the Abnormal Loads tent or DJ Astroboy in the Wub Hut, but it was time for bed for us, or more specifically, the kids. We fell asleep to the comforting sounds of drum and bass reverberating through the land and up into our souls.
Saturday morning and having fallen asleep to the drum and bass rhythms, we woke up to the rhythmic sound of heavy rain battering off the caravan roof and thunder charging its way over the hills towards us. There was probably lightning too but I wasn't going to get up on the off chance I might see it. The mist had settled over Audio Soup, and although the morning brightened a little for a little while, the persistant showers got steadily heavier throughout the day.
Not that that really bothered anyone there. The audience of families, friends, crusties, artists, musicians, volunteers, crew and traders all pitched up and pitched in, providing the vital ingredients for another memorable event. Audio Soup is a hotbed of creativity in a totally unpretentious kind of way. The majority of bands come from in and around the Edinburgh and Lothians area, and most have day jobs as well, in Gregg's for example, which has inspired at least one of Mad Tango's songs. Others such as the guys and girls from the Alphabetti Theatre were selling reasonably priced tea and crumpets and juice and sweets to cover their travel costs to the festival to perform.
Everyone supports everyone else. The crew are mainly all volunteers - many had been there setting up the site since the Wednesday, and everyone was there because they wanted to be and did everything they could to be there, and that came shining through in the general ambience of the festival. There was no trouble, it was all peace, love, understanding and sharing - sharing food, sharing stories, sharing drink, sharing music, sharing talent, sharing the stage, sharing the camp fire.
First band of Saturday on the main stage was Art of Privilege, an Edinburgh-based alternative rock outfit that had a hardcore following despite the dreicht weather. They played a 45-minute set, which included single Trust, released earlier this year, Time Flies, and material from their new EP, which they are currently finishing work on.
Next up was the fantastically named Supa & Da Kryptonites, a six-piece band featuring a lyricist, a bassist, two guitarists, a drummer and a trumpeter with the longest dreads I have eva seen. Fresh from the Kelburn Garden Party earlier in the month, the Dunfermline lads gave Audio Soupers a lesson in hip hop, reggae and funk - and vegetarianism, giving a big shout out to frontman Jay's very proud mum in the crowd for making him eat his greens.
It was main stage all the way for us despite the rain and the temptation of watching bands under the cover of and in the welcoming bosom of the fabulous Beat-Root cafe with its always wonderful chai and food offereings. Jamie and Shoony were next on the main stage though, playing as a five-piece for the first time. The popular local lads, who have subsequently won a public vote to play at the Party at the Palace in Linlithgow with big name artists such as Deacon Blue and Simple Minds, rocked the crowd at Audio Soup, leading them all in some retro techno moves in Dance With Me, and then encouraging audience members to join them on stage at the end of their set. And not content with providing one of the performances of the afternoon, they also entertained the night owls at the campsite fire until the sun came up on Sunday morning.
The Jenova Collective from Leeds were next with their brand of electro swing and – as they describe it – ghetto funk. Their mix of remixes included Marilyn Munroe's Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend and, according to my tween son who knows about this sort of thing, a Lady Gaga number. They made it to Scotland's Audio Soup in the middle of a demanding summer festie schedule that will see them travelling the length and breadth of England – right down to Bestival on the Isle of Wight – and take in Wales as well. Vocalist Lily Moharrer and the six guys brought a ray of sunshine to the Scottish Borders and for a moment the music almost transported you back to the glitz and glamour of 1950s America.
And the female vocalist main stage line up continued with the next band, Rumba De Bodas, who also brought a mix of musical styles and influences to the Soup crowd. Latina, reggae, soul and folk were all there, represented along with a healthy and irreverent sense of humour by the Italian band, who went straight from performing at Audio Soup to a show at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. They delivered something of a world tour of with a taste of Italy, South America and Africa all on the menu in their fast-paced and frentic performance.
It doesn't get much more fast-paced and frenetic than Kakatsitsi and Rebecca Vasmant however. Kakatsitsi are one of Africa's leading traditional drumming groups and their performance was both energetic and inspirational. Fresh from performances across the UK, many to tie-in with the celebrations surrounding the Queen's Baton Relay and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ghana-based band led the crowd in an almost aerobic-style work out before demonstrating hugely impressive traditional African dances.
The communal campfires in both the arena and the campsite were as popular as ever, and as the rain got heavier, we gathered at the fire for warmth and chat, while headliners Hector Bizerk, and then Mr Woodnote and Lil Rys - back for the second year in a row - entertained those in the crowd with more stamina than us.
Sunday was altogether a sunnier day right from the off, with the site basking in baking hot sunshine all day. As campers woke up, some of them quite gingerly, barefoot kids ran about the campsite forging new friendships. The site itself seemed relatively unscathed by the heavy rain, and by the afternoon when the main stage bands got underway, many adults were dancing barefoot as well.
Unfortunately for us though, we had to head back up the road due to work commitments. Although every bone in my body wanted to stay in and sit in the sun and soak up the atmosphere, it was time for us to say goodbye to new friends and those from previous years.
We only caught the first two bands on Sunday, Mad Tango and The Bandersnatch Cats. Edinburgh four-piece Mad Tango provided some quite thought-provoking lyrics for such an early afternoon slot, although the acoustic rock vibe was perfect for those festie goers who were just waking up, while relative newcomers The Bandersnatch Cats are also building a loyal following wwith their blend of rock and folk.
It was disappointing to miss RAGE, the awesome Rage against the Machine tribute band that has played the festival the last few years, and also the Victorian Trout Conspiracy, another returnee from last year who have graduated up the bill, and the also awesome Monster Ceilidh Band, but having had to leave Audio Soup early before, I just have to learn to organise my holidays better.
This year's Audio Soup was a more polished affair than previous years, as organisers find their groove and settle into a rhythm. It is less rough and ready than before, and having a guaranteed home for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly help those behind this lovely wee festival to refine the best bits of it even more, without losing any of its charm or appeal.
It remains affordable - kids under 12 go free as with most other events - and early bird weekend tickets for adults this year cost just £45. Its eco-credentials remain too - as well as experienced first aiders, there was also herbal first aid on site provided by trained first aiders and herbalists, the car-sharing initiative was back and there was a Soup Bus running from Waverly station in Edinburgh. And the kids area was back too, providing a bright and airy magical space where youngsters could try out clay sculpting, make willow lanterns, have their faces painted or listen to stories.
New for 2014 was the Healing Zone, which featured a range of treatments and techniques such as shiatsu, reiki, massage, reflexology as well as other arts such as clairvoyancy, astrology and soothsayers, contributing to the relaxed and open-minded feel of the event.
Audio Soup is not just not just family friendly, it is like a big friendly family get together - without the tension. Everyone knows someone there and if you don't when you arrive you certainly will by the time you leave. The eclectic range of bands performing, and the various stalls and stands promoting alternative ways of life, and even just the chilled out atmosphere at Soup enriches, feeds and calms your soul. Take the time to make the effort to go. As I said at the beginning, sometimes you need soup for the soul - and this little festival provides it in bucketloads.
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